HOW THIS SIUH BOOSTER SUPPORTS THE HOSPITAL’S REHABILITATION SERVICES PROGRAM WITH INNOVATION AND INSPIRATION
BY JESSICA JONES GORMAN • PHOTOS © AMESSÉ PHOTOGRAPHY
Linda Spadafina’s unbridled enthusiasm is contagious. It might be a result of her bright rainbow colored wardrobe, or a simple side effect of her vivacious personality. Whatever the cause, after meeting Spadafina, or even just talking with her briefly, you’ll most likely have committed to baking a batch of lemon squares for one of her famous bake sales or promised to donate time or money to one of her charitable causes. She’s just that extraordinarily good.
“It’s funny how that happens,” she said coyly during a recent interview, referring to an uncanny ability to drum up funds for pet projects. “I come up with these crazy ideas; most of the time they work.”
She had about three of those “ideas” during the course of our interview: a reprise of shirts that read “Trick or Treatment” (they were a big hit in the past); a big ticket raffle that could go “system wide”; and something about a flash mob that I may or may not be choreographing. For Spadafina, the creativity is just one feature of her fundraising DNA.
“Simply put, it’s a labor of love,” she said. “I do all of these crazy things because I love raising funds for Staten Island University Hospital and the community it supports.” It started more than a decade ago, when Spadafina, who now serves as manager of SIUH’s rehab services program, decided to bake and decorate Halloween cookies with a group of her coworkers.
“They looked terrible,” she laughed. “But we had fun making them, and thought that if we took our time and got a little better at the baking, we could sell them and earn a little money for the hospital.”
An inaugural bake sale yielded $1,000 for her department; the year after, it raised $3,000. The next year, they sold 50/50 raffles and earned $5,600, which was used to purchase a 40 inch flat screen TV for the rehab program and a Wii game system for the waiting room. When patients and hospital staffers started hyping the Halloween event planned for the subsequent October, she upped her game.
“I took some baking classes and started making treats in the summer, then freezing them,” Spadafina said, detailing how an original menu of cookies soon grew to include quiches, cream puffs, and a variety of banana, pumpkin, and zucchini breads. “We did hundreds of hours of baking prior to the sale in October. People were pre ordering items, because these homemade goods were just that delicious. It was the best of the best better than your mama makes.”
Spadafina and her staff doubled the donations by the fourth year, and used the proceeds to replace some outdated rehab equipment.
“It kind of just exploded,” she said. “People loved all of the baked goods, but even more they loved the general idea of giving. They would come down to purchase a plate of cookies and write a check for triple the price.”
She also designed tee shirts for the event, and her entire staff dressed in Halloween costumes. They continued the annual festivities for five years but stopped in 2012 because of Superstorm Sandy.
“We knew we couldn’t put on a celebratory Halloween event at that time,” she said. “And it was also time to move on to something else, because the bake sale couldn’t get any bigger than it was. I personally could not spend 500 hours baking in preparation for it either. So we said, ‘Let’s make money some other way.’ ”
She and her staff turned to raffles to create a buzz, rolling in bikes and barbecues in the summer and hawking 55 inch flat screen TVs prior to the Super Bowl. “We had to come up with innovative baskets and big ticket items that would generate more funds,” she said.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, Spadafina became interested in the rehabilitation field when she was in high school, attending St. Angela Hall Academy, a small Catholic school. “When I was a junior they showed us this movie called The Other Side of the Mountain,” she said. “It was about this Olympic skier, Jill Kinmont, who had an accident, broke her neck, and became a quadriplegic. The film showed all of her rehabilitation exercises how it took every ounce of her being to lift a potato chip out of the bowl and it inspired me to pursue a career path that would help patients in need.”
After attending St. Francis College, Spadafina earned a degree in physical therapy from Downstate University in Brooklyn. She took a staff position at SIUH in 1984, working her way up to senior staff in 1988. She was named a supervisor in 1990 and an assistant manager in 1994. In 2016, she took on the title of manager.
“This hospital has been my home for the past 35 years,” she noted. “I have a connection here; SIUH and its entire staff is a part of my extended family.”
She speaks of the evolution of her department: What started out as a small, 29 bed rehabilitation unit with two physical therapists has grown to include a workforce of one hundred and fifty. Spadafina’s staff handles everything from traumatic brain injuries and acute pain on all levels to neuromuscular diseases and surgical recovery. And while her managerial duties do not allow her to take on a daily case load, she still spends part of every day on the gym floor with those undergoing therapy in the unit. “I love patient interaction,” she said. “It’s still my favorite part of what I do.”
Her fundraising duties have now grown to encompass system wide events like the Northwell Health Walk. “We walked this year for Marianne DiStefano, an iconic employee and member of the SIUH family, a labor and delivery nurse manager who had been with us for almost 40 years,” Spadafina said. “She died last year of pancreatic cancer, and the loss echoed through every department. She was so loved.” The event attracted more than 500 participants and exceeded its $100,000 goal.
“Even though we are part of a large hospital system, SIUH is still very much a community hospital,” she said. “The support that was shown at that walk in May is certainly proof of that.”
Spadafina is currently taking a breather before assisting in planning the hospital’s next big fundraiser. She enjoys spending time with her wife, Joyce, and their nine grandchildren, traveling to lots of hockey and soccer games, with a few dance recitals mixed in. “We spend a lot of time at the beach and have a wonderful network of friends in Asbury Park,” she said.
“We’re currently planning a trip to Paris and London for my 60th birthday.” But there will be no break from brainstorming. “Every time I close my eyes to go to sleep,” she said with a laugh, “I come up with another idea.”
Northwell Health Foundation / Linda Spadafina