LOCAL FAMILY RECOGNIZED FOR HUMANITARIAN EFFORTS as reported by Eric Gross, Poughkeepsie Journal
JANUARY 15, 2018 – There’s no sign left of the recent holiday season in my home, much like yours, I’m sure. But when I sat with this local couple last week, it was immediately apparent that they carry the message of the holiday season in their hearts all year long.
Catherine and Mario Scalisi are longtime residents of our local area, residing in Clintondale, NY for 20 plus years. Mario comes from a corporate background while his wife, Catherine, is a former court reporter. When I called to schedule my interview with them, they very graciously accepted the offer but made it quite clear that we would need to schedule it sooner rather than later as they would be leaving town for a number of months. We scheduled the appointment a few days out, and they requested to pick me up at my office at the appointed time. I thought it a bit odd, but it seemed to be a requirement if I wanted to book the interview. You can imagine my surprise when they pulled up to my office in a Class A motorhome! It was a beauty, and I must admit it was the perfect space for the 3 of us to sit and chat. Beautifully appointed with all the luxuries of home and then some. Both Mario and Catherine were seated in beautiful leather wrapped recliners and were very much at ease in our conversation. Although I don’t usually drink while “on the job”, when offered to share in a glass of wine – well, it was just so cozy and inviting in their “home on wheels”, that I couldn’t resist. Time flew by as they shared stories of their life, their passion and their mission.
When asked about their “previous life” and occupation, Catherine shared that one of the biggest regrets she has in choosing court reporting as her profession is the fact that, “I always felt like a parasite, meaning that the only way I was employed was because of hardships and tragedies people were facing. Nobody enjoys being on either side of a lawsuit. I found my work to be exhausting, both physically and mentally. Besides, it put me on the ‘taker side’ of the giver/taker equation. Ever since I was a little girl, my passion has always been to help others. I was always rescuing stray animals, and I have always been drawn to the less fortunate. Whatever I could do to help, I simply did. Things became more complicated as I grew older and married and had children of my own. My focus, of course, was on them and tending to their needs, but I always had my heart strings pulled when I came upon someone in need. That personal pivotal need of mine to help others has deep seated roots in my heart.”
I was particularly interested in how and why their 501© Non-Profit Organization, Making A Difference, had been born. Lovingly referred to as MAD, Making A Difference is all about helping the less fortunate whether it be feeding the hungry, clothing the naked or housing the homeless. The efforts of this organization are felt far beyond the small town where it was born.
Mario speaks first making the very strong point that MAD began as a thought – as all things do – in Catherine’s mind. When I turn to confirm that with Catherine, I find the sweetest and softest of smiles on her face. The smile is soon turned to heartfelt passion and the occasional welling up of tears as she tells me the story.
“While traveling with my brother and his wife, we ended up attending church one Sunday in Myrtle Beach, NC. The priest that day was someone who had just returned from a mission trip to Nicaragua. He talked about the dire conditions in the country and described the living conditions he witnessed. It was heartbreaking. Then it came time for collections, and donation envelopes were handed out. On the front of the envelope was a picture of a little Nicaraguan boy with tears streaming down his face as he cried in hunger. I took 2 envelopes that day: one which we used for our donation and the other – well, I brought that home with me and placed it on my mirror in the bedroom where I would see it numerous times a day, and everyday while looking at his picture I would tell that little boy, ‘I don’t know how, but I know I will help you and your people, I promise’. This went on daily for over a year, at which point I found myself intimately involved with a group of like-minded people who were looking to create some kind of a legacy to mankind. My promise and passion to help ‘my little boy’ were so strong that I was able to enroll this entire group into pledging to Make A Difference in a village in Nicaragua. We did various fundraisers, a food drive, a clothing drive, a home essentials drive all resulting in railroad cars of goods and food being sent to Nicaragua. We worked in conjunction with another great organization based in Florida called Food for the Poor. They guided us and helped us with much needed connections in order to carry our vision to fruition. We actually funded the construction of 4 homes with the money we raised, and now there are 4 families who no longer live in dirt floored shacks where staying dry during rains is just an impossibility. Four families whose lives have been changed forever all because a little country girl connected with the pain and the needs of a little boy who lived thousands of miles away.”
I was so intrigued as Catherine told her story, and I could feel the emotion rise in her as she spoke of her accomplishment. It was very obvious to me that this woman was a free spirited giver! She sat in silence for a bit gathering her thoughts as well as her emotions, before she continued by saying:
“That particular experience and having Made A Difference in such a profound way, set the stage for the eventual birth and growth of our Making A Difference foundation. You see, I was never able to shake the strong desire to continue the cause, so a few years ago my husband and I had decided we were going to run a 5K – which is really quite hilarious if you know us. I had never run in my life, and the last time my husband ran was 50 years ago while in the Army! We decided to turn our run into a fundraiser, which would give us a much bigger reason for seeing it to fruition! Many folks sponsored our run and donated generously to our cause which was stated to be for the sole purpose of providing Thanksgiving Dinner to local families in need. Our initial goal was to feed 25 families. Donations came in far beyond our expectations, and we had funding for 50 families; unfortunately, two days after our run I was diagnosed with uterine cancer and things got a bit complicated, to say the least. Our entire family jumped in, and we were able to feed the 25 families. With excess funds, we made a new commitment to feed another 25 families Christmas dinner. With the help of our family, including our grandchildren who packed food bags and decorated the bags as well, Christmas dinner was delivered to another 25 families.
Though thrilled to have completed our commitment, the burning desire to do more, to give more, to help more continued to grow. We officially became a 501(c) NonProfit Organization this past year and we doubled our holiday dinners and also provided much needed clothing and daily essentials, and are now venturing into assisting families find suitable, affordable housing. My heart is so full and I feel so blessed to be able to give back in this way.”
It was obvious to me that this MAD foundation was a primary driving force in the Scalisis’ life, but I couldn’t help but wonder what the rest of their life might look like. How do people like this live in the day to day world, which quite frankly, we all know can be not so kind hearted. I remembered Catherine had told me she was a former court reporter and Mario had worked in the corporate world. Looking at this couple in front of me, it was difficult for me to picture them in those roles. They were both rather laid back, open hearted and were willing to show me signs of vulnerability – certainly not the characteristics of anyone fulfilling their prior roles in the work force. Curious about their obvious transition, I brought Catherine back to the discussion of their prior occupations. What I found out next made perfect sense to me as to how and why these two “showed up in life” they way they do.
I am very quick to learn that Catherine is quite uncomfortable talking about herself in any way that might be perceived as bragging. In fact, Mario had interjected quite a few times already at points in the conversation when he felt she was being a bit too humble. You see, the Scalisis are very well known in their local area, as well as across the country, due to their very successful career with a network marketing company, Shop.com Mario and Catherine have found their success by doing what they love to do: help other people. Mario tells me, “Simply by helping enough other people get what they want, we’ve been able to get what we want. It’s simply a win/win, and an ingenious system.” Mario continues to tell me that he and Catherine had been chosen as Certified Trainer of the Year for their company, and almost jokingly says, “I’ve got to tell you that, because Catherine never would. She feels like it’s bragging.” Their eyes meet, she smiles softly and looks down at the floor. My take is he’s probably spot on!
I ask them both what is the greatest gift their success in their business has brought them, and simultaneously they reply “Time Freedom”. Although I know the meaning of the term, I ask them what exactly does that mean to them. Catherine answers, and again, there’s a continuation of heartfelt connection and passion when she begins to talk:
“Family is our number one priority – always has been, always will be. Time freedom for us means that we are always there for our kids and grandchildren, just like we were always there for our parents when they needed us. We still have Mario’s dad who is 98 years old, and Mario is able to help tend to his needs and make certain he’s well taken care of. We’re able to spend time building incredible memories with our kids and grandkids and we travel wherever we want whenever we want. Our wallet does not dictate our choices. We’re able to go places and do things with our grandchildren that they’ll always remember long after we’re gone. We know kids spell love T.I.M.E. and we make certain we spend as much time as possible with them when we’re not traveling. We have a life filled with love, gratitude, and adventure. In fact, Eric, our next adventure is calling us. I certainly appreciate the time you’ve spent with us today, and unless there’s something else you’d like to discuss, we really should be shoving off now. We’re headed down south for the next few months. I hear the warm ocean breezes calling my name!”
I shook Mario’s hand, and turned to Catherine to do the same but she was quick to give me a hug. As I exited their motorhome, I wished them luck in their future endeavors. As I watched them drive away, I realized it was silly of me to have wished them luck. Luck had no place in their life. This couple was a living example of give more, get more. From my brief encounter with them, it was clear to me they would continue to give – it’s just who they are and how they roll!!