Honors Marty Lyons


Celebrated football great and humanitarian Marty Lyons quotes legendary University of Alabama Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant saying: “A winner in the game of life is the person who gives of himself so that others can grow.”

Those words characterized the spirit of the evening on May 17 at the 33rd Anniversary Gala of the Independent Group Home Living (IGHL) Foundation, which honored Marty Lyons for his successful career in the worlds of sports, business and philanthropy. Yet, addressing the attendees, Lyons made clear that the real heroes and role models in life are the parents of children with disabilities or life threatening illnesses, and terminally ill children.

Sitting beside Lyons at the event was a young man named Gregory, who recently entered an IGHL program. Gregory is one of the first recipients of an iPad through IGHL’s new iPads for Autism program, designed to help facilitate communication for consumers through the use of the iPad. Observing Gregory kiss his mom’s hand before she left the room to get her camera from the car, Lyons recognized the moment as a small gesture of thanks to a mom who gives so much of herself so her son can have a good life.

“The real heroes in life,” Lyons emphasized in his remarks to the audience that evening, “are the people like Gregory’s mom Maria who dedicate every day of their lives to their child.” Calling this incident “one of life’s lessons,” he adds that such gestures often go unnoticed. “In life you have to capture the moment, take a mental picture and never let it leave you,” he continues. “While children often look for role models, for us as parents, we should look to those parents who care for sick, disabled or terminally ill children and who sacrifice to keep their young, and their old, with them as long as possible, as role models.”

IGHL and its Mission
“Marty Lyons is contagious in terms of his excitement and his enthusiasm,” says Walter Stockton, founder and CEO of IGHL. “He’s the kind of person we like to recognize not only as a good friend of IGHL, but also as good friend of the community at large. Marty has taken his fame from sports and benefited so many people who needed help.”

IGHL operates 53 group homes and 25 day rehab centers for developmentally disabled adults, as well as a 32-bed nursing-intensive facility for senior citizens. It cares for children through its affiliates: New Interdisciplinary School, a learning center for children (birth to 5 years) and families, which also provides free evaluations to parents who have concerns about their child’s development; and Angela’s House, a program that assists families caring for medically frail children living at home or in one of its homes, which provides 24-hour nursing support. IGHL and its affiliates serve over 5,000 children and adults in their Suffolk County facilities.

Angela’s House has been an IGHL affiliate for the past 20 years, and together they operate two homes—opening their first house for medically frail and technology dependent children under age 21 in 2000 in East Moriches, and then a second house in Smithtown.

“We’re now building a new Angela’s House,” announces Stockton, “which will open in the fall, in Stony Brook near the University. This house will service medically frail children who are also vent-dependent, needing the assistance of a breathing apparatus.” Stockton adds that Angela’s House provides an outlet so that medically frail children can stay at home on Long Island, instead of going to Massachusetts, Pennsylvania or further away for those services.

A Smithtown resident, Lyons has visited the local Angela’s House, and says, “I was impressed at how the staff is able to facilitate the needs of kids who are medically frail. The House has a homey atmosphere, more relaxed than a hospital scene.”

IGHL’s third affiliate, Flower Barn, is a local greenhouse and nursery growing annuals and perennials for sale to the community. Employing clients from the day rehab program, it’s fully self-sustaining—staff salaries are provided entirely through the sale of the products they grow. Flower Barn provides an opportunity for clients to gain satisfaction from working in the community and learn important job skills.

iPads for Autism
Spearheaded by Frank Lombardi, director of the IGHL Foundation, iPads for Autism was launched in March. All donations go entirely toward the purchase of iPads for autistic children and adults with developmental disabilities, and are distributed through IGHL’s educational and residential settings. More information can be found on (click Explore in the top left corner and search for iPads for Autism).

“Marty’s remarks struck a chord with many of the parents who were in attendance at the Gala,” comments Lombardi. “He continues to be a champion for children and adults in the entire Long Island community.”

An Impressive Career
Following Lyons outstanding career in college football, he went on to achieve an exemplary professional football career with the New York Jets, spanning 12 years and playing both defensive tackle and defensive end. Today, Lyons serves as the Senior Vice President of Operations at the LandTek Group where, by merging his knowledge of sports with his marketing acumen, he helped develop the company into one of the premier turf distributors in the tri-state area.

Even beyond the football field, Lyons has become an achiever in life, founding and bringing the Marty Lyons Foundation through 30 years of fulfilling wishes for terminally ill children. His idea for the Foundation stemmed from a trio of events that happened in one week in March 1982. Lyons realized the pain of the sudden passing of his father, the unfairness of the death of a young person he was mentoring, and the wonder of new life with the birth of his first child, his son Rocky. With the intermingling of grief and joy, Lyons was moved to use his growing football fame and his personal talents to establish a foundation dedicated to helping children find the courage and strength to fight their illnesses. By granting their wishes, he hoped to give them the same opportunity he had—the opportunity to feel important, which dominated the young football star’s life as he heard fans call his name or cheer when he walked on the field. His desire was to foster hope and inspiration in children by making possible what they had perceived as impossible.

The Marty Lyons Foundation has grown to operate in 13 states, including New York, New Jersey, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, Massachusetts, Georgia, and now Alabama, where the Foundation will work with the Birmingham Children’s Hospital, one of the leading pediatric teaching centers in the country. Despite the difficult economic years of 2009-10 when the Foundation cutback on “second wishes,” the Marty Lyons Foundation has granted over 6,000 wishes. While the top requests are usually a trip to Disney World, a computer or a chance to meet a celebrity, Lyons says the Foundation has also fulfilled what may appear as simple wishes, like a First Holy Communion dress, a high school class ring, a horseback ride or a pet dog.

“You can always make more money to fund wishes, but you can’t make more time,” says Lyons. “We’re always fighting time with these children.” He added that the Foundation’s ability to grant over 6,000 wishes is “a tribute to everybody, every chapter, every support in the community.” After expenses for fundraising events are paid, all of the remaining proceeds go to the wish program.

Lyons and a small group of volunteers ran the program, pro bono, for some 19 years before hiring their first paid employee. Now with 30 years of programming, Lyons reports that the Foundation has just hired a wish coordinator and an events coordinator with marketing background. The two newcomers with recent degrees from Columbia and Penn State Universities are young and energetic, says Lyons, and “represent the next generation who will follow us in our mission.” Lyons’ philosophy may be summed up in his words: “The more you do for others, the more you realize who you are, and the more you realize what you’re capable of doing.”

The Significant Work of Foundations
While the Marty Lyons Foundation grants wishes for terminally ill children, the IGHL Foundation was established in 1996 to raise funds for programs and services for persons with developmental disabilities. In similarity, the two foundation founders saw a need and framed a way to address that need.

Lyons was nominated for the IGHL honor by his friend and fellow radio and television sportscaster Ann Liguori, who served as the Gala’s Master of Ceremonies. Liguori has her own Foundation whose mission is to raise funds and awareness for not-for-profits who work in the field of cancer prevention and care.

“When you attend an event like the IGHL Gala, you get a feeling for why you are being honored,” says Lyons. “You are there as a representative of your family, the values that your family taught you, and as in my case, a representative of the people of my Foundation. You are honored for the people you represent, more than for your individual accomplishments.” Lyons thanked the IGHL Foundation for the “tremendous job” it does, and congratulated the Gala attendees, saying, “It’s people like you who take the time and energy, and provide the resources, to make the foundation grow.”

“The Marty Lyons Foundation is what I have devoted my life to,” says Lyons, who encourages people to “adopt a charity.” He adds, “Everybody has the ability to make a difference.”



First Mother, First Lady



Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be both wife and mother of a governor?

“It just seems like a completion, like when you come to a final conclusion about something you’ve wanted to get done,“ says Matilda Raffa Cuomo, wife of Mario and mother of Andrew, her eldest son.

But, like any mother, she worries.

“I feel so good for Andrew — good in one way, (but) it’s bittersweet. I told him, ‘If you become a governor like your father, you’re going to work yourself to the bone, and nobody will appreciate it.’”

She paused a moment, reconsidering, then added. “But I think people do (appreciate him) today. I can’t tell you how many people come up to me and say, ‘Oh, Mrs. Cuomo, he’s working so hard and he’s accomplishing so much. We’re so grateful’ …the people get it now. They have to work together in the legislature and make things happen for families.”

Whether she’s First Lady of New York or First Mother, Matilda is so active, she is often compared to Eleanor Roosevelt. She is the kind of woman who takes the world under her wing as an activist, chairperson, teacher, author, mother of 5 and grandmother of 14. During her interviews with Networking®, her cell phone would ring and she’d field calls from Italy, easily switching languages to that of her parents’ native tongue. Her current national and international involvements are countless to name: as a health advocate, while promoting the 3rd edition of her book at many book parties, and as chair of the IFCW (International Forum for Child Welfare) in November in Italy. At press time, she was planning to share hers and Mario’s 58th wedding anniversary with former President Clinton at HELP USA’s tribute dinner, chaired by her daughter, Maria, which provides homes, jobs and services for America‘s homeless. Now under HELP’s umbrella, she still actively promotes Mentoring USA, which she founded as a way to keep the nation’s first bipartisan, one-to-one school-based, statewide mentoring program alive.

One could say being active is her true nature.

It began when Mario was lieutenant governor and Governor Hugh Carey tapped Mrs. Cuomo to chair the New York State Committee on the International Year of the Child (later, extended to Decade of the Child) for UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund). It changed her life.

“It opened my eyes to the fact that we should be doing better: parenting, nutrition, safety for kids, a lot of issues that we just don’t realize,” she said. In 1990, UNICEF invited her to participate in the World Summit for Children and the Ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Then in 1993, she traveled to Africa with Harry Belafonte to launch an international symposium to Promote Child Survival and Development on Zimbabwe and Mozambique. In 1994, she delivered a keynote address for the UN International Steering Committee at the conference on the Republic of Malta, launching the International Year of the Family.

During her moving Malta speech, she took the opportunity to explain how Governor Cuomo used programs “to make the family more solvent, more capable of dealing with their problems, and to really give them hope for the future.” She was overwhelmed by the response of the international audience. “It was so fantastic for them to know what a government can do for their family. I got such an ovation and I couldn’t even leave the platform because they kept applauding, and, oh my goodness, people were crying!”

As First Lady of New York State, she represented the Governor at the inauguration of President Nelson Mandela. She has been a member of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Committee since 2000 at the invitation of the then Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan.

When she saw how much her husband and the State of New York “needed” her, from 1983 to 1994, she volunteered full-time, and worked diligently with community leaders and state elected officials to establish programs to prevent child abuse, strengthen families, lower school drop out rates, and promote adoptions of foster care children. She chaired and served as chief spokesperson for the “New York State Decade of the Child,” which Governor Cuomo created to improve the quality and access of more than 140 state programs for children and families. Many of these programs are also national.

Decade of the Child became one of the most innovative, far reaching results-driven programs. For ten years, it dug into the root reasons as to why families and children were struggling, and gave them effective assistance. The results were palpable and drop out rates began to shrink.

Matilda also chaired the New York State (NYS) Citizens Task Force on the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, initiated the computerized database Parent Information Line, and worked with the NYS Department of Health and Cornell University to establish a K-12 nutrition education curriculum called “Nutrition for Life,” which was distributed free to all public and private schools. The “Welcome to Parenthood: A Family Guide,” for all new mothers in all hospitals, is being continued today throughout New York State by the State Department of Health, thanks to The Greater NYS Hospital Association.

She supports many causes that she believes in. In fact, each year, she and Mario travel to Long Island to attend the Don Monti Memorial Research
Foundation Ball of the Year (planned this year for Nov. 10), founded by her late longtime friends, Joseph and Tita Monti, founders of the Crest ­Hollow Country Club, Woodbury, who lost their 16-year-old son to leukemia. (“Tita had such a sensitivity about things, and was so bright and dedicated to helping everyone.”)The Foundation uses every dollar it earns to fight cancer and fund cancer research, fellowships, and it ­established the Don Monti Division of Oncology and Hematology at North Shore, centers in Huntington, Glen Cove and Plainview hospitals and the Joseph and Tita Monti Cancer Research Center at Cold Spring Harbor. Matilda developed a close friendship with Tita when Mario was campaigning for the mayoral race prior to the gubernatorial race.


The Birth of Mentoring USA

The New York State Mentoring Program was first launched during the recession in 1987, when the drug crack was rampant on the streets, school dropouts were soaring, and the foster care system was overloaded with babies from teenaged mothers. The child Lisa Steinberg, who had regularly been appearing in school looking emaciated with matted hair and body bruises, had been found dead — abused to death, when no one had reported their suspicions. (Now law mandates that witnesses must report such things to state agencies.) Then Governor Mario asked his wife to develop a nonpartisan program to help the kids stay in school — nonpartisan, he said, so that it could thrive beyond his elected years.

It was a tall order for Mrs. Cuomo, who had most of her alliances with Democrats. But with the help of a few special people, she spoke with child psychologists, planned the program and established the bipartisan board. When she met with other governors’ wives, First Lady Barbara Bush helped her broadcast her mission at the National First Spouses Association in Washington, D.C.

“Barbara Bush, I cannot tell you, she made me feel like more than a million dollars,” recalled Mrs. Cuomo. “When we would meet, there were children’s issues that were very common for us as the first spouse. And First Lady Barbara Bush strongly encouraged me and said, ‘Would you talk to them and tell them to do the same thing you’re doing in New York State with the NYS Mentoring Program?’ … I admire First Lady Barbara Bush immensely, immensely.”

The mission flourished for years: mentors flooded in because they were recruited through agencies, county social service offices and corporations.

“My husband kept telling us: prevention is the key,” Mrs. Cuomo said.


Mentoring USA Goes National

In 1995, a few weeks after former Gov. Mario and Mrs. Cuomo moved into their apartment in New York, she received a call from Andrew. With a grave voice full of concern, he told her he had some bad news and good news.

“I thought something happened to him,” reflected Mrs. Cuomo.

“No, no, no, it’s that program,” he said. “That New York State Mentoring Program is gone.”

Even though it had already helped 10,000 of New York’s children, from Buffalo to Long Island, to stay in school, reconnect to their world, and subsequently, to lead more confident lives, it had been eliminated by the new administration.

“Is this a joke, Andrew?” she asked. “Why?”

And he said, “You’ve got to just take it the way it is…But it is too good of a program to drop…The good news is you can go national now, under HELP USA. That’s what you’ve always wanted to do. And you can help the homeless children too.”

The task seemed impossible. “I have no help… How could I continue the program?” she said.

But Andrew knew his mother well. “Mom, it’s like your baby,” he said. “You never give up, and you nurture your baby. That’s the way you are.”

And that’s how the NYS Mentoring Program became national. For years, Mentoring USA was stuffed into a suffocating, windowless basement office, grappling for help. But Mrs. Cuomo has done all she can to help it flourish, starting with her first, very small pro bono team (Junnko Tozaki and Steve Menchini) — and most recently, by releasing the second edition of her book, The Person Who Changed My Life: Prominent People Recall Their Mentors with sincere essays about the person who changed their lives from close to 100 immediately recognizable, famous people such as Dr. Oz, Whoopi Goldberg, Diane Sawyer, Colin Powell, Julia Child, former President Bill Clinton and Andrea Bocelli. The short essays are warm and wonderful, with wisps of poignant memories: like Martin Sheen, who wrote how his life was forever changed after he witnessed a brave act of passive resistance from someone who had been struck in the face. Or the late Tim Russert, who remembered the nun who introduced him to journalism. The foreword is penned by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who describes her own mentors, Reverend Donald James and Marian Wright Edelman, as giving her a “cloak of protection.” Writing the book was the suggestion of Matilda’s daughter Madeline Cuomo O‘Donohue, an attorney, who knew her mother had made lasting friendships as NY’s First Lady. One hundred percent of proceeds from the book go to Mentoring USA.

Mentoring USA’s mentors are school or community site-based, and are trained and screened to help a child one-to-one for an hour or two per week for a year, giving the child confidence and consistency. (The schools select the children who are most likely to drop out.) Often, they reach children who are too shy to speak in groups.

“The Mentoring USA statistics are terrific, at the end of the year, all of the children’s grades go up, they graduate, finish high school and go on to college,” said Mrs. Cuomo. “Hopefully these young women and men will become mentors to a needy child someday.”

Other parts of the program provide a financial literacy; a corporate employee and career development initiative (which allows children to be exposed to different career opportunities and community service activities) and a Healthy Lifestyles and Self Esteem program, formed in partnership with health expert Dr. Mehmet Oz, which encourages kids toward healthy lifestyle choices and increased self-confidence. (See

Case studies show that it often takes only one caring adult for a child to break through enormous personal, economic or social obstacles. According to a Pew Public/Private Ventures Study of 959 boys and girls (60% from a minority group, 60% boys, and 80% from low income households, 487 were matched with mentors and the remaining 472 were the control group with no mentors) after 18 months, the group with mentors were found to be: 46% less likely to use illegal drugs; 27% less likely to use alcohol; 37% less likely to skip class; 53% less likely to skip school; and 33% less likely to hit someone.

“The home, the school, and the community are the three pillars of support. And when one of them is inadequate or just broken and not working for the child, then the child really suffers,” said Mrs. Cuomo.

Her Own Mentee

While she had all of the responsibilities of a First Lady, Mrs. Cuomo still took on her own mentee, Ely, a young Puerto Rican girl in the fourth grade who spoke bits of English and was determined not to return to school. Her involvement changed the course of Ely’s life.

“She wanted out. And I said to her, ‘What would you do instead of going to school?’ and she would say, ‘I’m going to stay home and just help my mother. I don’t like school, I don’t like the kids. I don’t like the teacher.’”

Ely’s mother had also dropped out of elementary school. But Mrs. Cuomo kept meeting with Ely, asking about her studies and her school experience, coaching her to believe in her own achievement. She had a small breakthrough when she introduced Ely, her mother, and her siblings (who were on welfare), to the main public library in Albany. Mrs. Cuomo will never forget the image of little Ely and her three sisters, surrounded by books, their young eyes wide with wonder.

“I wish I had a camera with me,” said Mrs. Cuomo, her voice warm with the memory. “The little kid Ely and her three other sisters were amazed, all looking up and saying, ‘All these books are free?’”

Ely made it to Albany High School, but was about to drop out again. Mrs. Cuomo met with her and discovered that she had landed in the ‘spitball’ classes, where kids were loud and pegged as underachievers. She met with the school’s administration, who admitted they had misjudged Ely. They moved her to classes that accommodated her excellent academic achievements, especially in math.

Going to bat for Ely was an action that made all the difference, and proved the First Lady’s own point about mentoring. “If I hadn’t spoken up for that child; she would’ve remained completely misplaced. Afterwards, she changed her homeroom, and it was like a fairy story,” said Mrs. Cuomo.

Ely sailed through high school and went to a college she could afford, Hudson Community College, for an Associate Degree in Practical Science. Mrs. Cuomo helped her mother get a job. About 10 years ago, Mrs. Cuomo lost touch with her because Ely and her mother had successfully dropped off welfare. Now, they both had houses of their own, and Ely is in charge of the billing for the Breast Cancer Health Center in Troy, NY. But Ely, now 31, was watching television one night and saw an advertisement that Mrs. Cuomo would be receiving an award from the Maternity and Early Childhood Foundation, Inc.

Ely decided to go to the event to surprise her mentor, and to cheer her on. As the annual event was being televised, she cried out “Mrs. Cuomo!“ and the two were reunited, in tears. Everyone watched the meaningful reunion.

Ely also appeared with Mrs. Cuomo on The View television show, which was framed around Mrs. Cuomo’s book, and included special mentors who have inspired greatness. Mrs. Cuomo said she and Mario plan to attend Ely’s wedding in August.

“I didn’t find Ely… She found me…A mentor will be in your life forever; you always remember your mentor,” Mrs. Cuomo said.

The Early Years

Matilda describes her own mother as the “epitome of a mother… all giving, all sacrifice for her children.” Her father was a significant builder of supermarkets in the northeast, who started with nothing. Fiercely patriotic, during wartime, he converted his factory to make life rafts, and was awarded a medal of honor from Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia of New York City. Her parents put all of their five children through private colleges without loans or Pell grants.

Matilda graduated cum laude from the coeducational St. John‘s Teachers College. She met her future groom, Mario, who attended the all-male classes at St. John’s College. They would talk on the phone for hours about religion and their principles, and of course, George Bernard Shaw’s philosophical play, Man and Superman, about the philosophical roles of women and men.

She still wears the engagement ring that Mario bought her with money from a signing bonus with the Pittsburgh Pirates. After she told him she wouldn’t marry a baseball player, he accepted a full scholarship to law school.

She arrived at her first teaching job at Dutch Broadway School in Elmont, not as Miss Raffa, but as Mrs. Cuomo, a newlywed, and pregnant. Fortunately, Matilda was approved by the principal. For two years, she lived with her in-laws in Holliswood so she could continue teaching and Mario could finish law school. When her last child, Christopher, reached the third grade, she started substitute teaching in neighboring counties.

As Mario worked his way up to become partner, Matilda learned ways to manage her work as a teacher and properly feed her five children. Each Saturday, she would prepare the entire week’s meals in silver foil dinner trays, ready for the oven. (“They never complained about not eating delicious meals.”) Each child had personal chores to do, and Andrew showed a great sense of responsibility at a young age as the “incredibly helpful” little man of the family. “A close family friend, Sidney Termini, made each child their own personal bench, where they could keep their toys in the basement of our house. It gave them a sense of responsibility and ownership.”

As parents, Matilda and Mario believed in limiting television time until the weekend, giving them a curfew and a sense of obligation toward their schoolwork. It was their method of ensuring that each child did well in school. Matilda believes when a child has responsibilities, they become grounded and proud of their hard-earned accomplishments. “You have to develop a structure for the child to really learn management skills. They have to do for themselves, utilizing their time and effort to accomplish a worthwhile goal and to succeed. They develop good work habits that can last a lifetime. The better they do in school, the happier they will be. Success develops self confidence and makes you happy. Therefore I think all parents have to realize that structure and supervision for the children mean a lot,” she said.

She and Mario raised the children to live lives that were larger than themselves by contributing to the greater world.

Said her daughter, Maria Cuomo Cole, during her acceptance speech of the esteemed Matrix Award from New York Women in Communications for her work as chair of HELP USA, which has already aided 250,000 homeless men, women and children, “We learned that every day was an opportunity and an obligation to do something bigger than yourself…with perseverance and the example (of our parents’) selfless lifetimes inspiring our future aspirations and goals. So, thank you, my beloved mother and father.”

(Each child became a professional: Margaret, a radiologist; Andrew, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), NYS Attorney General and now Governor; Maria, volunteer chair of HELP USA; Madeline, an attorney, and Christopher, an attorney and co-anchor of ABC’s news show 20/20.)

Mario’s Race for Governor

When Mario ran for governor against Ed Koch (who had many more resources,) Andrew gave up his college summer to work diligently on the campaign, and booked his mother on a speaking tour across northern New York. For 10 days, Matilda stayed overnight with strangers, — in the homes of 10 Republican women — while driving from Buffalo to Albany and appearing and speaking on every local television and radio station available. (When they won, she hosted a victory slumber-party for the women at the governor’s mansion.) As Republicans, their final vote really counted and Mario, her husband, became governor.

As the governor’s wife, despite her packed calendar, she still raced home to be back for dinner, as Chris was only 11 when they moved to the Governor’s Mansion and Madeline, now an attorney, was attending SUNY in Albany.


Now, true to Andrew’s prediction, Mrs. Cuomo has nurtured the Mentoring USA program like one of her babies. Mentoring USA Italia has been flourishing for 14 years throughout Italy and is now in Spain and Morocco. It has launched the International Forum for Child Welfare, which has consultative status and is sanctioned by the UN. Advocates for children and families attend the conferences from all over the world. In 2010, Mrs. Cuomo’s Mentoring USA co-hosted the IFCW Conference in Poughkeepsie, NY with The Committee for Hispanic Children and Families. In 2011, the IFCW took place in Australia. Mrs. Cuomo will co-sponsor the 2012 conference in Italy with Sergio Cuomo, president of Mentoring USA Italia, on Nov 26-29. Along with Geoffrey Boisi and Ray Chambers, she is a founding member (and founding director) of the National Mentoring Partnership (now referred to as MENTOR) in Washington D.C.

For her massive involvement, Mrs. Cuomo has received numerous prestigious awards as First Lady of New York State from universities and foundations. She has recently been honored with the following esteemed awards: The 2010 Eleanor’s Legacy, Eleanor Roosevelt Lifetime Achievement Award, the Maternity and Early Childhood Foundation Inc’s 2011 Champion for New York’s Children and Families Award; The National Lupus Foundation 2012 Humanitarian Award; The Center for the Women of New York 2012 Woman of Distinction Award; The 2012 President’s Medal for Kingsborough College; and on November 10, 2012, Prospect Park Alliance will dedicate the Matilda Raffa Cuomo Water Playground at Lakeside in Prospect Park.

“I can’t think of anything more essential and worthwhile than to help to provide a better world for our own children and family. That’s where it all begins; our future begins with the children,” said Mrs. Cuomo.

Cover Story April 2012

Top Lawyer, Top Healthcare Trends

In a few years, you may not see one doctor in a small doctor’s office. They’re being snatched up by larger practices as Healthcare facilities are scrambling to merge, patient care is being pooled, and medical records are forced off of paper and into computers, says Judith A. Eisen, one of the top health care lawyers on Long Island and Partner/Director of Garfunkel Wild, P.C., which she joined in 1988.
“Everything is kind of in flux right now… Everybody is shifting around trying to figure out who they will align themselves with, and what it will mean to be in Accountable Care. And, so what we’re seeing is a lot of alliances being forged,” she said.
Currently, the government is offering money for healthcare systems to consolidate to become Accountable Care Organizations, and move toward electronic medical records ( “Their concept is that people will be better taken care of if care is coordinated better,” said Eisen. Other plusses: bigger is better when it comes to negotiating with managed care companies, not to mention the benefits of sharing expensive equipment and supplies. For the patient, this could mean fewer duplications of medical tests and procedures.
The downside? There is a lot of private health information flying through email. Traditionally, the healthcare community has lagged behind the rest of the world regarding electronics.
“The drawbacks are what you see in terms of privacy and security concerns: whereas everybody was used to protecting paper records in a certain way, and had gotten fairly adept at that — they hadn’t yet had appropriate mechanisms to protect electronic information. And if you think about all of the practitioners who are out there now – everybody’s walking around with their Blackberry, or iPhone, or whatever it is. And they’re communicating remotely with hospital IT systems; they may be accessing patient information remotely; patients might be emailing them, and they’re emailing the patients back; they might be emailing each other patient information; when a patient gets transferred, records might be sent electronically…” said Eisen. The records may or may not be hackable.
Another challenge: Getting time-strapped doctors to fumble through new electronic input systems, and it’s “a little like herding squirrels,” to get “doctors who are in their 50s to do something different from what they’ve been doing their whole lives,” said Eisen.
“But healthcare has become very competitive whereas it didn’t used to be” and institutions are scrambling ahead when sometimes it’s better to do your homework and get the right help in order to plan your next move instead of doing things that “don’t make sense and aren’t going to pay off,” she added.

No Recession in Health Care Law
No matter what the economy does, “healthcare never takes a vacation,” says Eisen.
Other trends? It used to be that hospitals got paid on a per diem basis for patients, now it’s one flat fee per disease. Translation: The longer you stay, the less a hospital makes. As a result, the upsurge continues in rehabilitation and long term care facilities. Traditional inpatient hospital services are shifting to more outpatient ambulatory services.
Also, with Medicare and Medicaid programs so expensive, officials are cracking down on healthcare fraud. More doctors and healthcare companies are in the hot seat for white collar crime and fraudulent billing.
“We have seen an astronomical increase in enforcement of healthcare fraud investigations,” Eisen said.
Some of the billing scams are increasingly creative. One of her more interesting cases involved a blood testing facility that bought people’s blood and sent it for phony tests discovered only when the hard-up subjects began showing signs of anemia from too much blood loss. “They discovered it because these people were literally being bled out,” she said.

St. Vincent’s Hospital, NYC
“As I’m sure you’re aware, healthcare policy and regulations are changing constantly, pretty much with every administration,” Eisen said.
In 2006, NY State’s Berger Commission issued a report recommending some downsizing and the closing of five metropolitan hospitals: St. Vincent’s Midtown Hospital, Cabrini Medical Center (Manhattan), Victory Memorial (Brooklyn), New York Westchester Square Medical Center (Bronx) and Parkway Hospital (Queens). Much of the brokering is falling to healthcare law firms. At the time of her interview with Networking® magazine, Eisen was in the midst of billion-dollar deals, one being the parsing of the bankrupt St. Vincent properties in an effort to keep the facilities alive and viable for the people of New York. For example, its cancer center will be taken over. Its large HIV center will be taken over by St. Lukes and Mt. Sinai and its gorgeous, sprawling mental health properties near Harrison will be taken over by St. Josephs in Yonkers, she said.
“We probably did 10 to 12 transactions of all sorts and sold them to existing healthcare providers generally,” she said.
As a member of the firm’s Health Care Practice Group and Finance Group, Eisen advises clients on business, regulatory, and transactional matters.
“I am, in part, a transactional attorney,” said Eisen. Garfunkel Wild is a general practice law firm specializing in the healthcare industry for the largest to smallest healthcare systems in the metropolitan area — from New York Presbyterian or North Shore, down to a sole practitioners’ office.
“There is literally not a hospital in the New York metropolitan area that we have not represented at some point or another,” she said.

Eisen’s Career Arc
It’s no mistake that Eisen chose to practice healthcare law for the past 23 years. For her, it was coming home. Before she headed back to law school, Eisen was a Columbia grad and pediatric nurse who loved kids and worked in one of the most heartbreaking areas of a hospital — tertiary care and neonatal intensive care — where “fascinating” breakthrough science tried to keep infants alive. She excelled at her job and was offered promotions, but when her own daughter was born, every lost baby became even more traumatic.
“When you have a child, you worry about what might happen to that child. And if, every day, you see the worst of the worst, you increase your worry that much more about your own child. But you also start to empathize with the parent as well, and it takes a real emotional toll on you…after a while, it really breaks your heart,” she said.
It drove her into risk management and malpractice, where she began working with lawyers. But after a while, she realized she wanted to take charge.
“Honestly I had spent the first part of my career working with doctors and taking orders from doctors and here I was now taking instruction from lawyers, and I decided that I had to become one or the other,” she said.
She chose to become a lawyer for the sake of her daughter. “It was the shorter route…I didn’t want to spend her entire childhood in medical school and residency…It ended up being a very happy choice.”
When Eisen headed to Hofstra Law School, however, she was a 31-year-old single, working mom, out of school for 10 years, competing against 20-something kids who had fresh test-taking experience. She was nervous, but she had a few advantages: she wasn’t concerned with the social scene, and she had the discipline to lock herself in a room, sometimes for six hours at a time, until she really learned the material. When she did well, she was able to get summer work at law firms.
Then she scored a job in Mergers and Acquisitions at a leading corporate law firm in Manhattan, Schulte Roth & Zabel.
“I definitely took a bump up in pay going from nurse to a lawyer,” Eisen laughed.
The job was interesting, but too impersonal. “It was kind of a feeling of just moving money around,” she said.
Then it was the late 1980s, and firms were offering lawyers huge amounts of money to become investment bankers. Eisen’s colleagues were jumping at the opportunity. But for Eisen, it was the call about a healthcare firm that to her was “the greatest opportunity in the world. It was still transactional but for an industry that I can relate to. It was a very happy combination for me,” she said.
You can imagine what it was like for her, something like a fish heading back to water… but this time, there were a whole new set of questions she’d have to learn the answers to, like what were the legal implications of pulling life support. Or, what do you do when a Jehovah Witness refuses a life saving blood transfusion and her heavy-hitting attorneys form a human chain around her bed? (The transfusion was forced by ex parte court order and police and security, but later overturned by the Court of Appeals for future cases.) For a person with a low boredom threshold, it was the perfect career choice. Each city, state and federal administration has its own ever-changing set of regulations. Healthcare is a “hot potato” topic for each politician. And then there are the introductions, merge suggestions, and, of course, the late-night panic calls the day before hospitals sign multimillion dollar contracts that are filled with pitfalls.
She rose to the top of her field. She went on to marry the firm’s Robert Andrew Wild in 1998. (When the couple argues, they accuse each other of “lawyer-ing” one another). And yet, she still keeps her nurse’s license, and locks herself in a conference room on occasion to concentrate with complicated material. (These days, however, with computers and cell phones buzzing, she says it’s a little more difficult to get away from it all.) Still, in 2011 she was featured in New York Super Lawyers metro edition and in 2006 she was honored by Touro Law Center as Public Interest Attorney of the Year.

Softer Strengths
Eisen also heads a ladies lunch group at the firm. She realizes that women in her profession are more timid about asking for promotions and discusses with the women how they bring unique strengths to law.
“As a general rule, in a softer way, they can be just as effective… A lot of lawyers tend to pound fists on the table; they tend not to be female. Females are cajoling, tend to use kid gloves, backed up with knowledge, facts, research. If you go in prepared, I think that’s a much better tool than intimidation,” she said acknowledging
that shooting from the hip and feigning false bravado isn’t always the most effective way to find a solution.
“If somebody is beating you over the head with a stick, you’re going to walk away feeling bad. But if you can do it in a gentle way, a lot of people on the other side of the transaction can walk away feeling good and not like they’ve been beaten up,” said Eisen, her hazel eyes grinning within her broad smile, set on her petite 5’1” runner’s frame. “It’s not in my personality to be a table banger. I’m not going to intimidate anybody.”
Her survival advice to other women? “If you’re looking for perfection in any one of the areas – whether it’s with your work, your spouse or your kids, or friends, forget about it. You will never be able to give 100 percent to any one of them, so let yourself off that hook.”

February 2011 – Cover Story

February 2011

Keeps Suffolk County Economic Development Humming

Story by Maureen Traxler
Photo by Miranda Gatewood    

Appointed in December 2009, Yves Michel, Suffolk County Commissioner of Economic Development and Workforce Housing, says the most challenging aspect of his job is keeping sight of the overall goal, especially, he adds, “when you have multiple initiatives ongoing simultaneously.” As Commissioner, he directly oversees the Office of Film and Cultural Affairs, Division of Community Development, Division of Workforce/Affordable Housing, and Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach—all in an effort to strengthen and diversify the County’s economy. To that end, the department has begun a new marketing campaign with the tag line—Suffolk County, better for business, better for life—and has launched a new website,

Equally as challenging, Michel notes, is “communicating my status back to the County Executive. To his credit, Steve Levy doesn’t forget anything. As Commissioner, I must make sure that at any moment’s notice, I am keeping him up to date.”

Michel says the addition of the Division of Workforce/Affordable Housing to the Economic Development Department was the wisdom of Steve Levy when he became County Executive in 2004. He says, “The County Executive is very focused on the connection between economic development and affordable housing.” Only a small percentage of the County’s housing stock includes rentals, and an even smaller amount can be considered affordable, workforce or Next G housing—a problem that is particularly vexing for young people just beginning their careers and senior citizens.

Any new development project regardless of scale, large or small, in Michel’s opinion, falls under his rule: O to the power of R cubed. His “O” stands for office or “businesses” that are attracted to the development. The R-cubed stands for the three “Rs” that make a development successful: Residential—the need for nearby housing; Retail—people need a place to shop; and Recreation—access to leisure activities.

Under the County Executive, Suffolk is putting together financing to support affordable housing projects in downtowns and communities such as Bayshore, Melville, Patchogue, Mattituck and Riverhead. The County has built just shy of 1,000 affordable or rental units with an investment of over $25 million. This has been accomplished through partnerships with private developers and not-for-profits like Habitat for Humanity, Long Island Housing Partnership, Community Development of Long Island and the Long Island Builders Institute. For builders to have access to County funds for infrastructure or acquisition subsidies, their projects must contain an affordable housing component. Some notable projects include 10 homeownership units in downtown Bay Shore that received a land subsidy of $318,000; 84 units (including 40 rentals) in Millennium Hills, Melville, that received a $1.5 million land subsidy; and in Patchogue, a subsidy for art space where the artists were selected by lottery and 80 homeownership units (40/40 affordable and market rate) at Copper Beach, which the County subsidized by $3.3 million. Working with Catholic Charities in Coram, the County provided $1.3 million in infrastructure funds for sewers, curb cuts and such for a senior citizen rental unit project, and waived sewer hookup fees in Wyandanch, which is experiencing resurgence.

Recognizing the importance of job opportunities, under Michel’s department, the County began a workforce initiative to help match businesses with young people and people in transition to new careers. The County brought together 20 top IT companies to find out what skill sets they are seeking and if they were willing to commit to an internship program with the view to possibly hire one or two individuals. The County then went to colleges, universities and technical schools to encourage them to modify their curriculum to incorporate such courses as Java, C++, SharePoint and web based programming. The aim, remarks Michel, is to marry the two aspects—preparing the workforce and providing good paying job opportunities—near, of course, available housing at an affordable price. “We hope to encourage our young people to stay here, work here, spend money here and increase our tax base. I call it continuum of importance. Get them educated, get them employed, get them to stay.”

Michel also serves on the Suffolk County IDA (Industrial Development Agency), and on the Aquaculture Lease Board, where along with the director of the Department of Planning and Commissioner of Environment and Energy, he reviews applications for the lease of sections of Peconic and Gardiners Bays for shellfish cultivation.

Gabreski Tech Park
The Commissioner is quite excited about the progress of the Hampton Business and Technology Park at Gabreski Airport, which is under the supervision of his department. In 2008, in a joint venture with the Town of South Hampton, Suffolk County selected Melville-based Rechler Equity Partners to redevelop and manage the 53-acre park. A 440,000 square-foot campus-like environment is expected to break ground shortly. The Town is in the process of approving site plans, and redevelopment of the main artery into the park just off County Road 31 has been completed. Michel reports that the park will include film production, biotech, incubators, manufacturing and R&D. “By far,” he adds, “the crown jewel is the film production center.”

Michel’s prior 25 years experience in the private sector provides a backdrop for his involvement in the film production component. He was employed as President of Sales and Distribution for the Americas with REALVIZ, and held executive positions at Tandem Computers, Discreet Logic and Silicon Graphics on the West Coast. The technologies incorporated by these companies made possible special effects in blockbuster productions like Jurassic Park, Titanic, Twister, Forrest Gump, Lost in Space, and Men in Black, among others.

“With my background and relationships with experts in the video and broadcast industries, Suffolk County will be Hollywood East,” remarks Michel who serves as chair of the Suffolk County Film Commission.

The County is encouraging manufacturing at the park. Michel notes that “while our heritage is in the defense industry, the County has the aptitude, the workforce and the intelligence with our universities and colleges to fight the next war: the green industry and nano technology.”

Public and community service
After returning to Long Island from the West Coast, Michel made the transition into public service, joining the Town of Brookhaven as Deputy Director of Economic Development and Chief Executive Officer of the Brookhaven IDA. While he was successful in bring businesses to the Town, the largest township in the County and the State, Michel realized, “Moving to County government was an opportunity to be on a bigger stage and do so many great things.”
“I’m still not assimilated to the public culture, if you will,” says Michel, “but I think it’s good that you have someone from the private culture working in the public environment to get stuff done. The County Executive recognizes that.” He adds that he appreciates Steve Levy “as a leader who articulates his vision and shares with you what he sees the County can be. It’s my job to execute his initiatives flawlessly, and I have a good team around me.”

Haitian born, Michel speaks French and Creole among other languages. He came to the United States at young age, and continues to actively support the Haitian people who, he notes, “are suffering from back-to-back-to-back tragedies, natural or man-made.” He works closely with several religious groups in Haiti and the Catholic Medical Mission to send goods and supplies.”

Dedicated to youth, Michel worked with the Mission Valley Catholic Youth Organization in California, developing a sports program that promoted Christian values through athletics. To teach the fundamentals and develop the skills of basketball through individual training and sport camps, he founded Michel Enterprises. His passion for basketball is evident in that he has been a player and a referee, and has coached all of his children’s basketball teams.

A Hofstra University graduate with a BA in Computer Science and a Master’s of Business Administration, Michel has been active in the Long Island community, serving on the board of Brookhaven Memorial Hospital Medical Center and as First Vice President of the Boys & Girls Club of the Greater Bellport area. He’s been an advisory board member of Brookhaven Dress for Success; the Sachem High School Business Alliance Program, encouraging young people to enter a career focused around what they like to do whether their interests are in planning, development, human resources, waste management or highways; and Stony Brook University’s Corporate Education and Training Group, helping prepare young people for jobs with companies moving into the Town of Brookhaven.

“You’re at your best when you serve,” says Michel, who believes that with all the things he’s done in the past, God prepared him to support his career and service efforts. “When I look back I say, wow, that came in handy, again and again. It puts one in a position to be grateful and thankful for what one has. More importantly, for what you can do for others. That’s really what economic development is—what we can do to help our economy, to help others, to help our fellow citizens, neighbor by neighbor, block by block, community by community, town by town, County by County.

Michel has received numerous sports, business and community service awards. Village of Port Jefferson residents, he and his wife Monique have three daughters: Paris, who played basketball in college, has started a Master’s degree in social work and is working for a nonprofit in Los Angeles; Briah, a senior who played basketball with St. John the Baptist High School; Samantha, a sixth grader who Michel says is “probably the most athletic of all his children;” and Yves II, a first grader “who was dribbling before he could walk.”

March 2011 – Cover Story

Best-Selling GAIL BLANKE Follows Her Own Advice: Take Charge of Your Life

Story by Sally Gilhooley
Photo by Christine Coniff Sheahan   

In the 21 year history of Networking® magazine, Gail Blanke, founder, president and chief executive officer of the life-coaching company, Gail Blanke’s Lifedesigns, LLC., is one of only a handful who have graced our Networking® cover twice as the singular focus of a story. Fifteen years ago in September, 1996, Blanke was featured on the cover when, as president of Avon Lifedesigns, she presented self-empowerment workshops to corporate women. As one of the youngest of their female senior vice presidents, she launched Avon’s Breast Cancer Awareness Crusade in 1992 which has now raised close to $700 million.

A sought-after motivational speaker and best-selling author, Blanke inspires readers and audiences by instilling in them the knowledge that when you throw out both physical and mental negativity in your life, what she calls “life plaque,” you “step forward, out of the stands and onto the field,” asking “How good could I make it, this life of mine, starting today?”

A Cautionary Tale
On July 28, 2006, that general question became personal in a critical way for Blanke when she underwent a lifesaving laparoscopic double-bypass surgery she hadn’t even known she needed. Recently, she shared her story with the 800 guests at the 10th annual Long Island Go Red for Women luncheon hosted by the American Heart Association at Crest Hollow Country Club, Woodbury.

After being “bothered” on occasion by heart palpitations and shortness of breath that her own doctors had told her not to worry about, Blanke experienced spells of what she describes as “a sort of dark, pressured, achy feeling” in her chest, She became alarmed one hot July day when “the bad feeling” became so strong she felt she could not even make it back to her office. She says, “This was when I went from a cavalier, arrogant and entitled woman who took her good health for granted to a humble person who actually, for one brief shining moment, decided to listen to what someone, something – her own body? – was trying so hard to tell her.”
Never a smoker and always a daily exerciser, Blanke’s electrocardiogram, blood pressure and chest x-rays were normal. However, after telling her cardiologist that her strange feeling was accompanied by “tired arms” he decided to do a stress test then and there. Blanke reports, “I flunked the stress test big time,” adding, “two days later I went into Lenox Hill Hospital. Two days after that, I had bypass surgery. Two days after that, I went home. Two months later…I really was as healthy as a horse. Finally.
“The day after I got home from the hospital, Abigail, our younger daughter, spontaneously put her arms around me and told me she loved me. ‘Thanks, darling,’ I said. ‘I sure am lucky.’ ‘I don’t think it was luck, Mom,’ she said. ‘You followed your instincts.’ “

Lessons Learned
Here’s what Blanke says she learned about following one’s instincts:
1. Be humble. I was arrogant about my glowing “good” health…You don’t have to be invincible. You do have to be secure enough to be imperfect, to need repairs and adjustments. And to get them.??
2. Listen. When the little voice says, “You know what? This doesn’t add up. I’ve got a bad feeling,” listen and take action…This is your life, my friend, and you’re in charge.??
3. Trust the true experts. When I was in my 20s, a boss gave me a great piece of advice: “You’ll never know everything about everything. But there will always be someone who knows everything about one thing. Go to the experts and ask for help.” …The evening before my operation, Valavanur Subramanian, the renowned surgeon who performed the bypass, took my hand and said, “I won’t kid you, Gail. You’ve got a few things that need to be repaired. But I can fix them, and I will fix them.” “I’m all yours,” I said. And at that moment I made his job about 1,000 percent easier.??
4. Tap into your spiritual side. When I was lying on the gurney, waiting to be wheeled into the operating room, I said every prayer I had ever learned, as I usually do when my back is up against the proverbial wall. I also did some serious meditating. I envisioned myself opening a huge golden door and stepping across the threshold into a field of infinite abundance and boundless energy. When I saw Dr. Subramanian, I smiled.??
5. Get a stress test. I’m not kidding.

Stepping Into Your Power
How does Blanke view the changing role of women? In a recent interview with Networking®, she says, “I think life and work are more complex than ever for women and remain tremendously challenging, but I also think women are more powerful because they have taken greater control of their lives, deciding how their lives should go and not waiting for permission to be invited or discovered.

“I have a program that I do for organizations,” she adds, “Stepping Into Your Power, which helps women create a vision of how good their lives could become. Usually it is a matter of letting go of roadblocks we sometimes throw up in front of ourselves. This is a program done in different parts of the world to enable women to realize how good they already are and how to put themselves out there.”

Blanke cites an example that illustrates the concept of what she advocates which is to let go of anything that could stand in the way of what we are out for in our lives. She recalls that in the film, ‘A Beautiful Mind’ with Russell Crowe as John Nash, the schizophrenic genius who was being considered for the Nobel Prize, the interviewer for the Nobel committee asks Nash, “Do you still see …” and John Nash finished the interviewer’s sentence for him which referred to the “people” Nash saw in his mind for years, said, “Yes, they (the people) are still there but I choose not to acknowledge them.”

Blanke explains, “Like all our dreams and all our nightmares, you have to feed them for them to grow. So, what do you feed, your dreams or your nightmares? In my view, you can’t grow if you don’t let go and letting go is a kind of daily thing, one day at a time.”

At the heart of Blanke’s methodology is what she terms her Michelangelo Method. In 1504, when Michelangelo finished sculpting his David, people were stunned by its beauty and one patron of the arts asked him, “How did you know how to sculpt David?” Michelangelo answered, “David was always there in the marble. I just took away everything else.”

In this well-known anecdote Blanke sees a life lesson saying, “Our job is to help ourselves and people we love to chisel our way out of that marble which is the entire thrust of my book, Throw Out Fifty Things: Clear the Clutter, Find Your Life. Letting go of what I call the life plaque – physical and emotional debris we have piled up on ourselves that keeps us from moving forward. The easiest way to begin that process is to go home and throw out fifty things.

“When you warm up by throwing out the physical stuff, you get to the old regrets and the anger. This is a book about how bad could it get to how good could I make it. Which is where I think our country is moving right now,” she remarks.

Throw Out Fifty Things Movement
Blanke is creating an entire movement around the concept of people helping people let go and move forward together. Lifedesigns is training people to be coaches and to do well by doing good, making money and making a difference. A Throw Out Fifty Things reality show is being developed right now on that concept and is being pitched to the networks by a major production company.

“What is really important for us is to go from waiting to see how it all works out to taking action now,” says Blanke. “A woman blogged on my site to say she had been driving past a church which had a sign saying ‘If you have been waiting for the sign, this is it.’ She went home and really took charge of her life and got rid of anything holding her back.”

Taking Charge of Life
In summing up the essence of her message, she says, “The key thing is, this isn’t a movie we are watching, this is our lives. You are absolutely in charge so you have to take charge and, if you have to, save your own life.” She adds, “And, maybe encourage someone else to save theirs. That is a mission of mine in terms of women and in general. In this movement I want to make good all the things I have been writing and speaking about all these years. It doesn’t have to be about me. I want it to be about other people doing this and helping each other.”

Blanke has authored four books: Taking Control of Your Life: The Secrets of Successful Enterprising Women; In My Wildest Dreams: Living the Life You Long For; Between Trapezes: Flying into a New Life with the Greatest of Ease and Throw Out Fifty Things: Clear the Clutter, Find Your Life. She has advised presidential candidates, college presidents, Fortune 500 CEOs, appeared on FOX TV, CNN and CNBC and had articles about her in The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Business Week, Self and others.
In 1999, at the International Women’s Forum Conference, she received the Women Who Make a Difference Award and, in 1994, received a Star Award presented by the New York Women’s Agenda. Also in 1994, she was honored with a Matrix Award for Public Relations by New York Women in Communications, Inc. In 2003, she became president of the New York Women in Communications Foundation which provides scholarships for young women interested in the communications industry.

A Cleveland native, Blanke attended Sweet Briar College and Yale University. She lives in New York City with her husband, F. James Cusick, a writer, and their two daughters.

April 2011 – Cover Story

April 2011

Hosts Group for the East End Benefit June 25

Story by Christine Giordano
Photo by Quentin Bacon   

Throughout her life, celebrity culinary entrepreneur, food network sensation, and author Ina Garten, a.k.a. The Barefoot Contessa, has risked it all for the sake of following her dreams. Yet, if she hadn’t been charmed by the beauty of the East End of Long Island, she may never have quit her day job in the White House to take the largest leap of her life. On June 25, she’ll be giving back to the community she loves so well by presenting one of her famous savory dinners for the sake of Group for the East End, which has been pivotal in preserving the wide open spaces that give the North and South Forks of Long Island their character.

“I feel really strongly about maintaining the historic feeling and the beauty of the East End of Long Island. And Group for the East End is incredibly active in trying to maintain open land, which I think is really important,” said Garten. “There shouldn’t be anyone who doesn’t support it.”

The dinner, to the theme of “Barefoot Under the Stars,” will be Group for the East End’s annual benefit, held at the bucolic Wolffer Estate, with its acres of rolling, green vineyards and Tuscan-style winery.

The evening’s tented décor will have a shimmery ambiance to match the starlit magical theme, romantic tables set with garden roses and blooming peonies, a silent and live auction, festive drinks made from Wolffer wines, good music, and, of course, a savory meal with recipes from the Contessa’s seven cookbooks. Guests can expect a “stunning interior that reflects the night, as well as Garten’s good taste,” said Lilee Fell, event planner, who calls Garten “delightful to work with,” and “the best of the best.”

Garten has taken a truly hands-on approach to her co-chair role, says director of development Judith Christrup, who says she is “fantastic.” The celebrity chef is actively planning the menu and coordinating with caterer Brent Newsom, who is a pro at executing the Contessa’s recipes and has contributed a few of his own to her books.

“I think it should be a fabulous party,” said Garten. “We’ve all been to benefits where it’s so boring you just can’t wait to get out of there, and I want this to be a party nobody wants to leave!”

And of course, there’s the menu.

“The dinner is a Barefoot Contessa dinner, and people will have a choice of grilled scallops with potato and celery root puree or slow-roasted filet of beef with basil parmesan mayonnaise,” Garten said. Along with roasted shrimp, crabcakes with remoulade, and endive mesclun blue cheese salad.

Businesses often rally to buy sponsorships to appeal to the benefit’s elite audience of who’s whos, such as special guest Alec Baldwin. Nicole Miller and Dina Merrill have been known to appear, along with other successful business leaders who take their summer leisure in the Hamptons.

Co-chairs and committee members are a special group of highly influential people whose high ideals include preserving the beautiful, original East End of Long Island for the sake of future generations.

“These are people who can raise between a half million and a million dollars in one night. That’s how much influence they have. If you’re somebody who wants to market to second home owners in the Hamptons who have high net worth, then this is the party you want to advertise with,” said Christrup. Tickets start at $450. Website hits for the benefit usually soar over 10,000, and the media gives it a lot of attention, says Christrup.

What It’s All For
An interesting thing about Group for the East End is that you can actually see what they do in the very beauty of the landscape. Whenever you look to a place that’s wild and wonderful out east, you’re probably looking at a piece of The Group’s handiwork. The sweeping, wide-open golden fields, the nature trails dotted with wildflowers, the swaths of swaying green trees, the osprey towers that give homes to beloved fish hawks… are obviously all valuable pieces of Hamptons real estate. Yet years ago, someone had to decide to fight for the million-dollar land to be preserved, and educate people as to the reasons to do so, or else, the North and South Forks of Long Island might just have become like any other area, with homestead after homestead, mall upon mall, its historic farmsteads and bucolic beauty bulldozed and gone forever. The Group derives 40 percent of its annual budget from the benefit, which it uses to protect, preserve, and restore the environment of eastern Long Island through education, citizen action and advocacy.

From Group for the East End are Aaron Virgin, vice president, Judy Christup, director of development and Robert DeLuca, president. Photo by Christopher London

Known as the local watchdogs for the environment, the Group fights illegal environmental activities, and has an impressive record of convincing local governments toward responsible development and zoning codes, adopting new wetlands, open space and farmland preservation laws; and investing their resources in projects that clean up local waters, conserve our beaches and protect wildlife habitats.

The Group is currently working on a tighter toxics registry law for New York State, so the state must notify people of toxic groundwater plumes in their neighborhoods. (see
“We speak up for the environment which can’t speak up for itself,” said Christrup.

It also pairs with neighborhood organizations and teaches school children and adults to bond with the world around them through curricula and field trips.

When governments see community-wide action, policy becomes more effective, according to Group President Robert DeLuca.
“The Group has been a key stakeholder in environmental initiatives for 40 years,” DeLuca said.

In the past, the Group (formerly known as Group for the South Fork) and led in part by Kevin McDonald, director of public lands for The Nature Conservancy, LI chapter) was instrumental in passing the 2-percent law which generates money from the sale of real estate to preserve open space, farmland, and certain historic structures. Subsequently, the Community Preservation Funds are responsible for fighting for the protection of about 10,000 acres in East Hampton, Southampton, Riverhead, Shelter Island and Southold. Some favorite preserved places include the Squires Pond area of Hampton Bays, Pine Neck Preserve in East Quogue, the Peconic Estuary, Stony Hill Woods in East Hampton and The Dickerson Creek and Sunset Beach waterfronts in Shelter Island.

The Garten Story
The cause had been ripening in the Contessa’s heart for quite some time. Garten’s home where she films her cooking show sits on a parcel that had been owned by the same family since 1640. She was on the Village of East Hampton’s Design Review board for years “trying to maintain the historic feeling of the town” with its historic buildings on Main Street and charming shopping district on Newton Lane.

“It’s a hard thing to do but I feel really strongly about it,” she said.
She had been donating money to the Group for the East End for years, and, as dinner parties are her specialty, decided to get “more hands on” with the gala.
It was the East End of Long Island that inspired Garten to dare it all for her dream, afterall.

As the daughter of a physician (father) and real estate developer (mother), Garten went to Business School at George Washington University, and had worked her way up the career ladder in the White House to the Office of Management and Budget, where she wrote nuclear energy budget and policy for Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. On the side, she flipped houses in the Dupont Circle and Kalorama neighborhoods and had a passion for hosting dinner parties at her home.

“My job was challenging but wasn’t what I loved to do,” she explained.

Her life changed direction when she spotted an advertisement for a small grocery store in the Hamptons. Soon, she and her husband Jeffrey were driving up to see it and explore the “really lovely” East End of Long Island. She was seeing the Hamptons for the first time, and she was sold.

On that day, never one to dip a toe in halfway, Garten gambled it all to begin her culinary career, using the nest egg she had gathered from flipping houses.

“I bought the business in 1978, and stayed for the next 30 years,” she laughs.

To this day, when someone asks the Contessa what advice she would offer to would-be culinary entrepreneurs, she says to “take risks.”

“You have to jump in the pond and splash around and figure out what pleases you while you’re there,” she says. “I think a lot of people try to make a decision from safe ground. And you don’t really know what it is until you’re in the pond. I think that’s the best I have. Just jump in the pond and splash around.”

Which of her own risks is foremost in her mind?

“Leaving a job in the White House to own a grocery store,” she answers without hesitation. “We basically risked every dollar we had to buy the store.”

The store already carried the name Barefoot Contessa after the name of a classic movie from the 1950s with Humphrey Bogart and Ava Gardner. But Garten brought her own style to it. Soon, she was expanding and relocating it from Westhampton to East Hampton, and the shop was becoming a favorite place for year-round East Enders, tourists and celebrities alike.

Hers was one of the first gourmet grocery stores in the Hamptons. When customers walked into the Barefoot Contessa on East Hampton’s Newtown Lane, they were greeted by the smell of fresh coffee, and sweet bakery treats. They were offered decadent samples, lifted by upbeat music, and embraced by the shop’s décor that somehow managed to be both elegant and earthy.

“It was very important to me that the store felt like a party — that you didn’t feel like you were coming to go grocery shopping — that it felt like you were invited to my house,” she said. And the shop became integral to her success. “It was the way I learned about food, really,” she said.

Her customers taught her something that would carry her through the rest of her career.

“I learned, very early, that people eat differently at home than they do in restaurants,” she said.

At first, she offered much fancier foods to her Hamptons customers, but they were searching for much simpler and traditional meals to take back to their houses.

“I found that people wanted to have roasted chicken and roasted carrots, and so I really learned how to do that much more,” she said. The knowledge would carry into her book career. “Fortunately when I am writing cookbooks, it’s the same kind of cooking, because that’s what people want to eat at home,” she said.

On to the Next Dream
About the time when other gourmet groceries started to appear in the Hamptons, the Contessa sold the shop to her employees and headed to the office space above it.

“ I think if you keep moving forward, then people will always be copying what you’ve done yesterday. So I really don’t worry about it,” she said.
But she wasn’t exactly sure what her next move would be.

At the time, she was pouring over possibilities, considering what she would do next, or even, if she would ever work again.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do, I just decided it was time to change, to do something new,” she said.

And then finally, in “sheer desperation” for something to do, she began to pen her favorite recipes.

“I thought well, I’ll write a cookbook while I’m figuring out what to do,” she said. “And then, as long as I was doing it, I figured I’m going to write it and try to make a business out of it.”

Again, Garten risked all of her resources for the sake of her next dream.

“I literally put in more money than anyone would ever make in a cookbook, to write it, photograph it and publicize it,” she said. “And that turned out to be the best investment I ever made.”

The book was beautiful. It had large, vibrant photos of each prepared meal. She hired Amelia Durand to put her on the literazzi map and expanded her potential into a whole new realm of success and possibility.

The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook led to a second book, a few years later, and then her own show on the Food Network (filmed in her crisp, white East Hampton kitchen), and six more books, along with a line of baking mixes on

Lights, Camera, Action
“What you see on television is the real Garten. She’s an absolute joy,” says her longtime caterer Brent Newsom.

The first time the cameras turned her way, she said “It was terrifying.” Nine years later, she chuckles, “It’s still terrifying,” but she makes it look easy.

Each of her Food Network shows is like a performance that builds to the climax of a well-enjoyed meal. When watching, her television audience gets the idea that they are almost her confidante, her silent, secret cooking partner as she plans and prepares delicacies such as lobster paella, Moroccan chicken, beach barbecue hamburgers, French pastries, etc. She explains her reasons for her choices, talking quietly to the camera, revealing how she once found some dishes daunting. Then, she takes a moment to give the viewer a bit of confidence. This might be done through a handy tip — like how adding a little olive oil to chopmeat keeps a beefy hamburger juicy… or taking a pastry bag apart to explain how it works before loading it with each ingredient and spreading sweet dough onto gleaming silver cookie sheets.

It’s easy to see why she might be contagious. As her cheerful brown eyes look directly at the camera lens, enthusiasm fills the television screen. She coos things like “I love saffron!” and uses unusual word combinations like “gorgeous [chicken] juices” to show her eager anticipation for, say, roasted chicken, prepared to seep over sourdough croutons. Her favorite herbs are in most spice cabinets — thyme, garlic, lemon and basil — French Provencal from her very first Julia Child cookbook, where she first learned to cook as a newlywed to Jeffrey (whom she met when she was 15.) Jeffrey went on to become an Undersecretary of Commerce for International Trade and dean of the Yale School of Management. He is now the Juan Trippe Professor in the Practice of International Trade, Finance, and Business at Yale. He advises businesses on alternative energy and writes books on business issues.

At the end of the Barefoot Contessa show, there’s often a guest who comes to marvel and dine as the fresh cooked meal is served from bright white dishes, a color to “let the food shine through.” It might seem simple, so easy, but it is all planned to perfection.

“It’s harder than you think to do something simple,” she says during the interview with Networking® magazine, a smile sounding in her voice.

Garten has been honored with various coveted awards, including a Matrix Award from New York Women in Communications in 2010, “for her great success communicating about food on a multimedia platform to the world.”

The television show lends success to the cookbooks and vice versa. Her latest, book, How Easy is That: Fabulous Recipes & Easy Tips, sold almost a million copies in six months. In its introduction, one can see hints of her marketing genius as she appeals to the busy household, writing, “this book is about saving you time and avoiding stress.” She says, she too, has only 30 minutes to prepare a weeknight meal, but that she is “still not willing to sacrifice any of the pleasure of making a delicious dinner for my husband Jeffrey and my friends.” She promises the recipes are “easy enough to make, with that deep delicious flavor that makes a meal so satisfying.”

The funny thing about food is that no matter what the economy does, eating is always in style. As Garten’s success explodes with each new venture, she’s due to simply sparkle as she celebrates in the Hamptons this June, at Group for the East End’s Barefoot under the Stars. And, with Long Island being such a bright and beautiful spot on Planet Earth, it shouldn’t be too difficult to support their worthy cause.

Join the Group for the East End on a nature exploration. Photo by Kate Schertel


An article was published in the 1970’s in Newsweek magazine called “the End of Eden,” which warned about the heavy waves of development coming toward the East End of Long Island.

“The East End was not ready nor equipped to handle the onslaught of development which was, at that time, following the roadway expansion of the Expressway into Sunrise Highway,” said Group for the East End President Robert DeLuca.

Zoning laws were, in many ways, in their infancy, but the residents galvanized to seek strategies to preserve the land that they loved, establishing The Group in 1972. By the time saving the environment became a mainstream movement, Group for the East End (then called the Group for America’s South Fork) had already had established an entire staff who were mapping fragile resources and pushing through groundbreaking ecological policy.

“They are a force for conservation that was ahead of its time,” said DeLuca.
With more than 2,500 supporters, over the years, they’ve become the largest conservation advocacy group in the five eastern towns, and major stakeholders in environmental initiatives for the last 40 years, according to DeLuca. They’ve taken on causes related to coastal erosion, local airport expansion, natural gas terminals, groundwater protection and open space preservation. In order to act as an objective watchdog of governmental decisions, The Group does not rely on local government funding to operate its programs, but reaches out to the community.

Some major efforts of The Group have helped governments and communities to set aside land for the sake of groundwater, instigated lawsuits to protect wetlands, urged Suffolk County to buy Greenbelt land and preserve thousands of acres of farmland. They’ve lobbied the state to allow East End towns to cluster development away from natural resources, and inspired towns to buy land and plan development to protect drinking water. Their legal arm coerced Union Carbide to provide well filters for 1,600 homeowners whose wells had been contaminated with the pesticide Temik. Seeing the pollution caused by incinerating garbage, they helped East Hampton create a residential recycling program as early as 1987.

They helped establish a 2% transfer tax on certain real estate transactions, dedicated to land protection efforts in the East End towns – amounting to more than $500 million to save 8,000 acres in 10 years. The Group alerted the public about hazardous plumes in Calverton, and educates 1,500 students about local wildlife and habitat, among many other accomplishments.

Part of The Group’s function is to teach people to “transform themselves ethically for the sake of the environment.” They not only work on the policy level, but also help and inspire communities toward creating ecological changes that they can see. The educational arm of their organization also works with youth, through school curricula, during summer programs, and within field trips, activities such as dune planting and birdbox building and river paddles offered to both adults and children.

Members believe that “a strong and informed environmental voice must be part of the community planning process if long-term environmental protection is to be assured for the future,” according to The Group’s website

“It’s an ethical process… to invite people to understand how the environment, economy, and quality of life are all related,” said DeLuca.

– Christine Giordano

Significant Milestones of the Group for the East End …

The Group secures a $150,000 grant from the Whitehall Foundation to inventory and map all of the natural resources on the South Fork.

In its lawsuit to compel the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation to protect tidal wetlands in East Hampton, the court grants the Group “standing.” This is the first time a public interest group is granted standing in New York State.

At the Group’s insistence, Suffolk County purchases for preservation critical land surrounding Poxabogue Pond, which today makes up the Long Pond Greenbelt.

The Suffolk County Legislature approves funding for Phase 1 of the Suffolk County Farmland Preservation Program. The program, created by the Group and County, saves more than 5,000 acres of prime farmland.

At the Group’s urging, the state grants East Hampton and Southampton Towns the power to protect the environment by requiring that new development be clustered away from important natural resources. The next year the state legislature allows all towns in New York State to have this power.

1984 At the Group’s urging, East Hampton and Southampton Towns set unprecedented limits on development of lands over important groundwater recharge areas.

The Group orchestrates the state’s first three-level cooperative government land preservation effort. New York State, Suffolk County and East Hampton Town purchase 560 acres of drinking water recharge land at Hither Woods.

1987 The Group helps East Hampton Town embark on a revolutionary source separation and residential recycling pilot program.

1988 The Group and community partners secure the United States Congress’ nomination of the Peconic Bay into the National Estuary Program.

After the Group’s successful education and lobbying effort, all five East End towns reject plans for incinerating garbage and opt in favor of environmentally sound recycling programs.

The Group helps secure passage of the L.I. Pine Barrens Protection Act to protect 50,000 acres of Pine Barrens land in central Long Island. It results in the creation of a new statewide funding source for future environmental projects.

The Group orchestrates the creation of a $30 million matching fund program between the County of Suffolk and the five Towns of eastern Long Island – which is approved by voters in all five East End towns on Election Day.

The Group leads a 200-member coalition of civic, business, and government and environmental groups on eastern Long Island to create a Community Preservation Fund (CPF). After fighting back a campaign of lies, distortions, and disinformation by state building and real estate interests, the public votes to levy a 2% transfer tax on certain real estate transactions. The proceeds of this tax are dedicated to land protection efforts in the East End towns – amounting to more than $500 million.

The Group leads the CPF coalition at the county level to create a $300 million environmental protection fund paid for by a portion of a .25 % sales tax extension, which is invested county-wide in open space, wetlands, farmland and surface water & habitat improvement. Voters approve it on Election Day.

Group for the South Fork rallies the community to support the purchase of the 57-acre Duke property on Three Mile Harbor in East Hampton. The Group also convinces Southampton Town to adopt new, better coastal development requirements, which prohibit bulkheads and other damaging coastal structures on the ocean.

In East Hampton, the Group develops watershed management strategies. In Southampton, the Group leads a successful campaign to preserve both the 40-acre Barrel Hill watershed property in North Sea and the 15-acre woodland/wetland parcel in the Tuckahoe area of Southampton.

Group for the South Fork and The Nature Conservancy lead the public relations campaign that successfully encourages voters to extend the Community Preservation Fund until the year 2030.

Group for the South Fork becomes the Group for the East End and adds a North Fork office.

The Group works with the community to win approval for a new energy-efficient building code in Southampton. It also commences work with other community leaders on the Bay-to-Sound Trail Project in Greenport, defeating the Broadwater floating natural gas terminal, forming Calverton Grasslands Conservation Initiative.

The Group fights out-of-scale development proposals on Lake Montauk, helps New Suffolk restore its waterfront, alerts the public about hazardous plumes in Calverton, partners with the Fish & Wildlife Foundation to stop storm-water runoff at the Mattituck Inlet and educates 1,500 students about local wildlife and habitat. n
(Provided by Group for the East End. See

May 2011 – Cover Story

Long Island’s Own
Rock Star, Mentor, Fundraiser Extraordinaire

Story by Christine Giordano
Photo by Ray Garcia   

Deborah “Debbie” Gibson took the stage again like a rock star. She wasn’t the 16-year-old kid with the baggy clothes, the spikey hair and the black bowler hat anymore. She was the woman who has come into her own, radiant in her talent, comfortable in her skin, and enjoying of all the empowerment of her new decade.

At 40, Gibson is a polished piece of art.

As a teenager, she made history when she sang the words to her hit song “Foolish Beat” and love-anguished teens cried and lip-synced, right along with her,

Now, her trademark tones are that much stronger, that much deeper, and, as she grips the microphone with both hands and sings, “I will never love again…” her soulful eyes searching the crowd … her audience is transfixed, responsive to her emotion, allowed to feel what she feels. She’s working on a new album and expecting to reemerge and catapult back into the limelight.

“I feel more empowered than ever,” she said after a recent performance on Long Island, her blond hair shining, her tank top and sparkling hipbelt revealing a lithe body toned-to-perfection by her disciplined diet and yoga practices.

“Women are more empowered than ever, looking better than ever, with so many more options in life,” she said. “It is an interesting time to be a woman and there is a lot for a songwriter to write about.”
She had touched down on Long Island to support the Head Injury Association, run by family friend and executive director, Liz Giordano. The Head Injury Association’s mission is “to maximize Traumatic Brain Injury survivors’ potential by providing the necessary residential and support programs to Individualize, gain independence, Integration and Productivity.” (See story on page 16) Gibson inspired the glee choir into existence, and found that sometimes, injured people who don’t remember much else from their past, remember music. And music becomes a connector, becomes therapy.

“For someone of her stature to take the time,” said Giordano after Gibson wowed the audience with her pop hits and performed “Lean On Me.” “She flew in from L.A. last night to do this.”

With mere minutes to spare, Gibson practiced for ten minutes with the choir before showtime. “Lean On Me” seemed to be the perfect song for a choir of people bonded by severe injury — some, in fact, relearning how to achieve basic life functions.

“We all need someone to lean on…” they sang in harmony with Gibson taking the lead, reaching out to the audience with her arms wide open, drawing them out, almost imploring togetherness. The audience of more than 200 people responded — clapping, singing, moving with her music, then jumping to their feet in ovation.

“I was so taken with the group of people you saw on stage today,” she said. “These folks up there obviously have challenges in their lives and yet they are in better spirits than most people I know living in L.A., with the world at their feet, you know?”

On May 2, Long Island’s darling will return to hold a fundraising dinner at Oheka Castle to benefit underprivileged children who show artistic promise. Her Gibson Girl Foundation awards scholarships and instruments to talented children who have a desire to attend entertainment camps that are usually very expensive.

“Their talent will just never be nurtured if they don’t somehow find the money to train,” said Gibson.

Over the past three years, her Foundation has given away $75,000 and matched children to whatever camps were best suited to develop their specific talents. Gary Melius, Oheka’s owner, is donating the Huntington castle for the evening. Tickets are $250, and the event will honor Hank Lane (Hank Lane Music) and Ira Wallach (Triangle Distribution/Linear Logistics.)

“Deborah was raised on Long Island for most of her life, so it makes sense to have her gala here in Oheka,” said her mother, Diane, who has managed Debbie’s career for 24 years. Payment is made directly to the camp, and based on level of need.

The idea for the Foundation formed when Deborah launched her own Electric Youth songwriting and performing arts camp. She was amazed by the talent of the children, and moved to action when the trembling economy struck the children’s families.

“There are talented kids who are writing these amazing songs but don’t have the money to demo them, or, you know, can’t scrape together the funds for the arts education,” said Debbie, whose own path to success was sculpted with early voice lessons and community theater in Hempstead, NY.

In her camps, held in places such as L.A and New York (with plans for Chicago, Miami and New Orleans), children are mentored through professional voice teachers to the stars, musicians and directors in a non-judgmental, non-competitive environment.
Gibson recalls a “little itty-bitty homeless girl,” about nine, living out of a car with her mother and sister “for years,” who somehow arrived at her entertainment camp and channeled all of the pain and hardship from her young life into a song. With a voice like Joanie Mitchell, the child sang that no matter what is going on in the world, and in her life, “she gets to wake up every day and see the sunshine and that is all she needs,” recalled Gibson, emotional, her brown eyes filled with hope from the memory. “But at nine. Oh my God…She gets to channel everything she had been through in her young life into music, which is so amazing.”

At the end of the two weeks, the families get to see the children perform. The talent rocks the room and the energy is uncontrollable. Kids are cheering for each other. A sea of hands is in the air, people are moving to the music, and worries of joblessness and the economy drop away. The only thing that matters is the joy of the young child’s potential.

“Music is such an amazing way to keep a family’s spirits up. It is not only for the kids…” she says.

The music lasts, is taken home, resounds in their lives.
“We change their lives, give them hope, teach them discipline and how to read music, dance, record. We train kids that there’s another option,” says Deborah’s mother Diane.

Some of the children have gone onto successful careers and appear on shows such as “Grey’s Anatomy” and in Adam Sandler movies.
Gibson knows childhood training is crucial, afterall.

Gibson was the teen who, at 16, miraculously battled her own way into the Guinness Book of World Records as the youngest person ever to write, produce and perform a number one single, “Foolish Beat.” She wasn’t the child of a Hollywood executive. She didn’t have hard and fast connections in showbiz. Her father, an orphan, was a hardworking TWA employee, her mother managed a medical practice. And she sprouted, far from L.A., on Long Island soil. Yet her historical fete is still unbeaten, and she has since sold more than 16 million albums worldwide.

At five, Deborah started in Community Theater and wrote her own composition. By age eight, she performed in the children’s chorus at the NYC Metropolitan Opera House with artists such as Plácido Domingo

At 11, living in Merrick, Long Island, NY, she borrowed tape recorders from her sisters, lined them up on an ironing board, and used them to sing and play synthesizer in a makeshift multi track version of herself.

“ My mother saw me and said, ‘this is ridiculous, we have to get you some tools,’” Gibson laughed.

Her mother headed to a relative in New Jersey and begged for a $10,000 loan to get young Debbie the equipment she needed to begin recording.

Gibson still credits her mother with a large part of her success. “She was in her early thirties at the time, and I think to myself, what guts that took.”

The teen then locked herself in the garage and built her own recording studio. She wrote and recorded 100 songs to prove to music executives she was prolific. Then she and her mother worked from the kitchen table, sending out demo tapes and pictures and resumes.

Music executives responded that she was a bit young, but to keep in touch, until a young entertainment lawyer, Doug Breitbart, helped them to make a crucial connection with Atlantic Records.
But it wasn’t without another set of hurdles.

The first Atlantic deal offered was $5,000 for a dance single. If the single achieved top ten status, she’d get another deal for a single. If that also achieved top-ten status, Atlantic would finally sign her for an album.

At 16, Gibson was so eager she didn’t realize they were presenting nearly impossible landmarks. With her parents juggling their schedules to valet her around, she used her teenage energy to play an exhausting schedule of “three clubs a night, for four nights a week, for about nine months” and got her first single, “Only in My Dreams,” off the ground. It led to several more top five hits, “Foolish Beat” (number-one single on the pop charts); “Out of the Blue,” which sold over five million copies, followed by the triple platinum “Electric Youth” and another number-one single “Lost In Your Eyes.”
Over the years, feeling lucky enough to live her dream, it seems she hasn’t stopped to breathe. She’s written a teen autobiography, performed for royalty, presidents and world series, and toured Asia where here fans are “very loyal.” She’s performed in Broadway shows such as “Les Miserables” (Eponine), “Grease” (Rizzo), Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” (Belle), among others, had a one-woman show in Atlantic City, “Pop Goes Broadway,” written the song “Rise” for her boyfriend’s documentary on malaria “Three Billion and Counting,” lent her glowing complexion as a spokeswoman for Murad skincare products, and saved some time to mentor and fundraise.

With a new album on the way, and planning a summer tour, Gibson believes she is teetering on the edge of the type of “comeback moment” that propelled “Tina Turner and Cher” back into the mainstream. Again, with the same trademark confidence, she knows she can produce and deliver it in her very own “relevant” way.
“I feel like I have had enough real life at this point to write about things that real people go through,” she said.

And, with her trademark tones and first-hand knowledge of life, compassion, showbiz and the economy, she might just be due to break another world record.

June/July 2011 – Cover Story

in Concert at the Westhampton Beach Performing Center

Story by Sally Gilhooley
Photo by Ethan Hill    

Musical diva extraordinaire Patti LuPone will entertain fans with her new concert, The Gypsy in My Soul at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center (WHBPAC), Sunday, June 26, at 8 pm.

The evening will feature LuPone singing music she made famous and sharing backstage stories in her well-known witty style about her remarkable forty-year career. Popular musical conductor Joe Thalken directing a 10-piece band will accompany her performance.
Clare Bisceglia, executive director of WHBPAC, tells Networking® magazine, “We’re just thrilled. To have someone of [LuPone’s] caliber on our stage is truly a privilege and an honor. She is the finest musical theater actress performing today.

“It’s been over a decade since she has been here and that was before my tenure so this is the first time I will be seeing her on the WHBPAC stage. I have seen her multiple times in New York City in productions but never in a concert setting where it is all just about her voice. She will be doing her own show, The Gypsy in My Soul, so she will be performing all the highlights of her stunning Broadway career,” adds Bisceglia.

The legendary LuPone’s inimitable credits include smash hits on stage, screen, television and CD’s. In 2010, the Northport, Long Island, native chronicled her brilliant career in a New York Times best-selling autobiography, Patti LuPone: A Memoir. In an interview with Networking® magazine, she says, “I enjoyed writing the book and I’ve already started taking notes for book #2.”

To date this year, LuPone has received Tony Award and Drama Desk Award nominations for her performance in the world-premiere musical Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. She earned her first Tony Award for her Evita in 1980 which also won her the Drama Desk Award for Best Actress in a Musical that year. Evita remains a career highlight, she says, “because I accomplished, what was for me, an incredibly difficult role.”
Bisceglia says, “She shows no sign of slowing up or stopping. She continues to go from one spectacular role to the next with the same energy, the same power. Her voice is as strong and brilliant as the first time I heard it.”

Last month, as part of a busy schedule, LuPone completed six performances with the New York City Ballet as “Anna” in a cabaret-style sung ballet production of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s The Seven Deadly Sins. About that experience she quips, “I’m a card-carrying member of the New York City Ballet! Who would have thought?” adding, “And, I got to play another stage at Lincoln Center, The New York State Theatre.”

In 2008, a block-buster year for LuPone, she swept the theater awards garnering her second Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Circle Critics Awards for Best Actress in a Musical and the Drama League Award for Distinguished Performance as “Rose” in the critically-acclaimed Broadway production of the classic Jule Styne-Stephen Sondheim-Arthur Laurents musical Gypsy directed by the late, great Mr. Laurents.

In a statement for Networking® magazine on the passing of Laurents in May, LuPone said, “Arthur had a full life. He’s with Tom (Hatcher) now. The entire cast of Gypsy and I were very lucky to have the opportunity to work with Arthur and experience his passion and love of the theatre. We were awed by his energy and grateful for all the knowledge and insight we gained from him. An era has passed.”

Getting Started
Charming audiences by the age of four, she was among thirty-six hopefuls ­chosen for the first class of the Drama Division of New York’s Juilliard School (1968-1972). After her training, LuPone became a founding member of John Houseman’s The Acting Company playing a variety of leading roles on and off-Broadway and on tour throughout the United States from 1972 to 1978.

In 1976, just four years out of Juilliard, for her work in The Robber Bride she received her first Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Musical as well as a Drama Desk Award nomination for Outstanding Actress in a Musical.

Multimedia Success
In addition to Evita, LuPone says two other career highs were “Sweeney Todd with the New York Philharmonic in 2000. It was my first Sondheim role and the first time I performed on the Avery Fisher Hall stage with the New York Philharmonic… And, Les Miserables because I was an American working with the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) and it was a landmark musical.”

Additional triumphs involve a memorable debut with the Los Angeles Opera in Weill-Brecht’s Mahagonny (the CD of that production won two Grammy Awards for Best Classical Recording and Best Opera Recording), Mrs. Lovett in John Doyle’s award winning Broadway production of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd (Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle Award nominations – Best Actress in a Musical; Drama League Award for Outstanding Contribution to Musical Theatre), the title role in Marc Blitzstein’s Regina, a musical version of Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes at Washington D.C.’s Kennedy Center, a critically acclaimed performance as Fosca in a concert version of Stephen Sondheim’s Passion, which was also broadcast on PBS’ Live From Lincoln Center, and a multi-city tour of her theatrical concert Matters of the Heart. She has also performed Matters of the Heart internationally, including runs in Australia and London. Her CD recording, based on this concert, was named one of 1999’s best recordings by both The Times of London and Time Out/New York.

LuPone’s myriad New York stage appearances include in part La Mome Pistache in the Encores! production of Cole Porter’s musical Can-Can at New York’s City Center, The Old Lady in the New York Philharmonic’s concert production of Leonard Bernstein’s Candide, and on Broadway in the hit revival of Michael Frayn’s Noises Off, in David Mamet’s The Old Neighborhood, Terrence McNally’s Tony Award-winning play Master Class and in her own concert Patti LuPone On Broadway, for which she won an Outer Critics Circle Award.
Widely acclaimed for work on the New York musical stage, LuPone is remembered as Vera Simpson in Encores! Pal Joey, Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes, (1988 Drama Desk Award, Tony nomination, Best Actress in a Musical), The ­Cradle Will Rock, Nancy in Oliver and Working.

Over six consecutive summers, she’s appeared in the Ravinia Festival’s Sondheim series, starring as Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd, as Desiree in A Little Night Music, Fosca in Passion, Cora Hoover Hooper in Anyone Can Whistle, Rose in Gypsy and was featured in two different roles in Sunday in the Park with George.

In London, LuPone created the role of Fantine in the RSC production of Les Miserables, a role she subsequently played on the West End. For that performance, as well as the reprise of her performance in the London production of The Cradle Will Rock, she won an Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical, the first American actor to win the coveted British award. She created the role of Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard (1994 Olivier nomination, Best Actress in A Musical), and recreated her Broadway performance of Maria Callas in the West End production of Master Class.

In Concert
In addition to The Gypsy in My Soul slated for WHBPAC, LuPone also performs two other solo concerts Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda and The Lady With The Torch. Her debut at New York’s Carnegie Hall in Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda commanded sold-out encore performance and she performs the concert with major symphony orchestras around the country. The Lady With The Torch is the basis for Miss LuPone’s solo CD on Ghostlight Records. She also tours in a concert with her Evita co-star Mandy Patinkin – An Evening With Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin. Her CD, Patti LuPone at Les Mouches, is a digitally remastered recording from soundboard tapes of her now-legendary 1980 nightclub act she performed during her Broadway run in Evita.

LuPone is married to Matthew (Matt) Johnston. They wed in 1988 on stage at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center after filming the TV movie, LBJ: The Early Years, for which Johnston was a cameraman. They have one son, Joshua Luke Johnston. For more complete listings on LuPone’s professional life and to share some personal insights, visit

For tickets to Patti LuPone’s performance, Sunday, June 26, 8:00 p.m., contact the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center at or call the box office at 631-288-1500. Ticket prices are: $150, $125 and $100. For information about all performances at the Center, go to

August 2011 – Cover Story

Shows Her Green Colors:

Leading Long Island Environmentalist Serves as Suffolk County Water Authority’s Chief Sustanibility Officer

Story by Maureen Traxler
Photo Credit: Miranda Gatewood    

With an impressive career in sustainable development and planning that spans experience in nonprofit, private industry and government service, Carrie Meek Gallagher assumed the newly-created post of Chief Sustainability Officer at the Suffolk County Water Authority (SCWA) earlier this year. She is well-versed on the subject, having worked on the science, technical and policy aspects of Long Island’s critical sustainability concerns.

“At SCWA, I can focus time and attention on long-term planning, and pulling together all types of programs. I get to look at Big Picture situations and be creative and pro-active,” says Gallagher. “It’s so refreshing that the Board and everyone at the Water Authority are supportive and willing to work with me to move the Authority forward on a sustainability track.”

Gallagher began by reviewing the Authority’s capital budget initiatives. She explains, “Of interest to many folks are our real estate holdings, as SCWA owns several hundred acres of land it doesn’t need for infrastructure or well field purposes.”

The Authority is looking into the use of parcels that are environmentally sensitive for such purposes as putting in a well field where Suffolk County is not meeting peak demand. In Amagansett, Gallagher says SCWA is putting together a swap for land to help the Authority increase capacity in that area. On the South Shore where aquifers are shallower, SCWA is seeking to acquire easements on property where additional well fields can be placed. From last summer to this summer, the Authority has increased capacity by 20%.

In addition, SCWA looks for appropriate land to utilize if a well must be taken out of service. The Authority looks also to negotiate with Towns for potential conservation projects as opposed to putting land on the open market where it could be bought for development. “SCWA parcels adjacent to the Long Island Expressway, however,” says Gallagher, “could be sold to a developer for commercial purposes.”

In describing areas of attention, Gallagher says, “One of the biggest issues is source water protection because we (Long Island) are a sole aquifer. We drink our ground water and have to ensure we have clean drinking water for years and years to come. People cannot live without water so I am going to be developing a source water protection program and updating our water conservation protection program.”

“This source water protection program and updating of the water conservation program are kind of right-out-of-the-box things I am working on,” says Gallagher. “SCWA has been re-designated as a ground water guardian community,” notes Gallagher, as part of a national movement to encourage businesses to protect ground water. The Authority will partner with the Ground Water Research Institute at Stony Brook University, Scotts Miracle Gro and Citizens Campaign for the Environment and will kick off their public education plan in the fall.

Gallagher points out that the recent Long Island Pesticide Use Management Plan prepared by the Suffolk County Department of Health Services includes recommendations that can be implemented in Nassau County. “Ground water protection is important to the future sustainability of the Island as a whole,” she remarks.

SCWA recognizes the need to implement a sustainability program by expanding current “green” initiatives pertaining to water conservation, energy efficiency, renewable energy, recycling, waste reduction, green buildings and procurement. A LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) “green” associate, Gallagher says, “I’m helping to pull together an Authority-wide Comprehensive Green Energy Program that is not just clean energy and energy efficiency, but also looks at renewables.” The Authority was recently awarded federal funds to help “green” its fleet, converting to vehicles using compressed natural gas.

Prior “Green” Experiences
Renewables are “realistic for Long Island—it’s just a matter of convincing people,” says Gallagher, who served six years as Commissioner of the Suffolk County Department of Environment and Energy prior to joining SCWA. Investors always worry about the upfront investment, she says, and advises establishing partnerships to bring about benefit. During her tenure under County Executive Steve Levy, Suffolk County was selected to host solar carports equipped with photovoltaic systems for the enXco Eastern Long Island Solar Project. The newly-built carports on existing parking lots at several different County complexes, including H. Lee Dennison, Riverhead County Center, Cohalan Court and North County, are expected to generate 17 megawatts of energy into the power grid. The cars enjoy shade from sun and relief from snow, while the solar panels above generate power and drastically offset carbon emissions.

Choosing Sustainable Development
Sustainable development, a phrase coined by the Brundtland Commission convened by the United Nations in 1993, means development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. With a longtime interest in environmental preservation, Gallagher was inspired by that notion. Since no study programs were available in sustainability development, she requested the creation of her own major while attending Amherst College.
“I had to write a paper defending why I wanted to create the course of study, come up with course work and find professors who would be willing to mentor me,” says Gallagher. At first, she gravitated to international work and studied abroad.

Much of sustainable development involves planning, and Gallagher says, “As the oldest of five children, I was a little bit of a natural planner all along, helping to plan family activities and vacations.” She adds that her parents and grandparents all had interests in outdoor activities, camping and hiking, and especially, weekend family walks. As a girl scout, she also participated in canoeing and survival and wilderness training.

After receiving her Bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies (Sustainable Development), Gallagher went on to earn a Master’s degree from the University of Maryland at College Park in Conservation Biology. During a summer internship with the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, she says she learned, worked, got information and did the research for her thesis; The Central Pine Barrens Comprehensive Land Use Plan.

“That helped me make the decision to come back here after I got my Master’s,” says Gallagher. “We have plenty of our own problems in the United States. I wanted to do something more local that would have a greater impact.”

Seeing Sustainability From All Sides
Gallagher’s career began at Sustainable Long Island, where she created and managed the first Long Island Brownfields Redevelopment Initiative, reclaiming land spoiled by the former industrial and manufacturing plants, gas stations and dry cleaning businesses that contaminated soil and groundwater. “Most of my background up until that time had focused on the green side of environmental issues and this was my first chance to tackle the brown side,” she remarks. Working with a nonprofit organization, she says she got a taste of interacting with board and advisory committee members and elected officials, and seeking funds for projects and programs. “Working at Sustainable was a wonderful jumping off point to my career, pulling in all the pieces of my academic background and the work I had done with the Pine Barrens,” she remarks.

Flipping to the regulatory side, Gallagher transitioned to JAC Environmental Planning & Consulting, conducting and reviewing environmental impact statements and assessment forms; identifying potential brownfields, and consulting on municipal plan and code updates. Along the way, she began to see how public participation fits in the process. She participated in a review of the Island’s transportation challenges, and saw how difficult it is for Long Islanders to think differently about transportation choices.
A year later, Gallagher moved to public service as Nassau County’s Acting Director, Office of Housing and Intergovernmental Affairs, and then Director of the Economic Development Resource Center. Her focus was helping small businesses, nonprofits and others seek out new funding sources to sustain themselves after County funds dwindled. When County Executive Tom Suozzi created 35 economic development zones in Nassau, Gallagher became his “advance team.” She would go into communities, learn about their specific challenges, set up a community meeting for the County Executive and put together presentations.

Going back to the not-for-profit world, Gallagher joined the Rauch Foundation, serving as the inaugural director of the Long Island Index, an indicators project that measures the region’s progress toward improving quality of life. “It was a rare opportunity to create something from the ground up,” says Gallagher.

Calling herself a “type A” personality, she remarks, “I want to achieve. I’m a results oriented person, and have no problem whatsoever in making a decision and being held responsible for it.” Noting the newness of the sustainability field and reflecting on her quick advance to Commissioner of Environment and Energy and from there to SCWA Chief Sustainability Officer, she says, “I have a unique academic background in sustainable development and conservation, and an MBA (Hofstra). I can understand and interpret the technical side and the business side.”

Gallagher is a member of Energeia, Class of 2006—a program that connects Long Island’s accomplished leaders from various organizations, corporations and businesses with the objective to help identify and address a wide range of regional challenges. Long Island Business News selected her as one of its “40 Under 40” in 2003.

Stony Brook residents, Gallagher and her husband Tom, a financial advisor with Wells Fargo, have a daughter Corrine and son Connor. In addition to yoga once a week and an annual camping trip, Gallagher continues the tradition of family walks, particularly to the beach at sunset.

***The Suffolk County Water Authority is an independent public-benefit corporation operating under the authority of the Public Authorities Law of the State of New York. Serving approximately 1.2 million Suffolk County residents, the Authority operates without taxing power on a not-for-profit basis.

September 2011 – Cover Story

Author, Actress, Mom and Baby Food System

Story by Christine Giordano
Photo Credit: Basia Ambroziak    

The baby was turning red, choking on an apple. Although she was in a room with five other moms, none of them knew what to do. Former soap opera star Liza Huber, however, had just taken CPR classes while doing research for her book and new company. She immediately pulled the baby from his high chair.
“I did the motion you’re supposed to do;” she said. She turned the baby over and did a repetitive, controlled back thump and chest thump. “And immediately the apple came out of his throat and he started to breathe again.” It happened two more times that year, to different babies. Each time, Huber was grateful she knew what to do.
“The majority of moms don’t know CPR– they don’t teach it to us in the hospital when we leave, she said.”

Now as the actor launches her babyfood system this year, she’s including illustrations of how to perform CPR on young children in her cookbook — something that she believes must be taught to all mothers.

Her Product and its Benefits
When Huber was a new mom working night and day as an actor on the daytime soap opera “Passions,” she desperately wanted to feed her baby nutritious food. After searching far and wide for bottled food that would meet her standards, she realized she had to make it herself – the same way her mother, Susan Lucci, had once made it for her. She followed her instincts and gave her child the healthiest, freshest food possible – testing recipes, finding which vegetables worked best, and then bottling whatever she wanted her young son to eat.

Four years later, now a mother of three, the actor has returned to her native Garden City, Long Island, and is launching her own baby business, and sharing her babyfood knowledge with the world. She believes if people can spare an hour every two weeks, they can feed their babies the healthiest way possible.

Huber’s company, “Sage Spoonfuls,” is “a complete homemade baby food system” with different size kits and all the tools a person may need to make healthy babyfood — starting with a recipe book that has simple meals for infants of different months as well as family meals, food storage containers, an immersion blender and food processor, stackable storage trays, an insulated tote bag and cooler, freezer pack, labels, and pocket guide. (see

“The Sage Spoonfuls system makes homemade baby food just as convenient as store-bought. By preparing your baby’s food in large batches and storing it in the refrigerator or freezer, you will have a constant available stock of healthy and delicious food,” she writes in her book.

The containers for her kit are BPA (Bisphenol A), lead and PVC (Polyvinyl chloride) free. New studies are showing that BPA can leach into food from plastics when heated or frozen. “It is a suspected endocrine disrupter that has the potential to cause serious health problems, including hormone and brain development problems in children and fetuses. Most of the recent studies have been conducted on animals, but the results have been so negative, that the general rule now is to avoid BPA. This was backed up by the National Toxicology Program of the U.S., who believe there is valid reason to be concerned about the negative health risks associated with exposure to BPA,” said Huber.

By following her instructions and making and freezing the food every other week, moms can save time and money. With her storage containers, people can label and stack dozens of meals in the freezer and the refrigerator, and pack them in a tote bag or cooler for day trips.

“Working moms and stay at home moms – we’re all so busy – if you could just find one hour every two weeks, you can keep your freezer stocked with food,” said Huber during an interview with Networking® magazine.

In the “family favorites” section her cookbook, Huber also shows meals that can feed both the family and the baby. “You just take a small little bit out for the baby, stick it in the food processor, and you’ve got it. You don’t have to cook three different times. As moms, we’re not short order cooks.”

Huber also consulted with pediatrician Dr. Laura Pagnotta, who emphasizes that homemade babyfood is much healthier for children.

Homemade vs. Bottled
Anyone who has ever smelled a can of Spam or opened a bottle of jarred meat already knows some of the benefits of making homemade food. And, since babies are forming connections with the way they will think of food for the rest of their lives, their first tastes are even more important. Huber’s own children are less finicky and more adventurous eaters than their peers, and tend to get sick less and have shorter colds. They eagerly reach for nutritious snacks, and are a healthy weight.

“If you can get them right at the get-go, eating well is not a daily struggle and your children reap the benefits not just for the first year of life, but for the rest of their lives,” she said.

Store bought baby food, including the organic brands, has a shelf life up to two years, writes Huber in her cookbook. In order to achieve this shelf life, the food is sterilized by heating it to very high temperatures, which kills vitamins, nutrients, taste, color, and aroma in the process. Mothers who make their own food can also control all of the ingredients that their children are eating.

“Commercially prepared baby food often contains additives and fillers that have no nutritional value,” writes Huber. “Studies have shown that additives can cause allergic reactions in children with sensitive systems and can also contribute to hyperactivity. Homemade baby food is higher in nutrients, tastes far better than store bought, and has the enticing aroma that will make your baby excited about eating. Homemade baby food can retain most of its nutritional value, taste, color, texture, and aroma because it is only lightly steamed and not overcooked. In fact, most ripe fruits can be pureed without cooking, leaving all of the precious nutrients in tact!”

The Market
Huber’s entrepreneurial decision is hitting consumers at just the right time – when families are becoming increasingly aware of childhood obesity and are showing a true commitment to eating healthier food. Families often know the benefits of eating more fruit and vegetables, but trends are showing that consumers are going the extra mile, and increasing their organic purchases despite the higher prices at the cash register. Data shows that “consumers continue to buy organics despite the lingering pressures the recession has brought to the family budget,” and total U.S. household penetration for organics grew in 34 categories, according to SPINS Consumer Report for Mid Year 2010, which suggests that organic consumers are increasing the diversity of products within in their basket. Despite the recession, the percent of U.S. households purchasing organic products inched slightly higher from 67% to 68%. (SPINS provides natural and specialty products sales data to the industry.)

The Actress-Entrepreneur, and the Mother-Daughter Connection
When you’re about to have your products and personality appearing across television morning shows throughout the country, there are definite benefits to being a beautiful blonde starlet and daughter of one of the most famous actresses in daytime soap opera history. Her mother, Susan Lucci, played the character Erica Kane on the daytime drama “All My Children” since 1970, a role she describes as a “woman you love to hate.” Likewise, Huber played the conniving character, Gwen Hotchkiss Winthrop, on the NBC daytime drama “Passions” before the show was cancelled three years ago.
One can see the similarities between mother and daughter – the familiar almond-shaped shaped eyes, the poise, the daytime drama career and the fact that Lucci has also launched several products: for hair and skincare, microderm abrasion, Pilates, fragrances, shoes, and lingerie. Both mother and daughter began writing books at almost the same time. (Lucci released “All My Life” in March, written with Laura Morton.)
“I started writing my book about 2 ½ years ago. My mom started her biography shortly thereafter. It wasn’t planned that way at all, but was fun to share our experiences. Writing a book is a huge undertaking and was new territory for both me and my mom,” said Huber.

Both gained insight and advice from author Nelson DeMille [“Plum Island,” “The General’s Daughter”], who is is a very good family friend and godfather to Liza’s middle son Brendan.

“In addition to being one of the greatest authors of our time, he is also one of the kindest and most generous people I know,” said Huber.

It isn’t uncommon for the mother daughter duo to be recognized by fans as they’re out on the town, yet now, always “a mom first,” Lucci takes the opportunity to promote her daughter’s business. “She tells them all about the website,,” says Huber.

When asked what it was like growing up with a star for a mother, Huber said she has never known a life in which her mother wasn’t famous.

“My mom was famous before I was born, it is the only life I know. I didn’t grow up thinking about my mom being famous, she was just my mom,”

Somehow, Lucci kept her life in the entertainment world separate from her life with her family. It made an impression on Huber.

“She never worked during her time with us, she would read her scripts at night after we went to bed,” said Huber.

She remembers the long years of her childhood in which her mother was nominated 18 times for an Emmy (Lucci has even done skits on “Saturday Night Live” about her multiple nominations), and the spectacular year in which she won. In 1999, when presenter Shemar Moore announced Lucci’s name, stating “the streak is over,” the audience erupted in a long, emotional standing ovation that lasted several minutes. Cameras panned the room to her co-star Kelly Ripa and long-time supporter and television host Rosie O’Donnell, who were seen wiping tears from their eyes. The wait was over for the woman known as “daytime’s leading lady.”

During her acceptance speech, after the applause quieted, Lucci said “…to my children, I wasn’t meant to get this award before tonight, because if I had, I wouldn’t have the collection of poems, letters, drawings balloons and chocolate cakes you made me all this time to make me feel better… “

By that time, Huber was a grown woman, pursuing her own career in Los Angeles. It was the one year she wasn’t at her mother’s side.

“It was such a crazy coincidence because I always watched, and always supported her, and was always there. But it was the first year that “Passions” was going on the air and I was actually in California. Of all the years, she won, and I wasn’t there to give her a big hug. But she called me right away from back stage. It was really one of those magical nights that we will always remember,” said Huber.

Huber herself is leaving the door to her Hollywood career open while launching her business that combines cooking, writing and videos. She had every intention of auditioning again when “Passions” came to an end, then pregnant with her second child. Yet Brendan was born two months prematurely and needed a high level of care.
“That was a game-changer,” she said.

She began spending time with her children during the day and developing “Sage Spoonfuls” at night, getting a few pointers from her father, Helmet Huber, an Austrian businessman and chef, and support from her husband (her girlhood classmate from St. Joseph’s on Long Island.) Like her mother, Huber tries to keep her time with her children separate from time spent developing her business. Her daughter is only five months old, but Huber finds a way to juggle the schedule of a mom-entrepreneur.

“I usually work from 8 pm until 2 am. I try to schedule meetings and calls at times when the kids are either napping or at school. It’s definitely a challenge, but I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she says. “Thankfully, my children are all really good sleepers.”