Laura Whaley, Treasurer of Open Your Heart, is named “Person of the Week” – check out the article http://www.zip06.com/article/20091126/NWS10/311269675/-1/zip06details&town=Guilford&template=zip06art.
Suzy Monaco, President of Open Your Heart, is named “Person of the Week” – check out the article: http://www.zip06.com/article/20091126/NWS10/311269849/-1/zip06details&town=North-Branford&template=zip06art
By Pam Johnson
Publication: Shore Publishing
Published 11/26/2009 12:00 AM
Displaying a serendipitous sign of support, Laura Whaley holds a heart-shaped stone unearthed at North Branford’s Caruso/Bode project, underway thanks to Open Your Heart, Help the Community, Inc., a non-profit cofounded by Guilford resident Whaley.
Serendipity seems to grace the relationship of Guilford resident Laura Whaley and her friend Mary Caruso. How else could one explain how Whaley, proprietor of a residential elevator company (with husband, Jack) would so firmly enter the life of Mary and her two beautiful daughters Sam and Alex?
When Laura and Mary met at Mary’s former North Branford children’s store Country Kids 10 years ago, “they both were still walking,” says Laura of Sam and Alex.
The two girls, (Sam’s now 23; Alex, 19), both have Friedreich’s ataxia, a nervous system-damaging genetic disease that has since made wheelchairs a part of their very active lives. On their behalf, Laura has cofounded a non-profit organization, Open Your Heart, Help the Community, Inc., with cofounder Suzy Monaco of Northford.
Since February 2009, Laura has helped Open Your Heart raise funds to bring a garage/living addition to the Caruso/Bode family home in North Branford. Plans donated by architect David Strong call for an attached garage with a second-level physical therapy gym. To reach that second level, the Whaley’s Connecticut Residential Elevators is donating an elevator. The addition will connect to the existing home, where more renovations will assist the girls.
But that’s not the first contribution to this family Laura has been happy to make. For seven years, she’s organized an annual local fundraising event for Friedreich’s ataxia research and awareness on their behalf.
Helping them is “just natural,” says Laura. “When you meet them, you love them. Mary’s always happy and the girls are
always happy. It just touches your heart to know them.”
On a warm day last week, in another bit of serendipity, workers installing the foundation unearthed a heart-shaped stone next to Mary’s circa-1890s home. As it happened, the foundation was being poured that day through the generosity of a company co-owned by Laura’s North Guilford neighbors, brothers Chris and Ed Wetteman. Another neighbor, attorney Paul Farren, is donating legal services to the effort.
Thanks to Wetteman Bros. Concrete, Farren, and heartfelt contributions of goods, services, and money from many other local businesses, professionals, and individuals, this project is sprinting toward its goal, says Laura.
“It’s great, in this economy, that people are helping,” Laura says. “Suzy and I had talked about doing a project like this for Mary and the girls for years. Once we had the land, we knew we could do it.”
Laura was instrumental in securing the land abutting Mary’s home; the land was donated by sisters Helen Redmond and
“It’s a 20 by 30 piece of land that had their old family house on it. I offered to buy it, but [they] didn’t want to sell it,” says Laura.
Until, that is, Laura was able to have Redmond meet Mary, who served up some of her trademark homemade cookies and an equally bountiful share of her generous, warm spirit. Rather than selling the land, Redmond and her sister promptly donated the parcel.
Laura and Suzy then quickly moved to establish Open Your Heart. Among its first contributions was $10,000 from another North Branford non-profit founded by Suzy (now retired from its board), Kids for Kids, Dancing for Life. Like Open Your Heart, it’s an all-volunteer non-profit through which every dollar raised goes directly to the cause. After the Caruso/Bode project’s complete, Open Your Heart intends to help other local families in need.
Now halfway toward raising the estimated half million dollars (in combined funding, goods, and services) needed for the Caruso/Bode project, Laura’s confident it will be completed ahead of schedule.
She also delights in the knowledge so many have stepped up to help the family she’s come to think of as a part of her own. The two families travel together on vacation and the girls often visit the Whaleys’ home. For years, the Whaleys shared the historic
family farm with Jack’s beloved great-uncle Joe Lynch until he passed away at age 97. The home is fitted with an elevator.
Laura says she’s also grateful every day for having Sam and Alex in the life of her son, Matt, 5.
“Matt’s known them since he was born. He doesn’t see a handicap; he just sees Sam and Alex. He’s going to grow up to be a better person because of them. They couldn’t be better teachers.”
Open Your Heart, Help the Community, Inc., still needs donations of goods (windows and lumber especially) and monetary contributions to complete the Caruso/Bode project. Tax-deductible donations can be sent to: “Open Your Heart, Help the Community,” P.O. Box 273, Northford, CT 06472. To contact the organization, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Get you raffle tickets at the community center and put them in our bucket!! For every ticket Open Your Heart gets $1 toward the Caruso/Bode project! Check out our pretty pink heart tree!
The North Branford Police Union has done so much to support Mary, Sam and Ally throughout the years. Today, they presented a check in the amount of $$$$ to be used toward the renovation. Thank you North Branford Police Union!!