Powerful women making a difference


For 15 years, I have been recognizing woman who have made a difference in their community. This past week, I had the pleasure of spending time with New York City’s first lady Charlaine McCray, New York City Commissioner of the Department for the Aging Donna Corrado, Matilda Cuomo and Mary Ann Mattone, women who are making a difference, changing people’s lives every day.

Having been involved in fighting for services for people with developmental disabilities, I have been impressed with the first lady’s passion, her commitment and, now, her programs to help people with mental health issues.

Having been to one of her “listening tours” when her husband took office, in which she spent hours hearing the frustration from people receiving services or involved in the delivery of mental health services, I knew that her involvement in the field could make an enormous difference, and it has happened.

We spoke, in a one-to-one interview, about how the first lady remembers her family members suffering in silence with their depression and her own daughter’s problems. She shared with me, “I remember the pain and frustration I felt trying to get help for my daughter. I don’t want other families to suffer the way I did. I’m hoping to make a difference.” And so she has!

With the first lady, sharing her vision for services for the mentally ill.
With the first lady, sharing her vision for services for the mentally ill.

As part of her campaign to help those suffering from mental illness, programs will be opening in senior centers around the city and a new phone number, 888-NYCWELL, has been created that allows a caregiver or a person in need to make one call and find help for their or a family member’s mental health needs. That alone is a huge breakthrough and had been the biggest concern voiced during the first lady’s tours. Remarkably, she listened and helped bring together the team to implement the phone number.

The day we met at the Brooklyn Council Center for Senior Citizens, McCray was announcing the powerful beginning, with world-class partners Weill Cornell Medical College, STOP and JASA, for the delivery of mental health services inside senior centers.

With the lead of the Aging Commissioner Corrado, I got to sit in on a class of people who are seniors at the center taking part in one of the programs.

Sometimes government moves slowly to change, but I couldn’t help but be impressed with how McCray’s focus on mental health in two short years has had a huge impact. Now we must get out the word that mental health help is only a phone call away!

At the end of the week, I had the opportunity to have lunch with two special friends, the marvelous Matilda Cuomo and philanthropist Mary Ann Mattone. Matilda is continuing her commitment to Mentoring USA, a program she created to encourage people to help others.

She had just met with Michael McDonnell, the principal of her alma mater, Midwood High School, to talk about creating a mentoring program at the school that serves over 3,000 students. After all, she shared with me, the school’s mission is “to serve the community.”

Mr. McDonnell embraced the challenge of setting up the mentoring program for his seniors to mentor incoming freshmen. Then, with a huge smile on her face, Matilda shared, “I pushed him further to get the elementary school across the street involved in the program — and he said he would. How great is that!”

Since I graduated from arch rival James Madison High School, only a few blocks away from Midwood on Bedford Avenue, I offered to call Jodi Cohen to see if we could set up a mentoring program there, too. With the energy of a teenager, Matilda Cuomo continues her life mission of mentoring, having written and edited two books about mentoring, including “The Person who Changed my Life.”

I’ve read both her inspirational books, sharing the many stories of hugely successful people who have had their lives impacted by others. I loved the contribution of my favorite trumpet player, Wynton Marsalis, recollecting how one person inspired his success. There are chapters from Joe Torre, Rosie O’Donnell and Dr. Oz, to name only a few. The stay-up-late-to-read books are available on Amazon and would make great holiday gifts.

If you are interested in setting up a mentoring program at your school, Matilda has staff to help organize the program.


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