Victoria’s Secrets: A wondrous and sad week

Joining Commissioner Kerri Neifeld (c.) are (from l. to r.) Mike Billia, Lauren Accovelli, Paulette Elbers, Lynne Koufakis, Vicki Schneps, Kerri Neifeld, Matt Zebatto, John Pfeifer and Robert White

Life is a roller coaster and that was what mine was last week. 

On one day, I met NYS Commissioner Kerri Neifeld of the Office of Developmental Disabilities

On another day, I recognized extraordinary women at our Power Women of Long Island event. 

And on another day, I comforted my dear friend Debby Markell on the loss of her beloved husband Barry Kleinert.

It’s hard to believe that in 1971, I helped found what is now Life’s WORC, an organization that serves children and adults like my beloved daughter Lara, who had suffered irreparable brain damage at birth.

Lara changed my life forever, making me an advocate fighting for her needs and the needs of people like her. 

Fast forward 50 years and I had the pleasure of meeting Kerri Neifeld at Life’s WORC’s corporate offices in Garden City.

Life’s WORC operates 48 group homes in Suffolk, Nassau, Queens and Manhattan, as well as running day programs for people on the autism spectrum and those with developmental disabilities.

We were proud to welcome Kerri and look her straight in the eye to share our grave concerns about our staffing needs and also about serving people over 21, who get locked out of an education and have no place to go.

I was delighted to see her bright eyes, good heart and knowledge come through during our discussions.


Three generations at the Power Women event.

For over two decades, I’ve been putting the spotlight on women who are successful in their worlds of business, philanthropy and volunteer work.

As my media company has grown, so have the women that we are honoring and last week, we honored the Power Women of Long Island through the power of our 250-year-old Long Island Press.

Lesli Giglio, Chief Risk Officer and Chief Privacy Officer from Catholic Health, receiving her “Vicki.”

At The Mansion at Oyster Bay in Woodbury, the powerful woman strutted down the red carpet runway to receive their “Vicki” statues! With roars of joy, the audience cheered on the honorees.

It’s remarkable to me how many women doing great things have never been recognized before. It’s my honor and privilege to do that with the help of my extraordinary events team!


Sadly, on Sunday, my dear friend Debby Markell put her beloved 69-year-old husband of 22 years to rest at Wellwood Cemetery in West Babylon having died of complications of lung cancer. 

I can still picture Barry’s smiling face at his flower shop on Willis Avenue. Referencing that, the rabbi at Parkside Memorial Chapels in Forest Hills said some people see the thorns on a rose, but Barry saw a beautiful flower that happened to have thorns. That was his philosophy of life. 

He was a beautiful, loving man who cherished my friend, his daughter Lauren and his family.

Barry Kleinert

It was in recognition of Debby’s caring for him and the community she lives in that so many friends, families and political leaders filled the chapel to pay their respects.

I was happy to see supporting the family were Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, Queens DA Melinda Katz (who also spoke during the service), City Councilwoman Joann Ariola, Congressman Tom Suozzi and Congresswoman Grace Meng sitting next to State Senator John Liu, Assemblyman Ed Braunstein and County Clerk Audrey Pheffer.

Her dear, devoted friend Matt Silverstein spoke eloquently and lovingly in his eulogy about Barry. 

Debby had a true partner who supported her and encouraged her on every road she took.

Barry will be missed, but I know her friendships and important work for Community Board 2 will sustain her.

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