‘She never stops praying’

Bellmore business owner documents sisters life on film


Donna “Bella” Camilleri prayed quietly behind a wooden kiosk at Dear Little Dollies, a doll and gift boutique in Bellmore, as a swing era song sung by Fred Astaire played softly through surround-sound speakers.

It was Sunday morning, which, for Camilleri, 51, meant coming to her sister Marijane’s boutique to craft gifts for an initiative called Donna’s Doings. All proceeds from her work go to charities that help people living with Down syndrome or Alzheimer’s disease.

Camilleri finished her prayer and went to work on a latch-hook rug. “She never stops praying,” Marijane said. “Her sleeping is a prayer and her work is a prayer.”

To promote her sister’s charitable — and very personal — work, Marijane, with the help of some friends, produced a promotional video about Donna’s life. The more footage they shot, however, the more the scope of the project grew, Marijane said.

Eventually, Marijane and her friends turned the film into a feature-length documentary on a day in Donna’s life. “Bella: Portrait of a Prayer” will be screened at Bellmore Movies on Oct. 21 at noon.

The film takes viewers on a tour through Bellmore as Camilleri visits local establishments and business owners who have impacted her life — and whose lives she has impacted as well — including the Mediterranean Diner, the Bedford and Mane hair salon and Steel Fitness.

Carli McAlinden, co-owner of Bedford and Mane and Donna’s hair stylist, said she was honored to be interviewed for the documentary. “I’ve known the Camilleris for a long time, and Donna’s just so caring,” she said, blinking back tears. “She remembers my kids’ birthdays and prays for all of us.”

Also featured in the documentary is Stuart Schneiderman, the owner of Steel Fitness, where Camilleri has trained three times a week for roughly six years. “She lights the whole place up when she comes in,” Schneiderman said. “There are no limitations on how she trains. We train her like we would anyone else.”

“I am proud, in a good way,” Donna said when asked what the experience was like. “In a humble way,” she added.

“And that’s important to her,” Marijane said.

The film also focuses on St. Barnabas Roman Catholic Church in Bellmore, whose members include Donna, her four brothers and her two other sisters. Her brother John Camilleri wrote the film’s score.

Tickets for the screening are $20, and all sales, as well as the proceeds from raffle tickets at the event, will go to charities that support people with Down syndrome, including the Diocese of Rockville Centre’s Special Needs Ministry, the National Down Syndrome Society, the Association for Children with Down Syndrome, and the Association for Habilitation and Residential Care.

The film will also benefit the Alzheimer’s Disease Resource Center, with which the Camelleris are working to spearhead a program for people with Down syndrome who also have, or are at risk of developing, early-onset Alzheimer’s.