“’Alexis’ is a name derived from Greek, and it means a helper or protector,” Bethany House Executive Director Sister Aimee Koonmen said at the charity’s annual fashion show fundraiser this year. “Our Alexis is well named!”
Koonmen was speaking of one of her prized volunteers, Oceanside High School alumna Alexis Chiofalo, who for four years dedicated herself to the organization. It was for this reason she was named a Woman of Compassion at its Nov. 15 event at the Rockville Links country club, which serves as Bethany House’s chief fundraiser.
“I wanted to do something that didn’t revolve around me,” Chiofalo said of her decision to volunteer with the non-profit, which since 1978 has provided temporary housing for women struggling with homelessness, maintaining locations in Baldwin, Roosevelt and Bellmore.
Throughout high school, Chiofalo, 18, spent her Thursday afternoons leading the charity’s arts and crafts group for the children of residents at its Baldwin home. She would help keep them occupied while their mothers were busy with chores and other activities mandated by Bethany House such as seeking employment.
“She had a wonderful way with children,” Koonmen recalled. “Her desire to help people in need was very impressive.”
Chiofalo said she initially envisioned a more institutional setting. “I guess you could say that it’s not a typical homeless shelter,” she explained. “It’s an actual home and people talk to each other and help each other out.”
She became attached to the children in her care, she said, and described how they would beg her not to leave, holding onto her hand until she was nearly out the door.
Now a freshman studying political science and mathematics at Fordham University, Chiofalo doesn’t have the time to volunteer she once did. But using the FaceTime iPhone video chat application, she stays in touch with the children through her cousin, Olivia Cino, a sophomore at South Side High School in Rockville Centre who she encouraged to volunteer at Bethany House and follow in her footsteps.
They still remember her, she said, and every time Cino makes a call and holds the phone up to show the children, they shout “Hey Alexis!”