Two Rockville Centre residents to be honored for breast cancer awareness advocacy

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Two philanthropic Rockville Centre residents will be recognized at the Maurer Foundation Gala next month for their efforts to increase breast cancer awareness among students.

The Melville-based foundation is run by Dr. Virginia Maurer, and its mission is to save lives through breast health education that focuses on cancer prevention, healthy lifestyle choices, early detection and risk reduction. The Oct. 1 gala, at 7 p.m. at the Garden City Hotel, will kick off Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Rockville Centre residents Donald Gelestino and Greg Schaefer will be the guests of honor.

“Both of these men are believers in our mission of bringing a life-saving message to young people in our local high schools,” Maurer Foundation Executive Director Susan Samaroo said. “I think they understand the need for the education to be provided to young people at a young age, so that we can instill some good habits in them to help reduce their chances of developing breast cancer as they get older.”

Schaefer’s late mother, Gigi Toomey Schaefer, went to school with Maurer, and he has served on the foundation’s board of directors since 2019, and also on its Golf Committee. He is the chief executive officer of the Rockville Centre-based Better Home Health Care Agency. Though the foundation is in-volved with many school districts, Schaefer works to contact other districts to set up educational seminars for students.

Schaefer said he was “shocked and ecstatic” to be selected as an honoree, and that he looked forward to having several family members at the gala, including his wife, Michelle, and their daughters, Cain and Cameron.

“Certainly I wouldn’t be getting honored if it wasn’t for the people that I surround myself with,” Schaefer said. “My business partners, my friends, all the people in the Maurer Foundation and my business. All these people are the reason why I think I was chosen. I surround myself with wonderful, wonderful people, and obviously my staff is crucial to the success that we’ve had.”

Gelestino, the president and chief executive officer of Champion Elevator, which has offices in Manhattan and Queens, started working on the foundation’s Golf Committee in 2013, and became a co-chairman of its annual golf outing. Samaroo said he has been instrumental in promoting the foundation’s mission over the years. Gelestino joined its board in 2018.

He said it was a "great honor" to be recognized. 

"This foundation has meant so much to me and my family for so many years," Gelestino said. "I would like to thank everyone who make it possible for this foundation to thrive and for the incredible work each and everyone of you, who work, day in and day out, attending to all the details that go into making these events successful.   I appreciate all of you."

The gala, Samaroo said, is vital in ushering in Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The foundation frequently visits high schools and colleges to educate students about breast cancer and the importance of early detection through self-exams, and uses silicone breast models so participants can learn how a lump feels. The foundation, a nonprofit, uses the gala and other events throughout the year to raise funds for its initiatives.

“Although we don’t know what causes breast cancer, we know that there are things that you can do to help decrease your chances of developing breast cancer,” Samaroo said, “and if we can get that info out there, we know that knowledge is power. And that’s really what we’re trying to do here.”

Though the program is typically in person, the foundation transitioned to a virtual model during the coronavirus pandemic, and now offers both options to school districts. It was unable to host the gala last year, which was planned to mark the foundation’s 25th year. Attendees this year will either have to show proof of vaccination or present a negative Covid-19 test. The event costs $450, and includes a cocktail hour, dinner, live music, dancing and raffles.

“Individuals like Greg and Don do so much for the organization,” Samaroo said, “not in just being able to raise funds, but getting our message out there to people all over the Island and the five boroughs. They are true gentlemen. They are very giving, just extremely generous and charitable, and the kind of people that I’m very proud to have on our board of directors, and I’m honored that they’re going to be the honorees at our gala.”

To purchase tickets to the event or to learn more about the foundation, call (631) 524-5151 or go to maurerfoundation.org.

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