'He likes to touch and change lives'

East Rockaway author, 8, funds well in Africa

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At 8 years old, Joe Petraro has accomplished more than many people do in a lifetime. He is a twice-published author, has helped the Lynbrook and East Rockaway communities in many ways, and also funded a well in Nigeria to bring clean water to villagers.

“I think that helping people and making them smile helps everything about how they feel,” Joe wrote in an email to the Herald. “The world can be kind of scary if you watch the news and listen to all the bad things, but if we think about all the really good things happening, life is pretty fun and cool. Helping others makes me feel happy.”

Joe, an East Rockaway resident and third-grader at Holy Name of Mary School in Valley Stream, has written and published two children’s books. The first was “The Pumpkin vs. The Boogie Man,” which came out in March 2020 and delves into using his knowledge from attending Steven’s Karate Academy in Lynbrook to overcome bullying through kindness, and the second, “Buddy My Best Friend Moves to a Place Called Heaven,” which he wrote from personal experience after the Petraro family dog, Buddy, died, and they were left to cope with the loss. Buddy, a Vizsla, passed last November, and the book was published in April. Both books were created through the Pennsylvania-based publisher Fulton Books.

Joe used proceeds from each book and from merchandise he made and sold to give back to those in need in the community. He bought lunch for the staff at Lynbrook Restorative Therapy & Nursing; donated $600 to a GoFundMe created after East Rockaway resident Taylor Clarke died at 24 in July, five years after receiving a life-saving heart transplant; gave money he earned at book signings to St. Raymond Roman Catholic Church in the village; and donated $1,000 to singer/songwriter Jane Marczewski, known as Nightbirde, whom he befriended on Instagram after she was diagnosed with breast cancer at 26. Joe is working on a third book based on his experience getting to know the singer after she exhibited a positive outlook despite her harrowing battle.

“He was a very shy boy, and it all started when we would write stories together to help his emotions,” said Joe’s mother, Anne Petraro, who draws the illustrations in his books. “Overall, I think just in general, he truly is a kid philanthropist.”

In addition to donating money locally, Joe also “adopted” a grandmother, Caroline Manna, at Lynbrook Restorative, whom he has visited and exchanged holiday gifts with since he was 6. His efforts became so far reaching that he helped the Rev. Vincent Bulus, an associate pastor at St. Raymond, raise money for the church by selling popcorn and then helped fund the construction of a well in Nigeria, where Bulus is from.

“He’s a humanitarian and managed to catch my attention because I’m interested in humanitarian issues,” Bulus said. “He likes to touch and change lives, and I said, ‘Wow, this boy is quite good.’ He’s making a lot of impact, not only in Africa, but he’s touching lives all over.”

Joe helped get Joe’s Well for Humanity built in Fadiya Ghugah, the Nigerian village that Bulus formerly called home. The pastor said there is a severe lack of water in Nigeria, and thanks in part to $2,000 raised by Joe, people in Fadiya Ghugah are now enjoying clean water.

Bulus said that their next goal is to raise money to build a hospital in Nigeria, near where the well was constructed. He added that Nigeria faces many other issues, including the constant threat of violence by the terrorist organization Boko Haram, and that he wrote a book, “Terrorism, Torture and Teaching,” focused on the issues and the effects of violence on the education of women everywhere, including in Africa. On Oct. 24, he is hosting a book release party from 2 to 6 p.m. at the Oceanside Knights of Columbus, 2985 Kenneth Place, and all proceeds will go toward construction of the hospital through his Hope Yet Foundation, which is accepting donations of money and medical equipment at hopeyet.org.

“He is just a special boy because he really kind of does it on his own most of the time at this point,” Anne said of her son. “Instead of buying something for himself, he would get it for someone else. He doesn’t care about being the coolest kid in class. He cares about helping others.”

Joe said he hoped to continue to help people and, as he grows older, expand his efforts across the globe.

“I just want to make people smile and feel good,” he wrote. “My parents say we may not have it all, but we have everything we need, so if I have everything I need, I want to give the rest away. I don’t need anything, but some people do, and it’s always good to make sure everyone has what they need. I want to give and be nice to everyone. It makes me happy.”

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