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GUEST POST: “Why We Give”

By Bruce H. Bonafiglia, President and CEO of BonaDent and Danaren Dental Laboratories

Bruce BonafigliaAs a member of the Bonafiglia family I’ve often been asked “Why do you give?” Is it ego, pride, or for the applause? A good question, with a rather basic fundamental answer: We give because it’s what our mother and father taught us to do decades ago.

The Bible says “to those whom much is given, much is expected” and my mother Agnes instilled those words into her three children, her grandchildren, and especially into her favorite middle child Bruce (that’s me)! You see, my mom was probably like your mom in the sense that she worked very hard to keep the family fed, the house clean, and kids in decent clothes. Mine were husky size, making things even more difficult for mom.

But my mom also devoted a great deal of her time to the patients at Willard Psychiatric Center back in the 1950s, ’60s and into the ’70s. She worked tirelessly, sometimes double shifts, while raising a family. Her double shifts were exhausting for her but convenient opportunity for us kids to scheme without the burden of parental supervision. Our dad, Angelo, worked countless hours as well, in Auburn, 20 miles away.

Mom never worked up to Licensed Practical Nurse status but was quite content and gratified with her role as an aide. While she didn’t earn as much money as her licensed nurse friends, what she really found most rewarding were her interactions with those patients in need of an ear, a friend and even sometimes, a mother. Yes, sometimes my mom would bring patients home from Willard Psychiatric Center to give them a sense of family for a weekend or two and a holiday here and there. She made sure they were treated like family because they did not have the “luxury” of a family. It never seemed right at the time and must have been breaking some kind of psychiatric center rule but that never stopped her.

As a kid I never understood why we had to spend our time sharing a holiday meal or playing cards and games with perfect strangers. Of course, as a kid I made my disapproval subtly known as only a teenager knows how to do. After our patient of the month left our family home, mom would return home from work later that day and tell us about their conversations on the drive back to the center and how “Robin” or “Jimmy” really enjoyed the time they got to spend with our family. How they had not seen their own family in years and how they forgot what it was like. Willard Psychiatric Center patients had a wide range of needs and abilities, but they all needed family. Mom let us know how good it made her feel as a person to help these people and bring some real joy into their lives. She also told me to stop being a snot.

As a teenager it is sometimes difficult to appreciate and understand life lessons that are presented to you. As an adult, I began to appreciate very quickly what we have as a family and how it can be taken away from you without warning. Back in the day, mom would say, “You’ve been given everything in this life and there are others who have only seen pain and tragedy and are then left with just sadness.” My mom is now 92, and in her final stages of a long battle with dementia. Mom, even while suffering from the throngs of dementia at home, surrounded by family, reminds us of the incredible value that all healthcare workers at facilities like The Huntington Living Center bring. COVID-19 has created more pain and devastation at Huntington than any family member, resident or healthcare worker should ever have to endure. The teams that take care of the sick and elderly deserve our deepest gratitude and goodwill. They, like all of us, are defined by actions and deeds. They are defined as truly incredible people.

My family gives during this extraordinary holiday season to facilities like the Huntington Living Center because it’s what my mom taught us to do. Our friends and neighbors in Seneca County need our help more than ever. Ask yourself — is there a reason why you should give? I can tell you from experience, I’m certain it will make you feel good, like it made my mom feel good. Mom didn’t have a lot of money to give back in those days, but she had compassion. In the midst of a holiday season like no other, find a reason to give and an opportunity for compassion and make it happen soon. Our neighbors need help now more than ever. Please be kind, be generous and be safe.

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