Meet Our June 2016 Hero: Paula Miritello
After her brother’s death, a Yorktown Heights woman establishes a nonprofit that helps local causes in his honor.
Vincent Miritello lived with cerebral palsy (CP), and in 2000, at age 20, he died from it. But Vinny, as he was known, was not defined by CP, his sister Paula Miritello says. Though he couldn’t walk or talk, he was a loving figure at the center of the Yorktown Heights family. “He was special needs, but we didn’t see him that way,” Paula says. “He was just my brother Vinny, the brother we all loved the most.”
After he died, Paula wanted to honor his memory by helping others. She volunteered for many organizations serving those with special needs, but in 2011 she became one of those people. A car accident broke her hip, and she was wheelchair-bound for six months. On disability leave from her job at the Department of Environmental Protection, she gained first-person insight into what Vinny’s life had been like. “The injury gave me a deeper level of empathy,” she says. It inspired her to create a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, which she called, naturally, My Brother Vinny.
She and her team of volunteers support a number of causes: an annual My Brother Vinny Walk helps local animal shelters and rescue groups; community events raise money for the emotionally, physically, and intellectually disabled; gifts are delivered to an adult home or to children in low-income community centers. And the “My Brother Vinny Play Time with a Purpose” is a free monthly program at Gymboree Play & Music of Yorktown that offers free play, arts, music, and dance, and coordinates donations for a charity.
Most of all, the organization supports the U.S. military by distributing food, clothing, furniture, and housewares to veterans who are suffering from physical or emotional trauma and are trying to get back on their feet. “Since June 2013, we have helped almost 300 veterans with their moves and transition to independent living,” she says. “I love helping people with mental health issues. I feel like people ignore them. I feel very fortunate to do the work we do and for the volunteers we have, and it also honors my brother.”