On the surface, it would seem that the 2018 Somers Chamber of Commerce’s Business People of the Year have little in common.
Fortunato Multari is the chef and owner of Mama Rosa’s Ristorante. Carol Christiansen owns a real estate brokerage. Susan Salomone is a retired teacher.
But together they are of one mind, demonstrating their firm belief in the importance of giving back to their communities.
Chamber President Matt Grasso, owner of Northern Westchester Auto Body, praised the three Chamber members for their numerous contributions.
The Chamber used to hand out separate awards for Citizen of the Year and Business Person of the Year, but recently “rebranded” the event, Grasso said.
Now people associated with either for-profit or nonprofit businesses or organizations are eligible, he said, explaining, “We’re looking for someone who gives of their time, who goes above and beyond.”
Calling Multari “selfless,” Grasso said the restaurateur is renowned for his generosity and kindness.
And Christiansen and Salomone’s organization, Drug Crisis in Our Backyard, a nonprofit they co-founded that helps families dealing with addiction, “has done so much, brought so much awareness” to the “horrible” opioid crisis, he said, adding that the Chamber’s recognition is just one small way to “encourage their efforts.”
Fortunato and Filomena Rosa Multari’s Mamma Rosa Ristorante on Route 100 has been the scene of many charity fundraisers, most notably for Friends of Karen, a local organization that provides emotional, financial and advocacy support for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families.
The Multaris turned to the now 40-year-old nonprofit when their son, Joseph, was undergoing treatment for cancer.
Friends of Karen was formed in the late 1970s as a community fundraiser for the family of Karen MacInnes, a North Salem girl who was terminally ill with Lafora disease, a rare genetic disorder.
Her parents were exhausted driving back and forth from their home in Purdys to New York City, where Karen was hospitalized. The teen wanted to spend her remaining days at home and the funds raised helped the family enable her to do just that. Karen died in 1978 at age 17.
Now the organization has grown to a three-office operation that serves hundreds of families in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
The Multaris were extremely grateful for the help they received. Joseph not only survived, he thrived. Now 21, he recently graduated from Dutchess Community College and is planning to attend Marist College in the fall.
The Multaris also support the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation; Make-A-Wish, a nonprofit that arranges experiences described as “wishes” to children with life-threatening medical conditions; the Somers Lions Club, an all-volunteer service organization that helps the needy; and many other local charities.
Multari said he got his love of cooking from his mother, the original “Mamma Rosa,” and a cousin who was a chef and professor of culinary arts.
He named his former Armonk restaurant, Onda Blu, after his cousin’s seaside restaurant in Siderno, Italy.
Multari’s passion for food and famiglia shows, folks say, in the way he cooks, warmly greets patrons and, of course, how he and his family continue to pay it forward.
Carol Christiansen and Susan Salomone
Carol Christiansen and Susan Salomone of Drug Crisis in Our Backyard also know the enduring value of community support.
The Carmel-based nonprofit was formed in 2012 by Susan and her husband, Steven, of Putnam County and Carol and her late husband, Lou, of Somers after both couples lost sons to the narcotics epidemic only two weeks apart.
Both women have channeled the pain of their personal losses into a multifaceted mission to help other families dealing with addiction.
Justin Salomone was only 29 when he died in 2012 after a long battle with an addiction to heroin and painkillers. The Mahopac High School graduate worked for an insurance company and loved music.
The Christiansens’ son, Erik, was 28 and a New York City police detective when he succumbed to an apparent opioid overdose the same year. Described as an “All-American boy” by his mom, he had become addicted to prescription painkillers after suffering a back injury.
Just three years later, Erik’s father, Lou, a Vietnam veteran, contractor and retired New York City police officer, died of brain cancer.
The nonprofit aims to not only raise awareness of the rampant use of opioids such as heroin, it fights to “stop the stigma” of addiction itself, Salomone said.
Bringing the issue out into the open will draw the attention of lawmakers and, hopefully, the organization says, result in improving treatment and making it more accessible to those who need it.
The group started with an informational seminar featuring a panel of experts six years ago this August, Christiansen said.
“We didn’t know if we were going to get two people, or 12. We ended up getting more than 200; it was standing room only,” she said.
“That is when we knew we weren’t alone,” the founders say on their website, promising to “continue to show up and tell our story everywhere we can. Not one more child should die of an opiate overdose.”
Now the group sponsors programs, has formed alliances with other like-minded organizations and is continuing to build a “groundswell” of support for its cause.
Christiansen is the co-owner of Café Realty in Mount Kisco, a member of the Somers Lions Club, and a past president and member of the Empire NY Women’s Council of Realtors.
She was named Realtor of the Year in 2014, received the 2015 NYS Community Action Award and also received the 2016 Women of Distinction Award.
Salomone, who is executive director of Drug Crisis in Our Backyard, develops presentations for schools, civic organizations and the general public. She is also a substance abuse counselor and a peer recovery advocate.
She belongs to the Mahopac Lion’s Club and holds a bachelor’s degree in education and master’s degrees in counseling and in supervision and administration from New York state universities.
In 2013, Salomone retired from the New York City Board of Education to run Drug Crisis in Our Backyard full time.
In 2015, she received a Woman of Distinction Award from the state Senate. She is also on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Heroin Task Force.
Steven Salomone is the group’s chief financial officer and assists in all areas of operating the organization.
The Chamber of Commerce will honor Multari, Christiansen and Salomone at a dinner on Wednesday, June 13, at Salem Golf Club, 18 Bloomer Road, North Salem.
The event starts with a check-in at 5:45 p.m. and ends at 9 p.m.
Tickets are $75 in advance and $85 at the door. The price of admission includes hors d’oeuvres, dinner, soda, coffee and dessert. There will be a cash bar available. To buy tickets visit www.somerschamber.org or call 914-276-3904.
A portion of the event’s proceeds will be donated to Drug Crisis in Our Backyard and Friends of Karen.
For more information about Friends of Karen, visit http://www.friendsofkaren.org.
For more information about Drug Crisis in Our Backyard, visit http://www.drugcrisisinourbackyard.org/.