This nonprofit founder is living her brother’s legacy through community service
After the death of her brother, Paula Miritello founded My Brother Vinny in his memory to help veterans in need in the Hudson Valley and New York City region.
If someone would have told me 10 years ago that I’d be running a 100 percent volunteer organization that is the primary resource for furniture and housewares for formerly homeless veterans in the Hudson Valley, I wouldn’t have believed them. But I was called to start My Brother Vinny in the memory of my youngest brother Vincent, who lived with Cerebral Palsy. Vincent was unable to walk or talk, but he wasn’t defined by his disabilities. His strength inspired me to create something special.
Vincent was a true blessing. When he passed away in 2000, it left a deep void in my heart. After his death, I had a strong desire to spend time and support those with intellectual disabilities and those who live with mental health issues. I started job coaching people with mental health issues and working with Special Olympic athletes. I wanted to focus as much attention as possible to a population I felt was under represented and needed a voice.
But in 2011, I was in a car accident that left me confined to a wheelchair for over four months. It took years of physical therapy to recover. It was because of the accident that I was finally able to put all the years of charity work in motion and form My Brother Vinny. My brother lived his entire life in a wheelchair. I felt even closer to him and formed a deeper understanding of the strength possessed by those with special needs. Because of this experience, I knew that I wanted to honor Vincent’s legacy.
Through a chance encounter with a homeless veteran at a charity event, I learned about a pressing need for many veterans in my community who are transitioning from being homeless. All my years of volunteering with various populations helped me focus my energy on helping these veterans. In January of 2013, My Brother Vinny was officially registered as a 501(c)(3).
One of My Brother Vinny’s primary objectives is to organize and distribute food, clothing, and furniture and housewares to U.S. veterans, outreach groups, shelters, and families in Westchester County and surrounding areas. We have become a tremendous resource to the Department of Veteran Affairs and other homeless veteran programs assisting with moves and transition to independent living. To date we have supported over 800 veterans in achieving this goal. The veterans come from a variety of different branches of military service and with varied degrees of disabilities and hardships.
The veterans assisted by My Brother Vinny are offered a hand in friendship and support, not a handout. Our very first veteran said to me, you will have your own Army now; we will help you in any way possible. No words could be truer. Veterans have volunteered to help with many stages of My Brother Vinny community service work.
I am truly proud to say my brother has this legacy. He has his own nonprofit and his own “My Brother Vinny Walk.” And through the community service work we perform, we honor him daily. I have never felt so much joy as I do helping others and keeping Vinny’s memory alive.
My Brother Vinny’s vision is to continue to help the community. And to expand our reach so that veterans will know they have a resource, a friend, and someone to help them without question—all from the heart.
My Brother Vinny
Paula is a Public Surplus/Facilities Management Supervisor with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection Bureau of Water Supply.