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Friday, July 12, 2024

Making A Difference in Brookhaven

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To call Keith Caputo a difference maker is a vast understatement. Keith is more like a superhero walking amongst us every day. Keith is often described as a breath of fresh air to be around, a staple in his community, and the happy helper. Keith’s life has been marked by simply helping others in every way he finds possible.


Keith was born October 31, 1980, a month prematurely. He had many complications early on that landed him in the NICU in Stony Brook Hospital. The first few months of his life were spent in and out of the hospital with pneumonia, failure to thrive, and complications from an intestinal condition that is common for babies with Down Syndrome. At one point, his condition was so dire that he was given last rights. But God had His own plan and heard the prayers of his mother, Cassy Caputo. She vowed to love her child to the utmost regardless of any conditions and whatever they had to face. She is still doing that today and Keith is undoubtedly thriving in so many ways.


As a newborn, Keith and his family lived in East Moriches. After his two younger siblings were born, the Caputo family moved next door to Center Moriches where they have lived since 1991. At eighteen months old, Keith began school along with physical and occupational therapy at New Interdisciplinary School. After being shifted around from different programs and elementary schools due to internal program changes, Keith settled at Sycamore Avenue Elementary School. He then went to Ronkonkoma Junior High School and North Country Learning Center in Stony Brook, where he graduated at 21. After graduation, Keith entered the work force at IGHL’s Flower Barn, now called Smile Farms, in Moriches where he still works today. Keith is happy earning a paycheck, making the staff smile, and having heart-to-heart talks with Walter Stockton, the CEO, about Keith’s extensive charity work.


There have been monumental people along Keith’s journey that have helped and inspired him to be the shining star he is today. One of Keith’s teachers at Sycamore Avenue Elementary, Sue McMahon, is one of them. The two still speak on a regular basis after all these years. Sue is currently assisting Keith in writing a book, about which he is completely elated.


Another is Coach Anthony Parlato of Center Moriches. Keith and Anthony coached youth basketball together and became close friends. Keith describes their friendship as a once-in-a-lifetime friendship. Their friendship was second-to-none, as well as a friendship that resulted in them helping other kids and people as needed. Anthony passed away suddenly and unexpectedly, which simultaneously broke Keith’s heart and set him on a new journey. After struggling for months with Anthony’s sudden death, Keith decided to begin visiting a special needs psychologist. During one of their chats, the psychologist suggested that Keith may benefit from carrying on the helping deeds that him and Coach Anthony used to do. A beautiful, impactful, heartfelt charity was born from this conversation.


Keith and Cassy began raising funds to build a community center in Center Moriches. This was one of Anthony Parlato’s dreams and they now had the well-lit torch to carry on. As momentum grew around their work, others started suggesting that they developed a not-for-profit that focused on helping other people, as they were already fully engaged in.


Cassy asked Keith, “So why do you just love helping other people so much?”

Keith’s reply is still resounding around Brookhaven Town and beyond today.: “Because it just makes me really happy.”
Their non for profit “Helping Makes U Happy” was officially born that day.


What has been accomplished since that day has been nothing short of a miracle for many. Helping Makes U Happy is a driving force for good and because of it, that name rings a bell everywhere you go. Keith reminisced on some of his favorite moments along the journey since becoming a not-for-profit in 2015. One was a large donation of stuffed animals he received from the Stony Brook Burn Center. They were given to Tuttle Avenue Elementary school in Eastport to be used for a fundraiser to help a sick little girl who was in the hospital. All the children in the school participated in the fundraiser and were able to be a part of helping her. Keith, having once been that sick newborn in the hospital, was moved and made happy by being able to reach out to her to help. She is doing well now and is a part of Tuttle Cares Club which in turn is also lifting others up in their own times of need.


Another favorite moment of Keith’s was when Helping Makes U Happy donated a car to a gentleman who had fallen on some really hard times. His life had been a tough one, yet he was committed to faithfully walking or biking to work each day. Keith felt that he really needed a simple hand up and wanted to be the one to give it. The car was life-changing for this gentleman who never missed a day of work until he fell ill and passed away.


“It was a joy for me to look back at the pictures of that event and how happy he was. This is really why I do it all,” says Keith.


Keith enjoys meeting with other people who are helping others out within their sphere of influence as well. Sheriff Toulon is undoubtedly one of them, as is Mrs. Rau from Tuttle Cares. Keith loves playing and coaching basketball in some of his leisure time. He’s a Knicks fan who was also once awarded the Sweetwater Clifton Community Service Award. He received the award in the center of the court at Madison Square Garden, was on the jumbotron screen, and got to meet some of the Knicks’ staff and cheerleaders. Keith spends a few weekends a year at Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods where he goes to rest and recharge his battery. He loves to play slot machines, order his favorite food from room service, and brainstorm for his book and upcoming events, his favorite being Helping Makes U Happy’s annual mega auction fundraiser coming up in October. He looks forward to that all year!

Helping Makes U Happy is currently looking for board members to assist with business-related tasks and practical charity operations. They are also working on an updated building that can expand their helping tasks in different ways and to different demographics of people.

Helping Makes U Happy
Located at: 1 Neville Street • Center Moriches
Mailing address: 44 Hawkins Ave. • Center Moriches • 631-878-1978