BY ASHLEY SZATALA
Todd Weinstein, SUNY-ALBANY 1994, started a Facebook group dedicated to the positives in his community and uses the group to support local organizations
Todd Weinstein, SUNY-ALBANY 1994, regularly checks his Facebook feed and groups. His frustration with the negativity on social media had been slow to rise until an angry review against a local bagel deli in 2015 crumbled his passive attitude toward such posts.
“Bagels in New York are a pretty big deal. [The person] happens to make this post and is really going off on this business,” Weinstein recalls. “I know [the business owner] personally. He’s a big active member of the community. Why would somebody just be nasty about a business? And then these other comments go after it. This was my tipping point.”
He told himself he’d start his own Facebook group that will only celebrate the positives in his community of East Meadow, New York. Called Nice Things That Happen in East Meadow, the closed group is only available to residents, those who work in East Meadow or those who used to live in the town. It focuses on community good, such as celebrating local championship-winning athletes, artists and musicians, how someone shoveled the driveway for an elderly person and everything in between. Another focus of the group — one Weinstein didn’t initially expect — is fundraising and item collection for community organizations.
For his work organizing community support for local causes, Weinstein has been named the spring quarter Mark V. Anderson Character-in-ActionTM Leadership Award recipient.
HELPING PUSH OTHERS IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION
A friend reached out to Weinstein shortly after he started the Facebook group in 2015 and asked if he could use the group to solicit donations for the back-to-school supplies drive put on by the Mary Brennan Interfaith Nutrition Network [INN], a nonprofit that provides a variety of services to assist those challenged by hunger, homelessness and poverty. Weinstein said he’d think it over. That conversation was on a Friday night.
Saturday morning the first thing Weinstein read about on Facebook was how someone bought a schoolteacher a shopping cart full of school supplies. The giveaway at the Philadelphia Phillies baseball game he attended on Sunday was a back-to-school supplies kit.
“I was saying, ‘Wow, somebody is telling me I have to take on this mission,’” Weinstein says. “We wound up soliciting donations, and the responses were overwhelmingly good.”
The school supplies drive has now become one of the group’s annual philanthropies, and the members have taken on other causes to support. They have since raised money for building repairs to the local American Legion, collected socks and gloves, organized food drives and Christmas toy drives, raised money for schools, and put together box pools where participants can win gift cards to local restaurants and the money raised is then split among community organizations.
The INN director of marketing and communications, Dana Lopez, works closely with Weinstein whenever the group assists the organization. She estimates that the number of men, women and children who have benefited from the Nice Things That Happen in East Meadow donations is “probably in the thousands.”
“They want to not only talk about nice things that are already happening, but they also want to make nice things happen, which the minute I heard about what the group is about I thought that every town all over the world should have a Facebook group like that because the premise just made so much sense, and I think everybody needs a little positivity, especially where they live,” she says.
Both Weinstein and Lopez say most people are good, they just don’t know how to do something good. That’s where Weinstein and the Facebook group come in.
“He’s really acting as the person who’s giving [people] information because without the information they might not do anything because they just don’t know where to start,” Lopez says. “You need somebody to push you in the right direction. He’s the glue that inspires people to do so.”
Adds Weinstein: “It’s definitely not the Todd Weinstein show. This is just the good people in town who respond. I’m fortunate, blessed and humbled that the community follows me.”
A HISTORY OF PHILANTHROPY
Giving back has always been important to Weinstein, and he remembers a memorable time in college when he was able to get the SUNY-Albany Greek-letter community to support the Children’s Miracle Network, which was the Fraternity’s preferred philanthropy at the time.
It was Weinstein’s senior year, and he held a leadership position where he was able to choose a Greek Week activity. Past popular ones included a scavenger hunt and a Greek god and goddess event.
“They said to me, ‘Todd, what do you want to do? What’s your event?’ I said I want community service. They’re like, ‘What?’” Weinstein recalls with a laugh. “[I chose that] because it was always this thing that nobody really got behind. It was one of these things you kind of had to do because the university made you do it, but it was never anything big.”
They ended up doing a coin can drive and raising more than $5,000 for the Children’s Miracle Network at the Albany Medical Center in New York. At the end of the week, Weinstein remembers having about 30 fraternity and sorority members at his apartment rolling coins until early in the morning. Come dawn, Weinstein didn’t know how he’d transport so many coin rolls to the bank, so he packed them up in pizza boxes and carried them in that way to the surprise and suspicion of the bank tellers.
The coin can drive was an early example of Weinstein’s efforts to show others that everyone can make a difference, even in small ways.
“It could be a kind word. It could be a dollar in the tip cup at the fast-food restaurant. It could be a dollar to the homeless guy standing outside the 7-Eleven. A small act of humanity can mean a lot to somebody,” Weinstein says. “I think the takeaway from [Nice Things that Happen in East Meadow] is that it doesn’t take much to make an impact. You don’t know how your actions are going to inspire somebody else.”
A person with good character shows trustworthiness, respect and fairness to others, as well as responsibility and citizenship. Those members who go out of their way to help others and those who overcome obstacles and lead with integrity are good candidates for the Mark V. Anderson Character-in-ActionTM Leadership Award.
Sigma Chi introduced the award to recognize the selfless acts of brothers. A formal recognition by the Fraternity allows non-members to appreciate the scope of the organization. For information about the award, see sigmachi.org/character.