The community can now vote! The top 5 nominees with the most votes will then go to a panel of judges who will select the final winner based on: their story, their current landscape situation, and Above All Masonry's ability to help make a difference. We’ll then work with the winning family to create the design and then plan to complete the installation.
Since our last update on the Welcome Home Contest, the landscape construction work by the Above All Masonry Design and Outdoor Living team has come to an end! This year’s journey included crafting a beautiful driveway and walkway, paved with high-quality pavers by Unilock. Thanks to the unbeatable beauty and quality of the Unilock pavers, Ashley and her family can enjoy a freshly renovated outdoor area for years to come.
If you’ve been following our progress with this year’s winner of the Welcome Home Contest, you’ll know how excited we are to finally give Ashley and her family a delightful and practical front yard. In our last update, the Above All Masonry Design & Outdoor Living team replaced the massive, old bay window with a smaller, more stable one. The window was obstructing the use of the front porch. We are so that happy the large window that stood as a safety hazard for the entire family is now removed. Now, the new window looks like a part of the home!
Ever since announcing the winner of the Welcome Home 2017 Contest, we are proud to say that our hard-working teams are keeping up to speed with the project requirements. After careful inspection of Ashley’s outdoor porch, steps, and driveway, followed by multiple design ideas and teamwork, we have made some exciting progress that we want to share with you.
The time has come to select a welcome home 2017 winner!
- The judges -
Anthony Giaquinto - Astro Masonry
Joe Licata - Gino's of Nesconset
Rebecca Waltman - Ivy League School
Brian Kallmeyer - Unilock
Above All Masonry
THE JUDGES PICKED: ASHLEY VENTIMIGLIA AS THIS YEAR'S WINNER!
SEE THE OFFICIAL ANNOUNCEMENT ON FACEBOOK HERE.
Finalist 1: Signore Family
Lis from Above All Masonry first went to visit the Signore Family of Miller Place. This family is trying to pick up the pieces after tragically losing their son, a beautiful 14 year old boy who was struck by a car while riding his bike. “Nico was the one who knew how to get me right in the heart” said Kim as she shared a memory of her son and how he would still at the age of 14 hug and kiss her. Nico was loved by all in his community. “He was the kid that would never leave others out…he played with everyone”.
The Signore Family have a space in their yard where Nico’s puppy had been buried. Nico loved animals and the family thought it would be a perfect space to honor Nico and help the family heal.
Finalist 2: Ashley Ventimiglia
Ashley Ventimiglia of Lake Grove is a young mother struggling with her health on a daily basis. All she wants is to be healthy enough to take care of her two young children. Ashley has been struggling with her health since August 2013 when she was hospitalized and diagnosed with TSS (Toxic Shock Syndrome). From August 2013 through October 2013 she was in ICU.
The TSS caused sepsis of Ashely’s organs. She was intubated and put in a medically induced coma. While in this coma Ashley’s body was turning a dark purple, almost black. The pressers in her body were trying to keep the vital organs alive while killing off what was “not important” . Several toes on both feet had to be amputated and a portion of her forearm was severely damaged. She had to deal with this realization upon waking from her coma still fighting for her life. Once stabilized she was transferred to a rehab facility from Oct - Dec 2013 to “learn” how to walk again. The doctors were able to save her big toes and that is what helps her keep her balance and still walk.
After all this her fight was not over. She has so much damage to her organs from the TSS she has since been hospitalized multiple times for surgeries or complications from the surgeries. Sometimes months at a time. In August of 2014 she had to have a Vagotomy (a surgery where they collapse your lungs and cut the vagus nerve right next to your esophagus and heart) in order to lower the production of acid in the stomach. She now has a central line in her arm for medications and fluids, a feeding tube and a 24 hour glucose monitor for diabetes.
Ashley has lost so much time with her 2 small children (now 4 and 7), all she wants is to be able to spend as much time as she can with her little ones. And be able to do some of the simple everyday things we all do. The healing space to them will hopefully be just that….a space where Ashley can heal and make up the time she has missed enjoying her children.
Ashley is scheduled to have another follow up surgery on her feet in the next few months. When she was asked what has kept her going through all she has been through, she answered “My kids…I have two babies and I will fight for them”.
Finalist 3: Kimberly & Rob Hanson
A story of the Hanson family, Kimberly, Rob and their 2 beautiful children, Kevin 12 years old and Katie 10 years old is a story of strength and survival. Kevin, who was born with a heart condition called Aortic Stenosis, and had a heart procedure to open up his valve, is a happy well rounded pre-teen. He will need to have another corrective procedure when he gets older and his body stops growing. Katie is a beautiful young lady very into the arts. Katie was diagnosed with a non malignant brain tumor at the age of 3. She received chemotherapy and the tumor is now stabilized. Although the tumor did leave her completely blind in one eye, that does not stop Katie from doing what she loves. She plays the cello and participates in productions in their local theater.
Kimberly (Mom) was cheery and grateful as she told her story of how she is now recovered from a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. She said the strength her daughter taught her got her through her tough chemotherapy treatments. It's inspiring to see that after all they had been through, they are in a good and healthy place today. They would love a nice space to enjoy quality time as a family in their new dream home.
Finalist 4: Linda McMahon
A story of Linda McMahon of Holbrook and how she lost the love of her life is heartbreaking. She and her late husband Marty had been high school sweet hearts. They build their life together, raised their daughter, and were now preparing to enjoy their new grandchild. In 2010 the family was getting ready for Marty’s retirement party. Marty had been a volunteer firefighter for many years and was now ready to retire. The day before the party Marty passed a way from a heart attack.
The shock of Marty’s passing has caused a devastating sadness to the family. Recently Linda lost her job of over 20 years with Pathmark and due to back issues was forced to retire. The financial difficulties is just another strain on the extremely depressed Linda. She feels she can not keep up with the home on her own and their once beautifully landscaped yard looks sad and abandoned. Linda was hoping to use the healing space to honor her late husband.
Finalist 5: Daniel Kennelly
Kim and Daniel Kennelly's adorable 4 year old son Phillip was born with a rare liver disease called Biliarry Atresia (there is no full cure for this disease). At 8 weeks old, Phillip had surgery to temporarily fix the problem and was then put on a list for a transplant in 2015. In 2016 Phillip had a second GI Bleed and was in need of a transplant sooner than expected and the doctors suggested the family look into a living donor. Daniel volunteered to be the first one tested and he was a match! They both went in to surgery in May 2016 and have both recovered beautifully and are doing great. Phillip is a fun loving active little boy. It was thrilling to see how well he and his father Daniel were doing.
It is obvious that Daniel will do anything for his family no matter what he may have been going through himself. Last month Daniel’s brother and best friend lost a long battle with Hodgkins Lymphoma. His brother was a firefighter and a 911 first responder. They would love the healing garden to represent the new healthy future of their little Phillip as well as a place to honor Daniel’s late brother.
- Welcome Home 2017 sponsors to be announced soon -
Submissions are now closed and our nominations are in for our 2017 Welcome Home contest! This year, we are choosing a family who is going through, or gone through, a recent tragedy / hardship in their life. For this well deserving Long Island family, we are creating a patio escape which will include a beautiful healing garden. We are honored to start getting to know and sharing stories about the nominees we’ve received. Every nominee has an heart-felt story to be told and their own reasons of how a new outdoor living space will transform their life. We are thrilled to be able to make one family’s outdoor living dreams come true again this year!
If you've read our previous update (check it out here), you'll know we're extremely anxious in transforming this Welcome Home 2016's winner backyard. We've now done pretty much all the hardscaping (thanks to Unilock for their beautiful pavers). See the update.
About about a month ago, the votes for Welcome Home 2016 came in and with 473 votes, Mark Pirollo won this year's Welcome Home Contest! Congratulations, Mark on your soon-to-be new backyard. We are so thankful to everyone who took time to submit their votes and thank you to all of the nominees and finalists. And of course, we're incredibly grateful to all of our sponsors who are helping to provide the many materials for this Long Island backyard makeover.
Nominations are in for a deserving Long Island family to win this year’s Welcome Home contest! Now that submissions are closed, we are honored to start getting to know and sharing stories about the nominees we’ve received so far. Every nominee has an incredible story to share and their own reasons of how a new outdoor living space will transform their life. We are thrilled to be able to make one family’s outdoor living dreams come true again this year! Stay tuned for notifications from us (follow us on Facebook and sign up to our email list). We’ll share updates with you – including when the voting for the finalists kicks off (planning for September 12!).
Above All Masonry is proud to announce the Third Annual Welcome Home Project, where we give away, every year, a landscape design makeover to a deserving Long Island family. Online nominations are now open through August 15th for this year’s Welcome Home recipients. Nominees should be Long Island residents that are community servants (current or former military, law enforcement, social workers, volunteers, teachers, or other service professionals), or families in need of a new landscaping project due to circumstances such as loss, disability, or natural disasters.
On November 20th, our Above All Masonry family unveiled our 2015 Welcome Home landscape design makeover! We were honored to be joined by members of the Massapequa community and our Welcome Home project partners to help the Cornell family cut the ribbon and celebrate their brand new backyard in Massapequa.
Our 2015 Welcome Home project is well underway! Last month, we ntroduced the Cornell, our Welcome Home family that will be receiving a landscape design makeover after losing their backyard during Hurricane Sandy. We hope to have the project completed just in time for the three-year anniversary of the hurricane later this month...and the Cornell kids already have plans to roast marshmallows in their new fire pit to mark the occasion!
Above All Masonry is excited to introduce our 2015 Welcome Home project recipients, the Cornell family of Massapequa, NY: retired NYPD officer Rich, special education teacher Anne, and their three children, Chris (19), Ryan (16), and Julia (12).
The Long Island landscape design team here at Above All Masonry is excited to announce that our Welcome Home community service project is continuing into its second year! Just like in 2014, we'll be presenting a deserving Long Island family with a landscape design makeover—only this time, we're asking for the entire community to help us select the recipients.
Online nominations are now open through July 1st for this year's Welcome Home family. Nominees should be Long Island residents that are community servants (current or former military, law enforcement, social workers, volunteers, teachers, or other service professionals), or families in need of a new landscaping project due to circumstances such as loss, disability, or natural disasters.
Whether it's a family with a disabled member that needs a handicap-accessible patio, a home devastated by Hurricane Sandy, or a hardworking public servant with little time or resources to do the heavy lifting, we would be honored to hear their stories. And yes, you can nominate yourself or a family member!
After nominations close on July 1, our team will select the top three candidates, and then ask the public to vote for a final recipient. We'll work with the selected family to create the design, and then tentatively plan to complete the installation this fall.
In 2014, Above All Masonry launched the Welcome Home program with combat veteran Jacob Wolf and his fiancee Leah Ottenbriet. Jacob and Leah are still enjoying the entirely new backyar we built for their home in Atlantic Beach, NY, including a paver patio with outdoor fire pit, a seating wall, a new stoop, landscape plantings, and outdoor lighting.
We're immensely honored to continue the Welcome Home program for its second year, and thanks in advance for helping make 2015's project possible by nominating a worthy family in need of a landscape design makeover! To nominate yourself or a deserving community member, fill out our 2015 Welcome Home nomination form.
On Monday, November 10th Long Island landscape design firm Above All Masonry hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony to reveal the backyard makeover of the first annual Welcome Home project recipients, combat veteran Jacob Wolf and his fiancee Leah Ottenbriet.
Atlantic Beach mayor George Pappas, members of his staff, representatives from Hope For the Warriors, and Welcome Home donor partners joined Above All Masonry owners Stephen and Lis Bono at the ceremony to thank Jacob and Leah for their service and sacrifices.
"We have been so excited to share the results of the Welcome Home project with Jacob and Leah," said Lis Bono. "Their story really touched us, and now that Jacob is home for good, we're so honored to be able to provide a new backyard where he, Leah, and the rest of their family can really relax and enjoy time together."
For the remodel, Above All Masonry employees installed a paver patio throughout the entirety of the yard. The patio includes an outdoor fire pit with a seating wall, and Above All Masonry built a new stoop leading to the home's back door. Fresh landscaping plantings and outdoor lighting were also added around the perimeter of the yard.
Previously, the yard was only used for storage. "It [was] a real eye-sore and quite embarrassing...akin to the show Sanford and Son," Jacob said in an interview with Above All Masonry last month.
Jacob enlisted in the Army in 1992, and served many deployments in combat zones, including Iraq and Afghanistan. He suffered several injuries, many with lingering side effects, before finally retiring in 2013. "There was no grand homecoming, no fanfare. Just a quiet 'thank you', and I retired. A hug and a whisper in my ear from higher-ups that they really didn’t think I would make it out alive," Wolf told us.
At the Welcome Home reveal, Mayor Pappas spoke at the event, thanking Jacob for his service, and presented him with a certificate recognizing his service and contribution to the community of Atlantic Beach.
Above All Masonry also presented Jacob with a plaque on behalf of the Long Island community, recognizing his courage, heroism, and personal sacrifice during his service in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the global war on terror.
"The whole community really turned out to support our first Welcome Home project, and to show Jacob our gratitude for his service," said Bono. "We really want to thank Jake, the owner of Speakeasy in Long Beach for providing refreshments, Tim at the Dough Hut for the awesome donuts, and all of our donor partners for helping to make this landscape remodel possible."
Several Long Island landscaping companies contributed supplies and materials free of charge: pavers and wall stones from Unilock of Brewster; lava stone from MGO Stone of Islandia; landscape plantings from Garden Dept of Deer Park; masonry materials from Astro Masonry & Supply of Deer Park; and lighting fixtures from Kichler. Design services were provided by Designing With Elements of Bohemia, NY.
Last month, the family-owned Long Island landscape design company Above All Masonry announced the launch of their first Welcome Home project. This annual community service program coordinates several area service providers and merchants to donate a landscaping makeover—completely free-of-charge—to a deserving Long Island family.
Today, Above All Masonry is proud to introduce the first Welcome Home recipients, Long Island veteran Jacob and his fiancee, Leah. We are honored to work with such an inspiring couple, and cannot wait to unveil their new backyard on Veterans Day.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, and what led you to join the military?
Jacob: I was born and raised in southern Texas, the middle of three children. I was born to medical missionaries who worked six months of every year in rural Mexico to take care of the native population that did not have access to medicine. Due to their dedication to their work, I spent much of my childhood with various caretakers in different homes. I went on to Asbury College in Kentucky where I obtained my bachelors degree in broadcast communications, and found a strong interest in the film industry and directing. I chased this dream to California and got a job in the industry. Soon thereafter felt unfulfilled. I wanted to BE the part, not play the part.
I enlisted in the Army in 1992 at the age of 23 while working in California. Duke Vincent, an executive producer I met on a show I had worked on, was a former Ranger in Vietnam. He was very influential and helped me find a path as a Ranger in Ranger Battalion, and I was off on my own journey.
What were your deployment experiences like?
After 9/11, the primary areas of war were Iraq and Afghanistan. I deployed to Iraq during the invasion (AKA the liberation) in 2003. As the war intensified, the focus shifted to Afghanistan and other countries. I would rotate between Iraq and Afghanistan, and other high-threat places. My deployment schedule was three to four months deployed, then about three weeks home, then repeat. I did this for years, until the war zone felt more like “home.”
My experience was very intense. At the beginning, it was like the Wild West. We were trailblazers in a new war, and had to try to instill order and structure to something that was out of control. It was a very non-linear war. We had to learn and learn by our mistakes. Unfortunately, the mistakes were the lives of our men.
How did your injury occur, and what was (or is) the recovery process like?
Jacob: My injuries are too numerous to count. I sustained all in combat. The minor ones were the fixable ones:the fractures, the ligament tears, etc. I had a few head injuries that have left me with permanent vertigo and hearing deficiencies. All this, I have managed to live with and work through everyday.
My most severe injury, however, is the one that is not overtly evident on the outside; the one that leaves psychological scars instead of physical ones. This is PTSD. You are so involved, so focused, so fatigued and stressed, that you do not even feel this injury until it makes you feel it. After 20 years in war zones, it took me retiring and stepping away to even see the extent of this injury.
What was the most difficult part of being away from your family?
Jacob: I have two sisters, and due to our parents' missionary life, we're very close and have always relied on each other. My older sister is a psychologist in Germany, and works with families coping with their loved ones' deployments and returning from deployment. My younger sister lives in Texas and is a modern dance choreographer. Both are married with three children.
Being away from loved ones is never easy; however, my family was always supportive of my dreams and goals, and understanding of my passion and my mission. That made it easier to do my job and stay focused. I was never told not to go, never told to come home sooner... my family allowed me to fly without restrictions.
And what about Leah? How did you meet?
Jacob: When I was stationed in and deploying from DC, I was doing intermittent work in New York between deployments, which led me to move to Long Beach/East Atlantic Beach. As fate would have it, my rental was upstairs from Leah and her many animals. She's a dedicated veterinarian, and now my fiancee.
During one deployment in Afghanistan, I was injured from a nearby explosion and needed surgery. The rehab and recovery meant that for five months, I would be at home in Long Island—the longest period of time I would spend in the U.S. for many years. I could not drive, and could barely move. I didn't know how, what, and where to function in this culture. Leah became my primary caretaker. Despite her exceptionally busy life as a vet, she took it upon herself to nurse and nurture me during my recovery, and fully supported me returning to action at a pace I wasn't sure could sustain a relationship.
To my good fortune, she was as dedicated, passionate, and driven in her profession as I was, and never asked me to slow down or stop. She never asked for anything, yet she comforted me through every devastating death, accompanied me to every funeral and every memorial, always knowing that I could be next. We learned to live in the moment, take nothing for granted and appreciate every rare moment that we had together.
I knew then that I could never be without her. Right before a potentially very dangerous deployment, I tattooed her as an angel on my arm and proposed to her.
What was it like for Leah during your deployment?
Leah: They say it’s really hard when a loved one goes off to war. For me, this was all I knew in our relationship. I met Jake knowing this would be our life.
Jake was gone for three-quarters of every year and accepting that was a part of loving him. His job and his passion for his job were who he was, and I loved who he was. I knew there was a very real possibility that one day the worst fear could be a reality, yet, there was no other way.
With that mindset, it made it easier. The heavy truth and the actual hard part was the aftermath, the homecoming, the re-acclimation.
What was your homecoming like?
Jacob: I finally retuned permanently to the US when I retired in 2013. There was no grand homecoming, no fanfare. Just a quiet "thank you", and I retired. A hug and a whisper in my ear from higher-ups that they really didn’t think I would make it out alive.
How did (and does) your injury and recovery affect your family's daily life?
Leah has had to make adjustments in life for me. I am not able to do things as fast or as often as I would like. I am constantly in pain from the numerous injuries sustained.
She never gets irritated or shows frustration. When I need to slow down or rest, or not do whatever it might be, she is always loving and accepting of my limitations... which made it easier for me to get over feeling sorry for myself and letting survivor guilt affect my daily life.
Leah: I am just happy and grateful that we get to enter into this unknown territory of what we call “real people life”, or “domestic bliss” together. We both have committed so much energy and time to our jobs that neither of us has ever taken the time to appreciate what it is like to come home to someone every night, be together on the weekends, have hobbies and activities, help out around the community.
So, as slow and dizzy and impaired as Jake sees himself, I just see the man I love here to walk this unchartered path and see the light at the end of the tunnel. I am thankful to walk that path with him...even if we walk it slowly and take long breaks!
Tell us a little bit about your home itself, and how you came to live there.
Jacob: The home that Leah and I met in was a two-story house in Long Beach/East Atlantic Beach. She was renting the bottom floor and I was renting the top floor when we met. As time went on and our relationship progressed, I was back and forth so much and still stationed out of DC, so we moved in together on the bottom floor. I was only there minimally between deployments, then in late August 2012, I was back from a deployment and had to be hospitalized for a few weeks. I had just gotten out of the hospital right before Sandy hit.
We had a lot of other things going on and probably did not take it as seriously as we should have. Nonetheless, we packed up our cats and dogs and evacuated to Leah’s boss's home in Valley Stream. It was well over a week before we could get back into Long Beach to assess the damage, when we did, we found our bottom floor of the house completely destroyed. It had to be gutted, and we lost everything in the house and garage.
We lived at Leah’s boss’s home for six months. They were wonderful and helped to get us back on our feet. Within this time, I retired. Since we could imagine living in no other place, with the help of a Veteran’s Loan, we purchased our current home and came back to the barrier island.
What is your yard like now?
Jacob: Our yard is a mess. We use it for storage and don’t really go out to the back yard. It is a real eye-sore and quite embarrassing. We say it is akin to the show Sanford and Son. We did put a patch of grass back there to let the dogs run around, but that little patch was soon piled with old pipes and painting supplies as we did small repairs to our house.
What made you interested in participating in the Welcome Home project?
Jacob: We are not ones to ask for help. So when I was contacted by Hope for Warriors, I spoke to Leah and we both agreed it would be not only be a learning experience but a wonderful fun experience. We were shocked by the offer and still feel it is a dream.
What are you looking forward to about having a landscaping remodel?
Jacob: After we moved in, we sustained some water damage to the house and also had to redo the plumbing; our priority has been necessities, not pleasure, so the backyard has gone untouched. However, we love sitting outside together on the porch. We grill all our meals outside all year round and both of our families live out of state, so we have lots of visitors. So this is so perfect and we are both thrilled!
What are the things you'd most like to change about your yard?
Jacob: We would like to be able to go into the back and relax. To be proud to entertain when family come over to visit. To have a private place to turn off, sit, talk and unwind.
A lot of veterans have different feelings surrounding Veteran's Day—how do you feel about the holiday?
Jacob: I have only been retired for a year. It has always been a workday for me, so I am looking forward to celebrating this day as a civilian. I still feel the pain of loss from war, yet, it is important to remember, to celebrate those that have given all they had.
Thanks to our partners in this special project for helping give Jacob and Leah the backyard they deserve: Designing With Elements of Bohemia, NY for providing design services; Unilock of Brewster, NY for donating pavers and wall stones; MGO Stone of Islandia, NY for donating lava stone; Garden Dept of Deer Park for donating the plantings; Astro Masonry & Supply of Deer Park for providing masonry materials; and Kichler for donating lighting fixtures.