Model Citizens Nicole Massa Shares her story of why she supports LLS since her youth.
John Dowling: Nicole congratulations on being nominated as a model citizen by Robert Zabbia last year’s model citizen of the year. He nominated you for all of the work that you do with the Leukemia and the lymphoma society.
Nicole: Well I’m involved with many efforts in the philanthropic community but I believe I first heard of Model Citizens Magazine and you at Asaf German’s Ferrari fundraiser.
John Dowling: Yes I did donate my time at that event, I believe you were quite busy but we did meet if I am not mistaken.
Nicole: I was Asaf’s campaign manager.
John Dowling: That’s probably why he had so many fans and raised records amount of donations.
Nicole: I was also at the Gala at the Heritage Club that you photographed as well.
John Dowling: I believe when his team was holding up the numbered cards with the entire amount he raised you were stage as well.
Nicole: I actually think I might have been.
John Dowling: Then I definitely have photos of you.
John Dowling: So, you got started with charity work when?
Nicole: So I always did work for LLS. But in 2014, right when I graduated from college, I started working at the leukemia lymphoma society.
John Dowling: As a job?
John Dowling: Oh cool.
Nichole: So, I started working there as a temp and then they had a permanent position. So, I worked there for several years on almost every one of their campaigns. And then when I left, it was always a joke that, oh, next year, Nicole you’ll run for woman of the year and I was like, yeah, yeah, you guys are crazy. And then in 2018 I did run for woman of the year and won that year with Robert Zabbia.
John Dowling: Yes Robert shared that with me when he nominated you, amazing effort by the way, congratulations.
Nicole: Thank you. And then after that, I was the manager for Asaph’s campaign the next year. And then the year after that, I was the first all-star candidate for LLS. It’s a nice way of saying “I’m a crazy person who doing it again”. And I fundraised during the pandemic with that class of candidates as the first person to do it again for Long Island. And now this year, I’m also a campaign manager for another woman candidate
John Dowling: Who?
Nicole: Alisa Alito this year.
John Dowling: Do I know the name Alisa Alito?
Nicole: She knows a lot of Asaf’s people because she’s in the real estate world.
John Dowling: Then I probably know of her or photographed her along the way. I meet so many people I just can not keep up with the names.
Nicole: Probably everyone seems to know everyone in the charitable world.
John Dowling: Well I have donated time to charities ever since Tina Louise (Ginger from Gilligan’s Island) asked me to shoot Muhammad’s charity… little did I know it was Muhammad Ali’s charity for children.
Nicole: Wow, when was that?
John Dowling: Well I am aging myself but back in the early 80’s and I took it as a sign that I was meant to give to charities with my camera ever since. What made you get into charity work?
Nicole: Well, I got involved before I started working for LLLS officially just doing their walks and supporting, being like a temp for their campaigns, because I lost my mom when I was 12 to leukemia.
John Dowling: I am so sorry to hear that, I also lost my dad to leukemia.
Nicole: So that kind of got me involved and it’s been like a lifelong journey and I always joke with them that they can’t get rid of me because I’ll stay here forever and just keep supporting the work they do and do it all in memory of my mom.
John Dowling: My father was an iron man. He would run fifty and hundred mile races. When he ran the valley stream 50 mile race, I would break the icicles off his eyebrows because it was less than zero degrees. And every lap the sweat would freeze and he would have icicles. I’d be breaking them off and saying, dad are you going to do another lap? Yeah, I’ll do one more. And then it would be 35 miles, I’m like, are you going to do another lap? He’d do another one, I kept breaking the icicles off of his eyebrows until he finished a fifty mile race in sub zero degree weather. He was. True Iron man and after only two days on chemo he knew he would never leave the hospital, it was that bad.
Nicole: How sad.
John Dowling: While he was going through chemo they wanted dad to walk and as I walked with him there’s a little child looking through a glass door who had leukemia, it was very sad. And dad said, “if you think it’s bad for me, look at those children who are dealing with this.” Ever since then, whatever I could do for anything charitable related to cancer, I always do. I have shot thousands of charities, all the Hospitality Balls, Pink Tie events, LLS, everything I can remember being asked to shoot even after getting out of the hospital myself I shot. What was the first charitable thing you ever did?
Nicole: Well it was something I didn’t talk about much in the beginning. And then when I was in high school, I was in a SAD students against destructive decisions club and I was one of the officers. I was one of the officers of that and that year, I was like, oh, let’s do a new awareness walk. Let’s do the light the night walk, which is what the leukemia lymphoma society does. So, I kind of started that and that was the first time I really told my story to people and got my high school club to do it. And then ever since I shared it with more and more family and friends. Then started temping and volunteering and doing internships with LLS, and then in 2014, I knew I wanted to get a job out of college there and the rest is history. I’m in it for life.
John Dowling: Amen to that. And how about your husband?
Nicole: Well, he comes to everything, we’re high school sweethearts. So, unfortunately Sean never met my mom, but always knew my story from high school of everything that I did and Sean supports everything I do. He shares on Facebook, he gets his extended family and friends involved and involved in the fundraisers. He helps promote it to them. He helps carry, do all the heavy lifting for all those events. So I know I can count on Sean for anything and everything.
John Dowling: What’s going on now?
Nicole: Now I’m helping Elisa with her campaign.
John Dowling: Okay.
Nicole: Other than that —
John Dowling: I mean it’s covid so it’s hard to do anything.
Nicole: It is hard to do anything. I’ve been part of their leadership committee for LLS. I always kind of just say, I’m very friendly with the staff there. So I’m always like, whatever you need, you just let me know. But formally I’m helping Elisa with her fundraising trying to do what we can for events. It’s a little hard, it’s a little better than last year, but still hard. So that’ll end, next month will be the end of the 10 weeks. Unfortunately, the grand finale that we all know is virtual like it was last year. But this is the most candidates they’ve ever had for LLS, even with everything going on in the world for their man, woman of the year campaign. So it’ll be very exciting to see how much is raised with that many people and all the challenges that they’ve faced.
John Dowling: How was it last year?
Nicole: Last year was good. The thing that we say for this year, that’s better than last year, other than things just getting a little bit back to normal is that last year, everyone who signed up, they try and get the candidate class together around like January, February, because it’s supposed to kick off in March. So everyone who signed up, nobody knew what the world was about to come to. So LLS likes to say and I was part of it last year too, is the all-star candidate that we were like pivoting in the moment. Like nobody knew what was going on. So unfortunately, and understandably, they lost some candidates, who may be struggling with health issues with their family or financially with their businesses. So, they did lose some candidates who had to drop out.
John Dowling: Nobody was giving money last year with COVID. It was hard to get anything out of anybody.
Nicole: Exactly, but we still broke records last year, it was amazing. I know you have interviewed Jesse. He’s unbelievable. So, it was a great year, but there was a lot of uncertainty. And this year, at least the people who signed up kind of knew what they were getting themselves into.
John Dowling: But Jesse has an amazing story.
Nicole: He does and COVID almost helped Jesse’s case to take part in it because as candidates dropped Jessie, as you know, was leading the leadership committee that I was a part of. And that’s when we had all this momentum and then we kind of had to backtrack because then covid hit and people were dropping and Jessie was like, okay, here I go I’m going to throw my hat in the ring and do it. And I mean, I already signed on before COVID to be the all-star candidate, but it was even a little more meaningful.
John Dowling: And for our readers what does it mean to be an all star candidate?
Nicole: An all-star candidate is someone who has run before, so they’re running again, but now they’re on a national level. So, even though I was a part of the Long Island candidate class, I wasn’t quite running against them. I was running more on the all-star national level of candidates who are across the country, and did it for a second time.
John Dowling: So, you’re really very passionate about helping find a more humane cure for cancer.
John Dowling: So, you must’ve been very moved when you heard Biden say we should cure cancer.
Nicole: Of course losing my mom has shaped my whole life, but I try and do things in her memory like share my story. And I look at it, it’s been 17 years since she passed away and now I look at all the advancements that they’ve made and it’s hard because, if she was diagnosed now maybe the outcome would’ve been different. But hey, we’re moving in the right direction, right. So, I want to see the funds raised, I’d love to find a cure or find, like you said, less severe treatments so life is better when people do survive cancer.
John Dowling: Yeah. Because, basically even though people are surviving, it’s not like they’re not battle scarred.
John Dowling: And the treatment is basically killing the disease while you’re killing the person, hoping the disease dies before the person, right.
Nicole: A hundred percent.
John Dowling: So it’s not exactly the best way to survive even if it is the only cure we have now. There’s got to be better ways.
Nicole: She had AML, which when I was leaving LLS, at that point, they started the beat AML master trial that they were working on, which was taking these outdated treatments for AML, which was one of the most aggressive forms of blood cancer. One with the lower survival rates and treatments that haven’t been changed in over 40 years and they were like, we have to tackle this. They’ve done a lot for childhood cancer, which they’re continuing to do, but AML was one then it’s like, okay, we really have to put some money into this because it’s just not improving.
John Dowling: Yeah. My father had myelofibrosis also, which is an incurable form of cancer and I don’t know if it’s even curable to this day.
John Dowling: Well, listen I applaud you for all the work that you’re doing.
Nicole: Thank you. Thank you for supporting and being a part of it also.I can’t believe we haven’t officially met in the fundraising world.
John Dowling: I know right.
Nicole: But now, you know, we’ll see each other all the time.
John Dowling: It’s because of my own health, which has taken a nose dive in the last year, but I have an incurable gene mutation and just to have gotten this much more time, it’s really a miracle I am still here.
Nicole: Right. It puts things into perspective and you know what’s important in life. I think it’s a great networking opportunity to meet people and meet like-minded people who know what it is like to survive or lose someone they loved as well.
John Dowling: But after a while, I did see some of the dark side of this, where people are profiteering off of these charity networks and making it a lifestyle of hanging around the generous people that give their time and money to the charities to profiteer off them.
John Dowling: And I kind of now am starting to cut those people out of my charitable contributions.
Nicole: Something else is so interesting when you do fundraising it takes a lot of time you look at people like, you know, they’re successful and you know, that they’ll donate and those aren’t actually the people who support you. It’s the people who live a modest lifestyle who have children and stuff like that that you think like, oh, they have a lot going on, they have their kids, they can’t support. And they’re the generous ones and the ones who have these million dollar companies aren’t always the generous ones. So, it is very telling of who you surround yourself with and who will support, even when they might not have it just because they know they want to support a good cause.
John Dowling: And some of the people who are the wealthier people don’t give a dime of their money. They just use it for networking and let everybody else give. And then they get the credit for hosting the charity, “I threw the party, I’m going to donate the money in my name.”
John Dowling: So again, I applaud you on your past accomplishments and on your current giving and happy to have you as a Model Citizen in our Model Citizens Community.
Nicole: Happy to be a part of it. Thank you, John.