Jo-Ellen Risolo Sarnelli’s dedication to her community is evident by her daily actions in Island Park. Her commitment to civic pursuits led to the Island Park Chamber of Commerce naming her the Community Service Award recipient at its 69th annual Dinner Dance at the Bridgeview Yacht Club on Nov. 7.
“I have had the pleasure of witnessing Jo-Ellen’s volunteer work firsthand,” said Glenn Ingoglia, who served as the master of ceremonies for the event. “When faced with a challenge, she has an uncanny ability to quickly evaluate a situation, identifying the potential obstacles while at the same time devising a plan of action to defeat them and to achieve the desired goal.”
Risolo Sarnelli began her volunteer work by joining the Island Park PTA, and eventually served as its treasurer and vice president. She also helped the students in other capacities, including as a member of the high school hiring, library and site-based management committees, while also volunteering for a number of PTA committees and serving on the Board of Education.
In addition, Risolo Sarnelli has been a religious education teacher, a Daisy and Girl Scout leader, a parent volunteer for Boy Scouts, a youth group leader, a San Gennaro Feast volunteer and a CYO girls’ basketball coach. She also spent 15 years working for the St. Nicholas Project, a year-round initiative of Catholic Charities of New York to help the most vulnerable in New York City and neighboring communities by providing support to individuals in need.
Risolo Sarnelli said that she had a lot of help from other Island Park residents in making a difference in the community. “I encourage all of you to continue to volunteer,” she said. “It is at the heart of this hard work that change happens. Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections every year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.”
Risolo Sarnelli was born and raised in Island Park as one of eight children to John and Mildred Risolo. She met her future husband, Tony Sarnelli, while in high school and they have four children — Amanda, Kristen, Daniel and Julia. In addition to her volunteer work, Risolo Sarnelli is a vice president of finance for Truly Original, a media production company. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Stony Brook University and a master’s in accounting from LIU Post, and became one of only three women in her program to earn a master’s in business administration.
Though she is no longer involved with the PTA, Risolo Sarnelli is still active in Island Park. She helps coordinate the Love Your Troops Dance, which honors local veterans each year, co-chairs the Civic Association’s Thanksgiving food drive that supports the food pantries at Sacred Heart Church and Kitty Cove, among other ventures. She noted that while volunteering does come with some difficulties, it is fulfilling for her.
After the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, Risolo Sarnelli sprung to action to begin a fundraiser and collection to support the workers at ground zero. “Wherever you turn, you can find someone who needs you, even if it’s just for a little thing,” Risolo Sarnelli said. “Do something for which there is no pay, but rather the privilege of just doing it. That’s the beauty of volunteering.”
Other honorees at the event included The Island Park Theater Group, which was given the Lifetime Achievement Award; Dox Bar and Kitchen, which was honored as Best New Business; and the South Shore Jewish Center, which earned Business of the Year.
The Island Park Theater group was formed in the 1980s, and continues to thrive in the community. Shows that its members have performed include “The Sound of Music,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Shrek,” among many others.
“We are a family,” Reneé Socci, director of the group, said while accepting the honor. “We encourage families to get involved.”
Island Park Theater performers range in age from 7 to the late 80s. In the 1990s, the company moved its headquarters from the Island Park Methodist Church to Lincoln Orens Middle School. Actors from the group have gone on to work in Disney productions and one was even nominated for a Tony Award.
Dox Bar and Kitchen is on Barnum Isle. What was once an asphalt boatyard is now a summer spot with sand, umbrellas, food and drink. In 2018, co-owner Norah Kelleher met the boatyard’s owner, Paul Dicosimo, whom she lived two blocks away from for more than 15 years.
After they spoke, Dicosimo agreed to rent the property to Kelleher and her neighbor Bob Hall. From there, a seasonal waterside restaurant was born. “The funny thing about this award is it’s the Best New Business, but the owners are not new to this community,” chamber member Mike Scully said. “The owners have deep, deep roots to this community.”
Kelleher said she was happy the community embraced her business. “We’re really happy,” she said. “This is a beautiful community that is very kind and supportive. We really appreciate that.”
The South Shore Jewish Center has been a fixture in Island Park since 1952, and has welcomed members from other communities as well. The center hosts Shabbat services on Friday nights and Saturday mornings, and has plenty of special events such as Shabbat at the Beach, a Rosh Hashana luncheon, a Thanksgiving Interfaith Service (scheduled for Nov. 26 this year) and a Hanukkah menorah lighting and latke gathering (scheduled for Dec. 22). In addition to its services, the leaders of the temple are involved in several community and civic groups and organizations.
“All of us work together for our temple and for Island Park,” co-President Lisa Arian said. “. . . We are all one community.”
Ingoglia said that the dozens of people in attendance served as proof that Island Park has a spirited community. “There’s a civic pride that runs through Island Park that I think is reflective here tonight,” he said. “That’s not to say we don’t differ in our opinions from time to time, but that’s all right. I think it’s better to differ in opinion than to not have one at all. . . . That, to me, makes us special.”