Year Attended: 2016
Location: Hillsdale, NJ
Job Title: Founder and Executive Director
Education: St. Thomas Aquinas College
Degree: Bachelor of Science, Recreational Therapy
Organization: Hearts of Joy International
“A key takeaway from GIVEN was that we all have gifts and talents that we are called to use to build up the Church and make the world a better place. We need to celebrate these gifts in ourselves and in others … We are called to embrace our individuality, and also to work together as sisters in the Body of Christ.”
Please share a little about yourself – feel free to include a fun fact!
I am the Founder and Executive Director of Hearts of Joy International, which provides life saving heart surgery for individuals with Down syndrome. I am a New Jersey native and come from a big Italian, Catholic family. I am also a Speaker and fierce advocate for those with Down syndrome. I am deeply passionate about serving this population and showing the world the immense gift that children with Down syndrome are in our world. I graduated from St. Thomas Aquinas College with a degree in Recreational Therapy and I have over 15 years of experience working with children with special needs.
Describe your professional work. How were you led to this? What are you passionate about?
In 2019, I founded my non profit – Hearts of Joy International. After traveling to Uganda, East Africa in 2017, I witnessed firsthand how individuals with Down syndrome are disregarded and seen as a burden to society. As a result, these children are not receiving proper medical care and therefore are dying. 50% of children with Down syndrome are born with a cardiac defect that needs to be repaired before they are 1 year old or it becomes fatal. This pierced my heart and I was inspired to create a program exclusively for children with Down syndrome to receive proper cardiac treatment. Hearts of Joy International serves in India. Uganda, Mexico, the Philippines and the United States.
“I see the face of God in every child with Down syndrome. They live each day to the fullest, love unconditionally, and exude joy! ”
My biggest passion is to serve those with Down syndrome and their families. I feel this is how I am called to love the world. I see the face of God in every child with Down syndrome. They live each day to the fullest, love unconditionally, and exude joy! These beautiful children have inspired me in many ways and taught me so much about compassion and love. I always strive to advocate and raise greater awareness for them in all that I do. Each one is a unique and unrepeatable child of God, perfectly and wonderfully made.
What are the personal strengths that you’ve been given and how do you utilize them?
I feel so blessed to be given the opportunity to walk with others in their suffering. I am able to be present with the families that we serve and accompany them through some of the most difficult times in their life. I feel called to show them God’s love through the hardships, because I have experienced the power and love of Christ in difficult times and I strive to share that with others.
What women inspire you, and why?
St. Teresa of Calcutta is my biggest inspiration. I really admire her desire to serve the needs of those around her, especially the sick, dying, and those with disabilities. She helps me see the face of Christ in every person I serve. She encourages and inspires me on a daily basis to follow God’s dreams for me, but also to remember to take it one step at a time and to do “small things with great love.”
What is the best advice/encouragement you’ve received about vocational discernment?
“Where you find peace is where God wants you to be.” In my experience of discernment, if I am led to a place of peace, that is how I know it is of God. There is a deep knowing in your heart, an indescribable peace that overcomes you when you are where you are supposed to be, doing God’s work. He doesn’t want us to be miserable or anxious, He wants us to be filled with His love and joy. This has helps me to truly discern what is His will and what is my own will. That is not to say that if something is hard, it’s not God’s will. Because sometimes we are called to do things that are difficult. But if it is truly God’s will, He will provide us with the grace and strength to do it and He will fill your heart with endless peace.
“In my experience of discernment, if I am led to a place of peace, that is how I know it is of God. There is a deep knowing in your heart, an indescribable peace that overcomes you when you are where you are supposed to be, doing God’s work.”
Prayer is essential for everyone, but especially for women who are active in the life and mission of the Church. Do you have any favorite devotions or prayers?
I say this prayer to the Holy Spirit by Joseph Cardinal Mercier every day: “O, Holy Spirit, beloved of my soul, I adore you. Enlighten me, guide me, strengthen me, console me. Tell me what I should do, give me Your orders. I promise to submit myself to all that You desire of me and to accept all that You permit to happen to me. Let me only know Your will. Amen.”
This prayer helps me to be open to the ways that the Holy Spirit may be moving in my life, whether that is in the little moments of each day or in the bigger picture of God’s will for my life. It also encourages me not only to listen to the promptings of the Spirit, but to have the courage to act and follow where God is leading.
Do you have a favorite inspirational quote?
“I’m a little pencil in the hand of a writing God, who is sending a love letter to the world.” – St. Teresa of Calcutta
This humbly reminds me of our littleness and how we truly need God’s grace throughout our lives. But it also encourages me to know that even in our littleness, we can make a difference. We are all unique in our own ways. Each one of us an unrepeatable, perfect child of God with gifts and talents that we can offer to make this world a better place. Let your life be the greatest love letter that was ever written.
What were your key takeaways from the 2016 GIVEN Forum?
For me, a key takeaway from GIVEN was that we all have gifts and talents that we are called to use to build up the Church and make the world a better place. We need to celebrate these gifts in ourselves and in others. At GIVEN, I was able to see that what I have been given may be different than what has been given to another, but that our gifts complement each other. We are called to embrace our individuality, and also to work together as sisters in the Body of Christ.
“We all have gifts and talents that we are called to use to build up the Church and make the world a better place. We need to celebrate these gifts in ourselves and in others.”
What was your GIVEN action plan? Describe its mission, audience, and impact.
Since GIVEN, the Holy Spirit has moved me to use my gifts in unique ways which ultimately led to the inspiration of my non profit – Hearts of Joy International. We exist to help children with Down syndrome reach their full potential in life by granting them access to heart surgery as well as offering resources, support and education to communities, orphanages, caregivers and parents on the inherent dignity and value of the child. I could have never imagined when this began in 2019 that we would have healed the hearts of 52 children in 5 countries. God is wild and His plans are far beyond anything we can imagine ourselves.
“God is wild and His plans are far beyond anything we can imagine ourselves. “