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Rebecca Sanin, President/CEO, Health and Welfare Council of Long Island (HWCLI)

Rebecca Sanin is President and CEO of the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island. HWCLI serves the interests of poor and vulnerable people on Long Island by convening, representing, and supporting the organizations that serve them.

What influenced you to do what you do?
Two experiences were very impactful early on in my development. The first was the experience I had in high school of volunteering in a soup kitchen in NYC. It was on those weekend mornings that I learned that many of the most economically poor among us are also the richest in spirit. I was constantly inspired by the hope and resiliency that emerged despite the unjust and violent experience of hunger and poverty. Second, in college, I was working on a research project at a Head Start in the neighborhood that the LAPD had deemed one of the most violent in all of Los Angeles. The children we worked with acted out drive by shootings in their pretend play and had more exposure to trauma in their first three or four years of life than describable. Our research showed that problem solving skills were a protective factor. Children who had sophisticated problem-solving skills had less anxiety, depression, were better adjusted, better learners etc. While we couldn’t readily change the environment or replant families to safer neighborhoods, I learned that we could nurture the human spirit, catalyze resiliency and support children through intervention—and these lessons have informed my path forward.

What inspires you?
I am inspired everyday by Long Islanders who face poverty, trauma, segregation, racism, hunger and much more and yet fight for their own resiliency, contribute to their communities and schools and continue to nurture a notion of Hope for themselves and their families.

Who’s your female role model and why?
While Marian Wright Edelman founder of the Children’s Defense Fund has always been a force of nature that I deeply admire, my greatest female role model would be my mom. When I was growing up we had a “literal” sandbox in our backyard and all kinds of play, parties and games took place around the sandbox. It was around that sandbox that I was taught the lessons of kindness, fierce but friendly competition, conflict resolution and so many of the skills that inspire me today, as we face assaults on health and human services, to always “play nice in the sandbox” whether I’m negotiating a contract, advocating for a policy or fiercely advancing a paradigm shift.

What is your greatest achievement?
My greatest professional achievement is not one moment in time but rather a series of choices. I began my career as an Education Director and as an Early Childhood Trainer, training teachers for more than a decade. I taught Developmental Psychology at local colleges and my heart was full. Yet, I was continually frustrated by the systems that were created to help nurture children that ultimately were hurtful or challenged access to care for families. At that point, I went back to school, leaving a job I loved to pursue a policy-driven Masters in Developmental Psychology where I was a fellow at the National Center for Children & Families. After graduate school, back in the field, I continued to feel a need to better understand the systems impacting human outcomes, particularly the legislative process. I then went to law school where I was a Stein Scholar, part of a select group of students who pursue law solely to advance public interest. With no intention to practice, I went back into the nonprofit sector, feeling excited to apply my robust training to impact change. I was continually frustrated because I found that with all the tools in my “toolbox,” there was yet another system I needed to learn to navigate: the world of politics. I immersed myself in the political realm, ultimately working in a senior government position for five years, gaining the inside view on how all of these systems—direct service, policy-making bodies, advocacy during budget processes, education and politics all come together to shape our cultural norms and our society. To now have the opportunity to use my education and experience to nurture a robust understanding of how to effect change for an umbrella organization that defends and supports each and every area of health and human services for our neighbors on Long Island, is both an achievement and an extraordinary privilege.

What would you like our donors to know about you and your mission?
Health and Welfare Council of Long Island is a unique organization in our region because we are an umbrella organization for hundreds of nonprofits that address all areas of health and human services. As such, regional coordination and planning, advocacy and policy making, as well as expanding services and filling in gaps in service are all very much part of our strategy. Long Island is America’s first suburb—it was founded with promise, but not for all. If we are to solve the complex issues we face, such as suburban poverty and lead the nation on what it means to do so, then we desperately need investment so that transformative change can raise Long Island up to meet its promise for all communities. As for me, I wake up every day inspired and privileged to serve as the President/CEO of this organization and I am fiercely determined and outcome-driven to create a sustainable future for our region that is inclusive and “raises all boats.”

Check out their website at to learn more of the incredible work they do.

Long Island Community Foundation | A Division of The New York Community Trust
900 Walt Whitman Road | (Rt. 110) Suite 205 | Melville, NY 11747
P (631) 991-8800 | Directions | Staff | Comments on the Website

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