“We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give,” Winston Churchill once said, and local Carlotta Peters-Bulzomi embodies that sentiment, as she’s started her own Pay It Forward group in Rockaway. Her spirited Facebook posts have obviously hit the right nerve, as she already has five local ladies on board with her mission, plus scores of others who join in her efforts to simply help others — by paying it forward.
Peters-Bulzomi, a self-described, “Brooklyn girl,” has lived with her husband, Michael; and daughter, Gigi, in Neponsit for the last 16 years. The former Head Start teacher, now local school crossing guard, makes it her mission to not just help locals in need, but has galvanized quite a following in the community.
From helping the Clarke family, who were left homeless after a fire destroyed their Beach 91st apartment in 2017; to hosting an annual breast cancer research fundraiser in front of her home; working with the community to gear up a financially in-need child for her first snow tubing trip; helping Rockaway’s infamous Stop and Shop crooner and pianist, Ceasar Bates, get much needed supplies for his one-room home; and more! — Peters-Bulzomi is relentless and determined to spread the message of “Paying It Forward.”
The local woman says her roots to caring and wanting to help others was impacted by her career as a Head Start Pre-K school teacher in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn.
“Brighton Beach has a large immigrant population. Many of my Mexican students were here illegally living with their parents in these tiny rooms. I saw how they would come to school, looking as though they needed clothes and even food. Also, many Pakistani girls would come to school without underwear. I was horrified! How are we going to sit together cross-legged in a classroom, and you aren’t wearing underwear? I personally bought underwear for them. I didn’t know if it was a religious thing, but I had to do something. The girls would even come to school in the dead of winter wearing sandals with no socks. I realized there were a lot of things going on. These students were in need, and I wanted to help,” Peters-Bulzomi said.
And so she did, using her own money and encouraging other teachers to help purchase essential items for their students.
Then Hurricane Sandy hit, and the Bulzomis, like most in Rockaway and Broad Channel, lost everything but the pot spoon.
“Sandy taught me a lot. The term, ‘Rockaway Strong,’ keeps resounding to me today. This community is resilient! Why? Because folks really come out to help their neighbors, not just with a superstorm, but any tragedy. My family did not just lose our home, but my husband, who owns Sea Traveler's Marina in Brooklyn, was basically brought back to square one. The school, where I worked, was destroyed. My daughter’s school here in Rockaway was destroyed. However, like everyone, we worked hard, not to just resurrect life as we know it, but we were determined to do the same for others,” Peters-Bulzomi said.
One poignant example of how Peters-Bulzomi’s huge heart spurred on Rockaway to pay it forward was with Ceasar Bates, the gregarious and talented piano player, who is usually perched in front Stop And Shop on Beach Channel Drive. She said that she fell in love with the man’s talent and spirit, and after speaking with him, realized that he was in need, and wanted to help.
“We started talking and he was very honest about his story. He said that in his heyday, he was in a Motown band that played at the Apollo, everywhere! The way he plays, his personality, his voice, he’s the real deal! However, he related that hard knocks took the form of drugs for not just him, but most of the band members, and well, most of us know where that usually lands addicts.
“I wanted to help him get back on his feet. I asked him where he lived, and what he needed. To be honest, he was really taken aback, but I was determined. He lived in a tiny windowless, closet-size apartment with no heat or any basic amenities like a fridge. I put out a post on Facebook, and the response was astronomical,” Peters-Bulzomi said.
She told folks that Ceasar needed a fridge, kitchenware like a blender and microwave, a mattress, a keyboard, blankets, a jacket, and other items.
“The response I got was overwhelming! Everyone knew about this black elderly, polite gentleman who played amazing music in front of Stop and Shop. Everyone jumped in to donate, and even helped me deliver the items. I always stress that the items don’t have to be new, just something you don’t need anymore. As long as it’s in good condition, that’s great. That’s how to pay it forward. Gifting someone something you may no longer need or even have never used,” she said.
Peters-Bulzomi was even featured on a NY1’s Around The Boroughs segment about her pay it forward initiative with Bates. “I was so shocked! Never expected that, but, if it inspired others to help someone in their community, that was the ultimate reward. I was just so happy when I invited Ceasar to play at my family’s Christmas Eve party. Now that video went viral!”
But Peters-Bulzomi’s efforts extend beyond Bates. Last October, the local woman was able to raise over $3,000 for the Maimonides Breast Cancer Center, which was inspired by her cousin, Meredith Tomassi, who was fighting the disease. “I do this event selling everything imaginable, including furniture I refurbish myself. Even Ciro’s and Beach Bagel donate food. The entire community really comes out with items, of which all sale proceeds go towards the fund. The local Reinhardt family told me about Maimonides, and I was so honored to fundraise for their breast cancer research efforts,” Peters-Bulzomi said.
Peters-Bulzomi is not only inspiring locals, but setting good examples for her family. After seeing the NY1 segment, her daughter, Gigi, shared her thoughts on her mother’s efforts on Facebook, saying, “Well mom, you didn’t get on your dream show, Flea Market Flip or Shark Tank with some crazy invention. But u made someone else’s dream come true. I am so proud of my mom. She is the kindest person in the world. I love u. By the way your Brooklyn accent was toned down a bit. LOL!”
For more info on how you too can join Peters-Bulzomi’s Pay It Forward group, inbox her through Facebook Messenger @Carlotta Peters.
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