If Center Moriches had a celebrity, it would be Keith Caputo.
Known as “The Mayor” or “Coach Keith,” Caputo is recognized as one of the strongest forces for good in the greater Center Moriches community. Caputo is a 39-year-old man with Down syndrome who moved to Center Moriches with his family when he was around 10 years old. Since that time, he has remained active and involved with the entire community.
Caputo started volunteer work under the wing of the late Anthony Parlato III, one of the founders of the Moriches Community Center. They worked together with youth in the community, coached basketball teams together and coordinated fundraisers for people in need. And Caputo took it hard when Parlato unexpectedly died in 2013.
“Whenever Coach Anthony was there, Keith was there too,” said Kathleen Johnson, executive director of the Moriches Community Center.
Caputo said he worked with someone to get through his sadness over his friend’s dying, and that person encouraged Caputo to get back to what he had done to make himself happy before: helping others.
“Coach taught me to help and respect people,” Caputo said.
He took his renewed motivation and started working heavily with the community center, raising money and helping with programs. He eventually became a board member. After some time in that position, Caputo decided to start his own venture in helping people help others.
In February 2015, Caputo and his mom, Cassy, started Helping Makes U Happy Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to demonstrating how people are able to make a difference through volunteering and to inspire others to make a difference with the belief that doing good not only helps the lives of the less fortunate, but their lives as well. And he thinks Parlato would be proud of the work he’s done.
The Caputos credit a lot of HMUH’s success to the support in the community. They’ve helped with fundraisers, packing boxes, spreading the word and more.
“People just embrace him,” Cassy Caputo said.
She added that kids in the community look up to him, and he has inspired them to help others as well.
“I love it so much because I’m so lucky that I have a community to call home,” Keith Caputo said.
With Helping Makes U Happy, Keith Caputo and his team have created several programs to help others. There’s the famous Chinese Auction that is held every fall, where the money raised goes toward community projects; the Super Bowl party raffles (happening now); food drives; coat drives; and much more. On Halloween (Keith’s birthday), they gave out 250 costumes to people in the community, and then gave out candy, toys and even dog treats to people at night.
In the summer, they take on almost two dozen families in their “feeding families” program. They connect with people through the Center Moriches School District or Eastport-South Manor School District who are on the free lunch and breakfast program and need help when school is out. They also in the past couple of years have donated 250 comfort cases for people in the Suffolk Child Protective Services program. They’ve even donated a car to someone in need.
“(Keith) would rather do this than anything else,” Cassy Caputo said.
Keith Caputo has been recognized in many ways, through Brookhaven Town, the Suffolk County Legislature and the Center Moriches Fire Department; he was the first-ever winner of two Long Island Imagine Awards last year. He was also featured on the “Today with Kathie Lee & Hoda” show as part of its “Random Acts of Kindness” segment. His next big goal: Ellen DeGeneres. Caputo loves Ellen and often gets new ideas for helping people from her show.
“The best things in my life are my family, my friends, my staff and the best community in the world,” Keith Caputo said. “I’m so blessed.” n