Orlando's Magic

Orlando Begonia and his son, Alexander
Orlando Begonia, right, and his son, Alex

You know special people when you meet them. Orlando Begonia, RN, operations administrator at North Shore University Hospital, is one of them. For more than 30 years, when a patient in crisis arrives at the hospital, Mr. Begonia has been the calm in the storm. He listens, assesses and then acts. Compassion seems to be woven into his DNA.

Wiry and soft spoken, Mr. Begonia may not first look like a fortress of strength, but appearances can deceive. Steely but gentle determination informs how he lives his life. Born in the Philippines, he immigrated to the United States over 30 years ago in a move that has made a world of difference to more lives here and in his native land than he can ever hope to count.

“We had a simple life growing up,” Mr. Begonia said. “My mother instilled in us the values of hard work and compassion. I grew up believing one person could make a difference and that the people who can make the biggest differences often come from the unlikeliest of sources.” It might come from a patient, family member or teenager like his son, Alex, who was born with Down syndrome. “It’s always
important to listen,” Mr. Begonia said, “but more important to truly hear.”

Maybe that’s why, on a long-ago family trip, when his daughter asked why school children in the Philippines didn’t have playgrounds, Mr. Begonia took notice. He engaged her to the point where she volunteered her babysitting money to construct one. Mr. Begonia was surprised and proud.

“Kathleen was 12 when she saw children running around at a Philippines school and asked, ‘Where is the playground?’ I told her schools were poorer here and that there were no playgrounds. She asked how much it would cost and I gave her a number. She said I don’t have that much but I’m willing to give you my money to put toward it. From that idea, the Alexander Begonia Foundation was born. Now, there are 32 schools with playgrounds.”

Mr. Begonia explained that the foundation really doesn’t fundraise or ask for donations. “People see the progress we’ve made and they want to help. If the heart is into giving, it will give.”

The one time he did ask was when he heard about Northwell Health’s Global Health Initiatives Program and he was encouraged to apply for a grant that helped fund playground construction, feeding program and medical missions.

“I go home once a year and attend the school graduations where we have donated playgrounds,” he said. “Alex thinks he’s a celebrity. A woman said to us: ‘You’re not from here but you do so much. I wish there were more like you.’ Those words are so gratifying because there are more.”

He has been most grateful for the opportunity to serve at North Shore University Hospital. “It has done so much for my personal and professional growth,” Mr. Begonia said. “Establishing the Alex Begonia Foundation has allowed me to pay it forward and help others.”

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