When James Dalimonte turned nine, he didn't ask for video games or sports equipment, or typical wish-list items young boys covet. Instead Dalimonte asked friends and family for food and toys for shelter animals in Port Washington. He said his life-long relationship with beloved golden retriever Nala inspired his birthday philanthropy.
"I've loved dogs since I first saw Nala," Dalimonte said. "When I think of other animals that don't have a home like her, I feel sad."
When Dalimonte decided to forgo birthday gifts in favor of donations for a cause close to his heart, he had no way of knowing he'd be given something most nine-year-olds could never dream of receiving: a Hometown Hero Commendation from the Town of North Hempstead.
Fellow dog-lover and Town of North Hempstead Clerk Leslie Gross learned about Dalimonte's efforts to aid shelter animals and was impressed. "This is amazing," Gross said. "This is the kind of example we need to set, that whether you are an adult or a child, you can make a difference."
Gross started recognizing Hometown Heroes, which she defines as "ordinary people doing extraordinary things in their community" when she became clerk in 2007. Candidates are nominated online through the town's website.
Dalimonte collected toys, food, dog beds and gift cards to supermarkets and pet stores and donated the items to the North Shore Animal League and North Hempstead Animal Shelter. He also asked his friends to take a pass on traditional party favors, donating the money saved as well. Dalimonte's animal evangelizing converted his friends to the cause; one even showed up with a bag full of old tennis balls to donate.
The birthday boy's mom, Mariann Dalimonte, said she was proud of her son's generosity, noting the donation idea was his own, but admitted she worried he'd have pangs of regret that the pile of presents and gift cards was earmarked solely for furry-friends. She needn't have fretted. "He was fine," she said. "He opened the gift cards to Petland Discounts and said 'When are we going shopping?'"
The nine-year-old Dalimonte may have been sanguine about giving up his birthday loot but he did admit he was "nervous" about receiving the official commendation. But a dog-lovers bond trumped nerves, and he and Gross were soon happily comparing dog stories and photos. Gross has a Tibetan terrier named Ozzie that she jokingly calls the "Town Dog."
Gross' interest in the well-being of dogs is also professional; her office is in charge of dog licensing, generating fees that help subsidize the North Hempstead Animal Shelter, spaying and neutering efforts as well as rabies clinics.
"It's the magic of one," said Gross as she presented the framed commendation. "Each of us is one, making a difference, one step at a time. You can control what you do, and set a good example."