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PLANET Community Stewardship Award Winner: Mazelis Landscape

July 2, 2014 -  By
The day after 9/11, Stephen Mazelis and his father delivered donations to ground zero. Photo: Mazelis Landscape Contracting Corp.

The day after 9/11, Stephen Mazelis and his father delivered donations to ground zero. Photo: Mazelis Landscape Contracting Corp.

Mazelis Landscape Contracting Corp. gives back to those who gave and the community that’s helped it prosper.

The firefighting brotherhood runs fast and deep through Stephen Mazelis’ veins. The owner of Mazelis Landscape Contracting Corp. is the son of a New York City fireman and himself a longtime volunteer.

So when duty calls, Mazelis and his team at Mazelis Landscape, located in Nesconset, N.Y., spring into action.

With about 15 staff members, the Mazelis Landscape “family” is small but deeply dedicated to the community. Sometimes the company offers up its services for public spaces like Nesconset Triangle, a formerly rundown corner at the entrance of town that the firm enhanced for free.

It’s helped pick up debris along Main Street, cosponsored outdoor music concerts and supported hospitals and three area chambers of commerce. Last year, it also surprised financially struggling families with a year of free landscape maintenance.

“Sharing some of our profits with the very community that helped us earn our profits is a way of doing business for us,” Mazelis says. “It’s part of our company culture, and it helps the Mazelis (Landscape) team come together as the Mazelis (Landscape) family.”

Often, the company’s volunteerism is done discreetly. But some of its most meaningful service projects have an element of surprise to them that leaves recipients awestruck.

Personal touch

Take the company’s project last July for Sean Cook, a young junior firefighter dying from a rare cancer.

Mazelis Landscape completed an extensive landscaping project for wounded veteran Cpl. Chris Levi. Photo: Mazelis Landscape Contracting Corp.

Mazelis Landscape completed an extensive landscaping project for wounded veteran Cpl. Chris Levi. Photo: Mazelis Landscape Contracting Corp.

Mazelis Landscape maintained the family’s property pro bono, so the Cooks could focus on their 17-year-old son’s treatments. But “doing the maintenance to me wasn’t enough, so I decided to do the landscaping,” Mazelis says.

For Cook’s 18th birthday, four Mazelis Landscape employees collaborated on a $5,000 project, relandscaping the front of the house in one day to surprise the family.

The team removed overgrown trees and shrubs, cut in new flower beds, installed fragrant trees and, as a special tribute, erected a 3-foot fireman statue in Cook’s honor.

The landscaping project was all the more personal for Mazelis, who empathized with Cook’s firefighting dreams. In fact, one month before the project began, the local fire department officially swore in Cook.

“We actually had to carry him upstairs because he was on oxygen,” Mazelis says. “Swearing him in gave him a little bit of life. To see him looking like he was getting better, it was a short-term miracle.”

But it wasn’t to last. Cook died a few months later. When Mazelis reminisces about it now, their kinship still feels fresh.

“Brotherhood with the fire department is the first thing that comes to my mind,” he says.

Photo: Mazelis Landscape Contracting Corp.

Photo: Mazelis Landscape Contracting Corp.

It’s projects like Cook’s that can be emotional for the Mazelis Landscape team, Mazelis says. Yet, they’re also among the most important. For more perspective, Mazelis detailed the company’s project for Cpl. Chris Levi, an Iraq War veteran who lost his legs when his Humvee was hit by an explosive.

In the frigid winter of 2008, Mazelis Landscape and associates devoted themselves to the nearly $30,000 project, installing a brick wheelchair ramp, sod, a sprinkler system, plantings and more. Then they hosted a homecoming for the wounded soldier.

“To me, it’s not work,” Mazelis says. “We’re doing something to better someone’s life. Chris Levi lost both his legs fighting for my country. I could never give that back to him. This is a fraction of what he’s done for us and our country.”

The impact of such projects, Mazelis says, “stays with you for life.”

Which is why Mazelis Landscape volunteers. Plus, it can help business, Mazelis says. The company has a reputation as the firm that pays it forward, which clients like.

Still, the motivation for Mazelis lies less in profits and more in helping people.

Days of service

Mazelis Landscape also embraces the Come Alive Outside movement, spearheaded by consultant Jim Paluch of JP Horizons. In step with that initiative and the Professional Landcare Network’s (PLANET’s) Day of Service last year, the entire staff at Mazelis Landscape, along with local youth and adults, prepared a 2,500-square-foot community garden and orchard called the “Grow to Give Garden.”

The harvest from the garden’s thousand vegetable plants, 12 fruit trees and 12 berry bushes is consumed by residents or donated to a food bank. The idea, Mazelis says, is for the garden to be a gift that keeps on giving.

Many suppliers donate materials for such projects at or below cost and, occasionally, for free. It’s the donors and Mazelis Landscape employees that bring the company’s community giving full circle, Mazelis says.

“My employees are the ones doing all the work,” he says. “They have an appreciation for the work we do. It’s not for the limelight. It’s just, they’re giving from the bottom of their hearts.”

At a Glance

Company: Mazelis Landscape Contracting Corp.
Headquarters: Nesconset, N.Y.
Owner: Stephen Mazelis
▶ Grow to Give Garden
For 2013’s PLANET Day of Service, Mazelis Landscape prepared a 2,500-square-foot garden and fruit tree orchard for community residents and local food banks. It also hosted family activities in line with the Come Alive Outside initiative.
▶ 9/11 assistance
On September 12, 2001, Stephen Mazelis and his father, a retired New York City firefighter, drove to ground zero with a dump truck full of supplies for first responders. Mazelis also offered to mow their lawns for free while they worked. Twelve took him up on it.
▶ Sean Cook family landscaping project
Shortly before the 18-year-old died of a rare cancer, Mazelis employees joined together to give his family a landscape renovation. The team removed overgrown greenery, cut in new flower beds, installed trees and shrubs and had a special surprise for the teen.
▶ Army Cpl. Chris Levi landscape project
Mazelis Landscape conducted a $25,000 to $30,000 landscaping project for Cpl. Chris Levi, who lost his legs in the Iraq War. At Levi’s house, the firm did grading and drainage, installed irrigation and plantings, made a brick wheelchair ramp and walkways, among other renovations.


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About the Author:

Geraci is a freelance writer based in Cleveland. She has worked as a professional journalist for more than 15 years, including six years as a writer for the Chicago Tribune. A graduate of Allegheny College and Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Geraci began her career as an editor at a newswire service in Washington, D.C., where she edited and distributed press releases from the White House and congressional leaders. She went on to become the community news reporter at the Jackson Hole Guide newspaper, winning two national feature writing awards. Her other experience includes working as a book editor in Chicago and as a professor of business communications at Cleveland State University.

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