Casandra Properties’ CEO James Prendamano and COO Rebecca Matulonis sit down with two important women leaders in Staten Island on this episode of the Casandra Properties podcast, kicking off Women’s history month. Gina Gutman is the Senior Vice President of the Staten Island Economic Development Corporation and Diane Arneth is the Senior Vice President of CHASI (Community Health Action of Staten Island), which started decades ago with a grass roots movement she had led.
Right out of college, Gina Gutman worked for the Children’s Museum at the Snug Harbor Cultural Center. She loved it, but wanted to grow her career after a few years there. She made a call to a friend who worked for the late great Borough President Guy Molinari at the time. Gina Gutman would soon start working for Molinari at Borough Hall as a press secretary. Cesar Claro, the President of the SIEDC also worked there at the time. He wanted to start a Staten Island tourism project. He called on Gina to help him out, and the rest is history. The mission of the SIEDC is to grow business here on Staten Island, and not just for the sake of business, but to also improve the quality of life here on Staten Island. James and both his guests agree that Cesar Claro was always someone who was willing to listen to ideas with an open mind.
Diane Arneth is a native and lifelong Staten Islander, who laughingly admits she went to St. Joseph by the Sea high school (when it was still all girls). She graduated from college, and then began her career as a nurse. However, that didn’t last too long as she admits that she could not stand taking orders from doctors in the hospital. She then went into the public health field, and this was at the start of the HIV/AIDS crisis in the ‘80s, when there was little information, a lot of confusion, and too much homophobia. Diane Arneth started the AIDS Task Force here on Staten Island, as well as the Staten Island Teen Pregnancy Network in the 1980s, among her many accomplishments.
CEO and Host James Prendamano comments that Staten Island has always been perceived as “the other borough.” This, of course, is finally starting to change, rightfully. Yet, he is perplexed how Diane had been able to secure state and city funding for these projects decades ago, when it is still so difficult to do so now. “Let me put it this way,” says Diane Arneth, “my gravestone will say ‘She pissed off everyone she possibly could on Staten Island,’” she laughs. “You have to make noise, you have to fight, and not give up on what you believe in.”
Diane goes on to say how she always felt a deep connection here on Staten Island, stating, “I knew I wanted to leave this place better than how I found it.” Staten Island is a community of people who care about their community. I witnessed so much homophobia and racism at the time, surprisingly, even from people on the Community Board (again, this was during the AIDS crisis). I just knew we had to look at things from a different perspective. Nobody deserved AIDS. No one deserved to die because of addiction. Addiction is a disease, and one that is correlated with the underserved and poverty.”
James Prendamano adds, “Yes. We all have to run that 100-yard dash known as life. Some folks are fortunate to start at 50-yards, some at 70 yards, some at 90. Then there are those who start way back at 10 yards, or even ‘minus 10-20 yards. It is not a level playing field.”
Rebecca Matulonis asks Diane Arneth what first inspired her to do so much charity work, and was there something that influenced her when she was younger.
Diane responds that when she was in high school, she did volunteered for two summers with a program run by the Sisters of Charity through her high school. One summer, she taught STEM (before it was even a term) to kids in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. The following summer, she taught remedial English to children from East Harlem. Diane Arneth says she it was then she realized that underneath it all, we were all the same. It never left her, nor did the idea that everyone deserved a chance. Diane Arneth says, “These early experiences spring boarded my thinking to ways of promoting equality and opportunity among people from all walks of life. It showed me a whole different perspective of how people live.”
Tune in to the this Casandra Properties podcast and learn about what’s next on the horizon for CHASI, SIEDC and the Staten Island community!