Dejana Foundation touches many in Port Washington

Jessica Parks
Peter Dejana speaking at HEARTS Port Washington's 2019 Red Gala where the foundation was honored. (Photo courtesy of Debbie Greco Cohen)

The Peter and Jeri Dejana Family Foundation provided an unprecedented $1.6 million in grants to nonprofits in 2018, with 80 percent of the recipients based in Port Washington. 

Almost no Port Washington-based nonprofit is left without their help. The foundation makes donations to school organizations, beautification groups, veteran organizations, extracurricular activities and charities. 

The Dejana family launched the foundation in 2012, after many years of giving back, to better coordinate their contributions. Peter Dejana, an Italian immigrant and entrepreneur, is the founder of a successful street sweeping and garbage removal company that he sold last year.

 The grant writer for the Peter and Jeri Dejana Family Foundation, James Avena, who is also the mayor of Manorhaven, said that grants range from $5,000 to $50,000. 

Funding from the Peter and Jeri Dejana Family Foundation has been used for nutrition programs at the Port Senior Center and to underwrite the entry fees for veterans attending the Port Summer Show, among a variety of other uses. 

The foundation does not only provide grants to community organizations but utilizes cross promotions, event partnerships and other fund and awareness-driven methods to assist nonprofits “in their efforts to offer and expand programming and other services to their own memberships,” according to its mission statement. 

In 2018, the Peter and Jeri Dejana Family Foundation distributed grants to approximately 65 organizations. 

“Overall, Port Washington is so lucky to have the Peter and Jeri Dejana Family Foundation that gives so much back to our local community,” said Mindy Germain, executive director of Residents Forward and the Port water district commissioner. 

She said community groups are so lucky to collaborate with Avena, who cares so much about each project funded by the foundation and works with organizations to make sure it is the best project it can be. 

She said the foundation supports Residents Forward with its Youth Climate Summit, Environmental Education and Action programs and other events to ensure their fulfillment and vibrancy. 

The foundation also made Residents Forward’s garden in front of the train station possible, Germain said and described as the size of a football field. She said the garden looks beautiful in all four seasons thanks to the foundation funding plantings and maintenance. 

Since the organization cannot provide aid to every nonprofit that makes a request, the foundation allocates grants to those that support the broadest number of residents in the most life-enriching way possible, according to the foundation’s description. 

Peter Dejana, a self-made Port Washington businessman and former owner of Dejana Industries, wanted to give back to his community after many years of business success. 

Dejana Industries offers street sweeping, garbage removal and septic tank cleaning. Dejana sold the company in 2018. 

He moved to Port Washington from Italy when he was 15 years old. He came to the area after his father, an immigrant salt miner in Hempstead Harbor, and was followed by his mother and four siblings. 

Dejana began working as a landscaper mowing lawns in the area. In his 20s, he was able to purchase his first rental home. Dejana Industries was eventually contracted to sweep and plow the runways at both John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia airports, his first serious gig, he said. 

Aside from the landscaping business,  Dejana and his brother Phil Dejana, who died in a boating accident in 2008, patented designs for Aero snow removal equipment. He did not  sell the equipment out of fear of its being bought and replicated until he sold his business in 2018. 

After selling Dejana Industries, Dejana has focused on his real-estate development company, Dejana Holdings, which was recently approved for several variances by the Manorhaven Board of Zoning Appeals for a proposed apartment complex at 22 Sagamore Hill Drive.

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