‘After my mother’s death, everything just unraveled, and I went from job to job to try and figure out what to do.’
“My mother was the one who instilled the importance of education in my sister, Diana, and me. After our mother passed away from cancer when I was a senior in high school and Diana was in college, my educational career, ironically, slipped away.
“After my mother’s death, everything just unraveled, and I went from job to job to try and figure out what to do. It was a really rough time. I turned down a baseball scholarship and dropped out of college.
“I did go on to graduate from Stony Brook two years ago, but getting my bachelor’s degree escaped me until then. After I finished high school, my father had to continue running his business, and I had to take care of the house and run errands, do laundry and even help out with the business for a while. At 17, that was not what I had envisioned my life to be.
“Meanwhile, Diana was coping on her own, a few states away at college. Diana and I had to lean on each other even more in those years. In a way, our mother’s passing actually brought Diana and me even closer.
“Our mother had the type of personality that everyone gravitated to. She wasn’t even a teacher, and yet there were dozens of teachers from Walt Whitman High School who attended her funeral. It’s a true testament to how loved she was by the community and the leaders of the school districts.”
It’s incredible how writing was an outlet for the two of them, and that they were doing it side by side, without the other knowing. Their connection was always poetry.
“Our mother was the personification of love and nurturing. When I was in the second grade, for Halloween, she surprised the whole class — including me — by dressing up as Little Red Riding Hood and delivering everyone a personalized handmade gift bag.
“When I played baseball, she wanted to wrap me in bubble wrap to protect me. She wanted me to wear catcher’s gear playing third base. What’s funny is she attended only two games, and during the first one, a foul ball from another field broke her nose. The second time, a few years later, she showed up late and asked where I was. I had taken a ball to the mouth and was getting stitches. She was protective of us but let us grow on our own.
“Throughout our mother’s sickness, Diana wrote poetry about our mother’s cancer. While going through the things our mother left behind, she found that our mother was writing poetry about the cancer as well. Some poetry was in journals, some scribbled on Post-it Notes. We’ve put it together into a book for safekeeping for now. It’s incredible how writing was an outlet for the two of them, and that they were doing it side by side, without the other knowing. Their connection was always poetry.
“We had two very different relationships with our mother, but both were special. I was younger than Diana, so my relationship with our mother was more of me trudging around when she asked me to bring up the laundry, rather than being able to bond over Bob Dylan like Diana was able to. I constantly wish my mom could have known the adult I turned into and not just my adolescent self.”
Some people think it’s crazy to go into business with a sibling, but there’s no one else I’d rather go into business with. We remain a team always.
“Diana and I started our tutoring company a year ago, but we can’t take full credit for the idea. Our mother’s passion for education was an inspiration, but our father also had a huge role. He actually had the idea when we were much younger. He always said that since knowledge is so important, no matter what happens in this world, there will always be a need for tutoring. He planted the seed for our company, and we wouldn’t be here without him.
“Although he has faced many daunting health issues of his own, he always ensured us that each moment was a learning experience. From losing an eye as a teenager, to open heart surgery, to neuropathy, to stage 4 kidney disease, he has inspired us with his perseverance and ability to find the positives throughout any hardships. Never has he complained or made excuses; yet, somehow, he continues to bounce back with more optimism each day. The wisdom we have gained from his strength, entrepreneurial spirit, and selflessness has been integral for the foundation of our company. It’s been amazing to be able to share our students’ successes with him.
“Diana and I both love education, but she is the master at the English SAT and ACT exams. She also taught English in South Korea for a few years. Even though we both value academia, we’re opposites in how we handle it. She would be the one who would come home from school and lock herself in her room to study for six hours. I was the one doing my homework at the back of class or during lunch. I was still able to get stellar grades, but we went about it differently.
“We each play into our strengths to run the tutoring company. Schools can be like a second home, and teachers make such an impact on students’ lives. We take pride in our character, and a lot of that is built from the community that raised us.
“With our mother’s death and father’s health, Diana and I became even more bonded. Some people think it’s crazy to go into business with a sibling, but there’s no one else I’d rather go into business with. We remain a team always.”
Interviewed by Melanie Gulbas