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Stephen Mazelis focuses on paying it forward. His mission has made an impact on the community where he lives and works.

Kristen Hampshire | October 19, 2011

Stephen Mazelis has a go-give initiative at his business, and his commitment to community service strengthens with every year, and with every completed project. The feel-good payment he gets is more rewarding than cold, hard cash. Plus, Mazelis, president of Mazelis Landscape Contracting Corp. in Nesconset, N.Y., is setting an example for employees, residents, area businesses and his young son.

Mazelis’ pay-it-forward mission began a few years ago when he was watching the news on Veteran’s Day. Mazelis, proud son of a retired New York fireman and a volunteer fireman himself, learned about a wounded warrior who was returning home to Holbrook, N.Y. Mazelis contacted the family of Army Corporal Chris Levi – a double amputee – and offered to give the family’s home a landscape makeover.

“Seven other companies said they were going to do something,” says Mazelis. “I said, ‘I’ll be back in a few days to get started,’ and couple days later I showed up with a crew and we were there for several months re-landscaping the entire house to get it ready before the solider came home from Walter Reid Hospital, where he was in (physical) rehab.”

Mazelis felt a duty to help the Levi family. And, after the experience, the gung-ho entrepreneur made a decision. “I said, ‘I’m going to do something every year as long as I can afford it,’” he says.

Three years, and three major projects later, Mazelis is running a profitable business that has earned a reputation in the community as the firm that cares.

A go-give attitude

The newspaper articles and recognition for Mazelis’ volunteer landscape work are a warm fuzzy for Mazelis, but that’s nothing compared to the satisfaction of completing a project that will change the quality of life for others. So when Mazelis sees an opportunity to help in ways big or small, he pitches in without hesitation.

A local charity needs table arrangements for a gala: Mazelis says, “No problem.”

The local hospital wants to create a garden where cancer patients and families can reflect: Mazelis says, “When do I start?”

The city needs a horticulturist to supervise a land improvement project. Mazelis’ response: “I can do you one better.” He offers to donate the landscaping, labor and ongoing maintenance of the plot.

Mazelis says he can’t do all this good alone. He partners with vendors, most of whom have become good friends and are willing to help Mazelis’ company with volunteer projects by offering free or discounted materials. He rallies the support of his team at Mazelis Landscape Contractors Corp. by instilling in them the ethics he believes so strongly in: Pay it forward. Don’t worry about the payback. And he works closely with the community, including the Chamber of Commerce and local politicians who support his efforts.         

People around town, including prospective and existing clients, notice Mazelis’ good works. “I recently did an estimate for a residential maintenance account, and the first thing the gentleman said to me was, ‘I read about you all the time – it’s great the things you do,’” Mazelis says.

That’s because Mazelis ingrains himself in the community and encourage employees to do the same, and he sets an example for other businesses by being the first to raise his hand and say, “We’ll take care of it.”

That was Mazelis’ reaction when a fellow Smithtown firefighter, ex-chief Tony Cruz, walked into the landscape office with a special request. Cruz had just left a board meeting at Stony Brook Cancer Treatment Center in town, and as a board member supporting the Firefighter Cancer Support Network (FCSN), he wanted to know if Mazelis could help with a special project. Cruz thought it was a difficult question to ask Mazelis, if he could donate landscape materials, talent, time and attention to create a garden for patients and family members to enjoy.

But Mazelis had special interest in this project. As a fellow firefighter, with a wife who has survived cancer, he immediately agreed to help. “My answer to Tony was, ‘When do you want me to do it?’” Mazelis says, noting that the talks started in spring but the project wasn’t due to break ground until fall, when the company is less busy. The Garden of Hope features a winding walkway punctuated by benches, so visitors can stroll and relax. A waterfall creates a peaceful feel and select plants attract butterflies and birds. A scalloped picket fence provides privacy, since the garden is at the hospital entrance and bordered by the parking lot.

Timing these projects during slower periods has allowed Mazelis to dedicate the man-power and resources to relatively large-scale projects. “Normally, for us, August is a slower month before the kids go back to school, so timing has worked in our favor,” Mazelis says.

Mazelis pays employees for time spent on volunteer landscape projects, but he can usually secure materials at no or very low cost. “I have phenomenal partnerships/friendships with my suppliers who help me make it happen,” Mazelis says. “One of the nurseries we work with basically gave us carte blanche. They say, take whatever you want (for charity projects) – it’s yours.”

This has helped Mazelis sustain his goal of completing one pro bono project for a good cause each year. Most recently, he finished a community property called the Nesconset Triangle (“I like to call it Mazelis Island,” he quips.)

Initially, the town wanted Mazelis to supervise the project as a horticulturist. But Mazelis insisted on donating the landscape services and maintenance. The city gratefully accepted the offer. “The landscape is close to the neighborhood where I live – when I come home, I see it,” Mazelis says. “When my son comes home on the school bus, he sees it. It’s important to my family and to the community. And, at the end of the day, it makes you feel good.”

The project, valued at about $500,000, took a few days to complete, and Mazelis committed to taking care of the landscape indefinitely. “We put up a tasteful custom wood sign on the property saying it was donated and maintained by us, with our company logo on it,” Mazelis says, using the garden as an opportunity to share the firm’s dedication to service.
               
Building a ‘good’ reputation

Not all of Mazelis’ charity projects are large-scale. He takes pride in doing little thing to help individuals and organizations in the community. When the Ward Melville Heritage Organization held its silent auction gala called Jewels & Jeans, Mazelis donated table-top flowers with his business card attached.

After the event, he received phone calls from prominent business people and citizens who noticed the tablescapes and wanted to learn more about what Mazelis offers. “This activity helps with customer retention as well as keeping our branded name in front of the community,” Mazelis says.

And last spring, Mazelis built giving into his marketing plan by allotting funds to create potted flower displays for some businesses in town, including an upscale sushi restaurant, car wash and Italian meat market. In each container planting was a 5-by-5-inch sign with Mazelis Landscape Contracting Corp.’s logo. “People loved it, and they told us they saw the flower displays around town,” Mazelis says.

Mazelis plans to stoke more community spirit as he continues his charitable activities, and now that’s he is more active in PLANET, he is talking to local politicians about ways he can bring the organization’s annual Day of Service to his hometown. And, he admits that his giving reputation has resulted in many requests; he cannot fulfill each one, but he always is grateful for an opportunity to help an organization and he never shuts the door completely. He must make choices, and while he can help with “little things” year round, he can only do one major landscape donation per year. “Recently, I was asked to donate a landscape to the middle school I attended way back when,” he says. “My reply was, ‘Thank you for asking me to be a part of it, but I can only afford to donate one large project per year. If you are still in need of it next year, let me know and I’ll consider the donation.’”

Though in the meantime, Mazelis will continue approaching every day with a service focus. “Customers love to see what we do in the community,” Mazelis says. “It’s getting to the point that the community expects it from us.”

 

This is one of three stories that ran in Lawn & Landscape's Business Builder e-newsletter. To continue reading about Mazelis Landscape Contracting Corp.:

The supporting cast: Relationships with partners and suppliers play a big role in Mazelis Landscape pulling off donated services.

Keeping customers content: Here is how Stephen Mazelis ensures customers are treated right.
 

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