Meet Ilyssa Maisano | Morris Bernards Moms

Where are you from originally and how long have you lived in town?

I grew up in Westfield, NJ with my family, then I went to college and lived with my husband in Connecticut for 8 years before moving back to NJ. We now have lived in Mendham for the last 8 years.



Child(ren) and Age(s)?

Layla-9, Jackson-9, Nahla-8, Paisley-5



One thing people would be surprised to know about you…


I have 3 businesses that have nothing to do with my college degree! I got my degree in Special Education but I am a co-owner of a Yoga studio (Be. Yoga in Randolph), I am a newborn photographer (Three Babies Photography) and I have a charity that I founded, The Growing Hearts of Africa Foundation. First and foremost though I am a mom! I believe everything happens for a reason though, I have a child with special needs and without my degree and knowledge of the education system I would be lost! I am so thankful to have spent the time getting my masters if only to be the best advocate for my daughter.



Anyone special you’d like to thank for helping you through parenthood?


My family! My mom and sisters have taught me everything I know about being a mom. We all have very different parenting styles but we all work together to help each other. I have had the most incredible role models that remind me each and every day I’m doing a good job which truly gets me through the tough days.



Favorite things to do with your kids?


Travel! My husband and I LOVE to travel, we are making a point to visit a NEW country every single year with the kids. We want them to be worldly, experience new cultures, eat different food and enjoy surroundings that are not what they are used to. Through travel they have learned to accomodate to each others needs, try new things, be flexible and enjoy other peoples cultures.



Are you involved in a business venture, a local organization, a creative endeavor, or in the
corporate world? Please share!


First and foremost I am a stay at home mom, my kids come first no matter what. That being said I have dipped into a couple of ventures!

Be Yoga– I am a co-owner of a local yoga studio with a friend of mine who also happens to be an incredible yoga teacher!

ThreeBabies Photography– After my third child was born I started to take pictures of my family, then extended family, and then friends. I realized I love doing it and went to several mentoring sessions throughout the US to help me learn. I found my passion in newborn photography and that is what I do when my children are at school.

The Growing Hearts of Africa Foundation– Besides my children, this is what I am most proud of. After we adopted our first two children we had a welcome home party for them. I did not need anything for the babies (thank you to hand me downs from my sisters!) so I decided to ask for donations for a charity idea I had. I wanted to build schools in the underserved areas in Ethiopia where it was so desperately needed. Through that party, with only family and friends, we raised enough to build an entire school ($26,000). I could not believe it. I asked my sisters and my brother in law to be trustees along side of me and together we grew. We added a medical arm to our charity that has funded hundreds of life saving surgeries throughout the poorest regions of Africa. My brother in law travels to Angola, Tanzania, Mozambique and more to perform surgeries free of charge. Through the education portion we built 12 schools in Ethiopia and our last school, the 13th, was in Northern Uganda. Together over the past 9 years of the charity being founded, we have raised $1,047,000.00! We have a gala each year and raise a couple hundred thousand dollars each time. I have been featured on the Today Show for my work in Africa and most importantly, I am showing my children that we help those that are less fortunate. We want them to be healthy and give them the chance at an education that they deserve.



How has this community been instrumental in getting you to where you are now?


The support of my community has been incredible. Focusing on Growing Hearts of Africa, there are so many local people that have donated to our charity and attended our annual gala. They come and support us and learn how important it is for them to give where they can. I believe the keynote speakers at our galas have impacted a lot of lives in our local community and encouraged change that we need in the world. I look forward to sharing how everyone can help and love the outreach of people that ask how they can do more.

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