When one hears the phrase “green slime mold,” one does not immediately associate the term with community, but according to Joseph Mastroianni, that is exactly what it represents. In his study of biology, Joseph learned that slime mold has unique networking capabilities; each autonomous cell self-organizes, it connects with its neighbors to cooperate and find the most efficient path to reach its goal to the benefit of the community at large. “We humans network, but we network mostly in our own interest,” Mastroianni said. “If people acted more like slime mold, we would be better.” This is the very principle Joseph wanted to found his organization on, and thus the Green Slime Mold Theory Foundation (GSMTF) (GSMTF) was born.
It started out of love. Joseph Mastroianni’s grandson, Korbin, at the age of two was diagnosed with autism. “At first, finding out blew me away, it was like a grieving process,” said Mark Mastroianni, Korbin’s father. Mark’s perspective changed, however, and he realized his son’s condition was not the end of the world. In fact, he found himself a lucky father: “He’s always happy; he’s lovable. It’s like we’re intertwined.”
Life changed for Mark, who stayed home with Korbin full time while his wife worked. Therapy became quite costly; Korbin requires speech-language therapy and occupational therapy, which focuses on improving fine motor skills. Eleven-year-old Korbin has an enormous amount of family support, but not all autistic children are as lucky to receive the love and care he has. The challenges that the Mastroianni family face inspired Mark to raise funds for autism research and help other families in similar situations. Using his background in clothing production with Salem Sportswear, Mark designed his own set of autism awareness T-shirts, which he planned to sell and then donate the funds to nonprofit organizations dealing with autism research, therapy, and public education.
When Mark tried to sell his T-shirts through Café Press, though, he learned that he would only receive 10-20 percent of the profits for his cause. “That means if they’re selling a $25 shirt, the nonprofit is only getting $2.50,” he said. “What they’re really doing is using the nonprofits as a means of making a huge profit, exploiting them.” These meager earnings were not enough of a donation to make a difference, said Mark. But rather than abandoning the pursuit, Mark found a solution through his brother Damian.
Damian Mastroianni represents the technical savvy behind the GSMTF Web site. Damian had been hired to create a shopping cart for a client’s online business, which ended sadly when the client passed away. The client’s children had no desire to continue their father’s business, and returned the finished cart to its creator. “He basically left me the business, and I just didn’t have the motivation to keep it going at that point,” Damian said. “It just came together when I found [that] I wanted to help people.” Seeing a solution to Mark’s problem, Damian approached their father, Joseph, about putting the shopping cart to good use.
Through a collaborative effort by the Mastroianni family, the GSMTF Web site came into existence, a site that would give 100 percent of the proceeds to those working with nonprofit organizations, and thus helping Mark raise autism awareness. Damian dismantled the old business, and renovated the shopping cart to use for their foundation. The shopping cart only requires about 50 cents to $1 in transaction fees, and a $1 royalty that funds the foundation’s educational trust fund.
“We found our solution to getting the maximum profit to the foundations without there being any kind of cut or profit on our side,” Damian said. The autism awareness T-shirts that Mark designed are now sold through the GSMTF shopping cart, giving 100 percent of the earnings to The National Autism Association and the Autism Society of America; organizations that research the disability and provide education for the public on living with autism. Mark explained that early diagnosis is very important when treating autism, and these organizations help families understand what they are dealing with. “The more money they get, the more research they can do,” he said.
Autism is not their only cause; GSMTF helps other local nonprofit organizations such as Carpinteria Performing Arts, the Carpinteria library, and Rincon High School. It is difficult to get nonprofits to trust you, Damian explained, many are afraid their name will be used in the wrong way. He assures that all GSMTF wants to do is help keep nonprofits from being exploited. Right now, the Mastroiannis want to build slowly, possibly adding more nonprofits in the future, but are content with their operation for the moment. Joseph’s current pet project is arranging funding for another local cause, the Cottage Hospital Children’s Fund, which is in what he refers to as the “design phase.”
This type of charitable spirit existed in the Mastroianni family even before Korbin was diagnosed. Years ago, Joseph had an accident, after which doctors said he would never walk again. Joseph defied this prognosis, and, with 10 years of rehabilitation, he is not only able to walk, but he once rode his bicycle cross country. In 1998, the Mastroianni’s packed into a RV to travel with Joseph as he biked from Santa Barbara to Boston, raising money for the National Children’s Cancer Society and the National Heart Association. This family has proved that when they are faced with challenges, they don’t just overcome them, they exceed expectations and help others on their path to a better life.
For more information on GSMTF, visit the Web site at Green Slime Mold Theory Foundation, where you can find a cause you care about and make a donation.