Lillian Torres was given away to her aunt and uncle when she was three days old.
As a child, she was molested and attempted suicide before living through a domestic violence situation as an adult, according to the nonprofit organization Life’s Angels.
Now a single mother of two, Torres, a medical assistant, recently had to take time off from work for surgery to remove precancerous cells.
Torres’ story of survival against the odds and the stories of nine others touched the poker-loving men of Life’s Angels, founded last year to help make a difference in the lives of people who have been dealt a tough hand in life, board member Jeff Schwartz said.
After raising more than $45,000 in their second annual charity poker tournament, held every April, the group gave $10,000 checks to three beneficiaries, including Torres, Rob Roy and Chris Benedetto, as well as donating funds to send seven special needs children to summer camp this year through the Mid Island Y Jewish Community Center in Plainview and the Interfaith Nutrition Network in Hempstead.
Benedetto was diagnosed with tri lateral retinal blastoma in 2002 and after multiple rounds of chemotherapy relapsed in 2017 and was diagnosed with a tumor in his left femur.
In the middle of the night a few years ago, Roy woke up and fell to the floor, paralyzed from the waist down. After learning to walk again, Roy discovered a small cut on his foot had become infected and his leg was amputated below the knee.
“Our Life’s Angels board consists of established and successful professionals, but the greatest success we achieve is giving back to those in our community to set them on their personal path to success,” Life’s Angels Chairman Bradley Siegel said.
The inaugural tournament in 2017 raised more than $20,000, Schwartz said, and the group was able to give $10,000 each to two beneficiaries — a college student with cancer and a high school coach who was hospitalized for 15 months.
Schwartz said next year’s tournament, set for April 29, is open to poker players across the area. The winner of the charity tournament is sent to the Las Vegas World Series of Poker for the $10,000 buy-in game.
Richard Evans of Roslyn Heights said the Life’s Angels name was chosen because the group wanted to be angels in people’s lives, and the recipients Wednesday at 388 Restaurant in Roslyn Heights were outwardly grateful during their acceptances.
After Torres posed for photos with the board, she asked if she could hug everyone.
Melissa Falcone said her 15-year-old son, Anthony, who has Asperger syndrome, was bullied for years but made his first friends last year at summer camp. Now, Falcone’s mother has stage four Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and as her mother’s primary caregiver, Falcone said she didn’t know if she could afford to send Anthony to camp again.
“We didn’t think he’d be able to be able to go again to have the wonderful experience, and thanks to you all, he’s able to do this again,” Falcone said.