Faces of Long Island celebrates the uniqueness of everyday Long Islanders. In their own words, they tell us about their life experiences, challenges and triumphs. Newsday launched this social media journey into the human experience to shine a light on the diverse people of this wonderful place we call home.

‘My readings are hopeful, inspiring, and with a lot of laughter and memories.’

Bay Shore

“My channel opened up 15 years ago as a spiritual medium. I started meditating and started taking classes and revealing my faulty thoughts. Once you remove your faulty thoughts, what you now have is clarity. We now have a gift to the divine; we can hear spirit.

“My husband had colon cancer that spread to his liver. He passed in 2015, but before he did, I realized I could hear him speak to me while he was intubated.

“The doctor asked me if I wanted to take the tube out. My husband wasn’t awake, and I heard him say to me, ‘Please take the tube out, I have more to say.’ I told the doctor to take the tube out, he looked at me to say, ‘He could die tonight.’

“I had my best friend who’s a doctor of metaphysics and has taught me so much, and my sister-in-law, with me, and I told them, ‘I hear Doug.’ After the doctor took the tube out, Doug woke up with a tear in his eye.

It gives me joy to give to others and be a facilitator.

“Thank you for hearing me, I have more to say,’ he said. He had another five weeks. He could have passed without ever speaking again, but because I could hear him, I could help him.

“It made me realize what a gift this is, and that I know that others can develop it as well. People hear that I could hear my husband; now people with family in a certain space ask me, ‘Can you hear them?’ and I can.

“I have used my clear channel for hearing special needs children who can’t talk. I can help parents in that way; I’m a consultant for special education children.

“It just makes life so much more exciting. My readings are hopeful, inspiring, and with a lot of laughter and memories.

“I always bring in food. If your grandma put a large pot of sauce on the stove and had that cooking for the entire day, that will certainly come through. I had a reading where sauerbraten came through, I told the woman, ‘It’s in a pot, it cooks for like a week, it’s meat.’ I’d never had it and she said, ‘It’s sauerbraten!’ I love to hear spirit, I love to know that spirit is connecting with a loved one. It gives me joy to give to others and be a facilitator.

“Spirit and God want us to take our chances. They don’t want us to sit; they want us to move and live our lives. I could have sat for the last seven years, but I have chosen not to.”

‘Lessons learned from the Marines are still helping me today: to be a trusted leader, to stay focused on the mission and to make family your first priority.’

Bay Shore

“As a Central American immigrant who became the president of Pronto of Long Island community outreach center in Bay Shore, I have seen the pursuit of the American dream from both sides. I was born in La Ceiba, Honduras, and was 2 years old when we came to the United States, settling in Brooklyn. My father came first to get a job. Things had been getting difficult in Honduras after the United Fruit Company moved out. Then he sent for my mother, my brother and me.

“When I was 12, we moved to a ranch house in Commack, my parents’ piece of the American dream! I graduated from Commack North High School in 1974, got my U.S. citizenship in 1976. In 1977, I enlisted in the U.S. Marines, to be independent and help my parents more. At boot camp, I was in the first training battalion that integrated women with men. I worked for one of the first Marine family service centers, an experience that started me feeling, wow, I could really help people!

During lockdown, without any volunteers helping, we managed to stay open six days a week.

“In 2001, with 21 years, including 15 years of active duty, I was discharged at the rank of gunnery sergeant. In civilian life, I worked at a shelter for runaways and abused children, and then for Long Island Head Start. I joined Pronto 13 years ago, left for several years to work at the Northside Center for Child Development in Manhattan, where I gained most of my grant-writing experience; returned to Pronto in 2018 to serve as president; and last year became executive director again. Leading a nonprofit helping people with food insecurity issues and social services needs is always challenging, but during the pandemic, demand for our services has skyrocketed, with close to 100,000 clients in the community. We also reached out to the hard-to-count people in the immigrant community for the U.S. census.

“During lockdown, without any volunteers helping, we managed to stay open six days a week. It’s by the grace of God that we made it through that time period. What really stood out to me is that if I help another person and bring along other people to help, we can make a positive impact. Lessons learned from the Marines are still helping me today: to be a trusted leader, to stay focused on the mission and to make family your first priority.”

‘Who would think that at this time in our lives … that we’d be moving forward with people excited to hear our story? Seniors are society’s silent asset.’

Bay Shore

“Seven years ago, I was asked if I knew of Ward Hooper, because there were similarities between his paintings and my photographs. I didn’t, so I checked him out on social media. He had posted a painting called ‘Long Island City,’ and it reminded me of an image, ‘Night Lights,’ that I’d created years earlier. I had tucked it away until I saw Ward’s painting. The next day, he posted a tulip demonstration from a class he taught. It just happened that I was getting ready to show my tulips exhibit at a gallery. I went to meet him a few weeks later. He was 85 and had been suffering with multiple sclerosis for 40 years at the time. He showed me paintings that he’d made many years earlier. I kept saying, ‘I have something like this at home!’ Soon, I brought my photographic images that were similar to his paintings. He suggested that I drive him to locations that had inspired him. I’d photograph them and see how they’d inspire me to create.

Since working with Ward, I’ve solidified a creative process that uses technology called Photo-Liminalism

“He began revisiting a happy time and became excited by what I was doing. After several months, he took me to Coindre Hall [in Huntington] to sketch. I was so taken by the building that I photographed it. It inspired Ward to paint again. Our relationship resembled that of artists Arthur Dove and Helen Torr, who lived and worked on the North Shore 75 years before us. Ward took me to their cottage in Centerport. I photographed it, and we each created our own image from it. Our story became more multifaceted. We began exhibiting our work and giving gallery talks together. We wrote a book called ‘Parallel Perspectives: The Brush/Lens Collaboration.’

“Since working with Ward, I’ve solidified a creative process that uses technology called Photo-Liminalism. I’ve been doing this since the ’90s, and it has taken this long to find a place where my work is understood and accepted. Working with Ward has made it gel. There’s been such gratification from my rejuvenating him and how he has helped me become so innovative.

“Who would think that at this time in our lives, when we’d each lost our spouses and people our ages are going into senior living, that we’d be moving forward with people excited to hear our story? Seniors are society’s silent asset. We’re vital parts of society.”

‘I’m human. I have a regular life. I have bills. I have regular trials and tribulations and stress that I go through on a daily basis where everything is not about music.’

Bay Shore

“I’ve always had a head for music. No matter what genre. I was raised by it. It was always a part of me.

“I started rapping when I was young, but I didn’t really start to take it seriously until the end of 2008 into early 2009, when I released my first project on a public platform called, “The Arrival.”

“Most of my inspiration comes from prior experiences that either I, myself, have been through or that my right-hand man or my family members went through. I try to stay true to myself and only talk about real-life experiences. I’m not getting on the microphone and lying. I’m not talking about shooting or killing people. Nah, that’s not me.

The independent grind is different, but in a good way. It forces you to really reach for something unique.

“I’m human. I have a regular life. I have bills. I have regular trials and tribulations and stress that I go through on a daily basis where everything is not about music. Sometimes I will take a little time off away from music to deal with real life. This way, when I decide to get back into my music zone, I have more things to talk about. I could write every day. That’s cool, but if you’re not taking time to live your life, to travel, and to just be outside, you’re going to start sounding repetitive.

“The independent grind is different, but in a good way. It forces you to really reach for something unique. It’s just as competitive as the mainstream, if not more. There are so many talented people, and it makes you stay sharp.

“Performing with The Walkers at Tuff City Tattoos in the Bronx, the Mecca of Hip-hop, was a game-changing experience for me. The only thing was that I only had two and a half days to cram this verse before getting on stage. I was going to sleep reciting it. Waking up and reciting it. But on the day of the show, while we were doing the soundcheck, I kept messing up the words because I still didn’t know the verse. I had written it so long ago and I had worked on so many other songs in the eight months since then.

“This was before anyone else got there, but I’m still mad at myself because I am supposed to know my stuff. But once it’s time to grab the mic and go on stage, my brain automatically flips a switch and I just remember the words. I thrive under pressure.”

‘When the fire happened, all I thought about was my old stuff; the family history in there. All my father’s books were all damaged.’

Bay Shore

“The fire happened on the morning of March 29. I had been feeding cats in the backyard and some had kittens. I let some in the house. I was able to get a mother cat and three kittens out because they were close to the door. A police officer saved two more kittens and a cat.

“There were four adult cats and five young cats that perished in the fire. There are still cats outside and we go to the house every single day to feed them. Some people gave me shelter, bedding and cat food and I worked with a rescue place that spayed and neutered them. Things like that show you people’s humanity to help you in times that are difficult.

“I’ve lived in this house all my life because it was my parent’s house. I’m 61, I was born in Bay Shore, my roots are in this community. My father served during WWII and was in active combat duty. When he enlisted, he was already a husband and father of two. He used to write my mother many letters. He was very descriptive, so they would censor the letters in case they fell into enemy hands. When the fire happened, all I thought about was my old stuff; the family history in there. All my father’s books were all damaged.

I looked inside the desk, sure enough, there was the box of my mother’s letters. It wasn’t touched by fire or water. That has brought me some comfort; some hope that we’re going to get through this.

“We had two very old pictures in decorative frames of my great grandmother and great grandfather, and that’s gone, those you can’t replace. The floor collapsed in two of the rooms, so I still haven’t been able to find things. I had an old secretary desk. It has a bookcase on top. It had the panel that opens up. We saw it in the room; it was blown to pieces because of the water pressure. But I looked inside the desk, sure enough, there was the box of my mother’s letters. It wasn’t touched by fire or water. That has brought me some comfort; some hope that we’re going to get through this.

“I just want to be able to do something with the house and be able to reconstruct and continue living in my community. I’ve had four contractors come to the house, and all of them said this house doesn’t have to be knocked down, but we will have to gut the whole house. They’re the experts and they’re saying they can do it. I’m still very hopeful.”

‘I met him in the Bijou on 110. It used to be a club. As soon as I looked at him, it was love at first sight. We were married for 19 and a half years.’

Bay Shore

“I met him in the Bijou on 110. It used to be a club. As soon as I looked at him, it was love at first sight. We were married for 19 and a half years. Larry was born with a congenital condition of his right arm. He woke up with a lump in his armpit. It was really bothering him. We were worried it was a blood clot. After two hours of waiting, the doctor told us to come back on Monday. That was on a Friday. So, on Saturday, Larry says he’s going to take it easy. He doesn’t go to work. As he’s home, I go to Costco. When I come back, he’s dead. That’s where my whole life does a spin around.

“I was 42. Larry was 44. I didn’t think I could live without him. I was in so much pain, emotionally, but also in pain physically. My chest hurt. My heart was broken. I didn’t want to live anymore. I had one night where honestly if my friend didn’t hear my page in the middle of the night, I don’t know if I would have made it through. I couldn’t even think of my kids. I was in so much pain.

After the second grief group I went to, I said, ‘If I ever get through this, I’m going to start my own group.’

“There’s a lot of secondary losses. Besides losing your best friend, you lose your income, your confidence, your normal routine; your dreams. You’re losing a partner to raise your kids with. You lose so much with that one person.

“After the second grief group I went to, I said, ‘If I ever get through this, I’m going to start my own group.’ I didn’t put it into fruition until one year after I was married again. I was in a good place. I didn’t go back for me; I went back to help other people. I called a church and said I was interested in doing bereavement to help young widows and widowers. She said, ‘I can’t believe you’re calling me.’ I was just praying for help with bereavement.

“They sent me for workshops. I went for two years, but after the first year they gave me a classroom. The groups kept growing. Every year, I have another idea. I have a group for COVID widows; for suicide widows. I have a dating group: A group for people who are widowed who don’t have children.

“I didn’t learn what to do for them out of a book. It came from my life. I have a place to take it from. And I always listen. I think that’s the biggest thing, listen to what people need.”

‘A loss is always going to be there but at the same time you still have to live life, there’s so much more to do.’

Bay Shore

“My significant other passed away unexpectedly in October 2019, and my goal was to find a stable home for my 16-year-old son and my 5-year-old daughter. We stayed with my sister and her husband and I was able to save more money and get more support spiritually and mentally. It was a great blessing to move back home.

“In 2018, Kenny and I had applied together for a housing lottery through the Town of Islip. We got approved, we were mortgage ready and we just had to wait because the land was donated but there was nothing built there yet. When he passed away, they told me I would have to resubmit all my paperwork, to make sure I was still eligible. So I did on March 12, then on March 16, COVID happened. They were on standstill and in July, they told me I had to resubmit all my paperwork again, which I did. That whole time I didn’t spend a thing, I saved my money. I was praying that I’d make it through COVID and my family and friends. Then I’m praying that I move into this house and I can raise my family. I’m praying, praying, praying. I followed up with the lottery and they said, ‘We’re up to your number. If you haven’t bought a house yet, just wait, the house is almost done.’ We just moved in and I’m still pinching myself because I waited and I saved my money. It’s amazing just to have my nieces come in here and say, ‘Auntie, this is so nice, I can’t believe it, I feel like you hit the lottery.’ I’m like, ‘I did!’ God doesn’t make mistakes and you can’t sit around and think about why and what if? A loss is always going to be there but at the same time you still have to live life, there’s so much more to do.

That was such a good feeling to give your family a sense of security. I just want someone to look at my life and say, ‘I can do it too.’

“I still have to provide Christmases that my daughter can talk about for years to come. I put my tree up because I like the lights and I decorated the outside of the house. Bay Shore is the place I wanted to be and I got it. I was number 18 in the lottery and I was like, ‘I’m never going to get a house.’ Now I’m in a brand-new house. My daughter says, ‘Mommy, are we going home?’ And I’m like, ‘Yes baby, this is our home.’ That was such a good feeling to give your family a sense of security. I just want someone to look at my life and say, ‘I can do it too.’”

‘That first sickness was the closest it came to Bear not being around; it was one of the scariest, worst times.’

Bay Shore

“Bear is turning 6 and he was born with spinal muscular atrophy. When we found out Erin was pregnant, we were having twin boys, but one of the pregnancies didn’t continue and we found out a few weeks later, Bear has SMA. We were told he wouldn’t be able to move when he was born, so we expected the worst. He started to show symptoms around six months, and we ended up in a clinical trial for a medication called Spinraza.

“When he was one-and-a-half, Bear was in the hospital for two or three months with rhinovirus and he had trouble swallowing. That first sickness was the closest it came to Bear not being around; it was one of the scariest, worst times. Your lungs are the deadly part of SMA; if you can’t cough, you’re in trouble. Then he started hitting milestones, like being able to hold his head up. He’s still very vulnerable but hasn’t been hospitalized for sickness in two-and-a-half years. He’s had tonsil surgery because his tonsils were so inflamed, and he had hip surgery to stabilize him for down the road if and when he’s walking. And I explain this to him, he knows all of it, he’s like a little doctor. He knows that neurons die, and his brain can’t speak to his muscles as loudly as it should.

As for Bear, he says to other kids: ‘They should be brave, like me, because I did a lot of hard stuff. You should be brave too because then you’ll have a really good life.’

“Last year, Bear switched from Spinraza, which cost $125,000 per dose, so around $650,000 a year, to Evrysdi, because it’s oral medication, no more lumbar punctures. The pharmaceutical companies pay for the clinical trials, so we haven’t had to go through insurance. But there’s a lot of out-of-pocket costs, like staying in the city when he’s in the hospital, his equipment. We were very lost when he was first diagnosed — for the first year-and-a-half we were convinced it was a death sentence. And now we’re intent on helping people not make that same mistake.

“Erin and I are the chapter presidents of the Greater New York Chapter of Cure SMA, so families who just learned the diagnosis contact us. It’s hard as a parent when you first get that diagnosis to figure it all out and find your next resource. As for Bear, he says to other kids: ‘They should be brave, like me, because I did a lot of hard stuff. You should be brave too because then you’ll have a really good life.’”