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.

‘I want to help make people’s lives better because every day is a gift.’

Bay Shore

“I grew up in a home that was very scary and unstable, but one positive outlet for me was the theater. My mother loved taking me to shows at local community centers, and I fell in love with the art of acting. I was part of the theater crowd in high school.

“I initially went to college to major in communications, but I quickly switched to theater. After I earned my undergraduate degree, I moved to New York City and obtained a certificate in musical theater. While acting and doing voiceover work, I also got a job working as a teacher at Girlspace, an organization in East Harlem that catered to underserved youths.

I broke the cycle of abuse and others can, too.

“The kids I was working with came from very troubled home lives, and their teachers described them as disruptive. These girls had tough veneers and didn’t trust people. However, in the theater classes I taught, these kids were open and engaged.

“I brought in authors and poets to talk to them, and I inspired them to write and share their own work. It helped them build a sense of confidence and community, which put them at ease. I am a survivor of sexual abuse, and I understand what it’s like to live in an unsafe environment.

“I was so inspired by my experiences with these young ladies that I decided to earn a master’s degree in social work and made engagement with the arts part of my practice.

“While I was in graduate school, I wrote and performed in my own one-woman show and produced poetry which was later published. Many people don’t survive the kind of trauma that I experienced, but the arts allowed me to heal — the arts saved me. I did not merely survive, I thrived, and I believe that my purpose in life is to help others do the same.

“I am honored to be a keynote speaker at mental health conferences, and I tell my audiences that they can overcome troubles and find peace and happiness. I have two sons who flourished in a loving home that my husband and I created for them full of art and kindness. I broke the cycle of abuse and others can, too. I don’t want anyone to feel alone. We all have a voice that deserves to be heard. I want to help make people’s lives better because every day is a gift.”

‘Whether you recognize what it is, there’s something in you that makes you great.’

Bay Shore

“I’ve played basketball all my life, I played college basketball. I’m an assistant coach for boys varsity basketball and head JV coach at Half Hollow Hills High School East. I started about 10 years ago, and it’s a true passion of mine. I love working with the kids and helping them develop. The other coaches and myself really help teach these kids about life and lessons through basketball.

“I’m also a paraprofessional for Half Hollow Hills High School West. I work with special needs kids. I stay with one student, make sure he does his work, stays on track, any behaviors I try to help de-escalate. You work one-on-one but you get to work with all the kids. You become someone they look forward to seeing when they come to school.

Some people never figure out what they actually love — and when you do, it’s a beautiful thing.

“Some people never figure out what they actually love — and when you do, it’s a beautiful thing. Clothing and basketball are two things I’ve been passionate about my whole life. I started a clothing line called Natural Born. It represents knowledge of self, self-elevation and understanding that everyone is born with certain talent. Whether you recognize what it is, there’s something in you that makes you great. Before the pandemic, I met a manufacturer who made sporting apparel for high school teams. I sent them my logo, to put it on shorts and other clothes, and that’s how it kicked off.

“Some people never figure out what they actually love — and when you do, it’s a beautiful thing. Clothing and basketball are two things I’ve been passionate about my whole life. I started a clothing line called Natural Born. It represents knowledge of self, self-elevation and understanding that everyone is born with certain talent. Whether you recognize what it is, there’s something in you that makes you great. Before the pandemic, I met a manufacturer who made sporting apparel for high school teams. I sent them my logo, to put it on shorts and other clothes, and that’s how it kicked off.

‘I’ve always loved the idea of sharing what I have to offer with an audience.’

Bay Shore

“I started playing the djembe, an African drum, when I was 2 years old. My mom took me into a drum store in New York City, and it was the first instrument that I saw. Prior to that, I was always drumming on the furniture because I’ve always had a tempo in my head. The drums just felt right to me because I admire all of the different ways that you can play them.

I’m really inspired by jazz drummers who are often overlooked but are among the most talented in the music industry.

“When I found the djembe that day, I started jamming on it, and I disrupted a music class that the store owner was teaching in another room. He heard me, walked over to my mother and told her that she had to buy me the djembe — and that’s just what she did! Since then, I’ve developed my skills.

“I am the first middle school student to ever win an Islip Arts Council Teeny Award for percussion. I really admire drummers like Neil Peart, who played in the progressive rock band Rush, and John Bonham, who was the drummer for Led Zeppelin.

“I’m also really inspired by jazz drummers who are often overlooked but are among the most talented in the music industry. I’m also fascinated by Broadway percussionists, and I’ve even taken lessons from the percussionist for the Broadway show ‘Six.’ They have to be so exact so they don’t derail an entire number during a live theatrical performance!

“I’ve also had the opportunity to participate in the orchestra pit at my school’s theater productions, and I play in a band called Alan Blvd. When I’m older, I would be interested in teaching.

“In July, I was an assistant teacher to third- and fourth-graders at Bay Shore’s summer music program with the Bay Shore music teachers, and it was a really enjoyable experience. Yet what I really enjoy doing is just jamming out because that’s how I create my best and most original grooves. I’ve always loved the idea of sharing what I have to offer with an audience.”

‘I’m awe-inspired by what the world has to offer, and I’m influenced by emotions, nature and the experience of being alive.’

Bay Shore

“I have always found my footing in the arts, and I love the idea of merging the arts across all categories. I like to say that I’m equal parts a poet, a writer, an actor and a musician.

“I wrote my first poem at the age of four and it was published in The Louisville Review. I’ve since had poems published in Cagibi, Stone Soup, Skipping Stones and Balloons Literary Journal. I was recently named one of three finalists for the inaugural position of Suffolk County teen poet laureate. I’m particularly drawn to the free verse style because it enables me to be as creative as I want.

“My love of poetry translated into my love of rap because it’s a form of music that focuses so intensely on the lyrics, the words. I’m currently working on my third album and blending rap with other music styles. I’m awe-inspired by what the world has to offer, and I’m influenced by emotions, nature and the experience of being alive.

Both big gestures and small gestures matter. Changing the world is about bettering the world.

“I’m also an active actor. I was on ‘The Ellen Show’ a few times when I was 6, but I was so young that I didn’t understand what a big deal that was! I knew l was being interviewed by a nice blond lady, but I didn’t comprehend how much power was behind that name!

“When I was 12, I was part of the ensemble cast of Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night,’ which was performed at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park.

“The show was produced by the Public Theater, and it won a Chita Rivera Award for outstanding ensemble! Being a part of that cast was one of my favorite experiences! I met actor Shuler Hensley, who was so down to earth and nice. He’s a Tony winner.

“Every night, before he went on stage, he would pat me on the back and said, ‘How’s it going, Bud?’ It was just such a beautiful and accepting environment overall. Since then, I’ve been in a series of high school productions, including ‘Hairspray’ and ‘A Chorus Line.’

“I definitely want to keep acting. My dream role would be to play Alexander Hamilton or the Emcee from ‘Cabaret’! I’m also working on my first novel right now. It’s a coming-of-age story titled ‘Between Intelligence and Wisdom.’

“Ultimately, I want to change the world, whether that means becoming a big star or simply giving a good friend sound advice. Both big gestures and small gestures matter. Changing the world is about bettering the world.”

‘Terrible things happen, and it brings people closer. In our case, it brought my brother and I home.’

Bay Shore

“My mom had a stroke when I was 8 years old, and my brothers and I had to grow up fast. My grandma went out of her way to be like, ‘I’m going to take you guys in. You guys are going to live with me.’ She became my role model and my best friend. I remember being in high school, and I wouldn’t even want to go out because I’d want to sit at home and drink tea and watch ‘Jeopardy!’ with my grandma.

“Growing up on Long Island and being a part of the queer community was difficult. I worked hard to find my identity at a young age because when you’re on Long Island in a small town, it can be scary to be yourself.

I think the stars aligned for many reasons, and we had to go through a lot, but me and my brother are passionate about music, and we love performing for people.

“I didn’t come out until college, but now looking back, I feel like I could have come out to my grandma. She was so accepting and loving. She taught me to take care of the people around you and do right by everyone.

“When my mom and grandma passed away, I was in college and my brother was preforming music for a living in L.A. We decided to come back to Babylon in hopes of holding our family together. We always loved music, but that’s when we started writing music as a group.

“It turned into us becoming a duo and performing all over Long Island. I think the stars aligned for many reasons, and we had to go through a lot, but me and my brother are passionate about music, and we love performing for people. Terrible things happen, and it brings people closer. In our case, it brought my brother and I home.

“After late night shows, we love to go to the diner, either the Lindenhurst Diner or the Forum Diner … We get matzoh ball soup and just talk about the night and how the show went. I love when diners still have those little jukeboxes in the booths. It’s a plus when we get to sit there and play old records, you know?”

‘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.”