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 could write an 88,000-page book of everything that went wrong. It’s all about staying focused and being determined to rise!’

Bethpage

“I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when I was 18 months old. I wasn’t hitting my milestones physically, and it prompted an evaluation. After the diagnosis, my mom began to enroll me in early intervention services. I had physical, occupational and speech therapy at home multiple times a week. There came a time when my mom and uncle were realizing that my developmental disability was not intellectual, only physical. This realization was first happening when I was being taught how to communicate with a speech device. Before the speech device, I only communicated through my own version of sign language.

“As I became proficient with the communication device, my intellect started to be much more pronounced to my family and school officials. As a child, I don’t ever remember getting down about my physical limitations. Being disabled was my normal. I pretty much did everything that other kids did — but in a modified way. I don’t consider myself having challenges. When I think about challenges, I think of overwhelming struggles. I don’t have that. Mainly because whenever I want to do something, I give it all of my focus until I am done.

You can do anything that you put your mind to. You simply have to eat dirt sometimes and have the determination to push forward.

“On December 7th, 2019, I participated in a ceremony where I was one of the people who received their blue belt from a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu academy. This promotion has to be one of the best highlights of my life! Three years ago, I knew nothing about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu except for the necessary general information. I’m still infatuated by my physical improvements and knowing how to use my body discrepancies to aid me. My teacher treats me like anyone else in his class. He has no pity for me and doesn’t hesitate to call me out if I’m not training at maximum. I’m pumped to see where this takes me next.

“You can do anything that you put your mind to. You simply have to eat dirt sometimes and have the determination to push forward. I’m 32 years old, I’m in no pain, on no medication, in excellent physical and mental condition, have had a job for 10 years, have an apartment, and get through this crazy world with a smile. I could write an 88,000-page book of everything that went wrong. It’s all about staying focused and being determined to rise!”

‘I call them my furry inmates and they have a decent life, but it could be better. I feel bad for them because they deserve to be in a loving home.’

Bethpage

“I’m a member of the medical staff at Rikers Island, and in my spare time, I trap cats there for TNR – trap, neuter, return. I have worked there for 22 years and we always had a feral cat population on the island.

“A retired correction captain is still involved and comes onto the island a few days a week to do cat rescue. She said, ‘We could use your help.’ That kind of changed my life. I was bitten by the cat rescue bug.

“We’re called Rikers Island Cat Rescue, a 501c3; we have a Facebook page and we’re short-staffed. COVID threw a monkey wrench; it was a ‘cat-tastrophe’ because the ASPCA had offered us free neuter services, but they closed down during kitten season, so all these kittens were being born.

“We try to get the population under fairly good control, but people dump unwanted cats here. They figure they get fed here and we have shelters.

“Thankfully, the ASPCA reopened and we were able to work out some mass trappings with 30 cats in September, then we did another operation in November, another 27 cats.

I started making winter cat houses and feral cat feeding stations and selling them to donate the profits to the cat rescue. I can’t keep up with the demand — someone saw a picture of the cat house I built and asked to buy one, and it spread by word-of-mouth.

“Right now, we’re running out of food. We go through 1,000 pounds of food per month. We estimate there are 350 cats and there are other critters that come around that eat the food. I started making winter cat houses and feral cat feeding stations and selling them to donate the profits to the cat rescue. I can’t keep up with the demand — someone saw a picture of the cat house I built and asked to buy one, and it spread by word-of-mouth.

“About 60 percent of the cats on the island are neutered, but 40 percent are not and that can change very rapidly. One female has a litter, and the kittens can get pregnant at 4 months and it grows exponentially.

“We have a cat house with 28 cats in there now, they were dumped, they were someone’s pets, and they don’t do well in the feral communities. We take them in and get them neutered and we try to get them adopted, but we’re so busy doing the caretaking of the colonies and the TNR that we’re slacking on the adoption process.

“I call them my furry inmates and they have a decent life, but it could be better. I feel bad for them because they deserve to be in a loving home.”