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.

‘A lot of people, including myself, are scared to reach out and get help because of the judgement.’

East Islip

“I grew up in Deer Park. It came down to wanting to fit in. I thought that stuff was cool. All the cool kids cut class, all the cool kids smoked weed and that’s what I wanted to be like. I was the jock who was smoking weed on the weekends and throwing parties.

“It progressed with hard drugs, and I started getting into trouble, but I didn’t see it as a problem because I was young. As I got older, I wouldn’t stop. I’d keep going. If I didn’t have more money, I’d lie, I’d steal, I’d manipulate to keep doing it. I lost a lot of relationships with people. I started attending college and dropped out because I was using and wanted to live the street life.

“I didn’t think I needed a degree to be successful, I thought I was going to be the next Tony Montana from “Scarface.” I ended up in jail numerous times. I should’ve been dead 10 times over, but there’s something that kept me alive. I couldn’t hold on to jobs and if I did, it was because a lot of the people were doing the same things I did.

My three daughters look at me like a superhero and it would crush me to let them down.

“Outsiders reached out to my family and said I needed help. I made a choice and got help. My whole family has always supported me. I was using probably a good 10-12 years and now I’m clean. I’m very fortunate. I see so many people who have nothing. I have so many friends and people I know who aren’t here anymore. They aren’t as lucky as I am. When I hit rock bottom, I reached out to other addicts who were struggling, and now we’re the best friends today.

“Our families know each other, our kids play. My three daughters look at me like a superhero and it would crush me to let them down. I’m a licensed insurance agent and doing well. I’m happily married to a woman who has supported me through everything. I wanted to share my story because I thought it would be selfish to not let people know they can overcome it too.

“Now I’m happier than I’ve ever been, I have real friends, people who love me and support me. I have an amazing life. A lot of people, including myself, are scared to reach out and get help because of the judgement. There’s help available if you want it. There are millions of people who have been through and are still going through what you went through. You’re not alone.”

‘I come from very humble beginnings and because I had teachers who were passionate, I was able to go to college.’

East Islip

“I was born and raised in Puerto Rico and came here when I was 19 to study at Stony Brook University. I studied in the Department of Linguistics, and I was always interested in the science of language, how it sounds, I liked the research. I worked with immigrants at a Bay Shore non-for-profit, and I saw myself in them. I now teach English as a new language at the high school level. I always saw teaching as a very powerful thing to do, I appreciate the power it had to change my life.

“I come from very humble beginnings and because I had teachers who were passionate, I was able to go to college. My father is illiterate and had difficulties in life trying to get jobs and being able to communicate. That was inspiring because I know what it is not to be able to read and write and the limitations that brings. It was important to honor my father by becoming a teacher.

“I started Long Island Latino Teachers Association in 2006, after my experiences and other colleagues’ experiences of seeing students not being given services. I realized it wasn’t just one district, this was a systematic problem. We witnessed what we call discriminatory practices and we tried to address the situations through the system. For example, if students were put in a bilingual program, they were not given academic intervention services. In a single language program, if that child tested low, they’d be eligible for academic intervention services.

In 15 years, we’ve seen a decrease in the dropout rate among Latinos, which is core to our mission, and we’ve seen school districts in the last two years especially diversify their staff.

“There were no bilingual special-ed classes. Or the opposite, they’d classify them as disabled and they didn’t really have a disability. Because of a lack of experts in the field, there was a misidentification of students. Assemblyman Philip Ramos helped us help kids receive appropriate services and encouraged us to organize and give voice to the children who are English language learners.

“If we don’t take care of these practices that are hurting our students, then our students are not graduating, if we don’t advocate for diversity, we won’t have more diverse teachers. In 15 years, we’ve seen a decrease in the dropout rate among Latinos, which is core to our mission, and we’ve seen school districts in the last two years especially diversify their staff.”

‘I still have a loss from my dad, but I’m able to deal with it better through writing.’

East Islip

“My dad was a huge influence on me. He was a teacher in Brentwood for 28 years. He was an inspiration to a lot of students and he was always encouraging me to write. We’d see a movie together and he’d say, ‘You can’t write anything better than that?’ I wrote a play, and he was supportive of that. He was supportive of me entering play competitions, one of which I won for. He was supportive of my Disney Screenwriting Fellowship.

“He was the Long Island Ducks public address announcer, a teacher and a longtime radio DJ for WGLI and WGBB. They built this incredible block around him and a few other guys. Then he went into teaching and had a family and he ended up running the radio station at Brentwood High School.

“I teach English and English-as-a-new-language at the high school level in Great Neck and to adults to take the high school equivalency class. Teaching English as a new language is so rewarding. I’ve never had students who work harder trying to learn a new language.

Horror is cathartic – I exercised a lot of fears with my second book and a lot of my emotions with my first book.

“I came out of college and I was a journalist, covering the Long Island serial killer for a couple years and then I started producing a podcast called “Voices from Gilgo” and I’m doing a library lecture series about the killer. That started at the end of my father’s life. He was in-and-out of the hospital, and I was doing this podcast to take my mind off of it. He was encouraging of that too. Even when I would see him at the rehab facility, he’d ask me about it and say, ‘That’s great, good luck, be safe.’

“When he passed away, I was having a really hard time. I was very broken with his passing; thanks to therapy I’m a lot stronger than I was. I needed to have an outlet for my heartache, so I put together a group of short fiction horror stories that I published under my own publishing company, Spooky House Press.

“Horror is cathartic – I exercised a lot of fears with my second book and a lot of my emotions with my first book. I still have a loss from my dad, but I’m able to deal with it better through writing.”