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 get to do something that I really love, and I’m so grateful for that opportunity.’

Levittown

“I have always loved movies and dreamed of making them. I finally got inspired to actually make that dream a reality during COVID. My friend Phil launched his comic book career during the shutdown, and I decided to dive into my passion, too. I wrote a few short comedy scripts and filmed them. I posted them to YouTube under the name of the company that I founded, Kiss It Goodbye Productions. From there, I kept creating. I love horror movies and comedies, so a lot of my work tends to combine those two genres.

“When I write my scripts, a lot of the plots and characters are rooted in my actual life — some more than others. I’ve even gotten film ideas based on my frustration as a Jets fan! You never know when creativity will strike, and that’s one of the really magical things about this line of work. I film a lot of movies at my house and on my block. My wife, parents and neighbors are really supportive. I call my extended community my ‘film family’ because they are so willing to help me with filming and even appear in my movies. My sister-in-law is very vocal about waiting for me to cast her in something! I have found that most people are happy to help out with creative projects.

This year, two of my short horror films were nominated for awards at the New York Long Island Film Festival, which was a dream come true.

“Making movies is playing make believe, just like we did when we were kids, and that’s such a special feeling. There is so much creativity on Long Island; since I’ve started my filmmaking career, I’ve met so many talented actors and writers and musicians. The Actors Studio was essential in helping me make contacts early on; one connection can open so many doors. I’m all about collaborating since artists need each other, and fostering those relationships is so valuable for bringing creativity to life.

“This year, two of my short horror films were nominated for awards at the New York Long Island Film Festival, which was a dream come true. My goal is to keep making movies and larger-scale productions. Right now, I’m hoping to work with Troma Entertainment, which is a famous independent production company. I am happy in my full-time job as a general manager at a restaurant, but I want to see where my filmmaking leads. At the end of the day, I’m very content with my life. I get to do something that I really love, and I’m so grateful for that opportunity.”

‘When the Coliseum closed for the first time, it was a tough year in my life. My dad passed away that year.’

Levittown

“I became an Islanders fan day one. My dad was a huge Islanders fan. Two or three days after I was born, he went to a game and caught a puck. I got the puck signed by Denis Potvin this year.

“When the Coliseum closed for the first time, it was a tough year in my life. My dad passed away that year. I lost my dad, who brought me up with hockey and the building I grew up in. My second home. I lost both of those in the same year.

“This will be my 14th season with season tickets. I’ve been to at least 700 to 800 games. If you want to include away games, I’d say that’s around 900. I’ve seen the Islanders play in every arena but two, which I’ll be doing this year. I have to go to Winnipeg and Seattle, and I’ll be done seeing the Islanders play everywhere. I’ve been to probably another 20-30 playoff games in my life. We’re almost at 1,000 games that I’ve seen the Islanders play.

We were trying to do something to bring some life into the building.

“I helped start the Blue and Orange Army. A few of my friends sat in section 329 for a while. We were getting student tickets in 330. We started to move over and sit with them. Our friend Westfall (not actually Ed Westfall, but he always wore a Westfall jersey) and his friends used to sit at the top, and we’d yell stuff, and they’d yell stuff back. So eventually we just started getting tickets to move up there. The team wasn’t really good in the mid-2000s, so it was like, ‘Let’s just have fun and yell things and sing.’ We were trying to do something to bring some life into the building.

“The one claim that I brought to the group that we started doing, that now the whole fan base does, is the ‘Yes!’ chant. They do it after goals at Red Bulls games. Daniel Bryan, the wrestler, is the founder of the ‘Yes!’ chant. He started the whole thing. I’d been watching and thought, ‘This would be fun to do at hockey, too. Why not?’ It started with a few of us, and it got bigger and bigger. One home opener our section did it, then two sections next to us did it, then the next goal, half the building was doing it. We were like, ‘This is insane.’ They started putting ‘Yes!’ up on the board after the goals. Our friends were like, ‘Dude, look at the LED board around the ice.’ I looked and they were saying ‘Yes!’”

‘Giving my child the best life possible became the focal point of my life.’

Levittown

“Having a child with Down syndrome changed my life. I think that sometimes we find it hard to know what our purpose is, you know? And I’ve given that thought. I gave it thought when I was younger … in my adulthood. Unless you’re somebody that’s done something remarkable, or that has this super crazy talent, I think most of us as human beings struggle to identify what our purpose is.

“Prior to Kayleigh, I was living a pretty ordinary life. I had two kids. I lived in a suburban neighborhood. I had a civil service job. And I thought from time to time, what is my purpose? When I became pregnant with Kayleigh, my whole world literally crashed. I got a phone call that the doctor needed to speak with me in person about my test results. I knew what it was.

It became my purpose to show the world that people with Down syndrome have a right to be here, and they’re human beings, and they have a lot to offer the world.

“It was pouring rain, and everybody at work begged me not to drive home, but I didn’t care. I remember thinking my tears are coming down my face as hard as it’s raining. I don’t think I ever cried that hard in my life. When I found out the news, I literally threw out the outfit I was wearing. I never wanted to look at it ever again.

“The reason I went through such agony and torture as a woman finding out that her baby has Down syndrome is because society has been taught that people with Down syndrome are less than human. No doctor will give you that news in a neutral way. They will give you that news like your life is over. Many celebrities, the media, the sports industry will not get on board with actively supporting those with intellectual disabilities. It’s not sexy enough. It’s the type of thing that people are afraid of it. Society has this terrible view.

“There’s just misinformation. None of it was what I thought it would be. My other two children adore Kayleigh beyond reason and have become way more compassionate human beings than they were even to begin with. She has brought more joy into our lives than we ever thought would be possible. She became my princess.

“So, it became my purpose to show the world that people with Down syndrome have a right to be here, and they’re human beings, and they have a lot to offer the world. Giving my child the best life possible became the focal point of my life.”

‘As much as I’ve been in pain, it’s taught me so much.’

Levittown

“I’m a lot of things: Psychic medium, ordained minister, certified personal trainer/sports and nutritionist. I wrote a book, “The Spirit of Hope” in 2019 and I host a TV talk show. I used to be normal. I was a surgical assistant in a hospital. I married the love of my life and always dreamt about getting a house and having children. Less than a month after being married, I had a traumatic accident at work and had a spine injury.

“Life changed instantly. I had my eighth surgery this past June. I was in a wheelchair for about two years, needed help showering, going to the bathroom. I had to learn to walk again, I used a walker and a cane. I dealt with a lot of anxiety and depression. I started to do better and then I was having some pain again and found out my body was rejecting the hardware in my spine, so I had to have more surgeries.

“There were days I just didn’t want to live because I didn’t want to live in pain; I was on a lot of narcotics. Life was hard; we went to marriage counseling and I’m grateful it worked out. What happened to me didn’t just happen to me, it also happened to my husband.

“I learned to meditate and that started the spiritual aspect. I read self-help books for balance. I was doing a lot of soul searching. My stomach was really sick, and I was going back and forth to doctors and finally diagnosed with a rare condition of SMA Syndrome, where my small intestine was compressed between two major arteries, and I was rushed in for emergency surgery. I also found out that I had another rare syndrome called Nutcracker Syndrome, where the left renal vein is compressed between the aorta and superior mesenteric artery; it caused extreme fatigue and flank pain.

I can’t have children, but I gave the miracle of life another way.

“I had to have another surgery for that and had complications. I was told my healthy kidney had to be removed because the vein wasn’t healthy. I asked, ‘Can I donate my kidney?’ New York Presbyterian told me no one had ever asked that before, so I was able to donate to a woman. Here I was with my own condition and very sick and I needed it all to be for something. I was grateful to be able to walk again. I felt it was important to pay it forward.

“I raise awareness with the National Kidney Foundation, and now I hear lots of people donate their kidney due to Nutcracker Syndrome. It’s a way to help our pain and illness and you’re saving a life in the process. I had a little bit of a break to start getting healthy again and got into my mediumship, speaking and writing.

“In 2019, I had my gallbladder removed. I pushed my personal training and tried to be healthy and was doing great. Right before the shutdown started, I met a producer who thought I should have a TV show. I wanted it to be about hope and inspiration, other people sharing their story. On “The LJ Show” on Z Living Network, I interview people with amazing stories that have turned tragedy into triumph. I feel like I’m alive for a reason.

“I started feeling really sick again, I couldn’t eat again, started testing again, going to doctor after doctor. Someone in an online support group suggested it might be median arcuate ligament syndrome, when the band of tissue in the chest presses on the artery that supplies blood to the organs in your upper abdomen. I finally got confirmed I had MALS, and I lived on shakes and IV infusions.

“I just hit my eighth surgery in eight years, eight years married. It doesn’t get easier; illness is still illness. I still have chronic pain from my spine, and I finally feel like I reached another turning point. It’s common for people who have had trauma, like spine injuries, to have these other issues. I have no doubt that my spine surgeries had something to do with it. But with every burden I’ve experienced, I’ve been blessed.

“I’m a minister now, I get to be part of people’s weddings and baby blessings. I use my medium work for helping other people and participating in fundraiser events for all sorts of things like Alzheimer’s and cancer. As much as I’ve been in pain, it has taught me so much. I can’t have children, but I gave the miracle of life another way. Now, my kidney sister can go on and have children. There is a light in the darkness, be open to what the universe has in store for you. My life is so much bigger and meaningful.”

‘I work with people with autism and I think that’s helped me to identify with them and identify that if they’re having an issue, why it’s an issue.’

Levittown

“I have an auditory processing disorder. It was a challenge socially and academically and also because I couldn’t hear in my right ear, I’m deaf in that ear. It was very hard as a child to make friends. I didn’t know how to connect with people because I wasn’t able to talk to people in a group. It would become overwhelming very quickly. In college when I realized this was an issue, I started to find better ways to cope. I would sit in certain areas; I would make sure it was quieter.

“I’m still not comfortable with large groups of people because it becomes very overwhelming. I can’t have a one-on-one conversation with someone if it’s loud in a room. There’s this level of processing that doesn’t happen when there’s a lot of people in the room. I’m an over communicator. I want things to be clear on my end so I ask a lot of questions. It’s only because I want to understand the whole picture.

Why else are we on this earth if you’re not connecting with people? It appears harder in this season but it’s so powerful to remember a piece of somebody, that could be life changing.

“I work with people with autism and I think that’s helped me to identify with them and identify that if they’re having an issue, why it’s an issue. How can I better communicate with them? I really look for people’s strengths and pay attention to what they say. Because I don’t have the ability to hear like everyone else, it’s forced me to pay attention to what other people are saying. I really pay attention to what people say and it really matters to me. Especially, if you have someone with a disability, it can be trial and error to figure out what’s best for them. And that’s really fun for me. It’s not only that you’re getting to know the person, but you’re also finding out their strengths and weaknesses and helping them achieve their goals by really paying attention and delving into what works for them.

“Seeing people as who they are is extremely powerful and meaningful. When you actually see that person as who they are, it can be life changing to someone. Why else are we on this earth if you’re not connecting with people? It appears harder in this season but it’s so powerful to remember a piece of somebody, that could be life changing. And you only remember that if you listen.”

‘At first it didn’t occur to me that I was impacting lives. I wasn’t looking to be a mentor, but I was doing it without realizing it.’

Levittown

“I suddenly found myself trying to figure out how to teach. When I was 16, I gave drum lessons to third graders over the summer to prepare them for the fourth-grade band. I would teach my experience and exposure to things and say to the kids, ‘You tell me what you want to learn and I will teach it to you; in exchange, you have to be willing to learn what I want to teach you because you know what you want, and I know what you need.’ I wanted them to feel like young adults and that their opinion counted. Ever since then, I taught privately.

“My father used to drive me to local gigs with wedding bands, top 40 bands and bar bands. I chose not to go to college and work professionally. At 27, I got a call from my old chorus teacher, now the district’s director of music and fine arts, asking for help with the 27 drummers in the high school band. It was supposed to be for two months, and it turned into years of me being the percussion advisor. Five years later, I got another call from Long Island High School for the Arts (LIHSA). They were looking for a percussion teacher. I started at LIHSA for a few hours each week.

I may never be a millionaire, but I’m very blessed because I get to share my passion for performing and teaching.

“My connection to teaching got stronger and it became a lot of fun. When students said they loved my class, at first it didn’t occur to me that I was impacting lives. I wasn’t looking to be a mentor, but I was doing it without realizing it. The turning point for me was when a former student sent me a note: ‘I’m going to be an education major because one day I want to be somebody else’s Jerry.’ I had the wind taken from me.

“Now, I am the production coordinator at LIHSA. I stage and direct the performances and do a lot of behind-the-scenes work. Students tell me that when they were uncomfortable, I made them feel comfortable. The first time a kid is going to go on stage, I ask if they are nervous. They say, ‘Yeah,’ and I say, ‘If it makes you feel better, I’m not in the least bit nervous.’ They laugh and it breaks the tension. They never forget that. It’s so valuable.

“I wake up every day so grateful that I get to do what I love to do. I may never be a millionaire, but I’m very blessed because I get to share my passion for performing and teaching.”

‘It’s been a goal for me to connect people because it’s a been a year where people felt so disconnected.’

Levittown

“I got into magic because I was terrible at sports as a kid. I remember playing with cards and coins and reading books about the history of magic. I was one of those kids who didn’t want to be fooled, I needed to know how it was done. It was a hobby that I parlayed into income. It really started developing when I transitioned into mentalism, which is my specialty. People are intrigued when I can get inside of their head and create some magical moments from some thoughts and random ideas and psychological experiments and that is what people were drawn to.

“Magic is sleight of hand and mentalism is more psychological experiments. Everyone loves a good card trick but feeling like you’re experiencing mind control or what seems like mind reading is a whole new experience for most people. It’s been over 15 years that I’ve been doing this, and I have been busier the last year doing Zoom shows than I was before the pandemic with live shows. It’s been a goal for me to connect people because it’s a been a year where people felt so disconnected. It’s great that people can connect, feed off of each other’s energy and enjoy this unique and entertaining setting. Seeing friends, family and coworkers clapping for each other has been the best. It’s actually enhanced my own appreciation in cherishing these connections.

It doesn’t make a difference if it’s for a Fortune 500 company or a small family, we just all want to do more than stare at each other through screens, we want to have a shared experience that we can talk about for months to come.

“There’s so much Zoom fatigue out there and this is the perfect way to get around that. I just booked in-person gigs right after I get my second vaccine shot. I expect Zoom shows to last just as much as in-person shows, as long as people are working remotely or families are not living near each other. They found this new way to connect in a safe and fun and affordable way that they never knew existed before. It doesn’t make a difference if it’s for a Fortune 500 company or a small family, we just all want to do more than stare at each other through screens, we want to have a shared experience that we can talk about for months to come.”

‘It’s important to acknowledge that animals have a profound impact on the well-being of people. It should be recognized more often.’

Levittown

“I was working at a vaccine clinic upstate when a woman brought Tucker in and mentioned that he was going to wind up in the shelter that night. She said that she found him 2 miles off of her backyard tied to a tree barking. I immediately knew that he was mine because he literally fell in my lap and gave me his belly. He became my best friend. He has always been so sweet and kind in nature. We started going to dog parks and I found other things to do with him on Long Island, so we grew close. He has always been attached to my hip. He’s a big cuddler!

“Now, Tucker is an emotional support animal. I had diagnosed anxiety, and I didn’t like the medication I was being prescribed. I felt like it would dull my happy even though it tamed my anxiety. My therapist and I felt that Tucker and his presence calmed my anxiety as a whole. My doctor doesn’t really believe in emotional support animals, but my therapist does, and she could see the difference in my body language when I would bring him with me to meetings. She would have me bring him and then sometimes I was told not to bring him. I would glow when I would talk about him. She thought it would be beneficial for me to have him with me at work for when things get stressful. I work at a school, and when I bring him to work he brightens everyone’s day.

He greets everyone as individuals—each person gets a different greeting. Tucker is so receptive of when people are not in a good mood or they’re sad.

“It puts a smile on my face when I’m walking into the school and everybody says Tucker’s name as he rolls over on his belly. He greets everyone as individuals—each person gets a different greeting. Tucker is so receptive of when people are not in a good mood or they’re sad. When students come into the main office seeking medical help or they’re upset and want someone to speak to, Tucker greets them at the door and you just see a sigh of relief come over them.

“To see the true impact that he’s having on a child is so overwhelming to witness. It’s just so warming and beautiful to see how much he affects people on a daily basis, myself included. It’s important to acknowledge that animals have a profound impact on the well-being of people. It should be recognized more often. People are generally happier. I certainly am.”

‘I got divorced, and I knew I had to get into this industry so I could help people never go through what I had to go through with someone narcissistic.’

Levittown

“After college, I was first a pharmaceutical rep. We learned about the human brain and narcissism. I was married at that time, with two young children. My mother had just died, and I came home that night, and I was praying, saying, ‘Mom, I know you didn’t believe in divorce, but my husband is narcissistic.’

“Then this dating service opened on Long Island. Once I saw it, it was like a sign from my mother in heaven. I got divorced, and I knew I had to get into this industry so I could help people never go through what I had to go through with someone narcissistic.

“Fifteen years ago, I opened up my own matchmaking services, and we’ve been growing strong ever since. Being positive is the most important key to success in finding love. I can’t teach that. I cannot make a negative person successful and I can’t make them positive. If that person is positive, I can work around any other nitty-gritty things to help them improve.

It means everything to me that Long Island singles entrust the most important thing in their lives to me. I truly fell in love with finding love for people. If you have love, you have everything.

“The best part is when they tell me they’re getting married. I have over 1,000 success stories. This one particular couple two years ago was always our favorite and they asked me if I would officiate their wedding. It means everything to me that Long Island singles entrust the most important thing in their lives to me. I truly fell in love with finding love for people. If you have love, you have everything.

“I’m seeing the greatest single men all the time. Many times, they’ll ask me if I’m single, but I’ll say I’m not ready yet. My life has always been my two children and my business. I never tried to be great at 10 different things, or even three different things. On my tombstone, I want it to say: great mother, great matchmaker. That’s all I want to be great at.”