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.

‘Music has always been a source of therapy for me. It’s one of my happy places.’

Lindenhurst

“A couple of years ago, a friend of mine asked me if I’d be interested in jamming in an all-female Bon Jovi tribute band, Radio Active. Over time, the band changed, and I’m the last woman standing from the original band. I wasn’t going anywhere.

“My heart is in this. I’m the lead vocalist. I always wanted to be in a band because it’s my passion. We became a full cover band about a year ago, and we love covering songs from female artists like Joan Jett and Pat Benatar.

“Since I was a little kid, I was raised in a household with music always being played on the record players. My mom and dad introduced me to music at a very early age. We would listen to ’50s music and just sing along.

Local restaurants, tattoo shops, music stores, even other musicians, came to the festival to support me during the worst time in my life.

“I was in Catholic school growing up and had to sing along to church music, and I rebelled, which led me to rock and roll. Our first gig as Radio Active Band was on Long Island. Singing up there is such a rush. It’s a happy feeling. We put a lot of work into our covers, so it’s really great when we see people appreciate and enjoy our performances. It takes a lot of practice, and it isn’t easy to get up and perform in front of people.

“I was diagnosed with breast cancer four years ago. I actually went to rehearsal for as long as I possibly could. Music has always been a source of therapy for me. It’s one of my happy places. When I’m singing and performing on stage, all of my stress eases away. The fact that I had my band and bandmates as an outlet really helped me get through what I was dealing with, both physically and mentally.

“My bandmates would check on me all the time and bring me things. We moved rehearsal closer to my house so I wouldn’t miss out. I had to have two surgeries and seven months of chemotherapy and radiation.

“A local Long Island bar had a music festival in my honor to raise money for me. It was amazing to see my community members come together. Local restaurants, tattoo shops, music stores, even other musicians, came to the festival to support me during the worst time in my life.”

‘When you have a connection with an animal, they can really soothe who you are inside.’

Lindenhurst

“My mom was an immigrant from Guyana, working two jobs while my grandmother raised me. Horses were not an option for someone living on Section 8 housing in Brooklyn. She saved money to take me on our first vacation to a dude ranch, and that changed my life. After, I wanted to ride, but she said we couldn’t afford it. I met a New York City police officer who helped me when I was 12. If she hadn’t, I wouldn’t be where I am today. When you have a connection with an animal, they can really soothe who you are inside. I’ve been riding for 32 years, and I’ve been a professional equestrian since I was 23.

“Providing access to the officer’s horses created a space of exposure to equestrian sports, which in turn provided discipline to keep me straight in school and my priorities, gave me responsibility and helped prepare me for the U.S. Navy in missile defense and intelligence. Right now, I’m focused on the Metropolitan Equestrian Team, which I founded in 2010. MET is the only nonprofit in the globe that does education and horseback riding, regardless of socioeconomic status.

Never give up on your dreams. Work for what you want. Hard work brings positive results.

“What the officer did for me is what I’ve developed for MET. We utilize the equestrian sports to keep kids interested in academics and get them into over 400 colleges with equestrian teams. It’s really important to be an example to our students because of that perseverance the police officer — and my mom— instilled in me. MET started with one location in Brooklyn. Now our headquarters is in Times Square, and we’re in nine other states.

“MET provides collegiate advisory, horseback riding, after-school tutoring, leadership classes and programs around STEAM. We make our students diverse in their portfolio of experience to become strong college applicants. MET is designed for the experiences provided to me by an equestrian community that loved me during my mother’s financial hard times. They took me into their homes and provided me with access to equestrian sports and a lifestyle I never would have been able to achieve otherwise. I’m able to now provide that to the next generation. The values Heidi passed on to me that I pass on to my students are: Never give up on your dreams. Work for what you want. Hard work brings positive results.”

‘My father always pushed me to be productive and independent. He is just that type of person.’

Lindenhurst

“I was diagnosed with autism at the age of 4. My mom was working as a nurse at Brunswick Hospital, and my dad was about 20 years into the moving business, when my mom found out there was something wrong with me. I wasn’t acting the way normal babies do when they’re born.

“During that time, she had me go to early intervention at the Developmental Disabilities Institute in Greenlawn. I started speaking at age 4. There was a teacher there who was pretty much a godsend. Back then, I was doing echolalia and things like that.

“I ended up going to public school for almost 10 years. It was like a nightmare. Fifth grade was the worst. I was a ticking time bomb when it came to anger issues, and it just got so out of whack that the doctors told my parents there would be no way I would progress forward. Then, one day, it was like something just clicked. I wanted to be more mature, and I slowly started to come out of my cocoon.

I don’t like being labeled by my disability.

“In a year and a half, I finally matured to a point where I was able to function and learn, but there were still a lot of things I needed to catch up on.

“I was a big fan of ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ growing up. When I was about 15, my dad and I would travel to the railroad museum out east to watch the trains. We became volunteers in 2007, and as years went by, I joined a few organizations keeping up with the hobby of trains and railroad preservation.

“My father always pushed me to be productive and independent. He is just that type of person. So, I decided to just do it. I got my high school diploma in September 2017. I don’t like being labeled by my disability. You can’t actually see that I am autistic. Even though I am, it doesn’t mean that I am going to slow people down.

“The pandemic screwed up a lot of my plans. I just moved out of my mom’s house when the COVID outbreak started. Because of it, I didn’t know what I was going to do for work or how I was going to support myself.

“I started working for Amazon in April. It was tough at first. I went through the training and started to follow a couple of guys who really gave me inspiration. They said, ‘It’s easy once you get used to it,’ and that I should keep going. So I did, and I got better at it.”