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.

‘When you meet someone with albinism, don’t underestimate what they can achieve.’

Massapequa

“I was born with albinism, and my parents encouraged me to not let my limited vision stop me from trying new things. I started taking art classes at The Tiny Artist Children’s Arts Studio. I loved hand-making paintings and giving them away as gifts. Making art is a great tool of communication for me because it helps me express what I’m seeing. I also take photos for inspiration, and zooming into those images has helped me gain an understanding of detail that I normally don’t see. Many people don’t realize that most people with albinism are legally blind or have some kind of vision impairment.

“While this can create challenges, I do not view having albinism as a negative thing, rather a positive; it is a part of who I am, but it does not define me. When you meet someone with albinism, don’t underestimate what they can achieve. Growing up, I had a very strong sense of community. I went boating with my family and played outside with my friends. I was in middle school when Superstorm Sandy hit, and my house was flooded. Everyone in the neighborhood came together to support each other.

I am excited to continue growing as an artist and individual with my family and friends around me.

“When I was in college, my neighbor told me about Splashes of Hope, a nonprofit organization that creates art for hospitals. I became their volunteer coordinator, and I love it because it allows me to honor my love for art and community all at once. I am also a Junior Advisory Council member for the National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation, where I advocate for people in the albinism community. Throughout college, I was also a MassArt volunteer opportunities coordinator and the pioneer and lead peer mentor for MassArt MAICEI, a program which allows students labeled as having severe intellectual disabilities to take part in the college experience.

“I would like to be an art teacher one day, but I don’t have any very specific goals right now. I am just figuring things out and leaving the door open to see where life leads me. I am excited to continue growing as an artist and individual with my family and friends around me.”

‘Yoga has taught me to just enjoy the ride and not feel like where you are is set in stone.’

Massapequa

“An unlucky injury led me to a lucky thing: finding yoga. I got into yoga 12 years ago. I was playing lacrosse for Adelphi and I hurt myself after one of my practices. My buddy gave me a yoga DVD and I gave it a shot. I stuck with the DVD for a long time, and it became almost a necessity. The repetition of that over months and years led me deeper into it. It got past the physical part and into more mental, emotional and spiritual until it became lifestyle.

“Before opening a yoga studio, I was driving a big truck. I started reading yoga books at truck stops and doing stretches and headstands between stops. I’ve sold insurance, worked in an auto body shop, delivered pizzas. I’ve been unemployed. But everything has led me to here. Yoga has taught me to just enjoy the ride and not feel like where you are is set in stone.

“I had been teaching in 2020 in a park in Massapequa. When it started to become cold out, the group we developed said, ‘Where are we going to go now? Where are we going to practice?’ So I started looking at places. Everything was small, low ceilings, not a lot of light. I became discouraged. I considered being a travel yoga teacher. One of my buddies found this spot on Facebook Marketplace and sent me the link for it. I saw high ceilings, big windows, open floors and multiple rooms. I thought if there was ever a place that could get people to continue their practice and open up, it would be in this big open space.

“I opened in December of 2020. I made it a goal in the beginning of that year that I wanted to open up a studio. I had a vision of creating somewhere that offered yoga around the clock and at all different levels and styles of practice. That wasn’t available in the yoga world with studios on Long Island.

“I’m blown away on how much these yogis are dedicated to showing up for themselves and their practice, and the friendships made between the students along the way, the bonding between everybody before, after and during the class. People come here and let their true colors shine. It doesn’t have to be that way. You can just come and get your practice in and leave, but something else draws people to each other here.”

‘I’ve learned that I don’t have to hide parts of myself to be worthy of someone else’s love.’

Massapequa

“The first time I remember not liking how I looked was when I was 7. I tried to eat healthier and join sports. In middle school, the self-hatred became overwhelming.

“I had a lot of anxiety before going to school. By the end of seventh grade, I had an extreme dislike for myself. I skipped breakfast and worked out more.

“Then I wasn’t eating lunch. I wasn’t getting the results I wanted fast enough, so I began purging my dinner. In order to stop eating, you must hate everything about yourself.

“When ninth grade began, I was very malnourished. I told my friends that I had an eating disorder because I knew my parents had caught on and life was going to change.

“My parents brought me to a doctor who sent me to residential treatment. That means you live away from home in a house where you have 24/7 care. I didn’t think I was sick enough for it, but in hindsight, I know I needed that environment to get better. Then they sent me to a partial hospitalization program, which is like an eating disorder school.

If you feel like you need to do this, you should tell someone.

“In January, I returned to public school and attended an outpatient program. In March, COVID happened. I found that when I’m not left to my thoughts, I do really well, so I focus really hard on something, like sewing.

“I learned that I have an extreme perfectionist personality. I used to think no one will ever like me if I’m not a lawyer or a scientist. I never considered that I could pursue art.

“Afterwards, I realized there was never a reason to think that. I can do art and my parents will still love me. My mom suggested I go to a performing arts high school. Now I’m learning about all aspects of technical theater. I’m focusing on set construction and lighting design; we’ve also done special effects makeup, costumes and sound design.

“It’s the first time I have met people who are as passionate about things as me. I’ve learned that I don’t have to hide parts of myself to be worthy of someone else’s love.

“You can’t live your life restricting and purging. You either recover or die; there’s no other option. If you feel like you need to do this, you should tell someone. I still struggle with liking how I look, but I have so much that I don’t want to lose.”

‘People think I’m nuts, but after the Super Bowl, I’ll start thinking about what I’m doing for Halloween.’

Massapequa

“This started because we used to decorate and dress up for Halloween at a campground for a competition. One woman said, ‘You’re not going to win.’ I went up there and I didn’t win, and I was so annoyed.

“So I found talking skeletons online, and we went back up there and dressed up as a dead wedding party. My whole family and my kids went there from 6 years old and up.

I do this to raise money for cancer.

“We kept going back and winning every year. I first made a few skeletons when we saw ‘The Pirates of the Caribbean’ movie. The captain was first, and I had no ships yet. Then I kept adding stuff.

“People think I’m nuts, but after Super Bowl, I’ll start thinking about what I’m doing for Halloween. It’s all computerized. There’s two computers downstairs doing it. It’s insane. Each one of their heads has four RC Servos [robotic devices], which makes them move. I built my own mounts to make their heads nod and tilt and the jaw move. I sit there with a joystick and program each song. That’s in March, April and May. One song took me 40 hours. You get bonkers listening to the same song over and over again.

“The front of the ship I’ve had for 18 years. Four years ago, we made the back of the ship. We bought some PVC pipe and just started building. Everything is hand built. We start setting up the last week in August and finish in October.

“The skeletons are all my family, but my favorites are probably the two in the jail cell – Boris and Wilfred. Those are my first corpse skeleton that I made. Wilfred is very crude and shaky, but he works. I built the jail cell after them, and then I built a wall to hide my house.

“This is all for the tiny kids. One little girl has been coming here for 5 or 6 years. She sends pictures, even gave me a little bracelet. When you have 600 people in front of your house, it’s a lot of fun. We all dress up – I’m Captain Jack.

“I do this to raise money for prostate cancer. This year, I’ll probably split it between prostate cancer and breast cancer. I have prostate cancer, and now my ex-wife came down with breast cancer. When I lived in Wantagh, we raised over 10 grand. Here in Massapequa, we’ve raised around six grand so far. We have a collection box for donations.”

‘I always wanted to do good in the community at large, and through Dagger, I’m able to do that.’

Massapequa

“As an artist, I was working in my studio one day. My dog, Dagger, came over and nudged me with his snout. I jokingly said to him, ‘Would you like to paint like Mommy?’ His tail started to wag, and I went with the joke. I took all the command words that he had learned in advanced training, incorporated them, and taught him how to paint. He has been painting since 2015 in the ‘DogVinci’ style of painting, which is true, pure abstract art.

“It has evolved so greatly. We have been featured on the ‘Rachael Ray Show,’ ‘Inside Edition’ and Animal Planet’s ‘Cute as Fluff.’ But the greatest was when a producer from PBS contacted us and wanted to do a whole show about Dagger. It’s called ‘Shelter Me: The Art of Kindness.

The greatest part about Dagger is that all the money, proceeds and paintings go to charity.

“Dagger won the [Bethpage Federal Credit Union] Best of Long Island Artist/Painter over people four years in a row, was the only non-human that’s won Channel 7’s ‘Hidden Heroes’ and has been inducted into the Animal Heroes Hall of Fame.

“He’s been in several books. One of them was written by award-winning Australian author, Laura Greaves. She wrote a whole chapter about Dagger in her book called ‘Amazing Dogs with Amazing Jobs.’

“Recently, he was in a book called ‘Adventure Dogs’ by Fern and Lauren Watt. Dagger was also included in the University of Oxford’s 2022 student workbook. It’s for students learning English as a second language, so they use these books all over the world.

“But the greatest part about Dagger is that all the money, proceeds and paintings go to charity. There’s a whole dropdown menu on our website [https://www.dogvinci.com/] so that when you purchase a painting, you pick out a charity and then all the money goes to that charity. We’re very passionate about St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Canine Companions, of course, which is his family. I coined him ‘The Do Good Dog’ because I thought, ‘Wow, everything he does is really good.’

“His message is education and community service. So we try to promote that with everything that we do, which is so gratifying to me because that’s where I always wanted to be. I always wanted to do good in the community at large, and through Dagger, I’m able to do that. It’s just been so rewarding really and a great journey so far.”

‘I’ve always liked being creative and doing things with my hands … That led me to looking at my environment to figure out ways to improve it.’

Massapequa

“I’ve always liked being creative and doing things with my hands. I’m an active person; I can never be still. That led me to looking at my environment to figure out ways to improve it.

“If there’s something I need, I’ll try to make it. The satisfaction I get in making things is magnified whenever I share it with somebody else; when they feel like they can make something, it is even better.

“In college, I interned at a place that made Halloween masks and props. I never got to see how people reacted to what I made. With theater, you have to communicate with people, and you get the satisfaction of immediate feedback.

“I went to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, where I studied industrial design, specializing in special effects like animatronics and makeup. Afterwards, I knew I wanted to do something in education. I got a job as a monitor in Roslyn and started building sets for their shows.

“My first set had a terrible design, but I saw that it was something I could improve. I’ve always liked seeing art with which you can interact and experience it. Sets are the magnification of experiencing art— people are using and climbing on them!

I teach students to work with intention. I don’t like to fail, but I’m also not afraid of it.

“I started working at Long Island High School for the Arts, where I teach production and managerial arts, which is all of the creative, hands-on things that happen in theater and film.

“For a bit of time, I was also a scenic carpenter for a company that made holiday windows. In a scene in ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,’ it’s the ’50s, and actors walk by holiday windows that I helped make! I’ve learned that doing different things opens you up to people.

“If you have the right attitude, other people want to work with you. I still build sets for high schools because I enjoy that there’s someone that puts a lot of commitment into making them, and it’s not haphazard. I give a lot of attention to design and make the performers’ experience special.

“It’s cathartic to make things. I appreciate seeing projects start from a pile of lumber and then made into usable pieces. Sometimes people take things for granted. I teach students to work with intention. I don’t like to fail, but I’m also not afraid of it. You learn more from failing and understanding why you failed.”

‘It’s a nice escape when you can create your own little worlds and color them the way you want them.’

Massapequa

“It started with watching early pop cartoons and Disney when I was a kid. I loved the way they looked, so I started doodling. I was drawn to pop art because of the bright colors. I realized how much I liked it, and people said I was good at it, so I developed it.

“When I got into high school in the mid-’70s, I was in a BOCES program for commercial art. My teacher opened my eyes to painting and how to draw properly, things I wasn’t aware of as a kid. He was doing professional illustration and watercolors, and I’d never seen anybody do anything like that. He would always correct me when I was doing something wrong. That helped me expand to taking art seriously.

A lot of people told me that art is a nice hobby, but you can never make a living doing it. I said, ‘I have to try. It makes me happy.’

“Later, I went to the School of Visual Arts and began doing freelance work. I always wanted to get into animation and ended up working for MTV in the ’90s on a show called ‘Daria.’ I was doing animated commercials for them too. From there I went to Fox to work on ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,’ and then PBS, where I worked on ‘Clifford’s Puppy Days.’ I’d hand-draw the backgrounds, and then I’d ink them. They’d scan and color them digitally. I did some hand-drawn character design, too. My inspiration was from early cartoons and animated films, and later became poster artists working on old rock and roll posters; they’d use wonderful colors and airbrush. Illustrators in magazines would inspire me, and I’d collect books that people made of their artwork. I’d be all over the place, with artists like Peter Max, Rembrandt, H.R. Giger and Picasso. It’s a nice escape when you can create your own little worlds and color them the way you want them. A lot of people told me that art is a nice hobby, but you can never make a living doing it. I said, ‘I have to try. It makes me happy.’

“When you wake up in the morning, you don’t want to mind going to work. If you can like what you’re doing, that’s a beautiful thing. I also opened my art studio, Creation Art Center, in Massapequa, and I have been teaching at it for about 20 years. It has been very rewarding. I have no training to teach, but I learned that I can do it. It is never too late to pursue your passion. If it’s really in your heart, believe in yourself and go for it.”

‘I’m productive and make the most out of my time, so if anyone can handle owning a company and be a doctor at the same time, it’s me.’

Massapequa

“My whole life, my family’s been in and out of hospitals: my grandma, aunt, grandpa, great grandpa and great grandma all had medical issues. The early years of my life felt like I lived outside the hospital on my bicycle.

“I looked up to the doctors who were helping my family. I wanted to be like them and started college to become a doctor. However, in 2020, my second year, COVID happened. School slowed down as things went online, so I figured, let me just start my business.

“The idea came to me during the summer of 2019. I was doing construction and waterproofing basements. I was lugging stuff, getting covered in paint, throwing out dead rats; I hated it. The whole time, I was thinking about being on the water.

“I grew up fishing and boating, and that’s my passion. I realized there’s not a lot of boat rental companies on L.I., and since not everyone can afford to own a boat, my plan was to make it easier for people to enjoy the water like I do. I did construction hoping to learn a trade, but just ending up learning it wasn’t for me.

Despite all that happened during COVID, I made the best of it.

“The next summer, I bought an existing boat rental company. I also had been selling real estate at that time; my parents work in real estate and I got my license when I was 18. Everybody came in from the city during COVID to buy houses; it was crazy, with houses selling for thousands over asking prices.

“I used the money made from selling houses to buy the boat rental company, and the day the marinas reopened from COVID, I put a down payment on a boat, also from money made from selling houses.

“Despite all that happened during COVID, I made the best of it. I’m back in school I’m taking the MCAT on June 17, and if it goes well, I can then start with med school applications.

“I still also help my mom sell houses whenever I’m not studying or working on the boat business. I don’t know how much time I’ll have in med school to work on my boating business, but I’m training people to hold it down for me

“But even if I become a doctor, I can’t imagine saying, ‘Forget about the boat rentals.’ I’m productive and make the most out of my time, so if anyone can handle owning a company and be a doctor at the same time, it’s me.”

‘In February, I became a father, and I cannot wait to show my son that there are many paths in life you can take to be successful.’

Massapequa

“I always struggled in school. I had trouble focusing and was always acting out, getting in trouble. In third grade, I was diagnosed with ADHD, but the medicine had bad side effects, so my mom let me stop taking it. By senior year in high school, I was in danger of not graduating, with the only option of earning BOCES credit. Now I’m one of five kids, and my mom had always cut our hair. One day, I decided to try cutting my younger’s brother hair. It wasn’t the greatest haircut, but with that clipper buzzing in my hand, I could see myself pursuing barbering, and my mother noticed that BOCES had a barbering program.

“What started as some extra credit to graduate became a craft I fell in love with. My teacher, Mr. B., taught me the business side, and that you don’t need college to become successful. The day I got my high school diploma, I handed it to my mother, and by the following Monday I was cutting hair professionally. I was only 18. My friends were away at college; I was working Monday through Saturday at a Massapequa barbershop. Soon, I began to envision something bigger and better: I wanted to start my own brand of barbering. I went out on a limb and decided to open my own shop with money I had saved up over the years.

Find happiness in what you do, and the money will follow.

“My dad and I are both handy, so we found an empty storefront in Massapequa, gutted it and built a new three-chair barbershop from the ground up. At 21, I was the owner of my own barbershop. Then the pandemic lockdown hit. We shut down for a few months, reopening that June. The business started to take off after I cut a few rappers and influencers and posted their photos on Instagram. We took over an adjacent space and expanded to eight chairs.

“Nowadays, my shop is a staple of the community. We stay on top of the hairstyles everybody wants. Right now, skin fades are in. We sell hoodies and other apparel and our own hair products, do hot shaves, facials, eyebrows. Every one of our barbers is a recent graduate of the same barber school I went to. In February, I became a father, and I cannot wait to show my son that there are many paths in life you can take to be successful. Find happiness in what you do, and the money will follow.”

‘Being a musician is hard; you have to really stand out. Remember, you’re in New York and there are so many great musicians here.’

Massapequa

“I started playing guitar early, about 10 or 11 years old. My father had a music store: Al Marino Music Center in Williston Park. I ended up working there back in the mid-70s.Then I went out on my own after that when he retired and I started a low-key studio.

“I played in a band at weddings, but I was looking to get out of it because it wasn’t my thing. I’m a jazz guitarist. DJs were really coming into effect, and it took a lot of work away from bands.

“When I got married in 1990, my wife, who is a pianist and vocalist, and I started our current business, MM Music, which we have now. We teach guitar, piano, and voice out of our house. Most of our students are school-aged kids, but we have some adults who study jazz. We have a recital for the kids once a year. Things drop off teaching-wise in the summer, so many years ago we started a summer camp called Love to Sing.

“I have also taught at LIU Post since the ’90s and give private guitar lessons there. The real bread and butter of our music business has come from teaching, but my wife and I go out and work when we can, doing gigs at restaurants. I’m a side man basically. If somebody calls me and asks, ‘Can you play a party?’ I’ll put a band together.

“Every Sunday night, I play with a jazz band at a restaurant in Amityville called Sophia’s. Being a musician is hard; you have to really stand out. Remember, you’re in New York and there are so many great musicians here. My son is starting to get into that scene. He also works for us, teaching guitar and piano. You don’t make a lot of money playing music but it’s fun. To be serious as a player, you have to be on the road. Gigs are $100; $150. I mean, it’s okay, but you know what it’s like to live on Long Island. I teach. I do gigs.

I played in a band at weddings, but I was looking to get out of it because it wasn’t my thing. I’m a jazz guitarist.

“I teach at LIU Post, my wife teaches, and she also is a music teacher at a nursery school. So that’s like five incomes, but you need five incomes to live on Long Island and be in the music business. But I wouldn’t do anything else.

“You get discouraged over the years. It’s a tough business and you could get passed over for something you want. But that’s the music business: you’re in it for the love, you’re not in it to get rich.”