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’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.”

‘We’re hoping to build a program in a school and we’re hoping this can be a gateway to a better life.’

Massapequa

“I have been involved in lacrosse for years and I’m being recruited to teach fundamentals in Kenya. I know a guy named Isaac Kirinya who teaches orphans in Kenya. I started becoming his teacher in lacrosse. He gives the orphans sticks to play lacrosse and goes around helping people; he’s the most amazing person I know.

“Lacrosse is this yuppie sport now and it has become a cash cow for lots of people, but the spiritual roots of the game are Native American. They called it the medicine game or the giving game; it was a healing game. I coached the Australian national team for eight years and I also coached Spain, so I know the international game. I also coached at Adelphi this spring. I’m more interested in the education of lacrosse and getting these kids in school. Many of them can’t afford school.

“In America, we’re whining because we didn’t get playing time. When kids in Kenya come to lacrosse, they get a meal, and it may be the only meal they get all week. I’m meeting with a woman who is at the Kenton College Prep School and hoping to create opportunities for kids to use this game to get an education.

When you lose hope, then you go downhill fast.

“For these kids, it’s way more than just the championship. We’re hoping to build a program in a school and we’re hoping this can be a gateway to a better life. Fundraising is going to be massive to make this happen at kenyalacrosse.org. I was supposed to go in July, but it was shut down because of COVID.

“The world doesn’t seem to be getting better but I’m pretty sure I’m going to go in October because we have a camp. I’m retired as the director of social studies at Oceanside High School. I’ve written four books about hope, grit and determination. I’m teaching at Molloy College, offering a college experience for young adults with severe challenges like autism spectrum disorder and Down syndrome.

“Most of my doctoral work was on hope — it’s a positive psychology construct and my research was that kids in alternative schools, kids who can do the work but choose not to, have lost hope. When you lose hope, then you go downhill fast. Whereas hope is the best predictor of college graduation. I see lacrosse and all these aspects of my life coming together to build hope.”

‘You can never take a day for granted and you have to be the best person you possibly can be.’

Massapequa

“For most people around here, on Long Island and Massapequa in general, we spend our summers at the beach. It’s a way for us to be there all day, every day. I started lifeguarding when I was 16 at Bethpage Pool. The pool is a lot calmer in the sense that you’re basically just watching flat water for a while, but there are a lot more things going on with families outside of the pool.

“You’re watching to make sure that kids are staying with their parents, they aren’t running and getting hurt, because we do First Aid, too. At the ocean, you’re obviously watching a lot more and with the waves and everything. Some days there are huge waves with rip currents and people don’t even realize how scary the water gets. There is a lot more to carry. You have a couple of other lifeguards working with you too when you’re on the stand and watching the water in case you have to make a rescue.

“There is a lot more ground to cover at the beach. You’re never by yourself and it’s a whole team thing. I think it is one of the best summer jobs you can have. My dad got into it because he always grew up living to surf and being at the beach in general. He’s a teacher also, so once he started teaching, he figured it was something good to do during the summer.

I think there’s a fear instilled in knowing that someone’s life is in your hands in that sense. That is literally in the name of the position—you are guarding somebody’s life.

“There are a lot of things that happen at the beach and unfortunately, we’ve had some people that work there who passed away. Everybody that works there, we’re kind of like a close-knit family, so we’re there for each other. In general, there’s a lot of scary situations.

“I feel like it just comes with the job. I think we’re very good in the sense that we know how to handle things and do a good job. You can never take a day for granted and you have to be the best person you possibly can be. I think being a lifeguard helps you develop that responsibility within yourself and it carries over to other things you do.

“I think there’s a fear instilled in knowing that someone’s life is in your hands in that sense. Ultimately, your job is to make sure that everybody is safe and that your community is in a safe environment. That is literally in the name of the position—you are guarding somebody’s life.”

‘I still have rough days, but the difference is that now I don’t let anxiety control my life.’

Massapequa

“I’ve always loved to perform. I’ve played piano, sung, acted and danced. I’m not sure why it started, but in the ninth-grade I started having bad anxiety attacks. I didn’t know that’s what they were at first. I thought I was going crazy.

“The first time I remember it happening, I had a solo at a concert and I thought, ‘I’m going to throw up and pass out at the same time.’ The next day I didn’t go to school because I thought I was sick. I started avoiding going to chorus class because I still associated singing with being nauseous. That expanded to not wanting to go to school, to eventually not leaving my house for days at a time. I couldn’t even have people over.

“When I was a kid, I’d look forward to going to school. Now, I switched to home-schooling. I heard rumors that I was dead or that I had gone to a mental hospital. I had completely stopped singing and couldn’t even do it in my own home. I was in therapy, but the anxiety was relentless.

This summer I will be starting school at The American Musical and Dramatic Academy. People with anxiety should know that life does get better.

“Eventually, I switched to a private school for kids like me. It gave me a sense of normalcy. In 11th-grade, I was still having anxiety attacks, but they were easier to push through because I knew what they were. I nervously went to a gathering with old friends where I realized that instead of disliking me, people missed me. That was a huge switch for me. I decided to go back to my high school because I was ready to face my fears. I realized how much I’d lost.

“My first time performing again was my audition for Long Island High School for the Arts. It felt great to get back to singing. It was so ironic that as soon as I was able to go to school, it was March 2020, and I couldn’t go because of COVID! I dedicated myself to my art.

“In 12th-grade, I heard they were doing ‘Little Shop of Horrors,’ but I hadn’t performed in a play since eighth-grade. I got the role of Audrey. It was a big challenge for me to get comfortable singing in front of people, especially ‘Suddenly Seymour,’ because it has so much emotional significance for me. I still have rough days, but the difference is now I don’t let anxiety control my life. This summer I will be starting school at The American Musical and Dramatic Academy. People with anxiety should know that life does get better.”

‘I push myself to take on so many projects because I know I can do it and want to do it. I only have one life to live so I might as well do it!’

Massapequa

“As a kid, one of my favorite movies was “Pirates of the Caribbean.” I knew every line, I would dress up as the characters, and I’d act out the movie. However, it was in dance class that my family realized I was born to be on stage. Over the years, I have taken a ton of classes in acting, dance, singing, trumpet, piano and guitar.

“After a short time with piano and voice, I learned that I have the gift of perfect pitch. If someone drops a needle on the ground, I can tell the pitch at which it was dropped. For 10 years, I have taken piano lessons from Carolyn Miller, a country singer from Massapequa. I have also done many local plays, which led to acting in student films, music videos and television.

“My biggest milestone so far is a co-star role in an episode of the HBO Max reboot of “Gossip Girl.” I have been on sets before, but I never had a speaking part. I had my own trailer and everything! I love acting because you can be someone that isn’t yourself. It allows me to express how I feel, and it has also helped socially. I made sure to take every advantage I could during lockdown, like classes with the New York Film Academy.

Normally, when people think of night school, they think of people who failed. People go into it for other reasons though.

“I decided to graduate one year early from high school in part because of my acting career. Being finished allows me to have more time to work through my goals and focus on my craft. Normally, when people think of night school, they think of people who failed. People go into it for other reasons though.

“The Nassau BOCES Twilight Alternative High School Program allowed me to take 11th- and 12th-grade classes at the same time, and I’m so grateful for that. The classes were laid back and supportive. I was surprised to be chosen for the George Farber Outstanding Student Award through that program.

“My gap year before college will help me build my résumé as I pursue film editing. I’m excited to create and edit short films, write scripts, cast actors and find locations. I push myself to take on so many projects because I know I can do it and want to do it. I only have one life to live so I might as well do it! Through trying so much, I’ve realized that I’m capable of achieving what I want to do, and I know that anything’s possible if I believe in myself.”

‘At the end of the day, I’ve learned that performing is not about judging yourself; it is just about having fun.’

Massapequa

“I have always been singing, but it was in 8th-grade that I got the lead role in a play and I thought, ‘Oh, this is interesting.’ That same year I competed in my middle school’s ‘Berner Idol’ and I won. I knew I had something, even though I originally did not have confidence in myself and my abilities as a singer.

“I signed up for Debbie Gibson’s Electric Youth workshop and she selected me. I went to her place and recorded in the studio for the first time and fell in love with it. Now, I can’t see myself doing anything else. I go to the Long Island High School for the Performing Arts and Massapequa High School. I split up the day by taking music classes at LIHSA, and then I get on the bus and go to MHS. Afterwards, I go home and work on recording covers and listening to songs for future covers, in addition to working on my songwriting.

“Every now and then I’ll have other artists like or comment on my videos on social media. Recently, Olivia Rodrigo commented on my cover of her song ‘Driver’s License,’ and then posted me in her Instagram story. She wrote, ‘So so so good’ with three sad face emojis. I was flipping out! Debbie Gibson also posted me on her Instagram. My video of 2,000 views went to having 175,000 views.

…my hands were glued to my sides the entire song. It’s a dramatic song and I was so stiff. Eventually, I learned that to tell a story you have to move.

“I think I have personally grown because of the people in my life giving me inspiration. I learned to gain confidence in myself through the experience of performing at different places and learning from my mistakes. There’s definitely been a physical change in me since I began. When I went to Debbie Gibson’s studio I was singing, ‘I Know Where I’ve Been’; my hands were glued to my sides the entire song. It’s a dramatic song and I was so stiff. Eventually, I learned that to tell a story you have to move.

“Part of being a performer is showing how you feel so other people can feel that too. I get a lot of inspiration from Taylor Swift, Dolly Parton and Billy Joel. I love storytelling songs. At the end of the day, I’ve learned that performing is not about judging yourself; it is just about having fun. People aren’t there to judge you; they are there to listen to your music. I’m enjoying working on my craft until I can get out there and perform again.”

‘There are interesting things we have to think about as parents that heterosexual couples don’t.’

Massapequa

“Our wedding was amazing, but as we planned it, we would meet photographers and DJs who’d ask, ‘Is that legal in New York? You do that there?’ We had conflict with family who were opposed to our lifestyle and didn’t immediately tell us. We had people attending our wedding who asked, ‘Can I bring so-and-so because he’s never been to a gay wedding?’ It was a spectacle for some. We said, ‘It’s just like a straight wedding, but it’s two women getting married.’

“Starting a family was an interesting journey. We did a lot of research and read that it can be a long, difficult process for people that can’t physically create a baby. We were extremely fortunate that my wife was able to get pregnant on our first try. The donor that I chose reflected me as much as possible. It was a really cool process because it was almost like shopping online!

“There are interesting things we have to think about as parents that heterosexual couples don’t. When we were getting our older daughter ready to enter school, we felt we had to prepare her for what might come. We talked to her about how there are different kinds of family structures and how not everyone has a mommy and a daddy. She was 3. We wanted her to feel empowered.

I would rather someone ask me respectfully what it was like to start a family. If we just stop to listen and learn, we might be mindful and in a better place.

“A big worry for us was that kids were not going to be kind to her. We didn’t think so much about the adults in her life. She came home and said, ‘My teacher said I have a daddy; everyone has a daddy.’ We saw that we had to prepare and educate the educators of our children.

“There are different struggles and worries for us as parents. I had to adopt our children. I had to be fingerprinted and have home visits. It’s really demeaning. We have to think about traveling to states that don’t recognize our marriage. I once heard a speaker say, ‘Being a part of the LGBT community, you will fight for the rest of your life. It’s not so much that you will fight big battles, but you will always have something you have to fight for or stand up for.’

“Some people feel it isn’t their job to educate others, but we disagree. I would rather someone ask me respectfully what it was like to start a family. If we just stop to listen and learn, we might be mindful and in a better place.”

‘I was concerned about telling people when I got pregnant again. I felt like I didn’t breathe for the first 12 weeks because I didn’t want something to go wrong.’

Massapequa

“I had a miscarriage at two months. It was traumatic. The first thing people say to you is, ‘It’s so common.’ Despite that, almost nobody talks about it. The whole process of fertility was stressful, and people are secretive about that too. I was concerned about telling people when I got pregnant again. I felt like I didn’t breathe for the first 12 weeks because I didn’t want something to go wrong.

“I was at school when I felt something was off. The doctor said my cervix was funneling. It was opening and closing. She sent me to the hospital, where I was kept under observation for a few days. Luckily, I went across the street afterward for an EKG appointment for the babies. The doctor said, ‘I think you’re going to have the kids today; we need to get you back to the hospital. They’re going to do whatever they can to keep the kids in.’

With medication, I made it to 24 weeks. Then 25. Then 26. I was at the hospital the whole time. They were born at 27 weeks and two days.

“I had just hit 23 weeks. The nurse who came in my hospital room said we could try to resuscitate them, but the chance of them surviving without serious illnesses was not good. That was the worst day. With medication, I made it to 24 weeks. Then 25. Then 26. I was at the hospital the whole time. They were born at 27 weeks and two days.

“Jackson was in the hospital for 93 days; Mae was in for 73. In the NICU, I would see tired, terrified women take their babies home. I also saw women who didn’t take them home. Mae was 1 pound, 10 ounces. Jackson was 2 pounds, 3 ounces. They were both on breathing support. Jackson had a whole slew of things, including E. coli at two weeks old. They had to treat him with an IV in his leg that got infected. Mae had an easier ride.

“Now they’re doing really well. At 2 ½, they’re on the tiny side, but they’re healthy. I see such growth in them. I wish I had more people to talk to when I was going through all of it. It’s important to have a support system and appreciate the people in your life who are there for you. I remember thinking, ‘I can’t do this.’ When I look back, I think, ‘Wow, look at what you can do even though you didn’t think you could.’ I learned that I am stronger than I think I am.”