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.

‘Singing is such a part of human existence. There is no culture on earth that does not sing.’

Nesconset

“I was one of those high school juniors who had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life, career-wise. I’ve always loved music but didn’t know if it was what I really wanted to do. When I was in 11th-grade, we went to this concert and it was a college choir that we heard. I was so moved, I thought to myself, ‘If I can make a living at experiences like this, as a creator of music, then that has to be the direction I go.’ That was kind of how it all started.

“Singing is such a part of human existence. There is no culture on earth that does not sing. We have this drive to make music with our voices. I think in young people it’s especially pronounced. My sons are seven and five and they wake up every morning and we hear them singing in their beds. It’s just something that we do as human beings.

“I teach 10th-through 12th-grade choir and music theory classes. I asked the students recently, ‘What does being involved in the school music program mean to you?’ and they all described the connections that it helped them make with their peers. One of the reasons this year has been so challenging is that it’s been hard to cultivate meaningful connections. For the first three-fourths of this year, the students had to be 12 feet away from each other at all times. Our friends in the phys ed department let us use their space. The pool where we were rehearsing is probably thousands of square feet, and we were so far away that they could barely hear each other. I tried my best and it’s probably the hardest I’ve ever worked.

I work hard not for any recognition but just because I find it so worthwhile. So, the fact that I get to do a job that I love, and then someone’s telling me from the outside that I’m doing a good job is pretty crazy.

“Thankfully, they’ve adjusted the guidelines and it’s been amazing getting to do the ‘choir thing’! In the fall, I found out that I was one of the 25 national semi-finalists for the GRAMMY Music Educator Award. Two of my former students—who are both studying to be music teachers—had nominated me. I did not win the award this year, but it was still really, really cool. I work hard not for any recognition but just because I find it so worthwhile. So, the fact that I get to do a job that I love, and then someone’s telling me from the outside that I’m doing a good job is pretty crazy. My students are extraordinary.”

‘I like basketball and bocce. For bocce, rule one is to line up the pallino. Rule two is aim straight, roll straight. Rule three is to do the bocce boogie.’

Nesconset

“Special Olympics is the only place Zach can go and see people with Down syndrome. I’ve never seen such a competitive streak in him since he started playing. As quiet as he is, this brought him out of his shell a lot; being able to get out there and play these sports and play them on his own.

“You have to abide by the rules. You want to be treated like everyone else; you’re going to play by the rules and earn every medal you get. He has won over 20 medals and multiple ribbons. Most of them are for track and field. It makes him so happy and proud.

Since joining the Special Olympics, it’s the first time he’s been invited to birthday parties. He has his own friends. It’s the best thing that ever happened to him.

“As hard as he works at Special Olympics, the fun has never been taken out. They’re having fun and laughing, and yet they’re challenged. They’re learning. Since joining the Special Olympics, it’s the first time he’s been invited to birthday parties. He has his own friends. It’s the best thing that ever happened to him. It’s been good for the whole family. It was nice for my husband and I to connect with other moms and dads who understood. We weren’t different. Zach wasn’t different. We were part of something more.

“For Zach’s siblings, getting to know other siblings of kids who have Down syndrome or autism, it was nice for them to have that perspective. They knew exactly what life was like for them at home. You feel like you’re walking into something where everybody already understands and they get you. We don’t get the ‘Poor Zach. I’m so sorry he has Down syndrome.’ There’s nothing to be sorry about. This is our life, and we love our life. We wouldn’t change a thing.”