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 wanted to challenge myself to do something influential.’

Lou Bernardi, New Hyde Park

“I’m a college baseball coach and my season was canceled due to COVID-19. People can sulk or use this opportunity to help others. I decided I can’t just sit home and do nothing.

“I didn’t get sick, and I didn’t lose my job. I was lucky, so I wanted to challenge myself to do something influential and effect change in a positive way. There were a lot of people who helped with the collection, donation and distribution of food. Overall, we probably fed over 5,000 people. A lot of restaurants helped out and donated meals along the way.

“I led a huge toy drive for Toys for Tots, donated over 500 toys to the Marine Corps in Garden City. We donated 150 lunches to the Randall’s Island counter-terrorism unit for Christmas, handed out gloves, masks, hand sanitizers, whatever I could get my hands on. We donated some food to some hospitals; we went to some food banks with various organizations.

In light of the pandemic, ordinary citizens are giving above and beyond what they’re expended to do and just care for others.

“Our mission was first responder-based. They were out there on the front lines and getting sick. It was great for morale to go to these various precincts. When the whole ‘defund the police’ and anti-police movement happened and we took that as an opportunity to double down and say, ‘A month ago we were praising these people and now we’re bashing them and telling them they shouldn’t exist.’

“So, it was another way to use our platform and influence something good and give back and help others. In light of the pandemic, ordinary citizens are giving above and beyond what they’re expended to do and just care for others.

“I’m a New Hyde Park resident and we just donated a batting cage to the New Hyde Park Police Athletic League to let the kids develop their skills.

“My motto throughout this whole journey is giving back and helping others. Stand for what you believe in; if you have any outlet whatsoever, whether is social media or email, use your network to promote some good because there’s a lot of bad stuff that we see.”

‘At first, you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing but slowly, as you start memorizing more and more, a sense of accomplishment really drives you.’

Mariyah Rajshahiwala, New Hyde Park

“I finished my sophomore year, and nothing had panned out in terms of internships. Other people were completing internships and I felt like I was wasting my time. I had been on and off memorizing the Quran the past eight years, but didn’t get far, so to deal with the anxiety of feeling left behind I started to refresh what I knew already. I felt at peace every time I was doing it, so I decided to take the year off and see how far I got memorizing. I knew that if this was something I wanted to do, I wouldn’t be able to do it in my current environment. I was not in the right headspace here. I was struggling with college and didn’t know if what I was doing was what I wanted to do.

“I needed to leave New York. There are a few centers around the world where you can memorize the Quran. I had known a couple of people who had gone to Nairobi, so I decided let me just go and see how it is. Going to Nairobi was a completely fresh start. It was Quran all the time. I had never gone through such a rigorous program. At first, you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing but slowly, as you start memorizing more and more, a sense of accomplishment really drives you. If I could do five parts, there’s nothing stopping me from doing 10, or 20, and then pretty soon you’re done.

Now I’m doing stuff I’m passionate about and I’m happy. Quran really helped. I know it’s a holy book but for me it’s so much more; it’s part of me.

“Memorizing the Quran is physical, but it’s also such a spiritual journey. You have no motivation other than wanting to do it for yourself on a spiritual level. It took me 15 months to memorize the 30 parts. Once I was done, I didn’t believe it. It was bittersweet. All I had thought about for 15 months was the Quran—to all of a sudden not have it be an integral part of my life was hard to deal with. I was initially pre-med and it took memorizing the Quran and realizing how much fun I had with this insane task to see I was not happy pursuing pre-med. It gave me courage to say pre-med’s not what I want to do; I want to pursue publishing and magazine editing.

“Before, I was super busy because of science labs and all that but I was always lacking. Now I’m doing stuff I’m passionate about and I’m happy. Quran really helped. I know it’s a holy book but for me it’s so much more; it’s part of me.”