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 tried to get sober the first time when I was 27 years old. I actually turned 28 in the rehab I work at today.’

North Babylon

“I’m a substance abuse counselor. I’ve been doing this for 12 years. I’ve been clean from drugs and alcohol for over 13 years. The first time I remember using alcohol was just past my eighth birthday. My brother was having a Super Bowl party. He’s 14 years older. I would refill their drinks and start taking sips. It just progressed as I hit middle school. I never felt comfortable with myself, so I looked for something to make me feel better.

“Sixth-grade, I remember smoking pot. High school, I started getting mixed up with drugs. I tried to get sober the first time when I was 27 years old. I actually turned 28 in the rehab I work at today. I just didn’t fully grasp the whole lifestyle change that recovery involves. I didn’t realize that it wasn’t just removing the drugs and alcohol. The real problem is inside yourself. So, I relapsed again. I finally did long-term treatment, but I did it my way and failed miserably. I was desperate to find help. And then someone sat down, and they said in an aggressive way, ‘If your way worked, you wouldn’t be sitting where you are today. So shut up and listen to what we say, follow what we tell you to do, and you’ll stay clean.’ And that’s what I did.

Once I started giving back, that void I was trying to fill with drugs and alcohol, I started to fill by helping other people.

“Recovery’s about surrendering, following suggestions and listening. And as I started doing that, I realized that I had a lot more to offer people than I thought. I was always the person that brought the negativity to the party. I was always the person that did the bad things. Once I started giving back, that void I was trying to fill with drugs and alcohol, I started to fill by helping other people. I started to contribute to the good things in life. I find the same gratification when I help out kids with sports. I coach football and baseball. I like helping the kids and teaching them and seeing their faces when they’re first successful. And I get that same thing with my clients. I have people that call me years later and tell me that they’re still clean. They’re still sober and they have their kids and families back in their lives. And that’s probably the most rewarding part of it all — helping people the same way people helped me.”

‘I love that we’re able to bring communities together.’

North Babylon

“My mom is an immigrant from Colombia and my dad is an American, so I grew up in both cultures. But I didn’t always have a connection to culture. Being bicultural, I want to ensure my four kids had connection to culture. Through having conversations with other bicultural moms who are second or third generation Latinas raising American-born children, I saw they had some of the same concerns as me. We all want to make sure our kids’ cultural identity is nurtured.

“In 2014, I created Latina Moms Connect. We focus on social networking, facilitated dialogues and connecting communities to culture and tradition. For example, we’ll have Sofrito Sunday, a gathering of women and children at a member’s house, and we’ll make sofrito, a seasoning base in Latino cooking. We also have Bochinche Brunch, where moms discuss how they don’t feel connected to their communities. They mention being the only Latinos on the block and their worries for their kids in schools where they might be one of a handful of Latinos in classrooms.

At brunch, they’re in the park playing with other kids who have these things in common. They sense that connectedness because of a shared identity with one another.

“The kids don’t really identify because other kids don’t look like them, sound like them, etc. At brunch, they’re in the park playing with other kids who have these things in common. They sense that connectedness because of a shared identity with one another. We also have events and community celebrations, such as Parrandas Navideña with a Twist, a holiday caroling event in which we get musicians, visit a nursing home and travel throughout the communities singing Spanish holiday songs. We’ve put it together so families can introduce that kind of tradition to their kids, their communities and travel with us sharing it. We’ve also done events celebrating Three Kings Day, and we’re always found marching in the Hispanic Day and Puerto Rican Day parades.

“When COVID hit we did language interpretation at testing sites. Our members gave Latinos guidance on what to do once their test was complete, how to monitor themselves and we give out resources on how to stay safe. We also helped with food distribution. Our members came through. I love that we’re able to bring communities together. We have grown friendships throughout this group that I know will be everlasting.”

‘It was like you had something taken away from you. You’re losing something you had been so used to, and was yours, and it was taken away.’

North Babylon

“I was home when I got the phone call. My doctor said it was good news and bad news. I knew the bad news, but the doctor said the good news is we got it at an early stage, so you have multiple options on what kind of surgery you want and if I needed chemo or radiation. I always felt like something would come up. I always discussed with my husband if something came up, I would remove my breasts. They’ve done their job.

“When the decision came to be made, it wasn’t that hard for me. I opted for a double mastectomy and reconstructed with my own body fat. In the beginning when I was diagnosed, it was like what are my options, what are the next steps? I didn’t process it, I was going through the motions. I never asked, ‘Why me?’ It’s like you don’t have time to. You go through a grieving process.

I would do walks and hear of people who had metastatic breast cancer and won’t be cured, and you look at yourself and say, ‘I went through nothing compared to what the next person’s going through.’

“As much as us women are hard on ourselves on how we look, it was like you had something taken away from you. You’re losing something you had been so used to, and was yours, and it was taken away. Months later, it did hit. But I look back and see I was so fortunate to have the support of my community and family. I would do walks and hear of people who had metastatic breast cancer and won’t be cured, and you look at yourself and say, ‘I went through nothing compared to what the next person’s going through.’ You meet people one year at a function and go the next year and they’re not there because something happened. I feel God gives us trials and we have to move forward and have faith everything will work out at some point.

“Even with the diagnosis, I volunteered in the neighborhood and schools, even helping others with other kinds of cancers. The way I got through it, every day I would wake up and be grateful I had the chance to do something different. I wasn’t just concentrated on myself, but on others and that helped me get through the most trying times. You have to look for the good even in the worst times. There’s always something to be grateful for.”