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.

‘For people that are forced into homelessness, it’s not one size fits all.’

Rocky Point

“I was working in higher education in career counseling when in 2010, I had a longing to return to the nonprofit community. I got my master’s in human services leadership, and soon after, I found Maureen’s Haven, which was looking for an executive director to oversee their shelter program and delivery of compassionate services to Long Island’s East End homeless. I immediately knew this was a place I could make a difference and have been here since 2018.

“We’re a hands-on organization interacting with our guests; that’s what we call them. In the winter, that could be 24 hours a day for a full six months, so you really get to know people. The impact you have is often very immediate. A lot of people come here because they’re in crisis. You’re able to make a life-saving decision to ensure they’re safe, have a place to sleep and are getting medical attention and other services. We spend a lot of time forging relationships. They need the same help, support and level of compassion, caring and interaction as everyone. I don’t think people understand that homelessness on the East End is a problem. Because of the pandemic, there are people forced out of their secure housing who now have nowhere to live.

Our mission is to provide compassionate care, and me and my staff, we firmly believe in that.

“A third of my population is over the age of 55. We have undocumented individuals and many people that have been through the system their entire lives. For many of the folks that use Maureen’s Haven, there truly is no other option. I had many sleepless nights throughout the pandemic, but I love it. I would not trade it for the world. It’s been an amazing experience, the people that I’’ve interacted with and the lives I’ve changed.

“Our mission is to provide compassionate care, and me and my staff, we firmly believe in that. For people that are forced into homelessness, it’s not one size fits all. It comes in so many different dynamics. Instead of looking at somebody and saying, maybe this person is a burden on society or maybe not doing their fair share, maybe find a way to better understand them and educate yourself on ways of helping and motivating people and helping them lift themselves out of homelessness. Having the opportunity to work here has made me a much better person.”

‘Cement has a history that goes back thousands of years. It amazes me to see what I have done here in cement.’

Rocky Point

“This started when I was young. I was about 10 years old. This is 1941, the beginning of World War II. A neighbor two doors down from my house, was always building with concrete. I thought that was great! I’d run over to him and help, trying to mix cement — but I’m only 10 years old. It went on and on, and he got to like me and called me to come and help him do different things with cement. I always think back and say, ‘That was the seed that was planted in me.’ One day, in 1966, we were driving by here and the real estate was for sale. I looked over my shoulder and I said to my wife, ‘That’d be interesting. Why don’t we buy it?’ It was an old house, but it was livable.

“We moved in, and I started making different things and buying statues and selling them. I was familiarizing myself with the whole business, not knowing nothing about it. As the years passed, I learned mold making…It was all self-taught. It took a long time, but we got this thing going. Now, there’s about 2,000 different pieces in this yard. Back in the ’50s, I started to lose my sight. I got back from the Korean War and picked up uveitis. I still have peripheral vision, but find the more detailed work I can’t do.

“We just started making skulls, and I was surprised to see the interest people had in them. There’s a little statue of Elvis. There’s one of John Paul. This lady brought this mermaid in that was cast iron, and it was old and needed repair. So, I repaired the statue, and then I looked at it and I said, ‘Why don’t we make this in concrete?’ And I copied the mold. I had to improve it where it was delicate and would break.

“Oh my God, there’s so much I could show and teach you. Cement has a history that goes back thousands of years. It amazes me to see what I have done here in cement. A lady enjoyed a bird bath for 40 years. And that was a simple concrete bird bed. That was such a part of her life. Taking care of the birds. The stories I hear about how people come home, and they see something in their yard, and it just gives them a sensation of relaxation. Just approaching the house and seeing a statue of David, a lion or whatever it may be. They’re home and they’re with their statue.”

“One day, a lady came out here and she said, ‘I’m looking for a bagel.’ I said, ‘A bagel? What do you want to do with a bagel?’ She said, ‘Well, every time I’d go to Brooklyn, when I was young, I’d go see my grandmother and she would make us a lox bagel. So, my grandmother died, and I always think of the lox bagel. If I had a bagel, I could put it by her grave.’ Sure enough, I make bagels in concrete! And she loved me. She was the happiest girl in Rocky Point! She bought the bagel, and she took it to her grandmother’s grave and put it on the gravestone.

“Through the years, I’ve heard a lot of stories. Someone came in and saw a statue in the yard and started crying. I asked, ‘What are you crying for?’ They said, ‘That was the statue in my grandfather’s yard that I used to play next to when I was young.’ I’m anxious to get here the next morning and continue. If I didn’t have this, I don’t know. I keep thinking of these people in nursing homes. What would I be doing, playing bingo? What would I be waiting for? Cocktails at 5? There’s nothing wrong with a cocktail. But to stand around and wait for 5 o’clock, that’s ridiculous. So I come here, and I work until 5. I go home and then I eat a dish of pasta and get all charged up again.

“Getting to work with the kids, that’s the best enjoyment, teaching them, showing them. I was amazed at how many hundreds of kids that have worked here. They became policemen, doctors and lawyers and priests. There’s a local priest on Long Island; he stops by. The other day, the mother of two children who worked here came in. They’re now 28 and 29 and both engineers involved in structural work and cement. They feel like my grandchildren. They worked here, now they’re off into the future. I wish they would put the trades in school again. Give me five acres across the street in those woods and I would put up a nice trade school. You know how many other people would love to help me? If it can be done before I die. Kids could use their hands. Your head is no good without your hands. And your hands are no good without your head. What a combination. It gives me great pleasure that I can show the kids the gift of their hands.”

‘I created a project I called Make Mom Famous. I want her art to be seen.’

Rocky Point

“My mother, Ruth Nasca, passed away after a short illness in 2018 at 89. A prolific artist, she made art almost every day for over 70 years. Her work, which is figurative expressionism, has been seen in numerous solo and group exhibitions, where she won many prizes.

“Shortly before passing, being a practical person, she said that she didn’t know what I’d do with all her art and suggested I take it to the dump. Instead, we moved it into our basement.

“There’s probably between 2,000 and 3,000 pieces! Through some seemingly magical connections, we had a show of her art in a New York City gallery.

I realized if I didn’t do this, the future of the art would be that it would go to the dump.

“Mom hadn’t wanted a memorial service; the opening of the show felt like a tribute to her life and art. I then created a project I called Make Mom Famous. I want her art to be seen. It was her whole life’s expression and it’s really good.

“The intended result would be I’d sell one of her paintings to someone I didn’t know for a certain amount of money by a certain date. Seemingly magically that happened!

“I then created another project, Mom’s Art Is Moving! I’d move Mom’s art out into the world, and people would be moved by it and her unique self-expression.

“I’d need a website and to market the art. Being retired for eight years and not wanting to have another job, I procrastinated. I realized if I didn’t do this, the future of the art would be that it would go to the dump. The thought made me sad.

“Having been a business owner, I realized I needed to hire someone to help. I asked someone who loves my mother’s art to work for me as a marketing assistant, and she said yes.

“It’s been a year since I created R Nasca Art. We’ve sold some art and also moved some in giveaways. We post daily on social media. The fact that there are many people I don’t know who are seeing Mom’s art is what I call famous.

“I also write a blog called ‘Ruth’s Truths,’ where I tell interesting stories about Mom’s life and her art. I have fun doing this. It doesn’t take a lot of time, and it doesn’t feel like work.

“I love honoring my mother’s life and memory. It’s an interesting project, doing something worthwhile and connecting with people, so it’s a self-expression for me, too.”