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.

‘Most of the things I find, it’s more significant to me about where they came from and where I found them than what I could get for them on eBay.’

Smithtown

“One of the biggest questions people have about metal detecting is, ‘What is everything worth?’ I tell people, if you do it to make money, you probably couldn’t afford the battery in your metal detector. It’s not why I do it, although I have found things that are valuable. I do it as a hobby, and what draws me into it is the 1700s history on Long Island. Some say I should leave things like these to archeologists, but I’ve reached out to many local officials and other figures about exploring sites, and so far in my experience, unless there’s a structure to preserve, the responses I receive is that there’s no historical value to explore. I wish the towns would be interested, because I do think these sites are significant, but honestly, if I didn’t find what I find, these artifacts would be lost.

“I own a large land-clearing company, and we clear properties from Manhattan to Montauk. We’re clearing for roads, developments and stuff like that, and at some of these sites, I can save something before it’s literally gone. For example, this man had purchased a big farm on the North Fork where I did a job, and he gave me permission to metal-detect there. Once I started bringing up the property’s history, he was interested, so I said, ‘Whatever I find, build a display and I’ll give everything I find back to the farm.’ I found musket balls, buttons from the War of 1812, all kinds of really cool artifacts from the 1700s to the turn of the century. Some things I donate to local historical societies, but I also have a huge collection of things I’ve found that I just don’t have the time to sort through.

“I have never sold anything. Someone once offered me $40,000 for my best find, a George Washington inaugural button, but I told the guy, ‘No.’ I don’t need the money. I have a pretty successful business. Most of the things I find, it’s more significant to me about where they came from and where I found them than what I could get for them on eBay. I’d rather find the right home for these things, especially the early military stuff. These artifacts will probably end up in a local historical society someday.”

When I found the remnants of a house in the woods, within minutes I started finding buttons and artifacts from the 1800s. It made me realize, ‘Wow, this stuff really is out there.’

“One of my best sites was in eastern Suffolk County, because detecting there told a story. The more I dug, the more it told me about what they were doing on that land. Some of the artifacts were clam and oyster shells, and it turns out it was once a trading post where they brought shellfish of the Carmans River. I also found around 50 Colonial coins, plus buttons and British coins. Just by metal-detecting the site, I can tell you how long the site was occupied, and if they were more for or against the British, just by the artifacts.

“I always really cared about history. It was one of my best subjects in school, and I had metal detectors as a kid, but they were always the cheap kind, and I had no idea where to go and detect. A lot of people, they just turn up nails from the ’70s or bottle caps, but one time when I found the remnants of a house in the woods, within minutes I started finding buttons and artifacts from the 1800s. It made me realize, ‘Wow, this stuff really is out there,’ and it can be found if you know what you’re looking for.

“It comes down to getting a knack for how to find sites and how to get permission to look. I start with old maps, which give me an idea of where a site might be or how old a property might be. Sometimes I can walk through woods and can tell by the vegetation whether it naturally grew there or was planted. If it was planted, it usually means a house was once nearby. If I find a site that dates back to the 1700s, I can dig it for a few hours a week over six months and find things. If it’s a farm field, you can dig there for 10 years and still find things. Plus, every time you dig, you open the ground up to find things that are deeper. The first dings I hear are often silver coins from the 20th century, but then all of a sudden, you find a large cent from the 1800s, and then maybe coins from the 1700s; they’re underneath everything, buried deeper. The best finds are usually between six inches and a foot deep, although in a farm field, they can be right on top because the soil gets plowed. For the deep stuff, you need expensive equipment because the cheaper machines just aren’t going to do it.”

By the time I’m done and retired from digging, I’ll have a massive collection that can help tell the story of the people that were here.

“The oldest things I’ve found on Long Island are from the 1600s; I’ve dug up belt buckles and spoon handles in Smithtown. My greatest find is my George Washington inaugural buttons. You would have had to have been at his inauguration in 1789 to get one. There are a few different varieties of the buttons, and I have two. Those are extremely collectible, and I’ve been offered quite a bit of money for them, but I’ll never sell. Those will stay in my family.

“Getting permission to dig, you have to be willing to knock on doors and ask. My business helps a lot, because I meet farmers and builders who own land all over Long Island. When it comes to old houses where people still live, I tell them what I’m into, and they can look at what I find and keep whatever they choose. I have found jewelry that someone in their family lost decades ago. Anything I find that the homeowner wants to keep, I’m more than happy to give it to them. I have found a diamond ring and a few gold rings that the landowner said I could keep, but these don’t have any historical value. To a Colonial digger like me, they mean nothing because during the 1700s, it would have been very rare to wear a gold ring.

“I have six kids, five boys and a girl, and I work six days a week, so I only get a few hours on the weekend to do this, and sometimes I’ll bring them along. My second oldest son and my daughter, who’s third, plus my little guys, they come along and love to help. I can see that my second and third are following in my footsteps, that they really enjoy this. I got a feeling we have a family of future treasure hunters. I think it’s a great hobby for people to get involved in. For me, I can get my kids outside and can put a little story together for Long Island, because as Long Island gets more built up, by the time I’m done and retired from digging, I’ll have a massive collection that can help tell the story of the people that were here, the history that was going on in the different towns where I found these artifacts. I will eventually put these things where people can go and look at them, and it will paint a picture of what was going on and what life used to be like back in those times.”

‘My mother is a powerful force that raised twin girls with every ounce of strength she has. It wasn’t an easy road. My twin sister has cerebral palsy and epilepsy.’

Smithtown

“My mom owns women’s clothing boutiques in Smithtown and Commack. Her primary mission is to make every woman feel valued and great about themselves. I’ve seen that in my own life.

“My mother is a powerful force that raised twin girls with every ounce of strength she has. It wasn’t an easy road. My twin sister has cerebral palsy and epilepsy. My mom lost her mucus plug for unknown reasons, which caused her to have us early.

“My sister and I were born 1 pound, 11 ounces. We were supposed to be born on Halloween, and we were born in July, so you can guess how premature we were.

“I was born first. I was purple and I had issues in my lungs, so my mom didn’t see my face for maybe a week because I was in the incubator with my head turned away.

“My sister was born typical, but within a month she had a brain bleed, resulting in the right side of her brain essentially becoming destroyed. My mother had to witness the heartbreak of eight brain surgeries on my sister.

At the core, my mom is the one who has always been there and is largely why my sister and I are the way we are.

“When I was 5 years of age, my mom got divorced. She and my father married other people, then divorced again. So, now, I also have a stepfather who helped raise us and is still extremely involved in our lives, as well as my biological father and my mom’s boyfriend.

“It doesn’t make sense to a lot of people, but our blended family is an extremely solid foundation for a support system. At my college graduation, all six of us, plus grandparents, sat together at dinner. We all get along quite well.

“At the core, my mom is the one who has always been there and is largely why my sister and I are the way we are. We are both 22 now. My sister is bubbly, positive and cheerful. You love her the second you meet her.

“My mother ensured that she never felt different or ‘less than’ because of her disability. Now that I’m home, I see how hard my mom works to make my sister the focal point of the whole house. My sister is a part of every bonding activity, laughing along with every joke, every story.

“My sister has taught me patience and grit. She relies a lot on her iPad for entertainment. One song she loves is ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ by Journey. She has a harder time reading and writing than other people, but if you help her spell out the name of her song and she finds it, the smile that comes over her face is amazing.”

‘Middle school was when I started to realize that I was gay. That was when I really knew, and I never wanted to admit that to myself. I was nervous because it was uncommon. Nobody came out in middle school.’

Smithtown

“I think that a lot of kids today struggle with coming out. It was really hard for me. I wasn’t really into sports, and I didn’t relate to many boys in my grade; I always knew. My parents got divorced when I was in middle school, so I never really had that father figure to play catch with. It was more about going shopping with my mother and sister and doing things that were more feminine than most guys my age did. With my sister, we used to go downstairs and play with her Barbies, and looking back now, that was such a clear example. I don’t know why my mother was surprised.

“Middle school was when I started to realize that I was gay. That was when I really knew, and I never wanted to admit that to myself. I was nervous because it was uncommon.

“Nobody came out in middle school. I tried to make myself more masculine. I never wore certain things, and I would make jokes. I guess that was my coping mechanism, to try and not be that, but kids still had that idea. In seventh grade, the anonymous website Ask.fm was big, and I would say about 75 percent of the questions I got were ‘Are you gay?’ I think that was the start of one of the worst times in my life because my parents were splitting up and I had kids making fun of me.

“Eighth grade comes around, and I have my first woman crush, even though it was more me being naive and trying to really just avoid the situation. She knew that I really was attracted to guys, so that’s why when I tried to pursue her, she wouldn’t really allow me to. I appreciate that because I don’t have that embarrassment, and I can never say that I dated a woman. After that whole situation happened, I told myself I would never do that ever again. I would never try to talk to another woman in that way again in my life.

I didn’t know how to come out. I saw kids in high school do that, and I thought, ‘That’s so ballsy,’ but then kids would know you as ‘the gay kid.’ I didn’t want to be known for that. Why should I have to be categorized that way?

“I never had a boyfriend or girlfriend in middle or high school like most kids do. I sat at home and I was miserable. I thought maybe working will help solve my problems, so at the beginning of high school, my friend and I both applied to McDonald’s. Throughout my four years of high school, that was how I solved my problems – I worked like a dog. I worked as much as I could because that was my way of coping and de-stressing. I went to work, and I didn’t think about anything outside of it. I worked 26 hours there and then I worked at a clothing store, Banana Republic, too.

“High school was really when I started to become more myself and felt more comfortable. I minded my business, and I did my own thing. I was never really into dating. I never went to parties, I just worked. Inside, I was still hurting because I didn’t know what to do. I was really stuck. I didn’t know how to come out. I saw kids in high school do that, and I thought, ‘That’s so ballsy,’ but then kids would know you as ‘the gay kid.’ I didn’t want to be known for that. Why should I have to be categorized that way?

“Right before I started college, I wanted a therapist. That was who I wanted to come out to. Some people see that as a weakness, but I didn’t. I just wanted to talk to somebody. It took me about a year to finally tell her. I was so afraid. She was really understanding, and she gave me a hug and ever since then, our relationship got even stronger. I was able to be my real self with her.

“Once I got to college, I wanted to branch out. I had no idea what to do. I was 18 and never kissed anybody. I didn’t know how to even talk to a woman or a man in that way. I told myself that I’m going to try.

“I was Snapchatting this guy from college, and I thought it was so cool to talk to a guy. We went on a date, and I was so nervous he probably thought I was crazy. I didn’t really know how to interact with someone like that. We only chatted for two months, but that was my first boy interaction. Talking to him and going on that date really solidified it. That was the point where I knew I was going to date guys for the rest of my life.

I was so stressed. I was throwing up every day. I would wake up and have this nausea. Every time I went out with him, I would throw up because I was so nervous about what I was going to be telling my family and what was going to happen.

“I had all this pent-up stress, and I didn’t know who to tell or what to do. I was a commuter, so it was hard for me to find friends at school, and I didn’t want to tell my friends from home that I was gay. I think they knew, but I wasn’t ready to tell them. I went on that first date and nobody knew. I was figuring it all out on my own and it was really hard. In class, a girl came up to me and asked to work in a group together. Basically, we hit it off and went to dinner after. She asked me what relationships have I been in, and I thought to myself, ‘Should I tell her? I don’t even know this girl.’ I said, ‘I’m gay and you’re the first person I’ve ever told, besides my therapist.’ That became my strongest friendship because she knew my true self. I finally had someone to talk to.

“I ended up having my first real boyfriend, and we dated for a couple of months. My family still didn’t know. I was lying to my mother and sister about where I was going, and my sister was catching on. She was questioning me about where I was and what I was doing. I was so stressed. I was throwing up every day. I would wake up and have this nausea. Every time I went out with my boyfriend, I would throw up because I was so nervous about what I would tell my family and what was going to happen. It really hurt me because I had this boyfriend for so long, and I could never bring him home. I wanted my mom and sister to meet him, and I couldn’t do that.

“The next person I wanted to tell was my sister because we’re very close. We’re like best friends, attached at the hip. My therapist told me that there will never be a right time to tell my sister, and that stuck with me because she’s right. I think that’s really important for people because they wait for the right time, but there never will be one. It was 4 in the morning. I was getting ready for bed, and I told my sister I had something to tell her. She was like, ‘What? You have a boyfriend?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, I do.’ She was so excited and happy for me. It was a stepping-stone for my internal growth, and that was really big for me. I’ve realized, in this journey, the closer you are with someone, the harder it is to tell.

The physical stress stopped after I told her. I didn’t have to lie anymore. I went through so much stress just to tell somebody that I like a man instead of a woman. That’s just the way I was born.

“I didn’t know how my mom was going to react. That’s what was holding me back. That’s why I was afraid to tell her. I knew she would still love me as who I am, but I didn’t want to be perceived as different. My mom is a police officer, and she’s been doing it for 25 years. She would still make comments, like saying she wanted to set me up with a female intern at her work. I don’t think she knew yet.

“After I told my sister, I started to tell more friends. I wanted to come out to the world. It was almost the social norm to post on social media, so in December, I drafted this letter that was basically for my sister, but it was really for me to come out. It was a short summary of my story. I printed it out and folded it in my laptop. I was going to post it on Instagram, but then about two weeks later, my mom found the letter when I wasn’t home. She read it and called my sister into my room. My sister told her she already knew I was gay. My mom told my sister she felt that she failed as a mother because I wasn’t able to tell her. That really hurt me because that’s not how it was supposed to be. It’s because I wasn’t ready.

“That night, I started to break down in tears while driving. I had all this pent-up stress about how I’m going to tell my mother and that was eating me alive. I started crying on the phone with my sister, and she told me to pull over so she could meet me. She said that my mom found the letter. I didn’t even tell my sister about the letter. We were both crying, and I said, ‘Wow, mom knows I’m gay.’ My sister kept saying that I did it, and I’ll always remember that. She’s right; I did it.

“I was finally able to be comfortable with my mother. I get home and I go into my mom’s room and we both cry. She reminded me of how much she loves me and how proud she is. It was probably the hardest day of my life because it was so unexpected, and I was never planning on telling her that day. The physical stress stopped after I told her. I didn’t have to lie anymore. I went through so much stress just to tell somebody that I like a man instead of a woman. That’s just the way I was born. I am proud of myself and I think that everything that happened was meant to be and I wouldn’t change anything.”

‘When people look at a drawing or painting and they’re overwhelmed, you think: How can art be so powerful?’

Smithtown

“I’ve been an artist for over 20 years. My first influence was my kindergarten teacher. She was so enthused about art. It’s a shame because sometimes all the art and music programs are off to the wayside; those are the programs that are cut. My art teacher in high school taught us how to draw upside down. Upside down drawing is drawing from the right side of your brain to make your brain slow down.

“When people give me a reference photo of their face, I have it next to me and I put it upside down and draw the preliminary lines from the right side of my brain. When I’m almost done with it, I bring it right side up and I look at the shapes and the shadings, but the bulk of the time it’s upside down. The past few years, I draw faces merged together, like a person from 50 years ago and now. I merge the two faces and see how they changed: it’s the same eye, it’s the same nose, but it’s 50 years difference. I drew my grandmother’s cousin, Sister Teresa; I decided to show her journey from her college days to when she became a nun. She is now up for sainthood.

My favorite thing to draw is the most difficult thing: faces.

“I also drew one of Billy Joel’s band members who lives on Long Island, Mike DelGuidice. I drew his face merged with Billy Joel’s face and Mike loved it. My mom is elderly with a fake hip and I’m doing more for her these days. So now I do my drawing at night. I lock my door for a few hours. I don’t have a formal studio; people always ask me and I’m like, ‘No, it’s on the floor in my room!’ During the day when I’m running around, I have something to look forward to. I’m thinking, ‘How am I going to get through this?’ But then when I focus on the picture, I completely forget what happened during the day.

“My favorite thing to draw is the most difficult thing: faces. It’s not like you’re doing a landscape and a tree is out of place; so what? A face has to be accurate. It’s funny when people tell me, ‘Oh, that’s not me,’ and I’m like, ‘Yes, it is!’ When people look at a drawing or painting and they’re overwhelmed, you think: How can art be so powerful? It’s only lines. It’s only shapes. But it’s what people see. It’s what speaks to them.”

‘Kody didn’t come to us an Instagram star. It kind of evolved because we started going to Doodle Romps.’

Smithtown

“We got Kody in the summer of 2013. I refer to him as my firstborn. He’s my fur baby. This was the first dog that I had as an adult living on my own with my husband, and my husband never had a dog growing up. We worked together good as a team. And he has become such a dog person. He’s obsessed with him as much as I am.

“Kody sleeps in bed with us. He eats first. Kody didn’t come to us an Instagram star. It kind of evolved because we started going to Doodle Romps, mostly Long Island based at first. We would meet people that were also very much into their Doodles and loved their dogs as much as we loved Kody. It was a great way just to network and meet people.

“And Instagram was a good way to keep the connection going after the meetup. Then it kind of expanded into New York City. And that turned into birthday parties for dogs. Before I knew it, I was going to a dog birthday party every weekend. Then we started getting invited to other creative dog things like Bark Mitzvahs.

I have a job that doesn’t afford me a creative outlet. A lot of the things I’ve done with him, especially with Instagram, have been expressing myself creatively.

“As we were going around, we were meeting businesses that loved Kody. They wanted him to do modeling for them and Kody evolved into this natural in front of the camera. He would just sit there, smile, and wait for the right shot. He kind of became a trained model, which is funny. Kody modeled for a company called Brooklinen and had his photo all over the subways. We just had something recently with Target that we did. One year, we entered the Fort Greene Halloween Dog Costume Contest, which is kind of a big deal. It’s onstage…hundreds of people. I made him Oscar the Grouch and he won first place. It was incredible. He got such a roaring response from the crowd. That was a really memorable moment with Kody.

“I have a job that doesn’t afford me a creative outlet. A lot of the things I’ve done with him, especially with Instagram, have been expressing myself creatively. It brought me such joy to have an idea and then put it together with the right clothes, props, and lighting. We have a lot of fun doing it. Kody has a lot of fun doing it. And then it’s great when people love it!”

‘I have a newfound respect for servicemen because we don’t know half the stuff they do and how dangerous it is.’

Smithtown

“My husband and I grew up modestly and we didn’t have anything handed to us. We felt like our son Andrew had to learn the value of a dollar. We told him he had to pay for college, so he went and got an ROTC scholarship. That meant the Navy paid for school, but he owed them four years of his life. He ended up being a pilot, so he owed them eight years of his life. That’s how he ended up in Mali. He was a pilot stationed in Jacksonville when the U.N. came in asking for volunteers. They needed a pilot to help them out. He volunteered. Mali does not have the best social and economic areas, and it is dangerous. He even needed a guide to help him find drinkable water.

“It wasn’t until I went to the 2017 JINSA Grateful Nation Award ceremony that I understood the danger he was in. The award is given for heroism and is presented annually to six young heroes recognized for having distinguished themselves through superior conduct in the war on terrorism. Honorees are chosen by their selective service and represent each of the five branches of the military. Everyone at the awards dinner was white, so I was proud of my son and proud to see someone Asian American get accolades for doing something really important and selfless. It took place in Washington, D.C., and it was very impressive and intimidating.

He makes me want to do my job better than I do. We all make mistakes, and every time I make one, I try to emulate him and think about how he does something.

“I have a newfound respect for servicemen because we don’t know half the stuff they do and how dangerous it is. If I had known more about what my son was doing, I probably wouldn’t have been able to sleep every night. Ever since he was 6, he loved flying. He memorized every plane. He is like a dog with a bone. When he likes something, he studies it. The funny thing is, after he learned to fly and was really good at it, he didn’t want to do it anymore.

“When he was leaving the Navy, he could have gotten a really good job flying, but he wanted to go back to school and become a businessperson. He just earned his MBA at Columbia and is working more than 100 hours each week, but he actually likes it. He makes me want to do my job better than I do. We all make mistakes, and every time I make one, I try to emulate him and think about how he does something.”