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’ve learned that I really enjoy the challenge of physical things.’

Valley Stream

“I always enjoyed pushing myself physically. In 1966, there was a transit strike in New York City. I was living in the Bronx. It was a cold winter. I biked from the Bronx down to City College for my master’s degree throughout the entire strike.

“Now I’m a retired educator; my last role was as principal in Levittown in 2002. When I retired, I wanted things to do, so I looked online and found the 50+ Ski Club. I went with a friend to a meeting. It began with a woman giving a health report and discussing which members had undergone surgeries and who was ill.

“After the meeting, my friend said, ‘This isn’t for me, look at what these people have.’ I said, ‘This is for me because these people are older, some are even over 80, yet they’re still active.’ I joined and I loved it. The people are inspiring. There’s one couple in their 90s. We were doing a black diamond, which is the most difficult type of trail, and they went down the mountain beautifully! I found a group within the club that also goes biking.

People who aren’t active risk losing their mental sharpness, as well as their physical abilities.

“Some of us biked the 5 Boro Bike Tour, which is 40+ miles through the streets of New York. I’ve done that for about 25 years and enjoy it. In warm weather, the Bronx River Parkway is closed to traffic for a six-mile stretch. My son and granddaughter rode with me on that for the 12-½ miles round trip. She is 7 now, so for a young child like that it was really special. Her younger brother just learned how to ride, too. Now we get to ride as a family. I’ve also done a tour of the Hamptons for several years, 50 miles twice and 70 miles twice.

“I’m fortunate that, at the ripe old age of 76, I can still do these things. I’m now president of the 50+ Ski Club. On our trip to Winter Park, Colorado, I was 12,000 feet up at the top of a bowl. It was magnificent. I went skiing down the bowl and there were beautiful trails at the other end. When you’re biking and skiing, you’re constantly thinking and your mind has to work quickly to adjust. People who aren’t active risk losing their mental sharpness, as well as their physical abilities. Through these experiences, I’ve learned that I really enjoy the challenge of physical things, and they’re also a hell of a way to spend your day.”

‘You can be anybody and you can accomplish anything, and we are our only limit.’

Valley Stream

“When I was 6 years old, I started to limp. My mother’s friend’s son had Legg-Calve-Perthes disease and pointed us in the right direction to a specialist, where I was diagnosed with the disease, where the blood supply to the hip bone stops, so it starts to die. Every day for five-and-a-half years, three times a day, my mother and I would sit together and do physical therapy exercises to shape my hip bone. From first to sixth grade, I was on crutches. My school didn’t know what to do with me; for a while I wasn’t allowed out at recess. I was sedentary, so I learned guitar, the arts. That was definitely an outlet for me.

“Thankfully, I’m one of the success stories. I experience stiffness or soreness but I’m totally fine. It gave me a new perspective. I think I can empathize with children. I think that’s something that would have helped me; to talk to somebody. Empathy and social skills are really important for kids, so I want to impart that on students.

I started training youth teams at night while I worked at an accounting firm. I looked forward to the night much more than the day, so I got my master’s in elementary education.

“Later, I was able to play soccer and played at St. John’s University, which at the time was number four in the nation. Then my athletic career fell apart. I had injuries that caught up to me, so in my sophomore year, I walked away. I didn’t know what to do with myself, so I started training youth teams at night while I worked at an accounting firm. I looked forward to the night much more than the day, so I got my master’s in elementary education. I really liked helping the little ones, and I got my first job in a high-needs charter school in Brooklyn teaching sixth grade. That was eye-opening, and I saw I was able to make a difference.

“I then came to teach sixth grade in Valley Stream, and now I’m an assistant principal there, and I’m studying for a doctorate in educational leadership. I hope to be a principal one day.

“While we were virtual during the pandemic, I made a YouTube channel about “Mindset Moments” for teachers to focus with their kids; hold them accountable with a weekly goal. A publisher approached me, and we turned it into a book. You can be anybody and you can accomplish anything, and we are our only limit. If you believe in yourself and you put in the work, you can achieve things far beyond your imagination.”

‘People assume someone’s college choice is a reflection of their intelligence and their abilities; I know it’s more than that.’

Valley Stream

“People assume someone’s college choice is a reflection of their intelligence and their abilities; I know it’s more than that. My top college choices were out of my family’s price range, even with scholarships. My high school GPA was a 107.36, and I finished sixth out of 206 in my graduating class. I was the only student on Long Island awarded the Horatio Alger National Scholarship, an award for academic success and outstanding leadership despite going through difficult life challenges. Even with the prestigious award, the cost was just too much. It was difficult to see my peers committing to big private schools that I couldn’t attend. It took a long time to get over that.

“I felt like I had worked so hard, and I was well over the SUNY requirements for SAT scores-even for the honors colleges. In a way, I felt like I was letting myself down, but then I came to terms with the fact that I was still going to get the same education. I would also get paid to go to a SUNY because the scholarship money was too much for them.

I learned that no matter where you go, as long as it’s the right place for you, you’ll make yourself at home and enjoy yourself.

“I love it at University at Albany. I learned that no matter where you go, as long as it’s the right place for you, you’ll make yourself at home and enjoy yourself. I wish somebody had told me that when I was stressing out about it and feeling badly. Now I know that it was the best choice for me. I’m in the honors college and I’m a digital forensics major with a minor in informatics. Choosing a college showed me that sometimes you have to be mature about a situation and think about where you’ll be in the next ten years.

“At any moment, you may feel like the world is ending and that a choice is going to ruin the rest of your life. I chose to think about how, in 10 years, I will have my degree; maybe I will go for my master’s. I know that I will be happy with whatever I decide to do. I finished the first semester of college with a 4.0, despite being in complete lockdown because of COVID. It definitely impacted the way that I made relationships. It was hard to make connections with professors, which is something that I really valued in high school, but I know I’m getting a good education and that I’m continuing to make a second home.”

‘I was always prepared to put in the hard work, but I don’t know if I necessarily had the patience. It’s a muscle that I’ve really grown by doing this.’

Valley Stream

“When I was growing up, I always had dogs. I lived in various parts of London and I would take my dogs to the park and run them off leash. There was no such thing as a park that wouldn’t allow dogs; they are almost considered little people there, so I was shocked when I got my first dog as a resident of Valley Stream 15 years ago. It was pretty much impossible to find places to walk them off leash.

“Secondly, if I walked my dog on local streets on a leash, a lot of people shouted and glared at me because they were scared that I wouldn’t pick up after him. I decided that I needed to become more active locally.

“My feeling was if I could open a door in the Town of Hempstead, then we could use that door as an example for other towns in Nassau. When I proposed the idea for a dog park, about eight people were also interested in creating it, so we formed Friends of Valley Stream Dogs to lobby the village. It didn’t take long for the village to agree to doing it, but then it took two years before it was decided where to put it, how to build it, and to fundraise.

I do everything for the sake of the dogs.

“We worked cooperatively with the village to get it put together. In the past five years, people have become much better about being dog owners. The next step is to get the parks to be open for dogs on a leash. If people don’t pick up after their dogs, take that privilege away from them.

“To not even give dog owners that option is pure nimbyism, and we need to push back against that. In Suffolk they have opened many parks for dogs on leash and they have only had good news. In the meantime, Friends of Valley Stream Dogs tries to get people engaged with dog rescues. We have a Facebook page, which is a meeting place for dog owners and helps people when their dogs go missing. We also help the Village of Valley Stream run a dog pool party after the pool closes on Labor Day. Our Halloween doggy dress up event is always very successful.

“I do everything for the sake of the dogs. Getting the dog park constructed has given me more patience to do the hard work to turn passion into something concrete. I was always prepared to put in the hard work, but I don’t know if I necessarily had the patience. It’s a muscle that I’ve really grown by doing this.”