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.

‘It’s great seeing something tangible come up from the ground to help put people into homes and growing communities.’

Andres Baena, Wantagh

“I never had a focus in high school or college. There was never something I wanted to do. I knew I needed money and wanted some sort of stability for myself before I pursued my passions. I ended up becoming a real estate agent in Queens. That got me familiar with learning and understanding the industry.

“My broker pushed me to go to law school. He saw that I had the hustle and ambition and got creative when needed. I ended up going to Touro and worked as hard as I could. I interned for the Town of Islip. From there, I ended up working for a village judge in Old Brookville. She then put me in touch with Beechwood, one of the largest residential developers on Long Island. That’s where it all really came together for me. I saw the realty process from soup to nuts.

“After three years, I said I needed to take the reins and do it on my own. That was in 2018, and I’ve been doing that ever since. I have a law practice and do mostly residential closings. I’m also a commercial broker.

“Eventually, I want to get into the development space and grow out the practice. It’s stressful but absolutely worth it. It’s great seeing something tangible come up from the ground to help put people into homes and growing communities I’m a part of creating Long Island and that’s super rewarding.

My dream would be to have a project that I put up, and there might be a club on the first floor of that project where I’m playing and my friends, family and anyone else who wants to come can come enjoy the music. It will all come together.

“For fun, I DJ. That’s been my therapy. I go live on Facebook and Instagram every other weekend to have fun and play music to spread joy and love. I don’t pursue it professionally because of everything else going on, but for me, it’s a serious hobby. My go-to styles are funk, soul, disco, house and Latin. They’re genres meant to make you enjoy life and disconnect from all the problems of the world and have fun in the moment.

“I definitely plan on bringing my two worlds together. I enjoy the closings, the development, and also the music. My dream would be to have a project that I put up, and there might be a club on the first floor of that project where I’m playing and my friends, family and anyone else who wants to come can come enjoy the music. It will all come together.”

‘It’s so rewarding that 20 years after my first class, I still see my first students on calls helping people.’

Robert Mackay, Wantagh

“I am a retired New York City Police Department Sergeant and currently a Police Science/EMT instructor. I started with the NYPD in the 79 in Bedford-Stuyvesant, and then went to narcotics, was promoted to Detective, and then to Sergeant. At that time I did a tour in Internal Affairs (not by choice). Afterwards, I was assigned to a joint NYPD/FBI task force within the Organized Crime and Investigation Division. This was where I spent my last five years.

“With 9/11, we became terrorist investigators, eventually going back to drug enforcement. When I hit my 20th anniversary, I decided I was going to leave, but not until I had something to go to. I saw an ad in “Newsday” for a police science/EMT instructor and thought I might have the qualifications. They called me for an interview, and I thought that was the end of it— until I was called again and hired. I went to the Police Academy and said, ‘I’m retiring and teaching high school. What do you have for me to teach kids?’ They gave me their law curriculum so I had something to start because I didn’t know a lot about teaching. I had to go back to school to get an MA in education, so I was teaching part time and going to school.

I love when I’m teaching something that they don’t understand, I explain it a different way, maybe even a third way, and all of a sudden the light bulb goes on…

“As a teacher at Gerald R. Claps Career and Technical Center, I really like interacting with students. I love when I’m teaching something that they don’t understand, I explain it a different way, maybe even a third way, and all of a sudden the light bulb goes on-‘I got it!’

“I also work with the volunteer fire department in Wantagh and I encourage my students to volunteer as well. It’s so rewarding that 20 years after my first class, I still see my first students on calls helping people. Many of my students become EMTs. About 25 percent of my former students are cops, firemen, or EMS. It’s great when I see my students actually working and using something that I taught them. I have a few that I ride with regularly in an ambulance, and I just sit back and watch. I wouldn’t let them do anything wrong, of course. Some are certified as paramedics and they’re really making a difference out there.

“I’ve been very lucky my whole life. Who looks in the newspaper and finds a job that they love this much?”

‘My trip showed me that life doesn’t need to look so linear. I call it my pre-adult honeymoon.’

Wantagh

“I was in business school at NYU and decided to graduate a semester early. I had a ton of loans so starting work was the practical, realistic choice in what to do next. I had a job offer at an investment bank, but I decided to take a risk. I had always wanted to spend time in Australia and New Zealand, so I took my meager savings, bought a plane ticket, and decided to backpack for four months. It was a pivotal experience for me because it allowed me to see what happiness can look like in a variety of ways. I think I had always been exposed to the perspective of success in which you go to college, get a good job, get married, have kids, and get a house-the ‘American Dream.’ My trip showed me that life doesn’t need to look so linear. I call it my pre-adult honeymoon.

I also learned about being able to meet yourself where you are and understand that you’re capable of the things that others see in you too, as long as you keep staying committed to it.

“When I got to work a few months later I thought, ‘Is this what I worked so hard for and my parents sacrificed so much for? I’m not happy or fulfilled.’ I started writing a lot of random emails and journal entries. At 23, I put them in a blog called On Adulting. I questioned what it meant to be happy and less confused while figuring out how to grow up in a mindful way. The blog grew into something that I did not expect where tens of thousands of people around the world were reading it every day.

“When I was 27, I got an email from a publisher at Simon & Schuster and I thought that it was a joke. It said, ‘We love your writing, would you be interested in writing a book on this topic?’ I truly had a massive impostor syndrome moment where I thought that it was not real. Writing the book was a massive learning experience about expressing vulnerability. It was so much deeper than anything I had ever done because I was not getting feedback from my community as I was writing. I also learned about being able to meet yourself where you are and understand that you’re capable of the things that others see in you too, as long as you keep staying committed to it. I want people to know that they’re not alone. If they’re feeling confused, lost or unfulfilled, it’s totally within their power to shift that, but it does feel like a really lonely journey when you’re going through it.”