A woman Nicole sits on the grass in Port Jefferson remembering those who were lost to and those who survived heroin addiction during the third annual Lights of Hope event on Aug. 31. Photo by Nora Milligan

Rebecca Anzel

When Daniel Scofield died in 2011 from a heroin overdose, his mother Dori decided to do something.

“I wasn’t going to keep [his death] under the carpet,” she said. “I just said, ‘I’ve got to bring this out into the world. My son was my life and I’m not going to bury his addiction with him. I have to help others. I have to bring awareness.’”

In April 2014, the founder of Save-A-Pet Animal Rescue and Adoption Center started Dan’s Foundation for Recovery, a not-for-profit organization that provides assistance to those suffering from alcohol or substance abuse. The group uses its donations to help an addict get help — it assists addicts in covering insurance copayments, treatment and travel costs to recovery centers in other states.

Scofield co-hosted Lights of Hope on Aug. 31 at Memorial Park in Port Jefferson. The event, which is in its third year, brought together families and friends to remember those who died from a drug overdose and to support those who are recovering from drug addiction.

Lit luminaires light up the night during the third annual Lights of Hope event in Port Jefferson on Aug. 31. Photo by Nora Milligan
Lit luminaires light up the night during the third annual Lights of Hope event in Port Jefferson on Aug. 31. Photo by Nora Milligan

The event’s other co-host was Public Relations Director Debbie Gross Longo of the New York Chapter of Magnolia New Beginnings, an advocacy, education, support and addiction resource group.

“Each year, unfortunately the crowd gets bigger,” Longo said. “We lose about 129 kids a day throughout the United States. This is something that is an epidemic. It has gotten out of control and there’s no reason for it.”

Longo’s son was a soccer player at Ward Melville High School. He was so talented, she said, he was being scouted by colleges. That was before he tore his quadricep.

The doctors at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson prescribed him oxycodone, and he became addicted. The price per pill of oxycodone is expensive — about $45 each, Longo said. So he switched to heroin, a much less expensive but more potent drug. Before long, his personality began to change.

“The changes happened pretty quickly until I couldn’t ignore it any longer, and that’s when he went to rehab,” she said. “It didn’t work the first time, it didn’t work the second time and it didn’t work the third time.”

Longo said her son is now living in a sober community in Florida helping other addicts get into recovery.

According to a 2015 New York State Opioid Poisoning, Overdose and Prevention report, there were 337 heroin-related deaths in Suffolk County between 2009 and 2013 — more than any other county in the state during that period.

“We come together to celebrate the lives they lived, we’re celebrating the recovery and we’re celebrating the people who are still struggling. We will never give up hope. Where there is life, there is hope.”

—Tracey Budd

In a brief speech at the Lights for Hope event, Scofield stressed the importance of helping those addicted to the drug get into recovery. Earlier that day, she said, she helped a young girl who lost her mother get into the Long Island Center for Recovery in Hampton Bays as well as three other young people get into a rehabilitation facility in Arizona.

In starting Dan’s Foundation, Scofield “wanted mostly to help kids that sought treatment now — not 10 days from now,” she said. “In 20 minutes, they’re gone. You have a small window of opportunity to help them and you’ve got to do it when you can do it.”

Scofield’s son David, 28, went through heroin recovery. His mom said her sons were best friends and they did everything together, including using heroin.

“I struggled with this disease for a long time,” he said to those who attended the Lights for Hope event. “I found a way to live sober. I found a different way to live my life.”

Event attendees decorated white paper bags with the name of a loved one who died from heroin or who recovered from it, and a message. Toward the end of the evening, a candle was placed inside each bag, and they were arranged in a large circle around the cannon in the park.

“We come together to celebrate the lives they lived, we’re celebrating the recovery and we’re celebrating the people who are still struggling,” Tracey Budd, a Rocky Point resident and founder of North Shore Drug Awareness Advocates, said. “We will never give up hope. Where there is life, there is hope.”

Budd’s son Kevin died in September 2012 from a heroin overdose. Her daughter Breanna has been drug-free since May 2014.

She said the stigma of addiction has changed dramatically since 2008 at the height of her son’s struggle with heroin. There is now a community of families that support each other through a child’s struggle with addiction or an addict’s death.

Tracey Budd, a Rocky Point resident and founder of North Shore Drug Awareness Advocates, displays her luminaire in memory of her son Kevin during the third annual Lights of Hope event in Port Jefferson on Aug. 31. Photo by Nora Milligan
Tracey Budd, a Rocky Point resident and founder of North Shore Drug Awareness Advocates, displays her luminaire in memory of her son Kevin during the third annual Lights of Hope event in Port Jefferson on Aug. 31. Photo by Nora Milligan

“It’s sad to say, but when you feel the hug of another mother who’s lost a child, even if you’ve never met, no words need to be spoken,” Budd said. “It’s a connection that we wish we didn’t have, but we do, and it’s actually pretty amazing.”

Middle Island resident Hugh Rhodus said the worst part of the heroin problem on Long Island is going to a funeral for a young person. He recently attended the funeral of a friend’s 24-year-old nephew.

“Going to a kid’s funeral is the hardest thing, but unfortunately we do it all the time,” he said. “It’s so hard to do. Kids that age laying in a casket is awful.”

Rhodus and his wife helped their daughter Amanda through her 13-year struggle with heroin. He said when they first tried to get her help, they took her to Mather Hospital, where they waited for a couple of hours after speaking with a nurse in a “room in the back.” Eventually, they were told to go to a hospital in Nassau County because Mather Hospital was unable to help Amanda.

“It’s your daughter, she’s sick, she’s a drug addict and that’s how we found out how powerful the stigma was,” Rhodus said. “We fought for years to get her in and out of treatment — it was tough. It was really tough.”

Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) praised families and recovering addicts for not giving up.

“We can’t give up,” she said. “Everybody has to be engaged and participate because it is our lives and our children’s lives and our loved ones lives that’s on the line.”

The audience at Cinema Arts Centre enjoys a scene during the horror movie marathon. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Living corpses, seductive vampires, hungry werewolves, mutant children, body-swapping aliens, a book that unleashes demons and evil spirits, and a whole lot of blood. 

Projected on the big screen in beautiful 35mm prints, all these things brought great joy and camaraderie to a roomful of strangers last Saturday night, Aug. 27, at Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington.

A total of 115 eager horror fans packed the theater — fully equipped with pillows, blankets, snacks, and plenty of caffeine — ready to take on the 12th annual Pay To Get Out Horror Movie Marathon that started at 10 p.m. and didn’t finish until a little after 8:30 a.m. the next morning. Five movie titles are released to the public, with the sixth kept a secret until you’re in.

People from all walks of life were huddled together with an instant, unifying bond: a love for all things scary.

At 10 p.m., there was a buzz in the air as everybody settled into their seats. Just before the marathon started, Michael and Nina Ciani of Retro Picture Show, co-presenters of the marathon, announced three raffle ticket winners and presented each of them with a vinyl soundtrack for Lucio Fulci’s “The House By The Cemetery,” one of the better and more intense entries of the night.

The movies ranged from schlocky and ridiculous fun with “The Hidden” to a little bit dull ‘The Company of Wolves” to downright scary David Cronenberg’s “The Brood”, and I loved every second of it. When there wasn’t laughing and hollering at cheesy acting and unintentionally funny moments, there was cheering when the protagonists escaped their monsters’ clutches and gasping at grisly kills. We, as an audience, were treated to a reel of classic trailers that ran before the movies, pertaining to the theme of each one. Before “The Hidden,” we got John Carpenter’s “They Live;” before “The Brood,” we got “Videodrome;” and before “The Company of Wolves,” we got Joe Dante’s “The Howling.”

The big question of “what the final mystery film would be?” hung over the theater all night.

As we took our seats one last time at around 7:10 a.m., we were all quiet with anticipation.

As soon as the black screen filled with fog and a few seconds of musical score blared, the theater erupted, instantly recognizing the Sam Raimi classic “Evil Dead II,” perhaps the greatest movie choice to be experienced by this kind of crowd in a theater. Bruce Campbell’s demon-induced pratfalls were never more exhilarating.

Throughout the marathon, the film prints were scratchy and crackly in the best ways possible, only enhancing the atmosphere. But no print was more fitting than the one of “Evil Dead II,” which warped and fizzled out a few different times early on as characters were undergoing the wrath of the Book of the Dead. An audience member put it best when he shouted out, “This film is possessed!”

It’s a testament to the love and passion for the horror genre that almost everybody in attendance,  including myself, stuck it out to the end of the marathon with a healthy dose of energy and excitement intact.

The lineup of the Veterans Comedy Assault Team. Photo by Bob Savage

Already working with homeless veterans, when VFW Santora/Bonacasa Memorial Post 400 Commander John Rago was approached to start a comedy act to benefit veterans, he said the decision was a no-brainer.

Under Project9line, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that helps veterans reintegrate back into civilian life and helps those suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, founder Patrick Donohue came up with the idea and had veteran comedians come in and teach a class to other veterans on how to perform and write his or her own material.

In March of 2015, the Veterans Comedy Assault Team performed for the first time at the Sayville VFW Post 433. According to Rago, despite it being a snowy evening, they had to turn people away because of how packed the venue was. That’s when the group realized that they had something special.

Patrick Donohue, found of Project 9 Line, gets the crowd going. Photo by Bob Savage
Patrick Donohue, found of Project 9 Line, gets the crowd going. Photo by Bob Savage

“I thought it was going to be one and done, but we had so much fun doing it and got such a big response that we realized we had a good product that we could keep going with,” Rago said.

The group performed a few more shows and held another training class this January before performing at the Centereach VFW Post 4927 — a bigger venue was needed due to another sold-out show.

One of the comedians, “Tugboat” Manny Erias, who performs his own stand-up act three nights a week, helped the team get into the Broadway Comedy Club in New York City.

“I kept saying, ‘We’re a block and a half away from the Ed Sullivan Theater,’” Rago joked excitedly. “Soon. One day.”

The group also performed at Comix Mohegan Sun, a comedy club on the grounds of the casino in Connecticut, and most recently held a benefit show at the Moose Lodge in Mount Sinai after Rago was approached by a veteran and recent divorcee with three children, who was on the verge of becoming homeless.

“I moved here from Florida and went through a divorce,” said the mother, who asked to remain anonymous. “I used all my savings. I tried to do the best I could. It became difficult.”

She reached out to the Supportive Services for Veteran Families program under the United States Department of Veterans Affairs and was turned away because she exhausted all of her resources. She said the VA told her because she wasn’t homeless yet, there was nothing else they could do for her, and that even if she was to become homeless, assistance was not guaranteed.

Audience member Elizabeth Trabold laughs during the show. Photo by Bob Savage
Audience member Elizabeth Trabold laughs during the show. Photo by Bob Savage

That’s when she called Rago’s office at the Suffolk County United Veterans Association for Mental Health and Wellness, where he is an outreach coordinator. When he heard about her situation, falling behind three months on her rent, he thought holding a comedy show to benefit her was the perfect solution.

So Rago made a call to Ron Romanska, who used to work at the Suffolk County Veterans Services Agency as an officer and is now involved in the Coalition of Veterans Organizations and a member of the Moose Lodge.

“I told him the story and that I wanted to do a comedy show and he said, ‘Okay, you want the Moose Lodge? You’ve got it.’ Just like that,” Rago said.

During the comedy show Aug. 27, which more than 100 people attended, the Veterans Comedy Assault Team raised nearly $2,500. The Moose Lodge chipped in $500 and the owner also handed Rago a personal check for $100, on top of the raffle prizes being donated from different stores and businesses.

“There’s nothing like making somebody laugh — it’s so much fun,” Rago said of the events. “Guys in the audience who suffer from PTSD tell us that for the hour and a half they had not a care in the world because they were laughing. It’s therapy.”

It’s also therapy for those involved, like Erias, a retired U.S. Navy Reservist who suffers from anxiety and depression, and goes to the Association of Mental Health and Wellness camps for help coping with his condition.

“We donate our time, money, energy and resources into this and it’s a great success,” he said. “There’s nothing better than helping someone else out by being able to do what we love. It’s the best feeling in the world. And you do it without looking for a return. I’m broke … I’m going for disability, my mother just passed away and I have so many things working against me to keep me down, but I go up there, and for me, it’s a coping skill. I make people laugh, and forget about life for a while.”

By Rebecca Anzel

Melonie smiled as she watched her son Justin-Joseph, or J.J. for short, land several backflips on the trampolines at West Hills Day Camp in Huntington on Saturday. The activities at Suffolk Aspergers/Autism Support and Information’s first annual Family Fun Day — zip lines, face painting, sand art and a water slide, in addition to the trampoline park — were the perfect outlet for J.J.’s vast supply of energy.

J.J. is on the autism spectrum — Melonie is, too. “People look at us differently,” she said. “For me, it’s important for J.J. not to have that painful experience.”

SASI, a not-for-profit support group that provides special needs families with helpful resources, provides that sense of community Melonie wants for J.J. Founded in the living room of co-founder Stephanie Mendelson on Dec. 4 of last year, SASI has grown from 12 parents to over 700 families throughout Suffolk County and across the rest of Long Island in eight months.

Co-founder Priscilla Arena said Family Fun Day was meant to be an event for children on the autism spectrum to have carefree fun, and a way for families to bond.

“[I’m excited] for our kids to make friends — to see them smile. Here, they’re part of one community.”

—Priscilla Arena

“[I’m excited] for our kids to make friends — to see them smile,” she said, tearing up. “Here, they’re part of one community. They are the popular kids in SASI.”

Mendelson and Arena, both from Mount Sinai, have children on the autism spectrum. They found there was a lack of resources on Long Island for families and formed SASI as a support group to fill that void.

“Parents found themselves lost, confused, hopeless, alienated, isolated and alone,” Arena said. “SASI created an environment where they could come together and share their stories and experiences.”

To its members, SASI provides information about available resources, advocacy, financial and emotional support. On the last Friday of every month, the group hosts speakers at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson — so far, families have heard from a representative from Parent to Parent, a state planning attorney, a Medicaid broker and a parent advocate for education.

The group’s first speaker, special education advocate Danielle Brooks, was at Family Fun Day giving free advice to families. She said SASI is a special organization because it built a caring network for families in a short period of time. The event, she said, was a great opportunity for children to have fun in a safe environment.

SASI also hosts a birthday party club for its member’s children, who range in ages from kids just shy of 3 years old to adults in their late 20s. Arena said children on the autism spectrum have difficulty making friends, so sometimes there are not many others to invite to a child’s birthday party. The group is also working on a lending library, which will help members borrow books donated to the organization; a job skills program; life coach program and blue pages resource handbook, which would help parents find services they need across the island.

Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said she is “thrilled and excited” that Arena and Mendelson founded SASI. Instead of complaining about a lack of resources, she said, the SASI co-founders work hard to address issues.

“I think SASI will be able to address problems and advocate with a stronger, louder voice.”

—Sarah Anker

“I’m really supportive and beyond happy that Priscilla has taken this concern and made it into a centerpiece to gather around — creating this organization so people have a place to go for information and resources,” Anker said. “I think SASI will be able to address problems and advocate with a stronger, louder voice.”

The group has also gained the attention of U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who is sponsoring a bill to ensure Americans with disabilities have access to necessary health-care equipment.

“In Congress, one of my top priorities is ensuring that all Americans with disabilities have the resources they need to live independently and happily,” Zeldin wrote in a statement. “I thank the Suffolk Aspergers/Autism Support and Information group for their work in our community to help children and adults with disabilities.”

Family Fun Day was held at West Hills Day Camp in Huntington, a facility famous for its autism-friendly Gersh Academy. The facility donated the space for the event, which Anker said had about 800 attendees.

In addition to the attractions, the event also had refreshments from Crazy Crepes, Mr. Softee and Kona Ice. Families could purchase t-shirts or raffle tickets to win one of many donated baskets.

The event was just the first of many more to come, Arena said. “We’re new, but we’re just getting started.”

For Melonie, Family Fun Day was the perfect way to spend time with her son.

“It’s everything to see smiles on all the kids faces,” Melonie said. “They don’t get this a lot.”

Lead Mike DelGuidice sings and plays the piano at the Mike DelGuidice & Big Shot concert for the 2015 Rocky Point Concert series. File hoto by Giselle Barkley

There is a traffic advisory out for a road closing in Rocky Point.

On Aug. 30 at 7 p.m., Mike DelGuidice and Big Shot, a Billy Joel tribute band, will be performing at St. Anthony of Padua Church as part of the final Downtown Rocky Point Summer concert series.

Every year, this performance attracts thousands of people from Suffolk County and the surrounding tristate area.

The Downtown Rocky Point Summer Concert series allows resident to enjoy free musical performances and also helps support local businesses. Organizations such as Long Island Cares, Suffolk County United Veterans, the Rocky Point Rotary, and the North Brookhaven Chamber of Commerce will also be in attendance to provide information about their programs and services.

Be advised, due to the anticipated attendance, the Suffolk County Police Department will be closing Main Street in Rocky Point from Rocky Point Landing Road to Broadway at 5:30 p.m. The road will reopen at the end of the concert.

A photo of Julia Diane Wilson is surrounded by her cousin, Ava Felice; Anna Lanze, and Julia’s best friend, Heidi Lanze. Photo by Donna Newman

Ten-year-old Julia Diane Wilson of Sound Beach lost her battle with acute lymphocytic leukemia two years ago this week.

Family and friends — both old and new — marked the anniversary with the second annual Team Julia — Fight Like a Girl memorial fundraiser held Aug. 21 at Stony Brook Yacht Club.

Mary Byrne, holding her son, Declan, who sports a Team Julia T-shirt. Photo by Donna Newman
Mary Byrne, holding her son, Declan, who sports a Team Julia T-shirt. Photo by Donna Newman

Julia’s grandparents, Dan and Diane Donahue, are longtime Setauket residents and this is the second year the fundraiser was hosted by the yacht club, where they are members.

The building was filled with supporters of all ages, from infants to senior citizens. Gift baskets were raffled off, T-shirts were sold and donations were accepted. Led by Julia’s parents and grandparents, the event seemed more a celebration of the girl’s life and spirit rather than a memorial.

This support group was an outgrowth of Julia’s compassion for others. Even while undergoing treatment herself, she wanted to make things better for the children around her. So the adults in her life committed to doing just that for Julia.

“Grandma, when I get better … Mommy, when I get better … we have to help these kids,” Diane Donahue recalled her granddaughter saying. She spoke of creating things at the hospital and watching Julia bring them to the child in the next bed, hoping to make him or her smile. “She was a true jewel — way beyond her years,” she said.

Team Julia is all about supporting children and their parents. They create goody bags to distribute at Stony Brook Children’s hospital. They help parents pay bills, and stock the pantry at the hematology/oncology clinic at the hospital with easy meals and snacks to help families through the long chemotherapy and infusion days. They also plan to feed families at Ronald McDonald House. Last year Julia’s father Dave Wilson said they created a prom for the children at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in the city, bringing in lots of dresses for the girls to wear.

Brian Donahue shows off a spider on his face. Photo by Donna Newman
Brian Donahue shows off a spider on his face. Photo by Donna Newman

Julia’s mother Erin Wilson wants to start a group for bereaved parents. She feels there isn’t enough support for the grieving process, as losing a child to cancer usually involves months and months of treatment and hope.

Julia’s grandmother said the group considers educating the public, including representatives and senators in the U.S. Congress, another one of its top priorities.

“I don’t think anybody’s aware of it until they are in it,” Diane Donahue said. “And when you’re in it, it’s not a group you want to belong to, but I’ll tell you what, you can make a difference.”

She joined the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, sent messages to her congressman and lobbied the folks who control the lighting on the Empire State Building to light it up gold, the color symbolizing pediatric cancers. “They’ve made it other colors, but they won’t make it gold for the children,” she said.

According to the National Institute of Health’s website focusing on childhood cancers, an estimated 10,380 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in children aged birth to 14 in the U.S. this year. More than 1,200 children are expected to die from the disease. Pediatric cancer death rates have declined by nearly 70 percent over the past 40 years, but cancer remains the leading cause of death from disease among children.

On Aug. 23, and despite Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) being unable to attend, Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) introduced Beatles cover band Strawberry Fields as the second-to-last free concert as part of a four-part series this summer at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Rocky Point. Hundreds flocked to see the band perform early and later songs in the Beatles’ career and danced the night away as band members rocked the stage. Mike DelGuidice and Big Shot, a Billy Joel tribute band with roots in Miller Place, will perform the last concert of the series on Aug. 30 at 7 p.m.

The Veterans Comedy Assault team performs at the Comix Comedy Club at Mohegan Sun. Photo from Facebook

VFW Santora and Bonacasa Memorial Post 400 presents Comedy for a Cause featuring the Veterans Comedy Assault Team on Aug. 27, 8 p.m. at the Moose Lodge in Mount Sinai.

The Veterans Comedy Assault Team started in January 2015 as a part of Project 9 Line, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to helping veterans with reintegration back to civilian life, and help those veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The team is made up of veterans from Long Island.

Since it’s inception, the group has performed various shows on Long Island as well as at the Broadway Comedy Club in Manhattan and the Comix Comedy Club at Mohegan Sun.

Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door, and all proceeds from this show will benefit a veteran family in need.

To purchase tickets, call 631-806-1699. Visit for more information about the organization.

Two people embrace at a lights of Hope event two years ago. File photo by Heather Khalifa

In honor of Overdose Awareness and National Recovery Month, Lights of Hope is returning to Port Jefferson.

On Aug. 31 at Memorial Park on the Harbor in Port Jefferson Village, Dan’s Foundation for Recovery, a 501(c)3 non-profit based in Stony Brook that is dedicated to helping substance abuse addicts find a new direction, and Magnolia New Beginnings, a Massachusettes-based organization that advocated for those affected by addiction, are inviting those near and far to a candle lighting.

The event, which will begin at 7 p.m., marks a day to remember those lost to drug overdose, and support those who are struggling or are still in recovery. Guest speakers will be present, as well as live acoustic music during the lighting of lumières.

All proceeds generated from a raffle will help someone who is struggling to get into and pay for rehab.

For more information, call 631-946-0807.