Event to benefit military veterans and their families
By Melissa Arnold
As our country pauses to mark many of its patriotic holidays this summer — Memorial Day, the anniversary of D-Day and Independence Day among them — most people will go about their business. They might head to work or to the beach or a barbecue.
But millions of veterans and those who love them live with daily reminders of their time in active duty. Some require ongoing medical care, while others need counseling to process all they’ve experienced.
On June 17, the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport will host a patriotic concert by the American Bombshells to honor members of the U.S. military, veterans and their families.
All proceeds from the event will benefit the Unified Behavioral Health Center for Military Veterans and Their Families (UBHC), a first-of-its-kind collaborative effort co-operated by Northwell Health and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VA) in Northport.
“What we’re offering [at UBHC] is a novel way to approach treatment for veteran families,” said Mayer Bellehsen, a psychologist who’s directed the center since its opening in 2012. “We provide an outpatient clinic for veterans, as well as therapy, medication management and educational resources for their families and caregivers.”
Bellehsen also noted that the families of service members make their own sacrifices, both during their time of service and afterward, and that their well-being should also be addressed.
Huntington native Ali Reeder founded the American Bombshells Patriotic Services organization in 2011 as her own way of giving back to our troops. There are now 21 American Bombshells nationwide who perform in trios all over the world. Reeder described the group as a modern twist on the Andrews Sisters.
“I had a lot of relatives who served, so I’ve always felt very strongly about supporting our troops and their families,” said Reeder, a graduate of the American Musical and Dramatic Academy.
The trio performing at the Engeman includes Long Island natives Rayna Bertash of Centerport and Crystal Cimaglia from Deer Park, along with Vanessa Simmons from California. The 90-minute performance will take you on a musical journey through the decades, including “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” “One Fine Day” and “New York, New York.” From patriotic favorites to swing tunes and country hits, there’s a little something for everyone.
As “ambassadors of American gratitude,” the American Bombshells are more than just entertainers. They also serve as companions and listening ears during their visits to military bases and hospitals. It’s not uncommon for a soldier to confide in one of the women, or to hold her hand while getting stitched up.
Reeder, whose husband is a Marine, knows firsthand how military life impacts families.
“It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, and we’ll never fully understand what a soldier goes through,” she said. “Being a caregiver for someone [in the service] has given me a deeper appreciation for how challenging the transition out of the military can be for our veterans.”
To help facilitate that transition, the Bombshells partner with organizations such as Boots in Suits, which provides gently-used work clothing to vets in need, and Alpha K-9, which pairs vets with service dogs.
Kevin J. O’Neill, co-owner of the Engeman Theater, is thrilled for the opportunity to support and honor local military families.
“When we opened the theater, I also wanted to support other causes in order to honor my brother-in-law,” said O’Neill, who has owned the theater with Richard T. Dolce for 13 years.
O’Neill’s brother-in-law, John W. Engeman, served in the U.S. Army for 28 years. He was killed in Iraq in 2006 while assisting the Iraqi people in establishing their own security forces.
Since then, the Engeman has raised more than $1.3 million for various charitable and community organizations. O’Neill saw the American Bombshells perform at another event and was eager to have them come to Northport.
“The families of our military have their own struggles, and it’s important for them to be acknowledged and cared for,” O’Neill said. “Northwell has been a great supporter of what we do for many years, and this is an expansion of that relationship.”
The American Bombshells benefit performance will be held at the John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport on Monday, June 17 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $75 and all proceeds will benefit the UBHC at Northwell Health. To purchase tickets, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com. If you cannot attend but wish to make a donation, visit http://give.northwell.edu/Engeman.