By Kevin Redding
In the face of tragedy, there’s one of two directions you can go. You can react to it optimistically and see what good can come out of it, or you can let it control your life and pin you down. The Engel family, of Miller Place, refuses to be pinned down. In fact, they’re well on their way to making great strides in their community.
Tuesday marked the 2nd Annual Jake Engel Hoops for Hope fundraiser at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai — a day of competitive basketball all in the memory of a wonderful student and athlete taken too soon.
After Engel’s passing from a heroin overdose last year, his younger brother Patrick acted quickly and — with the help of his family and friends — put the event together in just a few short days, raising more than $5,000 for Hope House Ministries, a center in Port Jefferson where Jake Engel lived for two years, which provides care to young people and families in crisis.
Knowing that they wanted to expand on what they accomplished last year, the Engel family — Bob, Karen, Geoff and Patrick — set out to raise money this time around not just for Hope House but for the development of a scholarship at Miller Place High School and nonprofit organization in their son and brother’s name.
“We wanted something that was actually about Jake — In his name, dedicated to him,” said Patrick Engel. “Hope House is wonderful and we love Hope House … but we want something separate from it to remember him more personally.”
Both programs-to-be are in the beginning stages, but even though the qualifiers for the scholarship are not set in stone quite yet, the core mission certainly is. The Engel family is determined to raise awareness about the all-too prevalent drug problem sweeping Long Island and wants to do everything they can to prevent any drug-related tragedies in the future.
“The idea behind the scholarship and nonprofit is to be educating kids in the school district about these types of things,” said Geoff Engel, Jake Engel’s brother. “So we thought that setting up a scholarship would be a good way to promote that. The nonprofit could also hopefully provide housing for kids who are not able to get into rehabs or other types of organizations.”
Bob Engel, Jake Engel’s father, is especially determined to zero in on youth.
“Kids have to be educated,” he said. “It’s out of control out there, and I really want to gear everything toward the younger kids. They gotta get it in their head. Start in 5th grade with lectures every month and a half. The drug dealers aren’t going away no matter what, so at this point it’s about the education of younger people. The community needs to know what’s going on. [Hoops for Hope] is a good thing. This money is going toward educating these kids.”
Karen Engel, Jake Engel’s mother, said the family is still finalizing the details of the scholarship but are thinking of awarding it to someone who has overcome adversity and who does well academically because “that was Jake.”
“He was a very good student and loved his academics, and school and learning,” she said. “So that’s kind of the direction we’re going in.”
She hopes that both the scholarship and organization will encourage more people to become actively involved.
If this year’s fundraiser was any indication, people are ready to turn their attention to this issue.
Geoff Engel said that while last year’s fundraiser was very spontaneous and slapped together quickly, this year’s was a lot more organized.
“We’ve done a much better job promoting the event,” said Geoff Engel, who recently appeared on 103.9 WRCN-FM to spread the word. “We’re really hoping to raise at least twice as much as last year. It’s a much bigger event.”
For starters, last year’s basketball tournament had about 15 teams of 3, and this year boasted 26, with a donation of $15 per team to participate. But the event’s biggest source of income came with the addition of event T-shirts at $10 each, provided by the company Inkterprise, and a raffle.
Some of the donated items included a 32-inch flat-screen TV, a 3-month membership to Planet Fitness and a car care basket with three auto inspections provided by Rapid Inc. The Town of Brookhaven also supported the fundraiser and donated four box seat tickets to the Yankee game this upcoming Saturday, a $100 Modell’s gift card and the basketball court at Cedar Beach, waiving the standard $400 fee to rent it.
“I live right next door in Rocky Point and so many communities on the North Shore have been devastated with overdoses,” said Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point). “We decided to take a stronger role this year … we all collectively decided to roll up our sleeves and become more involved and bring more awareness.”
For the Engel family, whose constant strength and selflessness has perpetuated this call for awareness, the focus is making sure the scholarship and nonprofit organizations get off the ground. If things go as planned, that should be the case by graduation next year.
“We’re trying to do anything we can just so people will talk about it,” Karen Engel said. “We want people to be aware that they can reach out to get help.”
This version corrects the spelling of the company name Inkterprise.