Tags Posts tagged with "Deborah Bonacasa"

Deborah Bonacasa

Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 Commander Joe Cognitore and developer and owner of Landmark Properties in Rocky Point Mark Baisch team up to build the homes for returning veterans. File photos

By Desirée Keegan

Receiving keys can be a magical moment for anyone, but for Joe Cognitore and Mark Baisch, they’re more excited about handing them over.

The Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 commander and the developer and owner of Landmark Properties, respectively, have been building and giving homes to veterans for the last four years. They’ve created 11 homes so far, and this year, the duo amped up the intensity to build three homes, with a fourth in the works.

For their work in the community and for dedicating their time and efforts to honoring and helping those who served our country, Cognitore and Baisch are Times Beacon Record News Media’s People of the Year for 2016.

“It’s bittersweet,” Cognitore said. “There’s many candidates that we come across and every one of them deserves the home. Just to hear their stories is amazing.”

Veteran Deborah Bonacasa receives keys from Mark Baisch, developer and owner of Landmark Properties in Rocky Point, to her new home in Sound Beach. File photo by Desirée Keegan

Cognitore first met Baisch at a fundraiser Brookhaven Town Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro (R) was hosting. Not knowing anyone at the event, the two found themselves sitting at the same table, and Cognitore began talking about the possibility of building a home for a disabled veteran.

“I thought it’d be one and done,” Baisch said, laughing, while thinking about the first home. “I never thought it would get to this level, but what we’re able to do for these families is so good that it would be hard for me to think about not doing this.”

The two recently unveiled the 11th home for returning veterans to the Cote family, who now own a home in Miller Place. The Bonacasas and Johnsons also received homes this year.

“I’m at a loss with words for everything they did for me and my family,” Deborah Bonacasa said. She is an Air Force veteran whose husband, Staff Sgt. Louis Bonacasa from Coram, died after a suicide bomber detonated himself outside Bagram Airfield in northwest Afghanistan. “They’re professional and thoughtful. I think it’s great what they’re doing for veterans and recognizing and advocating and stepping up to do things for those who do so much for our country. This house is, and they are, a constant reminder that there are great people still out there willing to help people.”

Rocky Point social studies teacher Rich Acritelli said no one cares more about veterans — and the entire hamlet — than Cognitore.

“He’s always got the community at his heart,” he said. “He personifies everything that a citizen should be, in terms of national and local service, between being in the military and always working for the betterment of his community.”

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) was proud to see how the two stepped up for the Cote family, who were kicked out of their home when the landlord let the Sound Beach property fall into foreclosure. The family has also struggled with illness. Mother Renée Cote has acute intermittent porphyria, a rare and painful metabolic disorder that requires expensive biweekly treatments, which she has undergone for 14 years at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson. Her 7-year-old son, Zachary, was diagnosed with Grade 4 medulloblastoma, brain cancer, in June 2014, and endured 42 rounds of radiation and nine months of intense chemotherapy, until he was also diagnosed with acute intermittent porphyria.

Mark Baisch, at left sitting at table, has new homeowner Deborah Bonacasa, right, sign papers for her new home made possible by himself and VFW Post 6249 Commander Joe Cognitore, standing on right. File photo from VFW Post 6249

“They are literally warriors to those that need help,” Anker said. “They get out there, they understand the struggles and they’re there to help, and that’s what’s so important. When Mark heard about Zachary Cote’s situation, he came to the rescue. Talk about superheroes, they are our local superheroes.”

Cote’s husband Glen was a U.S. Army combat medic in the Gulf War, before coming home and suffering an on-the-job injury that disabled him.

“Anyone that met them couldn’t believe what a great family,” Cognitore said. “Especially Zachary, what a little gentleman.”

But Renée Cote said she can’t believe what a great group Cognitore, Baisch and the rest of the developers and donators are.

“I could sit there and write a million thank you cards, and to me, it would not be enough for what they’re doing,” she said. “And I don’t even think they realize what they’re doing. To first serve our country, and then to give back — and I mean give back in a huge way — it’s good to be surrounded by people like that. They’re angels walking the Earth.”

Baisch said his contractors and the community showed more support for the Cotes’ new home in Miller Place than on any other house. There were over 30 volunteers, some of whom have been helping Baisch since the first home. Many of them donate windows, garage doors, bathtubs and furniture. Local supermarkets and civic associations also give gift cards to help the new family acclimate to the area.

“They just continue to give and give and give every time we do one of these homes, and they never let me down,” Baisch said of his contractors. “It’s really the only way these homes could come together. We’re not a charity; we consider these homes a hand up, not a hand out. They do the best they can and it’s amazing how much they keep giving. It shocks me after 11 houses that they’re like ‘Mark, let’s do more.’”

Cognitore said he enjoys creating a community of veterans.

“Once they get into these homes, they’re a great neighbor, a great citizen, they keep up their homes, they pay their taxes, so everything works out,” he said. “It’s a win for everybody.”

The veterans appreciate that as well.

The Cote family’s new home in Miller Place as part of the local homes for returning veterans program. File photo by Kevin Redding

“It makes me feel at home knowing there are veterans out there like me,” Bonacasa said. “If we ever needed each other, we’re right there.”

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) said she’s thankful that most of the homes have been built in her district.

“It’s very heartwarming,” she said of the welcome-home ceremonies. “It’s impossible to not get choked up. Especially the most recent one with the Cote family — they’ve had some significant challenges. They were struggling, and Joe and Mark saved them.”

Baisch said that the real tragedy of it all is the fact that without his help, the families wouldn’t be able to remain on Long Island.

“They had no real chance of having a family here and living here if it weren’t for these homes, so that’s the all-encompassing enjoyment out of it,” he said. “These people would have been long gone, and they’re not the types of people we’d like to see leave Long Island. They served their country and they’re Long Islanders, each and every one of them. For them to have to leave because they can’t afford to live here, there’s something wrong with that.”

Bonner said what the “dynamic duo” does shows their true character.

“Mark is very altruistic, and he’s never looking for a pat on the back about it, he just feels passionately about it and does it because he thinks it’s the right thing to do,” she said. “And Joe is a tremendous advocate for veterans and a true Patriot. Their hearts are bigger than their wallets. It’s more about doing the right thing than it is about making money.”

Baisch said as long as Landmark Properties is around, he’ll continue to do something like this.

“It’s one of the best feelings of my life,” Baisch said. “I can’t explain it. I can’t come up with words enough to tell how wonderful it feels. The thought of not continuing doing this doesn’t even enter my mind.”

For one of two veteran families, receiving a new home is bittersweet.

Deborah “Dee” Bonacasa and her daughter Lilianna entered their new home on Tyler Avenue in Sound Beach Monday morning as part of a new chapter, but it wasn’t without great grief because husband and father Staff Sgt. Louis Bonacasa wasn’t there to join them.

Following what was his fourth deployment to Afghanistan, Bonacasa, a Coram native, wanted to settle down, have a second child and buy the family’s first house with a Veterans Affairs home loan that the couple had been approved for.

But that was taken from them on Dec. 21 when a suicide bomber detonated himself outside Bagram Airfield in northwest Afghanistan, killing Bonacasa and five others in his New York Air National Guard Unit.

“My husband is not here to share this wonderful gift we’ve been given, but at the same time they fulfilled a dream that he’s always wanted to be able to do for our family,” said Bonacasa, who is also an Air Force veteran.

The widow said she was thankful for Landmark Properties owner Mark Baisch, Rocky Point’s VFW Post Commander Joe Cognitore and all of the other locals who have made the new home possible.

“Everybody has been supporting us since the beginning. I just want to thank everybody.”

The house, which would normally go for $350,000, was sold to Bonacasa for $200,000, Baisch said. He and his employees at Landmark Properties donated $50,000 to Bonacasa. The families got to pick out the flooring, fixtures and décor to help personalize the home, and Baisch even had a surprise for 5-year-old Lily, painting her room blue, her and her father’s favorite color.

“My husband is not here to share this wonderful gift we’ve been given, but at the same time they fulfilled a dream that he’s always wanted to be able to do for our family.” —Dee Bonacasa

The second house, just next door, was sold for $250,000 to Joshua and Megan Johnson. Joshua Johnson will have 14 years of military service this July. He too deployed four times, serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait and is currently in the Air National Guard. Megan Johnson’s father and older brother are also in the Air National Guard, with her brother being in the Marine Core. Her husband, who the Sound Beach native met three years ago, works in the same base as them, and the two met during her friend’s going away part for deployment.

“We were awestruck,” Megan Johnson said of finding out they were chosen to receive the second house. “Then, when we found out we were going to be neighbors with an amazing family. We just felt so honored.”

Because of the lot’s size, existing town laws only permitted one house to built there, but county and Brookhaven officials agreed to allow two houses to go up for this cause. The neighbors did not object, but actually supported the idea, which Baisch said would not have been possible without the help of county and town governments, private industry and neighbors.

More than 30 subcontractors worked with Baisch, donating material and services to help construct the houses, furnish them and even gave contributions like store gift certificates and a new bicycle for Lily.

The community outpour of welcoming and support was also felt by the families, as over 100 people packed down the small street to say hello to their new neighbors, bring flowers and gifts and show their gratitude for all the families have sacrificed.

“I felt a little worried actually, because to see something happen like this, I couldn’t imagine it, so when it actually did happen to us I felt blessed and just amazed to have this opportunity,” Joshua Johnson said. “I couldn’t imagine it being this huge.”

Megan Johnson said there aren’t words that could adequately express her family’s gratitude and say thank you in the appropriate way, but said it’s been a humbling experience. And they hope to be able to pay it forward.

“To see the outpouring of love, support and generosity from such a small community, it hits it home,” Megan Johnson said. “This is where we’re meant to be and this is why. We still can’t believe that we’re getting our dream home in our dream place, and it feels so great to have all of these people supporting us.”

by -
0 1925
Deborah Bonacasa signs the deed for her new home in Sound Beach. Photo by Ron Pacchiana/JPA STUDIO

When Louis Bonacasa was to return home from his fourth deployment to Afghanistan, he told his wife he’d make it his last. He wanted to settle down, buy a home, become a dietician technician, open a business, give his 5-year-old daughter Lilianna a sibling and finally begin his life.

But Bonacasa didn’t return home.

Councilwoman Jane Bonner presents Deborah Bonacasa, who is fighting back tears, with a certificate of congratulations. Photo by Ron Pacchiana/JPA STUDIO
Councilwoman Jane Bonner presents Deborah Bonacasa, who is fighting back tears, with a certificate of congratulations. Photo by Ron Pacchiana/JPA STUDIO

To honor him and his wife Deborah, also a veteran, the Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 chose the Bonacasa family to receive one of two homes being built on Tyler Avenue in Sound Beach.

“I don’t have the words,” said Deborah Bonacasa, whose husband was one of six killed in a suicide bomb attack on Dec. 21. “It’s an honor and I’m just very happy and overwhelmed with joy for their support in fulfilling this dream, because it’s something that my husband always wanted to do for the family — to provide the home for us. So it’s quite an honor.”

VFW Post Commander Joe Cognitore held the contract signing at the Fischer/Hewins post last Wednesday, and said it was a moving moment to be a part of.

“It was one of the best days I’ve had in all my time here at the VFW,” he said. “It was very cathartic. To know that we’ve helped Deborah out, and not only was her husband a veteran but she is too, it’s that much more gratifying to be able to honor both for their service.”

This is the ninth home that Cognitore and the VFW have partnered with Mark Baisch on, of Landmark Properties in Rocky Point.

“It’s my way of giving back,” Baisch said. “The Bonacasas are fantastic. It couldn’t be a better selection.”

Landmark Properties builds the houses from the ground up, and Bonacasa was able to pick out some of the finishing touches to make the house special to her.

Lilianna Bonacasa, 5, holds up a photo of her family's new home given to them by the Rocky Point VFW Post 6249. Photo by Ron Pacchiana/JPA STUDIO
Lilianna Bonacasa, 5, holds up a photo of her family’s new home given to them by the Rocky Point VFW Post 6249. Photo by Ron Pacchiana/JPA STUDIO

“I was able to pick out cabinets, flooring, what type of granite I wanted,” she said. “I was able to personalize it and able to pick certain colors that my husband would have liked to have in the kitchen and bathroom, so that was a special time.”

Bonacasa currently lives in California and lived with her husband in Coram for nine years after leaving the U.S. Air Force in 2006, and said that being able to move into the new home in two-and-a-half months is even more special because she’ll be able to be closer to him.

“We’ll be 20 minutes away from Calverton, so we’ll be on the Island with my husband,” she said, fighting back tears. “It’s bittersweet. I wish he were here to see and experience all of these wonderful things. It’s a beautiful home.”

Through tragedy, Bonacasa has been brought closer to her husband and to the new community she will be a part of. A home next door to hers will also house a veteran family. It has not yet been determined who will receive that home.

“I just want to thank everyone involved for all the love and support that they’ve shown our family,” Bonacasa said, sobbing. “I’ll never forget my husband and the sacrifices that he made. Not only did we lose a hero, but a wonderful man.”