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Father Frank

Hope House Ministries

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

Fall is a wonderful time of year. On the North Shore, we are reminded of the beauty of the change of the seasons, by the tapestry of colors as the leaves change. This beauty is unfolding despite the horrific political landscape that is demeaning and reprehensible. Hope still lives.

The opiate epidemic continues to claim record numbers of lives from every walk of life, from every socioeconomic system. However, people do recover, reclaim their lives and become productive, contributing members of our community.

For more than three decades, I have lived among the most broken and wounded among us. I’ve been blessed to see human miracles every day. I have witnessed some inspiring human transformations that have strengthened my commitment to stay the course, especially when it has been difficult.

Every fall I think of the countless lives that have enriched me. I also painfully remember those lives that have fallen into the cracks. Their remembrance always challenges me to do more and to never lose hope or give up.

As I think back over the years, I remember different young men from each decade who remind me of why I do what I do. I think of what has become of these men. Each decade has a wonderful group of shining stars. The common denominator is each man was lost, overwhelmed and profoundly wounded. They had lost their way, but with a lot of support and love, they developed coping skills, not only to survive but also to change and transform their lives. They became extraordinary men. 

One young man who is now in his 50s is the father of three children. He lives in Wisconsin and is the executive director of a not-for-profit organization that services young people. He is active in his local church and works in youth ministry. Another young man from that decade is married with four children and is a practicing attorney for a large law firm in Chicago. 

Another young man lives locally with his wife and twin boys. He is a successful financial broker. He has given back for more than 20 years, anonymously dropping off pizza to the main house every Saturday for dinner. The present community only know him as the “Pizza Boy.”

This group of men from the 1980s refer to themselves as a band of brothers. They continue to connect with each other on a regular basis. Distance has never been an obstacle for connecting.

The 1990s saw the house grow in number with a new band of brothers — more lawyers, teachers, tradesmen and social workers. They all make sure that if they are in town to stop by, say thank you and urge the present community to stay the course and not lose hope.

One of the men from this decade who lives and works out of state recently stopped by with his wife of 15 years and their 12-year-old son. In front of myself and members of the present community he said, “This was and is my home where I learned how to love myself and love others and it will always be where my heart is!”

The men from the 2000s are doing great things. One is an author and a founder of a not-for-profit wellness center, another is a social worker in charge of a street outreach to the poor, while another is in law school on a scholarship. There is also a young man who discovered his gift for music performance who recently received a full scholarship to a local college. He and a band of brothers, through music and song, celebrate the message of hope through recovery and wellness on an ongoing basis within our larger community.

These are just some of the many stories of hope that have sustained me and encouraged me for almost 40 years. A very important part of the story is you — the community; without your love, support and encouragement none of this would be possible. For all of you, I am forever grateful.

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

All the major religious traditions at their core espouse love, forgiveness and respect.

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

Over the last few weeks we have read much about racism, bigotry and discrimination that continues to infect our social landscape. We have also seen the double standard when it comes to holding people accountable for the poor choices they have made.

Accountability seems to be a concept sadly missing in our civil discourse. Freedom of speech is a basic human right guaranteed by our Constitution. However, that right does not allow people to publicly disrespect and degrade others because we disagree with them.

Let’s take a moment and reflect on the social rhetoric that is infecting our civil discourse on a regular basis. Some feel that they have the right to say and do whatever they want even if it’s at the expense of someone’s character and integrity grounded in no fact or reality.

It becomes increasingly difficult to hold people accountable when those who lead us on both sides of the aisle live with a double standard; when our religious leaders live by a double standard. We have the right to hold any opinion we wish. We do not have the right to impose our opinion on others or demean them if we disagree. Basic human respect for the dignity of every person seems to be buried in the rubble of hateful speech and countless people making excuses for that hatefulness.

All the major religious traditions at their core espouse love, forgiveness and respect. It is unacceptable to use religion as a manipulative tool to justify basic hate, discrimination and bigotry. Our religious community has to move beyond their silence and speak to the issue of respect for all people, no matter what their social and/or political circumstance.

In early September a few years ago, a Jewish family was celebrating a Jewish holy day. The public schools in the community were closed to respect and honor the Jewish community. The family came home from temple and found a white swastika painted on their driveway. Needless to say, they were devastated.

Upon investigation, local law enforcement discovered that two Christian eighth-grade boys who were classmates of the boy who was a member of this family painted that hateful symbol on their driveway. Those young men did not know that the boy’s grandmother lived with them and that she was a survivor of the Holocaust.

Law enforcement took the two boys responsible for this horrific act, arrested them and charged them with a hate crime. The two boys were friends with the Jewish boy whose home they violated with that horrific symbol.

Unfortunately, that hateful act polarized that small community. Some felt people overreacted to a childish prank, stating boys were boys just playing around with no harm or disrespect intended. Others felt people minimized the severity of that act of hate and felt the young men should be held fully accountable for their reckless decision-making.

The victimized family, especially the Holocaust survivor, did not want to prosecute the guilty boys, but they did want them to be held accountable and helped to understand how profoundly hurtful their prank was.

After many conversations back and forth with law enforcement and the local school officials, the elderly Holocaust survivor suggested that the boys apologize before her temple community and participate in a full school assembly on the need for respect and tolerance of people from every walk of life and at that assembly apologize for being so hurtful.

The boys agreed. The charges were dropped and what was once a hateful act became an opportunity to learn a real-life lesson about respect, tolerance and accountability.

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

The American landscape continues to be burdened with conflict, dishonesty and ineffective leadership at every level of government. As I write this column, more than 800,000 federal employees will not be paid because of a government shutdown. They unfortunately are being held captive by a government that is paralyzed on both sides of the aisle.

As the New Year begins, let’s not be distracted by a political rhetoric that is more fixated on ad hominem attacks and divisiveness, but rather let us support positive action on behalf of all Americans.

Our country is founded on the principle of “we the people.” We must renew our commitment to stand up for social justice, for equality and inclusiveness for all people, no matter what their ethnicity, race, color, sexual orientation, economic or social status.

The leaders of our faith community, both locally and nationally, must move out of their coma of silence, not become political or feed the rhetoric of hate and divisiveness, but rather they must stand up and call us to civility and a discourse that supports and respects the human dignity and integrity of every American citizen.

At the beginning of every New Year, we traditionally make a series of New Year’s resolutions that we break by Jan. 2. This year let’s identify some important social issues that urgently need to be addressed and work diligently at creative solutions that will improve the quality of life in all of our communities.

Homelessness is a growing problem across our county. Our traditional approach is a poor Band-Aid that sets most homeless up for failure. The poor and the homeless live in the shadows. They’ve no fixed address so they have no political representation — no one to voice their concerns and struggles.

Our Department of Health and Human Services, which is charged to deal with the homeless, is working with an antiquated model that is outdated and inefficient, therefore costing you, the taxpayer, an extraordinary amount of money and does little to break the cycle of poverty and homelessness in our midst.

Let us be mindful that more and more of our homeless are mentally ill, drug addicts and returning veterans suffering from untreated PTSD. We lack the basic human resources to break their cycle of dependency on the system.

The opioid crisis is worse than it was last year. As I write this column, I buried two more young people who died senselessly because of this epidemic.

The president of the United States called the opioid epidemic a national health crisis. It is, but again we pay lip service to a national infection but are doing little to treat it effectively. Evidence-based treatment says we need long-term residential treatment beds for a minimum of one year to 18 months, if we hope to empower the recovering addict to wellness and long-term recovery.

We have very limited resources in this regard. The few resources we do have are overtaxed with referrals and are underfunded. The time for talking is over; it’s time for positive action!

These two issues are massive. However, I am optimistic that we have the people and the resources to make a difference. We need to think outside the box, be creative, be willing to risk and most importantly believe we can make a difference that counts. I do!

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

Another school year has begun. In the more than three decades that I have had the privilege of teaching college and graduate students, I have never had a class that I did not love and learn from. I continue to be amazed at their openness and enthusiasm about life.

Their love for others, their concern for the environment and their desire to leave the planet better than how they found it continues to inspire me to do my small part at making the world a better place.

Every fall semester I teach an honors sociology class at Suffolk County Community College in Selden, one of our best-kept secrets in higher education. Usually by my second class, I ask my students how many are registered to vote, and then take a count on how many are not registered to vote. It is always a mix on who is and who is not registered.

After the question about voter registration, I ask how many intend to vote. This semester I was shocked at how many indicated that they had no intention or desire to vote. The conversation that erupted after that statement was deeply troubling. Most of my students feel that their vote is meaningless and that their voice does not matter at all. They believe that our country is led by special interests and not by those elected to represent the people.

Even more disturbing was my question about the issues. What are they? Who do they affect? Some could articulate some of the national issues like gun safety and a broken immigration system. Very few could identify or articulate the local issues like health care, high taxes and affordable housing to name a few. 

What was really troubling is that this group of students who are among the brightest of the bright who may go on to Harvard or Yale, have no foundation on the core values of our nation and how it works.

We in education need to revisit this issue and reassess how we are preparing the next generation of American leaders. What are we doing in our junior high and in our high schools civics classes? Are we teaching our students to be critical thinkers and analytical writers? Are we discussing the important social issues of our times and helping them to understand what it means to be sociologically mindful?

They are the next generation of leaders that need to salvage our democracy and protect human rights for all. We need to work harder to prepare the next generation to become our future leaders. Our democracy demands it and our country desperately needs them.

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco signs $10,000 check presented with Legislator Sarah Anker, on right, to the North Shore Youth Council for a new family counseling initiative to combat substance abuse. Photo from sheriff's office

A strong support system is vital in a fight against drug abuse, and now North Shore families will have more options to help struggling loved ones manage their addiction.

Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) and Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco delivered a check for $10,000 to the North Shore Youth Council in Rocky Point this week, which will be designated for its new family counseling initiative to combat substance abuse. The grant, which is funded from the sheriff’s office asset forfeiture monies, will engage whole families in therapy designed to help them cope, understand the root causes of addiction and support their loved one’s recovery.

Anker proposed the pilot initiative following a conversation with Father Frank Pizzarelli from Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker and Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco with members of the North Shore Youth Council after presenting the check for it's new substance abuse program. Photo from sheriff's office
Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker and Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco with members of the North Shore Youth Council after presenting the check for it’s new substance abuse program. Photo from sheriff’s office“Father Frank is on the frontlines in our battle against addiction in Suffolk County,” she said. “He impressed upon me the importance of the family unit in successfully treating addiction.”

When Anker approached the sheriff about the possibility of using asset forfeiture funds dedicated for this purpose, DeMarco was all in favor of the project.

“Family therapy can lower relapse rates, help parents with addicted children find effective ways to support their loved one’s recovery and even help children with addicted parents deal with their struggles,” he said. “ I am hoping this initiative will serve as a model and get more families involved in recovery.”

The North Shore Youth Council serves communities across the North Shore, including Port Jefferson, Wading River, Middle Island, Ridge and Coram. The agency helps hundreds of families each day through their school-based prevention and before and after care programs. According to the youth council’s Executive Director Janene Gentile, many people within the community can’t afford family counseling, because money is tight due to lost wages and the cost of treatment.

“Treatment is the first step, but ongoing family therapy is often essential to getting to the root of the problems that led someone to use drugs in the first place,” she said. “This grant will defer the cost of family counseling, which will eliminate the most common barrier to families engaging in therapy.

North Shore Youth Council’s Board President Laurel Sutton joined with Gentile in thanking the County sheriff and legislator for their support.

“I want to thank Sheriff DeMarco and Legislator Anker for giving us this opportunity to enhance our counseling services to struggling families impacted by the opioid [problem],” she said.

For more information about the family counseling initiative, or to schedule an appointment with a counselor, call the North Shore Youth Council at 631-744-0207.