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Jake Engel

Councilwoman Jane Bonner and Father Frank in front of the new plaque at the Cedar Beach basketball courts. Photo courtesy of Councilwoman Bonner’s office

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

These are difficult days for our country and for the world. The rhetoric all around us is infectious and vile. Recent images from our southern border about undocumented people being detained in squalor and filth is unconscionable. There is no humane justification for separating children from their parents no matter what their legal status is.

What has happened to our moral compass that was once able to transcend political parties and nonsense and do what is right for humankind?

Despite this troubling American landscape, hope and compassion still lives. On Friday, July 12, I went to support the efforts of two brothers from Miller Place who lost their brother from a heroin overdose more than five years ago.

To honor their brother who was a senior at Stony Brook University and an avid basketball player, The Jake Engel Foundation was created. Jake’s two brothers did not want their brother’s senseless death to be in vain. They were determined to celebrate his life and “bring awareness, community and change to all people negatively affected by substance abuse in Suffolk County.”

Their focus is on developing healthy outlets for youth. They reach out to people who are struggling or have struggled with addiction. They reach out to students who need to navigate peer pressure during school; people who know others who are struggling or have struggled with addiction. They believe that the human community as a whole is responsible for creating a world free of addiction!

These two brothers could have buried their heads in the sand. When they started Hoops for Hope five years ago, the youngest brother was still in high school and his older brother was still in graduate school.

These two courageous young men have raised thousands of dollars for many worthy programs that treat addiction. Equally as important, they have raised the awareness of an entire community about the opioid epidemic that is taking so many lives senselessly in record numbers.

When I arrived at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai for this annual basketball tournament, there was not a parking spot to be found. There were vendors everywhere raising money for this important cause. Thirty teams participated from all over the North Shore. Ten teams were on a waiting list for next year because of limited space. 

That Friday was really a community effort. Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Republican) had the Cedar Beach basketball court renamed “Jake Engel Memorial Basketball Court “Shine On …” and a new plaque was attached on its entrance gate.

The spirit in the air that day was electric. I must admit it was so good to feel so much positive energy that afternoon. These two young brothers continue to inspire an entire community to be more. Their passion and commitment to make a difference should be recorded and sent to every elected official at every level of our government, challenging them to roll up their sleeves and lead this nation by example — working harder to build bridges and not walls and grounded in hope that tomorrow can always be better than today.

These two brothers and their parents are the embodiment of our great American spirit and that hope lives! Hope does not abandon us. We abandon hope! Let hope become the anthem of our souls.

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

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By Julianne Mosher

For five years, the Engel family of Miller Place has been putting together a basketball tournament and barbecue in memory of their late son, Jake, who tragically lost his life in 2015 to a heroin overdose. 

But this year was special for the Jake Engel Hoops for Hope Barbecue – which sold out in just three days. On Friday, July 12, Brookhaven town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) stood with Jake’s family at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai to reveal the new name of the court that overlooks the harbor: The Jake Engel Memorial Basketball Court.

Inscribed with the words “Shine On” and an image of a man fishing, the notion for the memorial was decided last year. 

“Basketball and fishing are what Jake loved to do,” Bonner said. “This sign is a reminder of why we are here today and why we play this game every year.”

Shortly after Jake’s death, his brother and friends spontaneously organized a community basketball tournament in his name. Over the course of four years, the organization has raised over $40,000 that has been donated to Hope House Ministries, a Port Jefferson-based nonprofit organization that provides care and hope to individuals suffering
from addiction.

“Our main goal is to bring awareness of the opioid crisis we have here on Long Island and to bring the community together,” Jake’s mother, Karen Engel, said. 

The four-and-a-half hour event consisted of 28 teams of three to four players. Over a dozen volunteers helped with selling T-shirts, food and refreshments, along with a large raffle of donated items. Friday’s event raised roughly $12,000 and was the first year of the organization as a nonprofit. 

“This year’s tournament was really successful,” Geoff Engel, Jake’s brother, said. 

Four months ago, the family officially established the Jake Engel Hoops for Hope Foundation that looks to bring awareness, community and change to all people negatively affected by substance abuse in Suffolk County. 

“I want to thank the Engel family for taking such a horrible tragedy and turning it into something special,” Bonner said, “It takes a special person to do that.”

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Geoff, Bob, Karen and Patrick Engel hosted the Hoops for Hope event in memory of their family member. Photo by Kevin Redding

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.

Friends take to the court for some 3-on-3 basketball action in support of Jake Engel, a Miller Place resident who died of a heroin overdose last year, during the second annual Hoops for Hope fundraiser. Photo by Kevin Redding
Friends take to the court for some 3-on-3 basketball action in support of Jake Engel, a Miller Place resident who died of a heroin overdose last year, during the second annual Hoops for Hope fundraiser. Photo by Kevin Redding

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.

Geoff Engel plays some hoops in support of his brother Jake, who died last year of a heroin overdose. Photo by Kevin Redding
Geoff Engel plays some hoops in support of his brother Jake, who died last year of a heroin overdose. Photo by Kevin Redding

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.

Community members take to the court in Hoops for Hope tribute

Local friends and community members come out to play 3 on 3 basketball in support of, and to pay respects to, Jake Engel during the Hoops for Hope fundraiser. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Four years ago, Jake Engel of Miller Place lived in Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson. It’s to that same ministry that the Engel family is donating the proceeds from their first Jake Engel Hoops for Hope fundraiser on Tuesday, which they want to make an annual event.

Last Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, 22-year-old Engel died of a heroin overdose. Engel was born on July 18, 1993. Engel’s wake was on Friday at the O.B. Davis Funeral Home in Miller Place. The mass took place on Saturday at Saint Louis De Montfort church in Sound Beach.

But the Engel family wanted to do one more thing to remember their loved one. After the funeral, Engel’s younger brother, Patrick, wanted to find a way to remember his brother and raise money for a good cause.

Pat Engel dribbles the ball at the Jake Engel Hoops for Hope fundraiser. Photo by Giselle Barkley
Pat Engel dribbles the ball at the Jake Engel Hoops for Hope fundraiser. Photo by Giselle Barkley

“All the proceeds are going to Hope House … He lived there for about two years and it’s a great program,” Pat Engel said. “He made a lot of friends; [it was] probably the best years of his life.”

According to its website, Hope House Ministries aims to “provide compassionate, comprehensive and competent care for the poor, the marginal and the wounded among us.”

According to family friend Lisa Nordin, of Miller Place, various people in need seek shelter at Hope House. While the organization helps people in times of need, the community also wanted to band together in a time of need.

“After this tragedy, we just felt like, as a community, we have to get together and fight against drugs and drug dealers,” Nordin said.

About 15 small, self-appointed teams donated money to participate in this event, where they played half-court basketball at the basketball court at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai.

Brian Sztabnik was one of the many people who attended and participated in the Engel’s Hoops for Hope.

Sztabnik and several others said Engel “loved coming to the beach and he loved playing basketball.”

“They figured might as well put the two things together and have a benefit, and bring the community together, raise some money and celebrate his life,” he said.

Pat Engel said his older brother enjoyed the beach, adding that he was a clammer and spent 8 to 12 hours at the beach, daily.

Countless community members gathered to donate money and participate in the event. Many of them knew Jake Engel in high school. With their help, Hoops for Hope raised more than $5,000 for Hope House Ministries.

Pat Engel thought the event had a good turnout, especially considering it was planned in three days. He also thought this new, annual event was a good way to raise money and honor his brother.

“Jake, he had a wonderful sense of humor,” Engel said. “He could light up the room with his smile. He cared about everyone that cared about him. He loved his family, and his family loved him.”

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