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Plain Talk

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Over the last number of weeks we have been reminded of the seriousness of the opioid epidemic that is plaguing our country and our larger community. There have been a number of op-ed pieces in a number of respectable newspapers speaking to this issue. Our president in his State of the Union address underscored how serious this health issue is and promised all Americans that his administration is working feverishly to end this lethal health epidemic.

In Blue Point, the St. Ursula Center convent on Middle Road is for sale. A profit-making business wanted to purchase this property and use it as a residential rehab for women. After much back and forth and intense push back from the local community this business has withdrawn its offer.

Let’s be clear, we are in desperate need for residential treatment beds for people battling the heroin epidemic. We especially need more beds for women. The Ursula Center would have been ideal.

However, some rather important facts and figures were never publicly addressed that are critical to understanding the complexity of this health issue and how it must be treated if we hope to be effective supporting people who are afflicted with this addiction. There is compelling research and evidence-based treatment research that is important to review and understand. We need long-term residential treatment beds for those battling the opioid epidemic. Very few recovering opioid addicts sustain recovery after only 30 days in residential treatment.

If the truth be told, most insurance companies will not pay for any kind of residential rehab until the consumer fails at outpatient treatment. The recidivism rate for heroin addicts in outpatient treatment is off the page. People are trying outpatient treatment first because they have no choice and they are failing, they are dying — that is unconscionable.

Our insurance companies should be held accountable for every unnecessary death caused by the industry’s unwillingness to do its job. For the record most insurance companies, if they agreed to pay for residential care, only end up paying for 11 days. They decide that after 11 days it’s not a medical necessity! The average hard-core addict struggling to survive takes at least 30 to 45 days to truly detox their bodies from all the toxins with which they have been infected.

It is very disturbing that those who lead us within our political bureaucracy are unwilling to take on the insurance companies for making life-and-death decisions regarding people who battle addiction. Taking a person into residential treatment with the promise of at least 28 days and then discharging them at day 11 because the insurance company won’t pay is a disgrace and a scandal.

The Blue Point community has every right to be concerned. We do not need any more short-term residential programs that do not honor their commitments. If we’re addressing the opioid epidemic, we need long-term residential treatment programs that work on transitioning the recovering person back into the real world, hopefully with the skills to survive a drug-infested world.

The governor of our state has promised millions of dollars for residential treatment. That promise was made over a year ago. Since that promise, not one dollar has been released for residential long-term treatment.

This health crisis is getting worse by the day, not better! As a community, we need to demand the distribution of the money promised to those who are trained to work in the area of residential treatment for addiction so we can begin to support recovering addicts and their families. People are petrified and they should be; this epidemic is out of control. Change and transformation can happen and it will with the right support.

As someone who has lived and still lives with struggling drug addicts, I watch them struggle to recover. I see their pain every day but I also see the miracle of change and transformation. Addicts do recover and reclaim their lives and enrich our communities. Hope must become the anthem of our souls!

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

A child receives a present from Santa Claus at the Christmas Magic event on Dec. 6. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

Once again the holiday and Christmas season is upon us. For Christians, this is a season of hope. If we’ve ever needed hope it is right now.

The political landscape around the world is explosive. Violence, hate and human exploitation seem to be everywhere. At home, although economic prosperity is growing, respect for human rights and the diversity of people is at an all-time low.

Our elected leadership, at every level starting with Washington, is scandalously lacking. Our human discourse is a disgrace. It is a sad day in America when people with differing viewpoints have to deteriorate to name-calling and ad hominem attacks because they have differing opinions. What happened to rigorous debate ending in agreeing to respectfully disagree and remain friends?

This holiday season we have been painfully reminded of the abuse of power and the abuse and misuse of human beings especially the human exploitation, abuse and harassment of women.

What are we teaching our children? What life lessons are they learning? What happened to leading by example? It is shameful that those elected to public office have remained painfully silent when it comes to the disgraceful and abusive behavior especially from those who possess the ultimate power.

Despite all of this, we still celebrate the season of hope — the hope that change and transformation are possible; the hope that in most human beings there is a reservoir of compassion and goodness. I am fortunate in the midst of all this chaos to witness every day the magic of Christmas-simple, ordinary wounded people reaching out and touching others with love and goodness.

For more than three decades I have lived among the most broken among us. I continue to stand in awe as I watch these young men change and transform their lives and others.

Over 30 years ago, a young lawyer named Charlie Russo founded an organization, Christmas Magic, to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas for his children. Never did he think all these years later that a simple organization would ultimately become a powerful not-for-profit outreach that touches thousands of young children in our bi-county shelter system each Christmas.

It has also become a wellspring for thousands of volunteers who share their love at this time of year. It is a concrete reminder for all of us of what the real reason for the season is. Russo’s powerful example is an inspiration to all those who are privileged to know him.

Every year the residents of Hope House with whom I live participate voluntarily in Christmas Magic. To witness firsthand these wounded young men reaching out to the poorest of the poor among our children is a powerful life lesson.

Seeing these struggling young people interacting with little children, holding their hands, watching the children open up their Christmas presents from Santa, seeing the tears in their eyes as these little ones say thank you is probably among the best Christmas presents for which one could hope.

So despite a nation that has lost its way and a government that seems narcissistic, this is still the season of hope. The real miracle of Christmas is things can get better if you believe! I do believe! This holiday season let hope become the anthem of your soul!

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

The First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs has turned into a memorial after the mass shooting on Nov. 5.

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

As a nation we have been plagued with one human tragedy after another over the last few months from Charlottesville and Las Vegas, to the terrorist attack in New York City and now the massacre in the Baptist Church in Texas. Even with that as the landscape, we are still not willing to have a conversation about gun control and human safety as a means to protect the lives of all Americans.

As a nation, our human carnage is out of control. No other industrialized country has suffered so much human tragedy and loss of life in such a short period of time. Since the Texas massacre, a disturbing statistic has been released saying that we lead the world with people who have been diagnosed with serious mental health issues. Whether or not that statistic is correct, every human tragedy other than terrorism has been committed by people who have been clinically diagnosed as seriously mentally ill.

It is time to put aside the political rhetoric and begin to have a conversation that is centered around protecting human life for all Americans. We need federal regulations that protect human life from rageful out-of-control Americans who are using violence and weapons to vent their rage. Too many innocent people are losing their lives. Too many innocent families are being destroyed before they’ve had an opportunity to truly live.

We must create a protocol that is the same in every state; that screens every person who seeks a gun permit. The screening must be as rigorous as the screening for the military and the uniform services. Washington should create a central registry for all those who have committed serious crimes and/or have been imprisoned.

We must become consistently more vigilant in our enforcement of all the laws already on the books. People who own guns and lose them should be held accountable. If you sell a gun that you own that should be reported to a central registry.

Those who lead us in government are shameful in their consistent unwillingness to address this very complicated but important life issue. How many more human tragedies have to happen before Washington, starting with the president, addresses this very serious crisis in American life?

The Texas tragedy is a painful reminder of our irresponsibility when it comes to keeping America safe. How can we sit back after whole families have been massacred and a 18-month-old baby senselessly killed and not be moved to action to do more?

It is very troubling to note the dramatic change in our political landscape and public discourse since the election of November 2016. Hate crimes are up, massive protest demonstrations around the country having increased exponentially and Americans are unsettled in every socioeconomic circumstance across the country.

Our moral compass is broken. Basic human respect for people has been lost. Our leadership is accepting a narrative that is crude, disrespectful and at times vulgar. Instead of challenging that narrative, our elected officials make excuses or minimize it and, worst of all, are painfully silent!

What kind of example are we setting for the younger generation? How will their moral compasses be calibrated? Who do we encourage them to look up to? Is there anyone on the horizon?

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

By our silence, we affirm the destructive behaviors and destructive rhetoric that have become a cancer among us.

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

Once again our nation is in shock after the worse gun violence massacre in American history: 58 innocent people killed and more than 500 people severely wounded and/or injured during a Las Vegas concert.

At the time of this horrific attack, the nation was in the midst of recovering from three catastrophic hurricanes that left major areas of our country, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands overwhelmed and powerless.

Each tragic circumstance brought out the best in our American spirit. Countless heroes risking their lives to save others; the spirit of selflessness and compassion has been inspirational. If only those in elected office learned from the power of their example!

These past few months the public discourse across the country has bordered on disgraceful. The demeaning rhetoric is fueling the heat and violence that is erupting across our nation.

The recent debate around the actions of many NFL football players regarding the appropriate posture during our national anthem has sparked a national conversation that all Americans should be attentive to. No matter what your politics, the conversation it has provoked around racism, police violence and hatred is vital. We need to discuss these issues with passion, commitment and open hearts but grounded in a profound respect for one another.

So many of the events that have erupted since January have underscored that there are many serious social issues that as a nation we must confront. They go beyond the scope of our differences around health care and tax reform.

Our criminal justice system is in dire need of reform. The way we treat drug addicts who commit nonviolent crimes is scandalous and needs to be addressed. The growing incidences of discrimination based on race, religion and sexual orientation need to take center stage as part of the national agenda.

The social indifference that has become so infectious is counterproductive. By our silence, we affirm the destructive behaviors and destructive rhetoric that have become a cancer among us.

We need to be more proactive on every level. Our students need to be a part of these important conversations. The average citizen needs to become more involved in our political process and understand that his/her voice does matter and does make an important difference.

The people’s voice needs to be heard. Those who have been elected must be held accountable to the people who elected them — not to a specific political party.

These are challenging times; however, we are all part of the challenge. We must lead by example. Our churches, synagogues and mosques must address the social issues and become a part of the national conversation. Our clerical leadership must urge their congregants to take a more active role in the political landscape of our communities.

As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world!” Hope must be the anthem of our souls.

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

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

So much has happened this past month. We painfully watched the violence that erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia, ripping open the deepest wounds due to racism and discrimination. The rhetoric that erupted about that horrific event has been scandalous. Hate and violence can never be tolerated, no matter what the politics. There is no moral equivalency between neo-Nazis, white supremacists in the KKK and those protesting in support of racial and social justice for all.

As the nation finally settled down after the violence in Charlottesville, Hurricane Harvey ravaged the south of Texas and Hurricane Irma devastated south Florida and the Caribbean. They were two of the worst hurricanes to hit the mainland in a decade. We saw pictures of devastation everywhere. Thousands of people were displaced and lost everything. Families were traumatized throughout Texas and Florida. The aftermath and cleanup is overwhelming and it’s just beginning.

Despite that landscape of destruction and suffering, there has been an outpouring of compassion, love and community service from around the country. So many have stepped up to reach out to those who are suffering and struggling. There have been countless stories of strangers reaching out to strangers, people volunteering and risking their lives to rescue those who were stranded due to the dangerous flooding and amazing stories of people opening their hearts and their homes to those who have been displaced.

It is unfortunate that it takes a catastrophic tragedy like a hurricane to bring out the heart of our American spirit. Hurricane Harvey has become a rallying cry for unity in healing. So many are hoping that this spirit of solidarity and compassion can become contagious and continue beyond the relief efforts in Texas.

Hopefully, those who lead us will see the power of this life lesson, work harder at crossing over the island of separation and begin to build new bridges of understanding and dynamic cooperation for the sake of our nation.

The end of DACA was also announced at the White House through the attorney general’s office. Unfortunately, more than 600,000 undocumented young people must live their lives in limbo and anxiety, producing circumstances that no young person should be afflicted with.

These DACA youth did not choose to come to America — their parents did hoping to find a better way of life for them. For most of them, this is the only country they know. They are hard-working, and many of them are well educated. They definitely add richness to the fabric of our nation, which was founded on immigrants. Hopefully, Congress will step up, do the right thing and pass a law that will protect them and their future.

The summer’s end has also seen a real escalation in the heroin epidemic within our larger community. Unfortunately, with all that has been happening around the country, this national health crisis seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle of life.

Within a 10-day period, I have buried five young people who have died from heroin overdoses. Each young person came from a fine family but was burdened with this horrific affliction; and I am only one clergy person in our area. In talking to other colleagues, they have seen much of the same.

Everyone is on the bandwagon saying we need to do more to confront this horrific epidemic. The politicians are claiming there are monies in the pipeline. Well it must be clogged because there are still no new beds for treatment, no new medical detox centers or any new long-term residential rehabs for those battling opiate addiction. Enough of the rhetoric! If you had a son or daughter burdened with a heroin addiction, what would you do? You need a bed now! Where would you go? There are no beds! In three weeks when a bed might be available, your son or daughter could be dead.

Outpatient treatment is ineffective. Heroin addicts need more than a 28-day program. For the record most insurance companies will only now pay for 11 days — that is scandalous and reprehensible! When are we going to hold our insurance companies accountable for all of the senseless loss of life that their internet policies have contributed to? The time for talking is long past. We need action yesterday to protect our children today!

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

Stock photo

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

By mid-August most of our college-age students are winding down summer jobs and getting ready for the new semester. We have local college students studying at some of the finest colleges and universities in the country and around the world.

There is another group of college students getting ready for the new semester. They are the freshman class of 2017. A large group of college freshmen will commute to Stony Brook University and the other four- year schools here on Long Island.

A growing number of college students will attend the best-kept secret in higher education — Suffolk County Community College. I have had the privilege of teaching at SCCC for more than 30 years in the social science department as a professor of sociology.

I have met some of the finest college educators in the country there. I’ve also been privileged to work with some of the finest students in higher education. So many of them while at Suffolk lay the foundation for an extraordinary future. They are our future civic leaders, our doctors, our nurses, our business leaders, our lawyers, our scientists, our teachers and our social workers to name a few professions.

Many of our Suffolk graduates go on to some of the finest colleges and universities in the country and around the world and make profound contributions to science, technology and research.

As we are being challenged to reorder our priorities, education must remain at the top of that list, and SCCC needs to be supported as one of the greatest educational treasures in our community.

With every new freshman class, parents struggle with anxiety and intensified worry about their children; they are reluctant to cut the umbilical cord. The landscape for college freshmen is much more complicated and challenging than ever before. Whether you go away or stay home, college is not high school. Responsibility and accountability are critical for success!

Your professors will assist you academically and personally, if you are committed to the learning experience. They will not coddle you or tolerate reckless irresponsibility. Many professors will have an attendance policy and only if you are in a coma, will you be excused for missing class. Cutting usually impacts your final grade.

Choice is another challenge. You choose to go to class or to skip. Every class you cut roughly costs you a little more than $100 from your tuition. It’s a choice to stay out all night if you’re away at school and not get up and get to class on time.

Drugs and alcohol are present on every college campus, no matter what the school’s public relations department says. It’s a choice to overindulge and to act recklessly.

Most colleges and universities have wellness centers that provide a wide range of confidential mental health services for students. They have trained professionals that work with students to develop the appropriate skills to navigate the stresses of college life and when necessary make appropriate referrals for additional care and support.

Many public and private colleges across the country have campus ministry offices that provide a wide range of spiritual support services for students of every religious tradition and usually a wide range of community service opportunities.

Parents, when you have your pep talk with your college freshmen, encourage them to use all the support resources available when they are attending school. Dispel the stigma from reaching out for support when they might feel overwhelmed or even frightened. It’s natural and normal. It’s how they embrace their feelings that will make all the difference.

The college experience is an exciting adventure that encourages all students to open their minds — become critical thinkers and to move beyond the limits of their comfort zone. College can and should be a transformative and life-changing adventure.

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

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

On the way back home from a wedding I presided at in Breckenridge, Colorado, I sat next to a man who was very wise. He was a well-established attorney who split his time between a home in South Florida and one in Lake Tahoe. In his life, he raised four extraordinary children. They all graduated from Ivy League schools across the country and have developed extraordinary career jobs.

However, what he was most proud of was the people they have become. He spoke of each of his three sons and his one daughter as compassionate, sensitive human beings, who possess a profound concern for each other and for their respective communities. He spoke with great pride on the community service projects in which each of his children are involved.

We spoke of the challenges of parenting children today. He spoke of the civil discourse that exists and how disrespectful and demeaning it is. But in spite of all of that he talked about the difference a positive family environment makes in the life of the family. He spoke about his family and the climate of respect and diversity of opinion that was encouraged and respected.

After spending two hours with this man, I realized that he leads by his example — that his children are a powerful reflection of how he and his wife have celebrated their married life these past 34 years. As I reflected on our conversation on my drive home from the airport, I realized that despite our harsh landscape, change and transformation can take place if people have a positive role model to look up to.

So many people have expressed deep frustration regarding the present state of affairs in our nation. There may be a lot of talk, but there is still an awful lot of silence and inaction. If we are concerned about what’s happening in our country, or shall I say what is not happening, then it’s time for us to take action. It’s time to challenge the political machinery that is poorly responding to our social agenda.

Elected officials from both sides of the aisle are failing us miserably. We constantly hear the word “obstructionist” on a daily basis. Honestly, I think our whole system is infected with obstructionism. Those who lead us have lost their way. They are not standing up for what is important to all of us as American citizens. It matters little what your party affiliation might be — we need our leaders to work together to create a health care plan that provides quality health care for all, especially the most vulnerable among us.

We need to overhaul our tax system. It should not benefit the rich but rather justly benefit the working middle class. Our schools are wastelands of human potential. We used to lead the world with educational opportunities. At best, our educational system is mediocre. Our economy is vital to our survival; our president is working diligently on strengthening it. However, in this age of technology we need to create more job training programs that prepare people to make the transition to technology and our digital age.

Finally, we are a nation founded on diversity and difference. We need to work harder at respecting the dignity of every human person — and those who have been elected need to lead in this regard by their example.

“We must become the change that we hope for!” — Mohandas Gandhi

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

File photo by Bill Landon

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

We are a nation out of control. The partisan divide has become almost unbridgeable. Our social media is feeding a frenzy that has little respect for human dignity and basic human rights. Where is the notion and concept of accountability? We need to hold each other accountable for the choices we make. We must lead by example and it must begin at the top!

The president is our president; he must lead by example, words and deeds. He should be the principal architect of our national social discourse. We should be able to engage in difficult conversations without the fear of demeaning responses because we disagree!

Those men and women elected to lead us should be about leadership that builds bridges not walls, that unites not divides. They should be about a civil discourse that brings us together and does not polarize us. Unfortunately, there is no bipartisan dialogue or working together on building compromise.

The blame game must end. We must demand accountability from all who lead us in public life. Our elected representatives from both sides of the aisle must get about doing the people’s business. They must forge a bipartisan effort to solve the great problems facing our nation and work at creating a cooperative spirit that seeks common solutions that will resolve our problems and make America great!

Despite the social landscape, this year’s senior class is extraordinary. A growing number of our high school seniors are choosing career paths that serve the needs of others. There is such a positive spirit around community service and a spirit of inclusiveness that is refreshing, especially since we live in a world that seems more grounded in narcissism and self-centeredness, rather than thinking about others first, especially those in need.

Seniors, as you continue your journey do not let the social filters of our time enable bigotry, exclusivity and social injustice. Always try to realize that being human and sensitive to others is more important than a successful academic record. Showing compassion and understanding rooted in justice is more significant than a science formula. These are difficult lessons to learn because they demand that you risk all that you are now for what you could become tomorrow.

Look around you! We are living in a very challenging world. A new revolution is afoot. Your generation is moving away from the indifference and complacency of yesterday, and moving toward a new idealism of freedom and responsibility.

As you graduate from high school, keep these simple thoughts in mind: May you discover enough goodness in others to believe in a world of peace and to work for peace grounded in justice and human rights.

May a kind word, a reassuring touch and a warm smile be yours every day of your life. Remember the sunshine when the storm seems unending. Teach love to those who know hate and let that love embrace you as you continue in the world.

Don’t judge a book by its cover or stop at the introduction. Seek the meaning and messages it offers for life, for everyone’s life is sacred, even those who are different from you or who you do not like. Be more inclusive than exclusive. Don’t be blinded by those who tend to use shame, blame, guilt and religion to shackle people down and divide them. Set people free with your respect and nonjudgmental way.

May you never become too concerned with material matters, but instead place immeasurable value on the goodness in your hearts and the hearts of others. Find time each day to see beauty and love in the world around you. Realize you have limitless opportunities and possibilities.

Get up every day and be grateful for what you have. Suck the marrow out of life, as you face life’s challenges. Don’t see the glass as half empty; only see it as half full; see every life experience and human encounter as a learning experience, as an opportunity to grow and become more than you are now.

May your moral compass be grounded in respect for all human beings, no matter what their color, their race, their creed or their sexual orientation. May this compass guide you on a path that is committed to working for peace and social justice.

As Gandhi once said, “Be the change you hope for in the world.”

Congratulations graduates of 2017. Thanks for making the world a little richer, a little brighter and a better place to be!

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

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

On a Friday in May, a very distraught man in his mid-40s barricaded himself in a Catholic Church in Center Moriches. He threatened police to use incendiary devices. After the police retreated, he set the church on fire and killed himself.

The first responders and Suffolk County police were extraordinary; hundreds of people reached out to the young pastor to offer help in the midst of this horrific tragedy.

Located directly next to the church was a regional Catholic school, grades K through eight. A few hundred children were locked in for most of the afternoon. They were petrified. By late afternoon, they were released to their parents.

On the Monday after this horrific tragedy, the pastor designated the 8 o’clock morning Mass as a Mass for healing and peace for the parish and school community. The entire student body assembled in the gym along with countless parishioners and community members. This gymnasium turned worship space was alive with faith and renewed hope.

The pastor began the Mass with inspiring words of welcome. After the Gospel reading, he gave an extraordinary homily that was beyond words. The students were mesmerized by his words of compassion, unconditional love, profound gratitude and renewed hope.

He asked the students that morning how many had been afraid on Friday. More than half of the student body raised their hands. The young priest did too. He said he had been really scared but had drawn on his faith and he knew he would be okay. He went on to say to this very attentive audience that it was okay to be scared but that they would be okay too; that we just need to draw on our faith! All who participated that morning left with a renewed sense of hope and a real belief that everything would be okay!

There was a young social work intern at this peace and healing service. He was a social work intern from one of New York City’s graduate schools of social work. I have known him since he was a teenager; he is an extraordinary young man but like many of his generation not without some real-life challenges.

His graduate school graduation was on the Sunday before that Monday morning Mass. I asked him how was graduation. He told me he had been really excited to get hooded since he had missed his undergraduate graduation. However, because of the tragedy in his field placement, he made the difficult decision to pass on commencement. He said, “my students need me; I think it’s more important for me to be present among them. I want them to know that they will be okay!” I was profoundly touched by the decision he made.

That same graduation weekend two young men who have battled addiction since high school are powerful examples that transformation does take place and recovery can and does lead to new life.

One young man graduated cum laude from a local liberal arts college and will begin his professional career as a quality control scientist for a pharmaceutical company. The other young man, a philosophy major as an undergraduate, graduated at the top of his class with a law degree. Both men continue to give back and express gratitude every day for the lives they have reclaimed.

The drug epidemic is a national health crisis. Those in government pay lip service to this infectious affliction; despite their inaction, people do recover, reclaim their lives and become life-giving members of our society.

These are just a few stories of hope. I am fortunate to see these kinds of miracles every day across a landscape of unnecessary human carnage!

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

Father Frank with Bill Reitzig Sr. at the Hope Walk for Addiction in Mount Sinai. Photo by Kevin Redding
Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

The political rhetoric is deplorable. International tensions are at an all-time high. Social chaos seems to rain everywhere. Despite this contentious landscape, there are still courageous men and women among us that are doing extraordinary things to make our community a better place to live.

On Saturday, April 22,, on the first anniversary of their son’s death due to a heroin overdose, a Miller Place family led the first Hope Walk for Addiction at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai. More than 600 people gathered on that Saturday morning to celebrate the belief that miracles do happen and hope does live!

What was so impressive about that morning is that it brought the young, the old, the rich and the poor, the religious and not so religious together. This national health crisis does not know a particular profile. This epidemic is infecting families everywhere; no one is exempt.

The Reitzig family was the prime movers behind this day of hope. The Town of Brookhaven and Hope House Ministries were the co-sponsors of this life-giving event. Billy Reitzig was 25 years old when he passed. He was born into a loving family. As a family, they were really connected to each other. Like many young men his age, he had his struggles but was getting help. He used heroin only once and lost his life. He was bright, good-looking and had a great job. He was well-liked in the workplace and in the neighborhood where he grew up. Unfortunately, the affliction of addiction had its death hold on him.

Every parent’s nightmare is to bury a child. To lose a son to the heroin epidemic is beyond words. His parents would have been justified because of their unbearable loss and grief to have withdrawn quietly and suffered with their pain and profound loss in silence. Instead of withdrawing, they decided to celebrate their son’s life by becoming activists in educating and raising public awareness about this horrific national health crisis. To honor their son’s memory, they have aggressively been raising awareness and raising money for desperately needed long-term treatment beds, which are in short supply.

Countless families came wearing T-shirts; honoring their sons and daughters who have senselessly been lost to this infectious epidemic. Those who spoke that morning were challenging, inspirational and people filled with a renewed sense of hope. Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) who were co-sponsors, Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) as well as a number of other elected officials made an appearance to show their support.

In mid-April Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) announced that millions of dollars are being allocated to provide treatment for those suffering from addiction. The more important question is when are the RFPs (requests for proposal) going to be released for that important money? Will government streamline the regulations so that that money can be utilized sooner rather than later? Treatment beds are needed ASAP!

Enough with the passive lip service alleging support; we need aggressive action yesterday. By the time you read this column, I will have buried another 25-year-old young man from Miller Place with untapped potential and possibility due to the heroin epidemic.

In addition to our urgent need for long-term treatment beds, we need extensive, comprehensive prevention education and treatment resources to support the growing number of families being infected by this horrific epidemic.

Bill Reitzig Sr. and his family are an inspiration to all who are struggling with the burden of addiction. Despite their pain and profound loss, they are beacons of hope within our community that this epidemic will end one day and the day will come when parents will not bury their children anymore due to this devastating affliction.

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