What a year it has been so far.
Since the passing of former Comsewogue Superintendent Joe Rella back in February, the entire nation has been shook by what seems like a crisis after crisis.
But June 2, with school buildings closed and the community only now crawling out from under the rock of months of quarantine, district teachers and officials still found ways to honor Rella’s ideals of service above self. This year, students, faculty and alumni showed their support to a local assisted living facility.
Joe’s Day of Service, which was started in 2018 by special education teacher Andrew Harris, usually includes students, faculty and alumni supporting the community by participating in projects around the district. Past years included cleaning graves at Calverton National Cemetery, cleaning animal cages at local rescue shelters and singing to residents of the Long Island State Veterans Home at Stony Brook University.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year district leaders had no choice but to think of something different.
Around midday, just under 30 cars crowded with district residents drove through the Woodhaven Center of Care facility in Port Jefferson Station. There, cars honked horns and shouted their support to the residents and staff of the home, who like many assisted living and elder care facilities have seen months of lockdown, and residents are only now able to spend time outside. However, they must be wearing masks at all times out of their rooms, and visitors are still not normally allowed to enter the facility.
“In this time, with everything going on, I think this is wonderful,” said Patricia Cagney, a resident of the assisted living facility and longtime PJS resident. “We need celebration and good remembrances, and that’s what this is all about.”
While the passing cars showcased Comsewogue pride, two sets of musical artists performed for the assisted living residents and to the nursing staff of the long-term care facility.
High school students Gianna Pelella and Faith Schlichting performed renditions of Andra Day’s “Rise Up” and Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings.”
Lily Brosseau and Sydney Antos, who both graduated from Comsewogue in 2018, presented Drops of Jupiter’s “Train,” with Brosseau on guitar and Antos on vocals. Both said their lives were impacted when college campuses shut down, but they said they plan to attend again when campuses hopefully reopen in the fall.
“We felt really close to Dr. Rella, and we really wanted to participate in this day of service,” Brosseau said.
Laura Marinus-Menno, the director of recreation for Woodhaven, said the last months have been especially hard for the residents, but this show of love and compassion from the school community has “lifted the spirits of our residents who are still under quarantine,” and called it “inspirational” as residents came out of their cocoons from being in isolation since March.
She said she is a Comsewogue alumni, as well as her children, and said Rella was “an amazing man.”
District staff and students also performed other acts of community kindness June 2. Residents made signs thanking local businesses, painted kindness rocks to display uplifting messages for essential workers and wrote messages for the community in chalk on their driveways. The school district finished planting sunflowers at Jackie’s Garden at the high school. There is a flower for each senior graduate they will be able to take home when they’re fully grown.
Harris said such days as this stand in direct opposition to the pandemic and the horrors witnessed for the past several months.
“It’s the antithesis of everything going on,” he said.