By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli
Another graduation season is upon us. So many graduates at every level have achieved extraordinary goals. Beyond that they will definitely contribute to making our world a better and safer place to be.
Over the years, I have witnessed firsthand not only our local schools’ academic excellence, but their openness to community service by choice and not by obligation.
Port Jefferson, Comsewogue, Three Village, and Mount Sinai school districts have gone the distance and then some for our students at risk. My collaboration with these school districts in the early years of my work at Hope House has inspired me to stay the course and be a voice for the voiceless. Our mutual focus has always been on empowering students to be the best version of themselves.
Forty-three years ago on the grounds of an Anglican Franciscan monastery in Mount Sinai, Hope House Ministries was founded. We rented their small guesthouse for two years. It was primarily for runaway teenagers who had dropped out of school for a whole host of reasons. Thus began our partnership with the Port Jefferson school district.
Our mission has always been dedicated to reaching out to the most vulnerable and broken within our community. Six years ago we moved back to where it all began and thanks to this 100-year-old five acre monastery grounds, we have been able to expand our outreach to a growing number of young people battling the affliction of addiction and mental health issues.
Two years ago a high school dropout who is a documented immigrant was entrusted to our care at Hope Academy on the grounds of the old monastery in Mount Sinai. He enrolled into Mt Sinai High School. The school community welcomed him with open arms. They made his transition from dropping out of high school in the 10th grade and starting in a new school with no friends a seamless process.
Since beginning at Mount Sinai two years, this young man has played football and soccer. He has spoken in the middle school and in the high school about his journey of transformation. The collaborative spirit between the high school administration and the student body has transformed this young man’s life. Not only did he graduate, he graduated as an honor roll student.
Thanks to the generosity of so many in the Mount Sinai community, he was able to participate in all of the wonderful senior activities that the school provides. He went on the annual senior trip, the prom, and countless parties. One family was even kind enough to host a party just for him and the friends that he made at the high school
At the beginning of June, he completed his treatment program for addiction. Faculty members, a school administrator and countless students came to support their classmate and friend. It was an amazing night. It powerfully reminded me that hope lives on.
Father Francis Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.