By Fr. Francis 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.