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Angela’s House

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Hundreds of residents showed off their athleticism and generosity this past weekend in Smithtown during the 12th annual 5K Running of the Bull, which benefits local children in need.

On the grounds of the New York Avenue Smithtown Central School District administrative building, spectators rang mini cowbells and giant speakers played the “Rocky” theme song as more than 200 runners raced down a 3.1-mile course along Forestwood Park to the finish line during this year’s fundraiser. The competitors ranged in age from 11 to 82. Each finisher was met at the end of the race with cheers from family and friends, food from local eateries and raffle drawings.

Commack resident Stephen Abruzzo, 47, who came in first with a run time of 18 minutes 28 seconds, has been running in the Greater Smithtown Chamber of Commerce event since it began in 2006.

“It’s all about giving back to the local charity,” Abruzzo said. “This is a great cause and this race is a great reflection of the Smithtown community.”

Dominick LoGiudice came from Patchogue to take part in the event for the first time.

“I heard it’s a well-run event and the charity angle is unbelievable,” he said. “We all have to do our part.”

All proceeds from the 5K Running of the Bull go to Angela’s House, a Hauppauge-based nonprofit with locations in East Moriches, Smithtown and Stony Brook that assists families caring for children with special health care needs. The funds primarily cover the costs of what insurance companies won’t, like sending a child to a specialty camp or providing expensive mobility equipment such as adaptive strollers.

The race helps the 25-year organization continue to provide special needs families the ‘yes’ after everybody else says ‘no,’ according to founder and executive director, Bob Policastro, who also competed.

“When a parent sees an event like this advertised, it’s like, ‘Wow, my town is supporting an agency that’s supporting us,’” Policastro said. “A lot of them feel very alone as their life can be restricted. So when they know a community is rallying around them, it’s like a boost that they need and deserve.”

When Mark Mancini of the Greater Smithtown Chamber of Commerce first joined the group in 2005, he said he pitched the idea of a 5K run for a charity, which he said was met with lukewarm responses from his fellow board members.

“It was a little shocking to me,” he said. “But that all changed after the first Running of the Bull. The chamber after that wanted to get charities for everything. One event basically kick-started others.”

Mancini said after he learned about Angela’s House and Policastro — who started the organization after his own daughter died from medical complications in 1990 — he was determined to make it the focus of the run. The race has also benefited other charities over the years, such as The Courtney Sipes Memorial Foundation, a nonprofit founded in memory of a Smithtown student struck and killed by a car on Main Street in 2009.

“This is so important,” Mancini said. “It’s such a positive event and just the thing that we need.”

Barbara Franco, executive director of the chamber, agreed.

“It’s a fabulous day for the community, for families, for children, for pets,” Franco said with a laugh and pointed out a bulldog dressed in an event T-shirt. “If mom is running, dad and the kids cheer her on. If dad’s running, the whole family’s behind him.”

Chamber president, Robert Cartelli, who led the 1K fun run for young children and their parents before the main race, said this is among his favorite events in Smithtown.

“I love it,” Cartelli said. “I look at this community as a pulse of Long Island and I’m very happy to be part of this family event. It’s the best.”

A check with funds raised by the event will be presented to Angela’s House during the chamber’s holiday party in December.

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Bob Policastro smiles with Ella, a young girl with a respiratory issue. Photo by Kevin Redding

For 25 years, Hauppauge resident Bob Policastro has made it his mission to give medically fragile children and their families a place to turn to — not just for specialized nursing care but love and normalcy.

As founder and executive director of Angela’s House, a nonprofit organization that offers an extensive array of services for families to support children with severe medical conditions, the 57-year-old has worked tirelessly since 1992 to address the gap in New York’s health care system when it comes to helping chronically ill kids.

He said he was determined to be a voice for these parents and kids in the community after experiencing firsthand just how underhelped they are.

A view of one of the kid’s bedrooms. Photo by Kevin Redding.

When his daughter, Angela, was born in August 1989, Policastro said everything went wrong.

“She lost a lot of blood and oxygen, and suffered severe brain damage, that left her very frail,” he said.

As there had been no permanent place on Long Island equipped to handle the technological and medical needs of frail children, Policastro and his wife, Angie, had a tough time finding a specialized home or facility to provide their daughter the nursing care she desperately needed.

They ended up finding a specialty hospital two and a half hours away in Connecticut, but the long drive just to see his daughter left an emotional and physical scar on Policastro.

After Angela died a little after her first birthday, a grief stricken Policastro got to work.

Now there are three large group homes that look and feel more like cozy resorts to choose from, with Angela’s House locations in East Moriches, Smithtown and Stony Brook.

Each location contains 24-hour nursing, local therapists and doctors on hand, and houses up to eight kids between the ages 6 and 16 with varying conditions. The residences offer top-of-the-line medical and monitoring equipment hidden within the warmth and beauty of a caring home.

And although the children that inhabit it are those who have suffered accidents, disease, developmental delays and more, Angela’s House helps provide them the freedom and opportunity to have a simple childhood.

During a walkthrough of the large Stony Brook house, which opened in 2013 and is dedicated to kids who rely on ventilators, Policastro pointed out one of the children’s bedrooms.

It looked like a kid’s paradise, with a bed covered in stuffed animals, the floor littered with toys, Nickelodeon on TV and a window that gives a beautiful view of the property’s nearby woods — a far cry from the hospitals and institutions in which many of the children at the house had been living.

Bob Policastro smiles with Torren who suffers from a respiratory issue. Photo by Kevin Redding.

“For me, it’s about the kids and giving them a safe and loving life,” he said. “I feel really blessed that these kids who have been given a limited lease on life can make the most of it in ways the average person could never dream possible, or can touch people in ways that change them forever. It’s remarkable to see a nonverbal kid, [many of house’s children can’t talk], that has a smile that can light up a room. It’s a great responsibility and I feel honored to be put in a position where I can try to help as much as I can.”

Deborah Church, nurse manager at the Stony Brook location who does everything for the kids from providing medical stability to planning birthday parties to giving them a hug when they need it, said Angela’s House is the best place for these children to be if they can’t be home.

“It’s nice to have the parents smile and know they can go out and have a life, and come and visit their children and see they’re so happy, safe and well taken care,” Church said. “This is a happy home for them to live. These kids can be as normal as possible and always have a smile on their face.”

Gathered around a kitchen table, Policastro and Church talked with 15-year-old Torren, who had been confined to a hospital and nursing home for the first 12 years of her life because of a respiratory illness, about her Sweet 16 next month. Torren will wear an extravagant dress, dance to her favorite band, OneRepublic, and eat nachos with her friends at the house.

Torren, who wheels her ventilator around inside a travel suitcase in order to feel less self-conscious about her condition, said her favorite parts about living in the house are the staff and outings — which include trips to the bank and local stores, as well as pumpkin patches in the fall.

Stephanie Caroleo has been working at Angela’s House for six years.

“The most rewarding aspect is when you come to work and you truly feel like you make a difference every day,” she said. “Every day we make a difference in the lives of these kids, and you see it in their face, in how they speak with you and the relationships we develop.”

When asked what’s kept him motivated for the last 25 years, Policastro pointed to Ella, a little girl in a wheelchair smiling from ear to ear. “That,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what mood you’re in, if you bump into one of these kids and you see that smile, oh man, that’s golden.”

Photo from Carol Adamo

The Smithtown Service Unit 25 Girl Scouts filled 300 Christmas stockings and delivered them to the Smithtown Food Pantry, St. Patrick’s Outreach and the Smithtown Historical Society’s collection for Angela’s House. Twenty-three Daisy, Brownie, Junior, Cadette, Senior and Ambassador Girl Scout troops participated in the project. 

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Participants from the Walk a Day in Our Shoes event Sunday, Sept. 18, smile as they start their trek. Photo from Angela’s House

By Victoria Espinoza

More than 700 people walked a day in someone else’s shoes this past weekend.

Angela’s House, a Hauppauge-based nonprofit organization that offers support for families and children living with severe medical conditions, hosted its second annual Walk a Day in Our Shoes 3K Walk fundraiser at the Holtsville Ecology Center Sept. 18.

$45,000 was raised to help bring awareness to the organization’s cause. Limited options exist for families with children born and diagnosed as being medically frail, chronically ill or suffering from any type of life-threatening conditions when or if they leave the hospital.

Bob Policastro, founder and executive director of Angela’s House, said he was unaware of the limited options parents have until his daughter, Angela, suffered severe brain damage during birth, which left her very medically frail and in need of nursing care.

“The process is incredibly painful,” Policastro said in a phone interview. “You’re in this situation no one wants to be in, and you need to figure out how you’ll be there as a parent for your child.”

Participants from the Walk a Day in Our Shoes event Sunday, Sept. 18, smile as they start their trek. Photo from Angela’s House
Participants from the Walk a Day in Our Shoes event Sunday, Sept. 18, smile as they start their trek. Photo from Angela’s House

Policastro said he and his wife, Angie, had a hard time finding a specialized home or facility near where they lived in Hauppauge and eventually settled on a specialty hospital in Connecticut. The lack of services locally put additional emotional and physical strain on the parents because they were forced to travel more than two hours to spend time with their daughter in Connecticut. Angela eventually succumbed to her illnesses and died shortly after her first birthday.

The Policastros created the nonprofit in 1992 and since then have opened three homes in East Moriches, Smithtown and Stony Brook where children with serious medical conditions live and are cared for 24 hours a day.

The funds raised from the event will help continue the care in these three homes, as well as programs to help other families learn about the resources available for them and their loved ones who are struggling with life-threatening medical issues.

One mother wrote about her experience with Angela’s House. Her son Johnny required a tracheotomy and a feeding tube around five years old. She said as his condition worsened, she was no longer able to take care of him at home, and that’s when she found Angela’s House.

“Bob and his wife Angie have been working tirelessly to have a home built for children [whose] medical needs were too great for families to care for their child at home but whose family is on Long Island,” she wrote. “Johnny spent nearly 16 years at Angela’s House and during that time he has received excellent medical care and a tremendous amount of LOVE. The wonderful nurses and aides tirelessly provided Johnny with kisses, hugs and jokes. Johnny rewarded them with the simplest of gestures … his smile.”

The day included face painting, a D.J., a zoo and lunch provided by Applebee’s.

Thanks to the efforts of Angela’s House Founder and Executive Director Bob Policastro, the Angel of Hope statue has been in Eisenhower Park since 2008. The Angel of Hope: A Walk to Remember event on May 7 will conclude at the statue. Photo from Angela’s House

By Alex Petroski

The pain of losing a child may never go away, but it can be soothed by the support of others who know what it is like. Parents will have that opportunity on May 7 when the Hauppauge-based nonprofit organization Angela’s House, which was founded in 1992, hosts the first Angel of Hope: A Walk to Remember.

Thanks to the efforts of Angela’s House Founder and Executive Director Bob Policastro, the Angel of Hope statue has been in Eisenhower Park since 2008. The Angel of Hope: A Walk to Remember event on May 7 will conclude at the statue. Photo from Angela’s House
Thanks to the efforts of Angela’s House Founder and Executive Director Bob Policastro, the Angel of Hope statue has been in Eisenhower Park since 2008. The Angel of Hope: A Walk to Remember event on May 7 will conclude at the statue. Photo from Angela’s House

The walk will take place Mother’s Day weekend at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow, where the nonprofit’s Angel of Hope statue has stood since 2008 as a comforting symbol to parents who have lost children.

Angela’s House assists families caring for children with special health care needs that are medically fragile, chronically ill or living with a life-threatening illness, according to their website. Founder and Executive Director Bob Policastro said the event would be a nonreligious, yet spiritual gathering.

“I would say different from our support group or even a counselor, the difficulty of those environments [is] you have to be ready and have to talk about your pain and that kind of brings about peace as you talk it through,” Policastro said in a phone interview Friday about the walk and what those interested in attending should expect. “This one I feel has kind of an easier tone to it in the sense that you’re coming to a ceremony and the comfort of seeing others that have also gone through all of this will give people great peace knowing that they’re not alone. They can talk to people if they want to but if they don’t want to that’s fine.”

The purpose of the event is not to raise funds, according to Policastro, though there is a $25 charge per person to participate.

Policastro said the date was a strategic choice by Angela’s House trustees and volunteers.

“Mother’s Day is always one of those potentially difficult times of the year,” he said. “That will be a good way to kind of help try to bring them peace, almost like a support group. To get together and be around others that have also experienced loss, it’s very comforting.”

Policastro and his wife Angie started the foundation after the death of their daughter Angela. The Angel of Hope is a reference to the book “The Christmas Box” by Richard Paul Evans in which a character frequently visits the grave of her daughter, which is marked with an angel statue. Statues like the one in Eisenhower Park popped up across the country after the release of the book in 1993, Policastro said. He was instrumental in bringing the statue to Eisenhower Park.

The walk is less than a mile long and will follow a path around Salisbury Lake in the park, concluding at the statue. The New Apostolic Church and the Willow Interfaith Woman’s Choir will lead those in attendance in a song, and a nondenominational spiritual ceremony will also be held.

Those seeking more information are instructed to visit www.angelashouse.org/angel-of-hope/.

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Emma, one of the Angela’s House children, rides a pony earlier this year. Photo from Bob Policastro

By Jenni Culkin

The Town of Smithtown will host a night of saying thanks to a group known for its generosity.

The Watermill Caterers of Smithtown is set to hold a special gala on Thursday, March 19, to honor two important contributors to the nonprofit group, Angela’s House.

Hundreds of children and their families reach out to Angela’s House each year to provide them with a safe and comfortable place to go to ease the pressure of caring for a child with specific medical needs: 24-hour nursing care, case management, family counseling and other beneficial programs sustain the caring and attentive environment of the organization.

The two honorees, Ron and Rob Brigati of White Post Farms, donate their time, effort and resources toward an annual summer party for the residents of Angela’s House and their families. Their actions provide a carefree summer day to relax and take a breather from their daily responsibilities.

“The smiles and joy that they see as a result makes it very special,” Ron Brigati said.

Now it was time for Angela’s House to return the favor, the organization said. At $100 per ticket, local residents can enjoy an evening at one of the area’s most distinguished wedding halls by socializing at a cocktail hour, a reception and a formal dinner. Guests will also have the opportunity to win prizes during auctions and raffles. The money raised from the event will go toward the children that Angela’s House assist on a daily basis.