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Father Francis Pizzarelli

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By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank PizzarelliPlain Talk:

On Sept. 25 a few hundred people gathered to dedicate and bless Our Lady of Hope Grotto and the Garden of Hope located in Mount Sinai on the grounds of Little Portion Friary, a former Anglican Franciscan Monastery.

Historically, it was the site of the first Hope House founded in 1980. For more than four decades, Hope House Ministries has reached out to the most vulnerable among us. Presently, the heart of this social outreach is providing residential and outpatient services for those among us who are battling addiction.

This nontraditional residential treatment program for addictions is located on the grounds of the former monastery. Since beginning there five years ago, more than 600 men have reclaimed and transformed their lives.

The heroin and fentanyl epidemic is crippling our nation and our larger community. The Grotto and Garden of Hope have become a safe place for people to gather who have members in their family are struggling with addiction and for those growing number of families who have lost loved ones to this god-awful affliction.

The Garden of Remembrance has more than 120 crosses honoring those who have died in our larger community. Unfortunately, requests for crosses continue to come in every week.

The heroin and fentanyl epidemic continues to spiral out of control for number of reasons. We still attach a terrible stigma to people who battle addiction. Addicts and their families continue to struggle with shame and guilt which too often paralyzes those who need help from getting help.

Support services for addiction treatment is grossly inadequate. We need more detox beds, more residential treatment beds that provide more than 11 days of care, or outpatient treatment and more trained, licensed treatment professionals to provide counseling and support.

If you are uninsured or poorly insured, you don’t have a chance at quality treatment. The insurance industry seems to hold all the power and they know little or nothing about addiction and treatment for the chronic relapser and hard-core heroin addict.

Until we take the power out of the insurance companies’ hands and put it in the hands of treatment professionals, we’re going to continue to bury people that need not die. We need to draw on the evidence-based research for treatment if you want people to recover. Our insurance dollars need to be well spent. Look at the recidivism rate across the country. It is out of control and scandalous. We clearly need to do things differently.

As I write this column, a young man that I’ve worked with for more than 20 years since he was a teenager has overdosed. He is someone’s son, someone’s brother, someone’s cousin, someone’s father. He was doing extremely well over an extended period of time. He developed a successful business, owns his own home and is an active member in the recovery community. It took only a moment and a poor choice; now he is on life support fighting for his life.

Hope lives on and love remains!

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

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By Father Frank Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

June is the time of year when school ends and summer begins. It’s a time of year when our high school seniors graduate and prepare to transition into young adults. Some will go away to college; others will prepare to enter the workforce. All of our graduates will hopefully deal with all of the challenges of change and transition in a positive way.

The hard question to answer is are these graduates ready and prepared for the new challenges before them? The pandemic has definitely impaired many of these extraordinary young men and women.

However, despite the challenges and the lack of holistic services in the area of mental health and addiction services, many of these graduates have begun to navigate the difficult road before them with extraordinary character and integrity.

Despite the polarizing landscape they must navigate, the class of 2022 are genuinely beacons of hope. So many of them have courageously challenged the hypocrisy of our present age. They have reached out to the most vulnerable and marginalized among us.

A growing number of high school students who have graduated and have been victimized by the mass school shootings that have ripped at the soul of America have become prophetic voices in our midst. They have worked tirelessly to raise people’s awareness that sensible gun laws don’t infringe on our Second Amendment rights, but rather remind us that all life is sacred and we need to protect all!

Graduates of 2022, thank you for reminding all of us that hope lives in our midst and that your class is going to make a profound difference in our world! Thank you for reminding us that all people matter, no matter what their race, religion, sexual orientation, or economic status.

Class of 2022, may you always have the courage despite our social climate of divisiveness to build bridges instead of walls, to create a world where love, forgiveness and inclusiveness are foundational.

One of your classmates this graduation season did not walk with his fellow seniors because he was killed due to gun violence. His high school career was marked by compassion and service to others. He constantly talked to his mom about wanting to go into public service after college and trying to make a difference in the world. He won’t have that opportunity but many of you could choose that career path. We desperately need you; our democracy is moving towards autocracy; we need your help to reclaim the soul of our nation and protect our freedoms.

May you always remember hope does not abandon us, we abandon hope! Class of 2022 —  always be men and women of hope!

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

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By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

When is enough, enough? How many more innocent children have to be martyred before we take the blinders off and heed the call to action?!

Twenty-one additional families have to live with the profound sense of loss of life of those they have loved. Nineteen innocent school-age children and two teachers were massacred by a depraved 18-year-old, who was legally allowed to purchase two automatic rifles that are used for war, not hunting or innocent self-defense. How can the people that we have elected to lead us remain silent? By their silence, they demonstrate complicity!

Does a senator or congressperson have to have his or her son or daughter murdered before they have the guts to stand up for justice and speak out for common sense gun safety? This is not about denying any American citizen his or her second amendment rights — it is about ensuring the safety of all American citizens, no matter what their age.

When will those who lead us have the guts to lead and not be bought off by the gun lobby, the insurance lobby or any other special interest groups that do not care about the life and safety of ordinary Americans?

Many in power are not doing their jobs on both sides of the aisle. They need to be voted out of office this election cycle. The silent majority needs to stand up, be counted and act on behalf of the innocent.

Schools were always a safe place for children to grow, learn and have fun. Another student body of more than 600 students has been traumatized. How long will it take for them to move beyond their fears? Some will carry this trauma for the rest of their lives; it will impact their journey forever. Other students will have a chance to recover, but it will be a hard road especially since this poor Texan community does not have the trained mental health professionals to assist these students and their families. 

Will government step in? Who knows? It seems rather clear by all the school shootings in the past 10 years that the government and our leadership does not care! 

Every religious leader who reads this column, I pray you have the courage to challenge your congregation to give voice to this very important human life issue. Every child in America deserves to feel safe and be safe in every environment. We need to demand universal background checks and common-sense gun safety laws that will protect all Americans everywhere.

We also need to develop national protocols when a high school student is identified as a threat to the safety of his or her classmates. Mental illness in this country is out of control and untreated. Suspension and/or expulsion does not ensure safety.  Remember the Parkland massacre!

Our children are our greatest gift. May they never experience the trauma of Sandy Hook or Robb Elementary School. May we have the courage to move beyond our deafness. Our children are counting on us! 

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

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By Father Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

Spring is a time for new beginnings. As you read this column, many of our college graduates will have graduated or are preparing to graduate this month. They are closing one chapter and opening a new chapter across the landscape of great division and polarization.

Four years ago, when they began their college adventure, the world was radically different. They have seen the polarization of our nation. They have witnessed the senseless destruction of a sovereign nation in Europe. They have been profoundly affected by the coronavirus and everything associated with it; two years of total disruption and having to live in ways unimaginable. 

For the first time in 40 years of teaching, I have had a growing number of bright young men and women who were clearly ill-prepared for their first year of college. They had a very hard time with balancing school, work and life. College is not high school. College professors usually don’t pamper their students. They expect that students will attend class regularly, hand in assignments on time and engage in lively conversation and debate.

Time management has been a real challenge. The quality of their critical thinking and their writing skills is clearly impaired. The issues of depression and anxiety are profoundly present as well as a lacking of ability and skills to do something about these issues.

So many colleges this year have been ill-equipped to respond to the growing number of students needing mental health support. Many local college campuses do not have enough mental health professionals to respond to the growing need.

We need to reshape our college learning landscape. We need to collaborate with our local high school colleagues and identify the ways that we can support students preparing to go to college, to help them address those weaknesses that will impair their success.

Educators at every level have to work harder on behalf of our students and make adjustments that will empower students at every level of education to do their best. Learning is a process, not a product. Despite these challenges there are extraordinary men and women that are graduating this year from our community colleges, our local universities and our graduate schools.

This past semester I have been privileged to teach the best of the best at St. Joseph’s College, Suffolk County Community Honors College and Fordham University’s Graduate School of Social Services. These graduates at each level possess a passion for learning that I thought was lost. Their critical thinking and analytical skills are above the norm and their capacity for being sociologically mindful is beyond words and profoundly well-developed.

As a veteran educator, my spring semester students have inspired me to stay the course. They have taught me so many important life lessons. Each of them is committed to making a difference in their particular fields.

They really embody Gandhi’s words: “be the change you wish to see in the world.” Congratulations college graduates of 2022!  

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

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By Father Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

These have been some very challenging times. The pandemic has claimed more than 6 million lives around the world; more than a million in our own country. There have been more than 100,000 deaths due to the heroin epidemic; deaths that could have been avoided.

As a country, we have been polarized by rhetoric that at times is so divisive and disrespectful, it is embarrassing. Now, we could possibly be on the brink of a third world war.

These past two weeks we have watched with horror the ravages of war imposed on a free democracy by a heartless dictator. Innocent children have been killed, hospitals and schools have been destroyed by bombs and even a historic church has been desecrated by the violence of war.

More than 2 million people have been forced to leave their homes and their country. As the world has watched this destruction of a democracy and its people, a dictator has been allowed to control a false narrative, savagely kill innocent lives and attempt to justify it. We are forced to sit on the sidelines watching, waiting and hoping that all of this human destruction will stop sooner rather than later.

Despite this painful landscape, the free world has come together and is standing in solidarity with the people of the Ukraine. Countries throughout Europe are warmly welcoming Ukrainian refugees. Some neighboring countries are welcoming homeless families to stay with them. Thousands of people from around the world are sending money, supplies and prayers.

In our own country for the first time in a long time, we have seen bipartisan support to help and support our Ukrainian brothers and sisters. People from both sides of the aisle are urging the President to do more.

We must support the brave citizens of Ukraine who are speaking out against terror, violence and political oppression. We must urge the leaders of the free world to come together and forge a way to peace and safety for all Ukrainians.

It’s time for all of us to call for the recognition of the fundamental human rights of all persons to seek refuge and safety and to live free from violence and oppression, no matter what their nationalities, race, gender, sexual orientation or creed.

In all of my college courses since the war began, I’ve asked my students what they think? So many of them said they were beyond words. The violence, the mayhem and the suffering they saw firsthand was painfully overwhelming. Each student who spoke, spoke about the children and their senseless sufferings.

The image I carry with me is that of the eight-year-old boy separated from his parents carrying his stuffed animal, crying as he made his way to safety in a foreign country all alone.

Let us pray for a swift peace and an end to this horrific tyranny!

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

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By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

It’s hard to believe another new year has begun. There is so much tension and turmoil across our American landscape that is infected with a new COVID variant that is highly contagious. Our essential workers continue to be our heroes, as they quietly take on longer hours and additional shifts to keep people safe and healthy. We are blessed to have three extraordinary hospitals in our larger community: St. Charles, Mather, and Stony Brook University Hospital.

Our political landscape continues to be overwhelmed with hateful and divisive rhetoric that seems to be paralyzing us from moving forward. It is this hateful speech on both sides of the aisle that continues to infect and rip at the heart and soul of America. We need to elect leaders who will represent us and our issues in Washington, no matter what their political affiliation might be.

Our schools are failing at every level to motivate this generation to consider genuine government service and help them to believe that their voice does matter; that their active participation in the political life of our country can and will make a difference.

Active engagement on the part of every citizen will defeat the pharmaceutical industry, the insurance lobbyists and the gun lobbyists. Compromise and fairness once again will take center stage. We are a democracy, not an autocracy. Everyone’s vote and voice matters. Race, religion, sexual orientation or social status should not color how we see and support the issues.

Our public discourse has lost its moral compass. The often vulgar and disrespectful  ad hominem attacks too often have nothing to do with the issue at hand. Social media should be a positive tool to bring us together not a destructive weapon to demonize and destroy. 

Despite this troubling landscape as we begin a new year there are powerful lights piercing the darkness. 

Two young men from two different worlds on the verge of human destruction reclaimed their lives; one was a high school dropout, the other a college dropout. Both spent a significant amount of time living in the streets. Each man graduated in May with Masters degrees in social work from two different universities. Both decided to give back and take jobs as school social workers in different school districts. I asked them why? Both said: “I want to give back and possibly prevent someone else from walking down the wrong road.”

Probably the most touching experience I had this holiday season is when I met an eight-year-old girl named Celia. She came to her mom at the height of the pandemic and said, “I want to do something for the homeless.” This gave birth to “Celia Sews for Socks.” She made scrunchies and hair ties and sold them at a few local community events. She made $1000 to buy socks for the most needy among us. She donated $700 worth of socks to Hope Academy in Mount Sinai and $300 worth of socks to Little Flower Children’s Services.

What a refreshing little girl who has not been infected by all the craziness around us. She brought 10 bags of beautiful socks for some of the most vulnerable among us living at Hope Academy. The men gave her a standing ovation!

“Celia Sews for Socks” is a refreshing reminder that we can do better and this new year can be better. Celia, thank you for reminding me that hope lives in our midst!

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

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By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

It’s hard to believe that it’s almost Thanksgiving. The leaves are changing colors and will soon fall to the ground once again covering the earth. As we prepare for this most important American celebration, we have so much to be thankful for.

This brutal pandemic seems to be coming to an end; leaving us with so much death, so much sickness and suffering, but also a powerful reminder that life is fragile and sacred and that we as a people and as a nation are resilient.

Thanksgiving is a time to be grateful, to give thanks for our many blessings. It should not be a noun but an action word. In other words, it’s not enough to just say we’re grateful, we need to show our gratitude by our actions.

If we ever needed to come together as a people, it is now. Thanksgiving is a great opportunity for us to build bridges and not walls; for creating a new narrative that is focused on healing and not hatred. It is a time for celebrating our strengths, not harping on our weaknesses.

It is a time to end the vulgar discourse that is infecting and polarizing our political landscape. It is reprehensible when an elected member of Congress stands in that sacred chamber without a mask that metaphorically gives the finger to the elected President of the United States! What has happened to our elected leadership? Have they lost their moral compass and their commitment to lead by example? What are we teaching our children about respect for the dignity of all people, no matter what their political affiliation?

Thanksgiving can be a time for new beginnings. Let us leave all the hatred and venom behind and focus on all the goodness that makes America great today! Professional football player Tom Brady, after a big win, took the time to shake hands with a little nine-year-old boy who is a cancer survivor. What about local students from a youth fellowship who bake cookies on a regular basis and bring them to a local homeless shelter, or the recovering heroin addict who became a social worker and wrote a book about hope and transformation?

Every day there are big and small miracles that are transforming our world. We need to slow down enough in the midst of all of this chaos and take off the blinders.

This Thanksgiving, as you gather with your family and loved ones to give thanks, set an extra plate at your table for that person in our community who might not have a table to sit at. Be grateful this Thanksgiving and remember “it’s not the breaths you take, it’s how you breathe!” (Augie Nieto).

Happy Thanksgiving. I am forever grateful that I live and work among you!

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

Ground Zero. Pixabay photo

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

On September 11, 2001, where were you? I remember that day like it was yesterday. I was teaching my Freshman Seminar Class at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue. It was a beautiful sunny day. Right after that all of our classes were suspended. I celebrated the campus mass that day. We prayed for all the victims, for all the first responders and for our nation.

It was a scary day, but it also brought out the best in all of us. The solidarity that emerged in the days after 9/11 was inspirational. The spontaneous gatherings to honor our first responders, firefighters, and police were heartwarming.

President Bush brought us together as a nation reminding us “we must never forget!” When he addressed the nation that day he made everyone feel better and feel that we were connected to each other.

Much has happened these past 20 years since 9/11. The world has changed and so has our nation. Technology has transformed a whole generation. Unfortunately, it is a double-edged sword. In an instant you can have information about anything you desire that would normally take you days and weeks to gather. It has also become in some circumstances a painful distraction. People are obsessed with their cell phones. Communication skills have become weaker. As a teacher, I have found a growing number of my students have inadequate critical thinking and analytical writing skills.

Recently, I took an informal poll of my college students. 90% of more than 100 students acknowledged being on their cell phone more than being engaged in any other activity. Most of them agreed that cell phone use is out of control.

Ground Zero. Pixabay photo

We talked about the need for more human connection and how polarized our nation is. It was amazing to see how many believe that their vote does not matter. We talked about civic engagement, how they are the future leaders of our nation and that they need to become more involved today.

On the 20th anniversary of 9/11, I was profoundly moved by the words of our former President George Bush at the Shanksville National Memorial in Pennsylvania. He reminded the nation of the need for unity and solidarity; that we need to rediscover the same American spirit that brought us together 20 years ago on that horrific day. He also reminded us that home-grown terrorism is as evil as terrorism around the world because it destroys the fabric of our nation by encouraging violence, hate and destruction.

As we remember 9/11 and the thousands that died on that dark day in American history, let us recommit ourselves to social justice and human rights; let us recognize our greatness in our diversity and our respect for the dignity of all people.

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

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By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

There is so much chaos in our midst. As we see a light at the end of the tunnel and start to feel free from the shackles of this pandemic, we need to seek out a deserted place to renew our spirit, recharge our battery and reflect on the things that are most important to us.

These past 18 months have been challenging. We have seen so much suffering, so much death, so much pain. For many of us, over the past few weeks we have been fortunate to reconnect with children, grandchildren, parents and good friends for the first time in more than a year. It’s overwhelming because we are beginning to realize that we have to create a new normal.

Hopefully, this new normal will cause us to value human connections over things; to see the importance of the people in our lives and to try to live every moment to the fullest. Hopefully, this new normal will underscore the importance of human relationships and the need for us to be respectful of all human beings no matter what their social circumstance, their sexual orientation, their race, religion or ethnicity.

As we begin to embrace this new normal, may we appreciate the sacredness of all life at all stages; may we also appreciate life’s fragileness and respond appropriately. We never know the time, the hour or the day that life as we know it might end. So, the challenge is to live life to the fullest, to make every moment count and to communicate to the people we love how much we love them and how important they are to us.

During this pandemic, I have seen so much pain and suffering, so much senseless death. I have deepened my appreciation for the people who give of themselves every day in healthcare and mental health — for all the essential workers that have sacrificed so much so others might live.

This past year has made me appreciate how hard life can be for so many who live in the shadows of mental health and addiction. Recently, I buried a 35-year-old recovering heroin addict who died last year in the midst of this pandemic. He spent the better part of his life in active addiction and destructive decision-making. He was lost and couldn’t find his way. Finally, he made the decision to embrace the road to recovery.

As he began that journey, it was very difficult. He had a number of stumbles along the way. He committed himself to a long term, nontraditional residential treatment program that helped him to change his life. He discovered a voice he never thought he had in poetry. It helped him to see life with a different lens. It empowered him to discover spirituality that helped him to cope with some of the potholes that he encountered along the way. His mother said she discovered a son who she thought was dead and found a son that, at first, she did not recognize. She saw laughter, compassion and concern for others. His new voice provided solace for so many and she found peace of heart. Although brief, she had reclaimed a lost son who was blessed with three years of a wonderful life.

This young man was doing well but like anyone who carries the cross of addiction, it took only an instant for him to disconnect and lose his life. The world is better because he walked among us and shared his new voice of hope, love and life. However, he is also a powerful reminder of how fragile life is and we do not know the time, the hour or the place when life ends. His life is a powerful reminder that we need to live each moment to the fullest, to become the best version of ourselves and to leave this world better than when we found it.

Addiction is like a cancer spreading out of control. People do recover and reclaim their lives but we have to do more to support those who are struggling on that road to find their way.

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

Photo from Christine Pendergast

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

Spring is supposed to be a time for new beginnings. Our spring has been marred by senseless shootings across the country, further inflamed by hateful rhetoric on both sides of the aisle that does not address the real heart of our social mayhem.

The vaccine which is supposed to be used as an instrument of healing in some circles is being used as a weapon. We have elected leaders that don’t lead but rather fuel the discontent and polarization that has become so infectious across our country.

It is springtime. Let’s talk about new beginnings, renewal and another way to talk with each other that is life-giving. Words matter. They can heal and help or hurt and destroy.

We need to challenge those with hurtful and despicable rhetoric to express their strong feelings in words that are respectful — words that don’t incite but rather encourage a deeper and more productive conversation about the things that really matter and have a profound impact on our community.

At the beginning of April, a young 16-year-old female Native American and African-American sophomore in high school wrote an op-ed piece in Newsday entitled “Why I sat for the Pledge of Allegiance.” Social media ripped her apart and she was threatened and harassed.

After reading her opinion piece, I decided to have my college and graduate students take a look at her article and discuss it. I saw for the first time what our future leadership could do. 

These students had a real in-depth conversation on a very delicate topic. It was impressive to see them exercise their well-developed critical thinking skills. They were genuinely sociologically mindful. They looked at every aspect of that student’s opinion. Not all agreed with her choice to be seated but they all agreed with her right to self-expression without harassment. They all condemned the despicable ad hominem attacks and rhetoric directed at her.

Ultimately, every class focused on the injustices she raised which led to a lively conversation of where do we go from here? How do we address these inequalities and hold people more accountable? It was refreshing to listen to the next generation of leaders speak passionately about human rights, social justice and express the desire to be a part of the solution, not part of the problem.

On October 14, 2020, Dr. Christopher Pendergast, a dynamic teacher, motivational speaker and founder of the A.L.S. Ride for Life, died quietly at his home in Miller Place surrounded by his family. He was 71.

On April 28, Dr. Pendergast would have celebrated his 72nd birthday. Although he is no longer with us physically, his spirit lives on with Ride for Life’s mission and his endless acts of kindness and love that he did for so many while he walked among us.

Before he died he and his wife wrote a very powerful book entitled “Blink Spoken Here.” The last words of this exceptional story say “speech is freedom. Communication is the connection to the outside world. We all have a right to speak and to be heard … even if it’s only one blink at a time … Never be afraid to speak up. Your opinions matter.” Amen!

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