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Father Frank Pizzarelli

Local officials showed their support at last year's Walk Agains Addiction at Cedar Beach. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank

Last year more than 64,000 people died of drug overdoses across our country. In Suffolk County alone over 600 deaths occurred due to opioids. That doesn’t include the countless deaths of young people written up in our newspapers as dying from “heart attacks” because too many families are embarrassed and ashamed that their sons and daughters are addicts.

So our count of deaths due to heroin overdoses I contend is much higher than the quoted 600 deaths. As one clergy person in our community, I preside over one overdose death every other week. At this point, in Suffolk County, we are burying at least two or three young people each week.

Two years ago this month, a young man from our community tragically passed away from an accidental heroin overdose. Billy had struggled with addiction for a number of years. He was totally supported by his family with all of his recovery efforts. He had extended periods where he was drug-free. Unfortunately, he was not able to sustain long-term abstinence and recovery.

His parents were beside themselves. Their grief was beyond words. It was overwhelming. Billy’s dad spoke at his son’s funeral; using his son’s voice to address the extremely large crowd of young people that gathered to honor their friend.

He urged them to take care of themselves, reminded them that life is fragile and that they need each other. Instead of burying their heads in the sand, Billy’s parents decided to become proactive to celebrate the gift of their son’s life, raise awareness and educate people specifically about heroin addiction.

Probably one of their greatest gifts to this war against addiction is their power of example. Their love and positive energy led to the creation of the Walk Against Addiction, which was held at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai on April 22 of last year to honor their son’s life and struggle and provide support for other families who are struggling.

More than 600 people gathered on that rainy Saturday morning to make a statement that all life matters. Countless families came with signs honoring their children lost to addiction seeking the solidarity and support of other families.

Billy’s parents’ tenacity to raise awareness and educate people about the perils of recovery and wellness has been profound. As an addiction specialist, I know people do recover, reclaim their lives and live fully productive lives, but the journey is long and oftentimes very, very difficult!

Their energy and commitment gave birth to the War on Addiction Rally to be held on Saturday, April 21, 2018, at the Pennysaver Amphitheater at Bald Hill in Farmingville from 10:30 a.m. to noon. While this event is free to attend, donations are appreciated. The major purpose for this rally is to educate, raise awareness, rally for compassion, change and hope! The organizers are hoping to fill the amphitheater with more than 3,000 people.

This event is intended to be more than just a rally, to hopefully be the beginning of the movement that will inspire people to challenge the government to stop paying lip service to this national epidemic health crisis and actually begin to do something that matters. 

We need more treatment beds today, not tomorrow. We need to take on the insurance industry that is sentencing our kids to death in record numbers because they are denying residential treatment.

We need a greater network of support services for those battling addiction that is accessible to the person in early recovery. People who are afflicted with addiction need greater access to mental health services that are affordable and confident.

These are troubling times — disrespect, prejudice and discrimination are everywhere. We need to remove the stigma from people afflicted with addiction. We need to end the shame, blame and disrespect!

Our leadership on the federal and state level is a disgrace. They are an abysmal failure. They need to be challenged to give voice and support all those who are attempting to walk the difficult road of recovery, one day at a time. Sometimes it’s one hour at a time. However, hope is the anthem of our souls.

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

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Over the last number of weeks we have been reminded of the seriousness of the opioid epidemic that is plaguing our country and our larger community. There have been a number of op-ed pieces in a number of respectable newspapers speaking to this issue. Our president in his State of the Union address underscored how serious this health issue is and promised all Americans that his administration is working feverishly to end this lethal health epidemic.

In Blue Point, the St. Ursula Center convent on Middle Road is for sale. A profit-making business wanted to purchase this property and use it as a residential rehab for women. After much back and forth and intense push back from the local community this business has withdrawn its offer.

Let’s be clear, we are in desperate need for residential treatment beds for people battling the heroin epidemic. We especially need more beds for women. The Ursula Center would have been ideal.

However, some rather important facts and figures were never publicly addressed that are critical to understanding the complexity of this health issue and how it must be treated if we hope to be effective supporting people who are afflicted with this addiction. There is compelling research and evidence-based treatment research that is important to review and understand. We need long-term residential treatment beds for those battling the opioid epidemic. Very few recovering opioid addicts sustain recovery after only 30 days in residential treatment.

If the truth be told, most insurance companies will not pay for any kind of residential rehab until the consumer fails at outpatient treatment. The recidivism rate for heroin addicts in outpatient treatment is off the page. People are trying outpatient treatment first because they have no choice and they are failing, they are dying — that is unconscionable.

Our insurance companies should be held accountable for every unnecessary death caused by the industry’s unwillingness to do its job. For the record most insurance companies, if they agreed to pay for residential care, only end up paying for 11 days. They decide that after 11 days it’s not a medical necessity! The average hard-core addict struggling to survive takes at least 30 to 45 days to truly detox their bodies from all the toxins with which they have been infected.

It is very disturbing that those who lead us within our political bureaucracy are unwilling to take on the insurance companies for making life-and-death decisions regarding people who battle addiction. Taking a person into residential treatment with the promise of at least 28 days and then discharging them at day 11 because the insurance company won’t pay is a disgrace and a scandal.

The Blue Point community has every right to be concerned. We do not need any more short-term residential programs that do not honor their commitments. If we’re addressing the opioid epidemic, we need long-term residential treatment programs that work on transitioning the recovering person back into the real world, hopefully with the skills to survive a drug-infested world.

The governor of our state has promised millions of dollars for residential treatment. That promise was made over a year ago. Since that promise, not one dollar has been released for residential long-term treatment.

This health crisis is getting worse by the day, not better! As a community, we need to demand the distribution of the money promised to those who are trained to work in the area of residential treatment for addiction so we can begin to support recovering addicts and their families. People are petrified and they should be; this epidemic is out of control. Change and transformation can happen and it will with the right support.

As someone who has lived and still lives with struggling drug addicts, I watch them struggle to recover. I see their pain every day but I also see the miracle of change and transformation. Addicts do recover and reclaim their lives and enrich our communities. Hope must become the anthem of our souls!

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

The First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs has turned into a memorial after the mass shooting on Nov. 5.

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

As a nation we have been plagued with one human tragedy after another over the last few months from Charlottesville and Las Vegas, to the terrorist attack in New York City and now the massacre in the Baptist Church in Texas. Even with that as the landscape, we are still not willing to have a conversation about gun control and human safety as a means to protect the lives of all Americans.

As a nation, our human carnage is out of control. No other industrialized country has suffered so much human tragedy and loss of life in such a short period of time. Since the Texas massacre, a disturbing statistic has been released saying that we lead the world with people who have been diagnosed with serious mental health issues. Whether or not that statistic is correct, every human tragedy other than terrorism has been committed by people who have been clinically diagnosed as seriously mentally ill.

It is time to put aside the political rhetoric and begin to have a conversation that is centered around protecting human life for all Americans. We need federal regulations that protect human life from rageful out-of-control Americans who are using violence and weapons to vent their rage. Too many innocent people are losing their lives. Too many innocent families are being destroyed before they’ve had an opportunity to truly live.

We must create a protocol that is the same in every state; that screens every person who seeks a gun permit. The screening must be as rigorous as the screening for the military and the uniform services. Washington should create a central registry for all those who have committed serious crimes and/or have been imprisoned.

We must become consistently more vigilant in our enforcement of all the laws already on the books. People who own guns and lose them should be held accountable. If you sell a gun that you own that should be reported to a central registry.

Those who lead us in government are shameful in their consistent unwillingness to address this very complicated but important life issue. How many more human tragedies have to happen before Washington, starting with the president, addresses this very serious crisis in American life?

The Texas tragedy is a painful reminder of our irresponsibility when it comes to keeping America safe. How can we sit back after whole families have been massacred and a 18-month-old baby senselessly killed and not be moved to action to do more?

It is very troubling to note the dramatic change in our political landscape and public discourse since the election of November 2016. Hate crimes are up, massive protest demonstrations around the country having increased exponentially and Americans are unsettled in every socioeconomic circumstance across the country.

Our moral compass is broken. Basic human respect for people has been lost. Our leadership is accepting a narrative that is crude, disrespectful and at times vulgar. Instead of challenging that narrative, our elected officials make excuses or minimize it and, worst of all, are painfully silent!

What kind of example are we setting for the younger generation? How will their moral compasses be calibrated? Who do we encourage them to look up to? Is there anyone on the horizon?

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

By our silence, we affirm the destructive behaviors and destructive rhetoric that have become a cancer among us.

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

Once again our nation is in shock after the worse gun violence massacre in American history: 58 innocent people killed and more than 500 people severely wounded and/or injured during a Las Vegas concert.

At the time of this horrific attack, the nation was in the midst of recovering from three catastrophic hurricanes that left major areas of our country, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands overwhelmed and powerless.

Each tragic circumstance brought out the best in our American spirit. Countless heroes risking their lives to save others; the spirit of selflessness and compassion has been inspirational. If only those in elected office learned from the power of their example!

These past few months the public discourse across the country has bordered on disgraceful. The demeaning rhetoric is fueling the heat and violence that is erupting across our nation.

The recent debate around the actions of many NFL football players regarding the appropriate posture during our national anthem has sparked a national conversation that all Americans should be attentive to. No matter what your politics, the conversation it has provoked around racism, police violence and hatred is vital. We need to discuss these issues with passion, commitment and open hearts but grounded in a profound respect for one another.

So many of the events that have erupted since January have underscored that there are many serious social issues that as a nation we must confront. They go beyond the scope of our differences around health care and tax reform.

Our criminal justice system is in dire need of reform. The way we treat drug addicts who commit nonviolent crimes is scandalous and needs to be addressed. The growing incidences of discrimination based on race, religion and sexual orientation need to take center stage as part of the national agenda.

The social indifference that has become so infectious is counterproductive. By our silence, we affirm the destructive behaviors and destructive rhetoric that have become a cancer among us.

We need to be more proactive on every level. Our students need to be a part of these important conversations. The average citizen needs to become more involved in our political process and understand that his/her voice does matter and does make an important difference.

The people’s voice needs to be heard. Those who have been elected must be held accountable to the people who elected them — not to a specific political party.

These are challenging times; however, we are all part of the challenge. We must lead by example. Our churches, synagogues and mosques must address the social issues and become a part of the national conversation. Our clerical leadership must urge their congregants to take a more active role in the political landscape of our communities.

As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world!” Hope must be the anthem of our souls.

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

Pax Christi Hospitality Center in Port Jefferson has been around for almost 30 years, though its founder said homelessness was an issue in Port Jeff long before that. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

An Aug. 28 post by a user in a private Facebook group of about 1,300 Port Jefferson Village residents featured a photo of two men sleeping at the Port Jefferson Long Island Rail Road station. Amidst a longer message attached to the image was the phrase: “I’ve had it.”

The post inspired comments from more than a dozen users who began a lengthy discussion about homeowners’ concerns over property values as a result of activity related to homeless people in the area. Some responses included efforts to tackle the issue of homelessness after the main poster asked: “Does anyone know what is being done about this?”

Elected officials, local leaders and data from nonprofit organizations serving the state, Long Island and Suffolk County seem to agree: Efforts exist to reduce the number of undomiciled residents, but the problem is not going away and more needs to be done.

Volunteers at Welcome Friends Soup Kitchen in Port Jefferson prepare a meal for guests. Photo by Alex Petroski

Homelessness has been a topic of conversation in Port Jeff for decades, and Father Frank Pizzarelli, a Port Jeff resident and founder of the nonprofit Hope House Ministries, began addressing the issue in 1980. With 10 facilities, he helps serve groups and people in need. His first endeavor was The Community House in Port Jefferson.

A 30-bed long-term facility, the home on Main Street is still in operation today for at-risk 16- to 21-year-old males in need of a place to live. Almost 28 years ago, Pizzarelli said he opened Pax Christi Hospitality Center on Oakland Avenue after a Vietnam veteran froze to death in winter while living in what he described as a cardboard box village in Port Jefferson.

At least seven people listed as undomiciled by the county police department were arrested on the morning of Oct. 4 for sleeping in tents in the woods behind the Comsewogue Public Library on Terryville Road, according to police.

According to the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless, a nonprofit organization established in 1985 that works with government agencies to secure funding and services for homeless people in Suffolk and Nassau counties, 3,937 people on Long Island were classified as homeless as of January 2017. The number includes people in emergency or transitional housing, as well as those who are completely unsheltered, of which there were 64, according to the group’s annual report for 2017.

In context, the number of homeless people living on Long Island hasn’t changed much over the last three LICH yearly tallies. In 2016, New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli (D) conducted an audit to examine the issue of homelessness in the state, which reached some discouraging conclusions.

Homelessness is on the decline nationwide, according to the report, though New York was one of 18 states to see an increase in the number of people without a permanent residence between 2007 and 2015. The number rose by 41 percent to more than 88,000 statewide during that span, which was the largest increase of any state in the country. Much of the increase was attributable to New York City, though DiNapoli’s audit stressed homelessness as a state problem and not simply a city problem, saying homelessness is affecting “communities in virtually every corner of the state … on a daily basis.”

‘Hope House Ministry lives and has lived for 38 years because of this community. I find this one of the most extraordinary communities when it comes to compassion and generosity.’

— Frank Pizzarelli

“The homeless problem pre-existed Pax Christi,” Pizzarelli said. The licensed social worker said the idea that his facilities attract the homeless to Port Jeff is a common refrain he’s heard cyclically over the years from people like the Facebook poster, though he said he has found those voices are few and far between and don’t represent the majority of the community.

“Hope House Ministry lives and has lived for 38 years because of this community,” he said. “I find this one of the most extraordinary communities when it comes to compassion and generosity. Yes, there are always people that are super critical and, because of the socioeconomic nature of our community, would prefer certain things not be here. They’re a very small minority from my experience.”

He said he receives no financial support from the government other than reimbursements from the county’s Department of Social Services to barely cover his costs for sheltering people overnight at Pax Christi. His entire budget, which he estimated to be in the ballpark of $5 million annually, is covered by donations and grants. He also said he believes homeless people who commit crimes or contribute to tensions in the Port Jeff community tend not to be the same people who are interested in getting help.

“Uptown is a complicated place,” he said. “The homeless have no fixed address and they also have no voice, so it’s easy to blame them. They’re a part of the issue, but it’s not that simplistic. I don’t think the larger community really realizes that.”

Pizzarelli pointed to insufficient funds from the county and state governments as his and other organization’s biggest obstacle in providing services for those in need. He said mental health issues like post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction, especially to opioids, are at the root of Suffolk County’s homelessness problem. Once people are in treatment for substance addiction or any mental health affliction, he said more transitional housing needs to be made available to get people on the road to recovery.

Pizzarelli said Pax Christi does not admit any persons under the influence of drugs or alcohol, so they occasionally have to turn people away.

“We probably all need to take a firmer stand so [homeless people being aided by services] understand if they’re not going to take care of business — hanging out at the train station is not the answer,” he said. “I agree, people don’t need to be harassed when they’re getting off the train.”

A breakdown by race of Long Island’s nearly 4,000 homeless people, according to the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless. Graphic by TBR News Media

DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville), presiding officer of the Suffolk County Legislature, in conjunction with the Welfare to Work Commission of the Legislature, arranged a public hearing Oct. 10 to discuss the impact that massive cuts in President Donald Trump’s (R) early budget proposals to funding for human services would have on local residents.

Michael Stoltz, the executive director of Ronkonkoma-based Association for Mental Health and Wellness said before the hearing he thinks the county fails to adequately invest in mental health services.

“We see a proportionate rise and increase in the number of people in our jails who have mental health conditions — untreated and under treated — and among our homeless populations,” he said.

Stoltz was representing one of the 13 agencies slated to speak during the hearing.

“The county and these agencies are facing a crisis of what could be unparalleled and unprecedented proportions,” commission chairman Richard Koubek said before the hearing. “We have watched with dismay and frustration the chronic underfunding of contract agencies that serve Suffolk County’s poor people.”

Suffolk and Nassau counties collectively are considered a Continuum of Care community, which is defined as a community with a unified plan to organize and deliver housing services to meet the needs of people who are homeless. Grants from the CoC are funded through the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, which is a federal department responsible for more than $10 million in CoC grants obtained each year to aid locals, according to its website. DiNapoli’s report found of the smaller communities with CoC programs, Long Island’s counties had the third largest homeless population in the United States.

Long Island’s relative lack of affordable housing can further complicate the issue, as housing units are priced to rent or own in Brookhaven Town according to HUD guidelines, which are dependent on the area median income of a region. In 2017, Suffolk County’s average household income was $110,800. To qualify to rent an affordable living space, household income must be less than 50 percent of this number, meaning in Suffolk, any family earning less than $55,400 annually has a right to reduced rent. Monthly rent for a three-person home for a family earning less than that, for example, by law cannot exceed $1,200.

Pax Christi Hospitality Center in Port Jefferson has been around for almost 30 years, though its founder said homelessness was an issue in Port Jeff long before that. Photo by Alex Petroski

Because of the relatively high average income in Suffolk, “affordable” rent is a term that most likely wouldn’t apply to someone sleeping on the street or residing in a homeless shelter. According to Pizzarelli and Brookhaven Housing and Human Services Commissioner Alison Karppi, there’s far less affordable housing available in the town and the county as a whole than demand would dictate.

“It is estimated that 42,500 renters spend half or more of their income on household costs,” Gregory said prior to the Oct. 10 hearing. “That startling figure emphasizes the need for cheaper housing our working families and young people can afford. We are here today to send a message that we simply can’t afford this budget.”

Last week Brookhaven Town announced a new initiative to acquire vacant “zombie” homes and make them available for veterans and first-time homebuyers at reduced costs as a way to expand the availability of affordable housing in the town. Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) estimated there are as many as 2,000 vacant homes in the town with many in a salvageable state.

Port Jeff has another resource in its backyard to help those in need, which reiterates Pizzarelli’s sentiment that on the whole, it is a compassionate community.

Welcome Friends Soup Kitchen in Port Jeff Village has been serving people in need, homeless or otherwise, in the area for 28 years. The group also has two locations in Port Jefferson Station comprised of about 200 volunteers and functions entirely on donations of money and food, oftentimes from a local Trader Joe’s. Five days a week, the soup kitchen opens its doors to serve as many as 100 guests free of charge each night. Unlike Pax Christi, Welcome Friends never turns away guests due to intoxication. The volunteers prevent entry to those who could be a danger to other guests, but even in those instances the person is sent away with a to-go meal, always well balanced and fresh. Multiple courses are available but served once a day Sunday to Wednesday and also on Friday.

Lorraine Kutzing, a longtime coordinator at the soup kitchen, said the organization’s sole focus is having as many meals as possible prepared each day, and hopes that she and others like Pizzarelli can continue to try to fix the problem highlighted by community members like those in the Facebook group.

“I think the need has always been there,” she said. “I don’t think that has changed that much.”

Stock photo

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

By mid-August most of our college-age students are winding down summer jobs and getting ready for the new semester. We have local college students studying at some of the finest colleges and universities in the country and around the world.

There is another group of college students getting ready for the new semester. They are the freshman class of 2017. A large group of college freshmen will commute to Stony Brook University and the other four- year schools here on Long Island.

A growing number of college students will attend the best-kept secret in higher education — Suffolk County Community College. I have had the privilege of teaching at SCCC for more than 30 years in the social science department as a professor of sociology.

I have met some of the finest college educators in the country there. I’ve also been privileged to work with some of the finest students in higher education. So many of them while at Suffolk lay the foundation for an extraordinary future. They are our future civic leaders, our doctors, our nurses, our business leaders, our lawyers, our scientists, our teachers and our social workers to name a few professions.

Many of our Suffolk graduates go on to some of the finest colleges and universities in the country and around the world and make profound contributions to science, technology and research.

As we are being challenged to reorder our priorities, education must remain at the top of that list, and SCCC needs to be supported as one of the greatest educational treasures in our community.

With every new freshman class, parents struggle with anxiety and intensified worry about their children; they are reluctant to cut the umbilical cord. The landscape for college freshmen is much more complicated and challenging than ever before. Whether you go away or stay home, college is not high school. Responsibility and accountability are critical for success!

Your professors will assist you academically and personally, if you are committed to the learning experience. They will not coddle you or tolerate reckless irresponsibility. Many professors will have an attendance policy and only if you are in a coma, will you be excused for missing class. Cutting usually impacts your final grade.

Choice is another challenge. You choose to go to class or to skip. Every class you cut roughly costs you a little more than $100 from your tuition. It’s a choice to stay out all night if you’re away at school and not get up and get to class on time.

Drugs and alcohol are present on every college campus, no matter what the school’s public relations department says. It’s a choice to overindulge and to act recklessly.

Most colleges and universities have wellness centers that provide a wide range of confidential mental health services for students. They have trained professionals that work with students to develop the appropriate skills to navigate the stresses of college life and when necessary make appropriate referrals for additional care and support.

Many public and private colleges across the country have campus ministry offices that provide a wide range of spiritual support services for students of every religious tradition and usually a wide range of community service opportunities.

Parents, when you have your pep talk with your college freshmen, encourage them to use all the support resources available when they are attending school. Dispel the stigma from reaching out for support when they might feel overwhelmed or even frightened. It’s natural and normal. It’s how they embrace their feelings that will make all the difference.

The college experience is an exciting adventure that encourages all students to open their minds — become critical thinkers and to move beyond the limits of their comfort zone. College can and should be a transformative and life-changing adventure.

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

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

On the way back home from a wedding I presided at in Breckenridge, Colorado, I sat next to a man who was very wise. He was a well-established attorney who split his time between a home in South Florida and one in Lake Tahoe. In his life, he raised four extraordinary children. They all graduated from Ivy League schools across the country and have developed extraordinary career jobs.

However, what he was most proud of was the people they have become. He spoke of each of his three sons and his one daughter as compassionate, sensitive human beings, who possess a profound concern for each other and for their respective communities. He spoke with great pride on the community service projects in which each of his children are involved.

We spoke of the challenges of parenting children today. He spoke of the civil discourse that exists and how disrespectful and demeaning it is. But in spite of all of that he talked about the difference a positive family environment makes in the life of the family. He spoke about his family and the climate of respect and diversity of opinion that was encouraged and respected.

After spending two hours with this man, I realized that he leads by his example — that his children are a powerful reflection of how he and his wife have celebrated their married life these past 34 years. As I reflected on our conversation on my drive home from the airport, I realized that despite our harsh landscape, change and transformation can take place if people have a positive role model to look up to.

So many people have expressed deep frustration regarding the present state of affairs in our nation. There may be a lot of talk, but there is still an awful lot of silence and inaction. If we are concerned about what’s happening in our country, or shall I say what is not happening, then it’s time for us to take action. It’s time to challenge the political machinery that is poorly responding to our social agenda.

Elected officials from both sides of the aisle are failing us miserably. We constantly hear the word “obstructionist” on a daily basis. Honestly, I think our whole system is infected with obstructionism. Those who lead us have lost their way. They are not standing up for what is important to all of us as American citizens. It matters little what your party affiliation might be — we need our leaders to work together to create a health care plan that provides quality health care for all, especially the most vulnerable among us.

We need to overhaul our tax system. It should not benefit the rich but rather justly benefit the working middle class. Our schools are wastelands of human potential. We used to lead the world with educational opportunities. At best, our educational system is mediocre. Our economy is vital to our survival; our president is working diligently on strengthening it. However, in this age of technology we need to create more job training programs that prepare people to make the transition to technology and our digital age.

Finally, we are a nation founded on diversity and difference. We need to work harder at respecting the dignity of every human person — and those who have been elected need to lead in this regard by their example.

“We must become the change that we hope for!” — Mohandas Gandhi

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

File photo by Bill Landon

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

We are a nation out of control. The partisan divide has become almost unbridgeable. Our social media is feeding a frenzy that has little respect for human dignity and basic human rights. Where is the notion and concept of accountability? We need to hold each other accountable for the choices we make. We must lead by example and it must begin at the top!

The president is our president; he must lead by example, words and deeds. He should be the principal architect of our national social discourse. We should be able to engage in difficult conversations without the fear of demeaning responses because we disagree!

Those men and women elected to lead us should be about leadership that builds bridges not walls, that unites not divides. They should be about a civil discourse that brings us together and does not polarize us. Unfortunately, there is no bipartisan dialogue or working together on building compromise.

The blame game must end. We must demand accountability from all who lead us in public life. Our elected representatives from both sides of the aisle must get about doing the people’s business. They must forge a bipartisan effort to solve the great problems facing our nation and work at creating a cooperative spirit that seeks common solutions that will resolve our problems and make America great!

Despite the social landscape, this year’s senior class is extraordinary. A growing number of our high school seniors are choosing career paths that serve the needs of others. There is such a positive spirit around community service and a spirit of inclusiveness that is refreshing, especially since we live in a world that seems more grounded in narcissism and self-centeredness, rather than thinking about others first, especially those in need.

Seniors, as you continue your journey do not let the social filters of our time enable bigotry, exclusivity and social injustice. Always try to realize that being human and sensitive to others is more important than a successful academic record. Showing compassion and understanding rooted in justice is more significant than a science formula. These are difficult lessons to learn because they demand that you risk all that you are now for what you could become tomorrow.

Look around you! We are living in a very challenging world. A new revolution is afoot. Your generation is moving away from the indifference and complacency of yesterday, and moving toward a new idealism of freedom and responsibility.

As you graduate from high school, keep these simple thoughts in mind: May you discover enough goodness in others to believe in a world of peace and to work for peace grounded in justice and human rights.

May a kind word, a reassuring touch and a warm smile be yours every day of your life. Remember the sunshine when the storm seems unending. Teach love to those who know hate and let that love embrace you as you continue in the world.

Don’t judge a book by its cover or stop at the introduction. Seek the meaning and messages it offers for life, for everyone’s life is sacred, even those who are different from you or who you do not like. Be more inclusive than exclusive. Don’t be blinded by those who tend to use shame, blame, guilt and religion to shackle people down and divide them. Set people free with your respect and nonjudgmental way.

May you never become too concerned with material matters, but instead place immeasurable value on the goodness in your hearts and the hearts of others. Find time each day to see beauty and love in the world around you. Realize you have limitless opportunities and possibilities.

Get up every day and be grateful for what you have. Suck the marrow out of life, as you face life’s challenges. Don’t see the glass as half empty; only see it as half full; see every life experience and human encounter as a learning experience, as an opportunity to grow and become more than you are now.

May your moral compass be grounded in respect for all human beings, no matter what their color, their race, their creed or their sexual orientation. May this compass guide you on a path that is committed to working for peace and social justice.

As Gandhi once said, “Be the change you hope for in the world.”

Congratulations graduates of 2017. Thanks for making the world a little richer, a little brighter and a better place to be!

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

Father Frank with Bill Reitzig Sr. at the Hope Walk for Addiction in Mount Sinai. Photo by Kevin Redding
Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

The political rhetoric is deplorable. International tensions are at an all-time high. Social chaos seems to rain everywhere. Despite this contentious landscape, there are still courageous men and women among us that are doing extraordinary things to make our community a better place to live.

On Saturday, April 22,, on the first anniversary of their son’s death due to a heroin overdose, a Miller Place family led the first Hope Walk for Addiction at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai. More than 600 people gathered on that Saturday morning to celebrate the belief that miracles do happen and hope does live!

What was so impressive about that morning is that it brought the young, the old, the rich and the poor, the religious and not so religious together. This national health crisis does not know a particular profile. This epidemic is infecting families everywhere; no one is exempt.

The Reitzig family was the prime movers behind this day of hope. The Town of Brookhaven and Hope House Ministries were the co-sponsors of this life-giving event. Billy Reitzig was 25 years old when he passed. He was born into a loving family. As a family, they were really connected to each other. Like many young men his age, he had his struggles but was getting help. He used heroin only once and lost his life. He was bright, good-looking and had a great job. He was well-liked in the workplace and in the neighborhood where he grew up. Unfortunately, the affliction of addiction had its death hold on him.

Every parent’s nightmare is to bury a child. To lose a son to the heroin epidemic is beyond words. His parents would have been justified because of their unbearable loss and grief to have withdrawn quietly and suffered with their pain and profound loss in silence. Instead of withdrawing, they decided to celebrate their son’s life by becoming activists in educating and raising public awareness about this horrific national health crisis. To honor their son’s memory, they have aggressively been raising awareness and raising money for desperately needed long-term treatment beds, which are in short supply.

Countless families came wearing T-shirts; honoring their sons and daughters who have senselessly been lost to this infectious epidemic. Those who spoke that morning were challenging, inspirational and people filled with a renewed sense of hope. Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) who were co-sponsors, Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) as well as a number of other elected officials made an appearance to show their support.

In mid-April Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) announced that millions of dollars are being allocated to provide treatment for those suffering from addiction. The more important question is when are the RFPs (requests for proposal) going to be released for that important money? Will government streamline the regulations so that that money can be utilized sooner rather than later? Treatment beds are needed ASAP!

Enough with the passive lip service alleging support; we need aggressive action yesterday. By the time you read this column, I will have buried another 25-year-old young man from Miller Place with untapped potential and possibility due to the heroin epidemic.

In addition to our urgent need for long-term treatment beds, we need extensive, comprehensive prevention education and treatment resources to support the growing number of families being infected by this horrific epidemic.

Bill Reitzig Sr. and his family are an inspiration to all who are struggling with the burden of addiction. Despite their pain and profound loss, they are beacons of hope within our community that this epidemic will end one day and the day will come when parents will not bury their children anymore due to this devastating affliction.

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

Join the community for a Hope Walk for Addiction at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai on Saturday, April 22 at 10:30 a.m.

By Father Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

That’s the headline on the cover of the April 3 edition of Time magazine. Definitely a provocative question with all that is happening in our nation and among our presidential administration. Fake facts, fake news, manipulative truth is contributing to a cesspool that is overflowing and infecting communities across our country.

Fact: Our president was elected by the Electoral College in November 2016 and was inaugurated as our president in January 2017.

Fact: The Republicans control Congress and the White House.

Fact: Presidential leadership is hard and complex!

The challenge for all of us is to seek the balance with insight, integrity and honesty with all that we do and say. An entire younger generation is hanging in the balance, waiting in the wings to see how we act and treat one another. It is critical that we lead by example and hold everyone accountable for what they say, for what they do and for what they have failed to do!

Change is disarming and difficult but necessary, if we are to grow and reach our full potential. It is frightening because we are being forced to move out of our comfort zone and genuinely look for truth and recognize that not all who lead us tell the truth. We must transcend all of our political differences and empower one another to work for the common good of all Americans, no matter what their social or political circumstance.

Our new presidential administration was elected on the principle of change, and it brings many creative new ideas that urge us to look at doing business differently. The opioid epidemic, according to our new president, is a priority social issue for his administration. Members of the administration want to confront, contain and ultimately end this lethal infection.

For more than 25 years, I have given voice to this serious epidemic issue. I have talked at more governmental task force meetings than I can count. Like many others in the trenches, I am disgusted with the rhetoric, which is on the slow track to nowhere. Every level of government promises action and has delivered little or nothing.

We need money, beds and long-term residential programs without red tape for people in need who can access it immediately before it’s too late. Every day I have to turn young people away from our long-term residential treatment program. The waiting list is growing exponentially. We try to network people to wherever a bed might be available. Today available beds are hard to come by.

Insurance companies make the issue of treatment even harder. They ask their clients who are heroin addicts to try outpatient treatment first and fail before they are willing to pay for a short-term 28-day residential program. They are failing in record numbers — they are dying! That is unconscionable!

On Saturday, April 22, the first annual Hope Walk for Addiction will take place at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai at 10:30 a.m. It’s not only a memorial walk to honor and remember a 25-year-old who overdosed on heroin by the name of Billy Reitzig, but also a community effort to raise awareness, provide education and raise funds for individuals and families afflicted by addiction. For information, visit www.hopewalkforaddiction.org.

This effort is being championed by Billy’s dad, Bill Sr., who lost his son to heroin on April 22, 2016. He could have buried his head in the sand with grief and pain, but he chose to honor his son’s life by courageously giving voice to one of the nation’s most serious health crises in this century. He and his family’s efforts are courageous and heroic and are making a profound difference. They are genuinely inspiring us to do more. Miracles do happen. I see them everyday! Hope does not abandon us; we abandon hope!

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