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Father Frank Pizzarelli

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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.

Nico Signore

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

The noise across the American landscape is deafening. Every day the perverse rhetoric is further polarizing our nation. This polarization is intensifying the anxiety in many communities and families around the country. It has gotten so out of hand that people are not talking to one another. The anger and disrespect is becoming infectious everywhere.

On the positive side, I have never seen more people interested in government and its social policies. More and more young people are considering public service and government leadership as career paths. People are watching the news and reading the paper much more consistently.

The media is being challenged daily to report the truth based on real facts. It is unfortunate in the age of social media that truth continues to be manipulated and misrepresented. We must support a free press and a free media and urge them to genuinely commit themselves to presenting the truth. In a free society, they are key to holding those in power accountable for their actions and their leadership; they are key in demanding honesty from all who lead us.

As a teacher on the college level for more than three decades, it continuously amazes me how little the present generation of young people know about American government and our social policies. Hopefully, the chaos in Washington will give life to a better, more informed younger generation who are willing to stand for the truth and work courageously to build new bridges of human understanding among us.

Every now and then in the midst of this chaos, I am forced to take pause and think about the fragile life and world in which we live. In early March a 14-year-old boy from Miller Place was riding his bicycle and was killed. It was documented that it was a genuine accident with no recklessness or human impediments involved. A few days after this senseless loss of life, I presided at Nico’s funeral at the Catholic Church of St. Louis de Montfort in Sound Beach. He was a veteran lacrosse player — every coach’s dream athlete. He possessed passion and energy for this sport that was extraordinary. He was small in stature but was a giant in heart and commitment to the game.

This tragic death brought an entire community together. As we celebrated his life that morning, we were forced to think about how all life is fragile, that we need to stand strong because we need each other. Nico played lacrosse since he was eight years old; it was in his blood. It was his favorite sport. However, the brotherhood that was fostered because of lacrosse laid the foundation for other human values that are desperately needed today. He and his buddies were committed and are committed to community service, to volunteering for a wide range of noble causes. Their service was done with dedication, love and passion, the same energy they brought to the lacrosse playing field.

At 14 years of age, Nico touched more people with his wit, charm, love and compassion than most of us will do in a lifetime. The world is definitely brighter and better because Nico walked, lived and loved among us.

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 Jan. 20, 2017, a new and bold chapter began in American history. The 45th president of the United States was sworn in as the new leader of the free world. The America we knew is now radically changing course. It will take time to know if this new course is life-giving and if it truly is able to make “America Great Again.”

During his inauguration speech, Donald Trump spoke about giving the people back the power. The people responded the day after his speech by marching on Washington, D.C., over a million strong; with hundreds of thousands of voices walking/marching around the country and around the world.

Their voices spoke loudly about building bridges not walls and affordable health care for all that does not discriminate against those with pre-existing conditions and/or the poor. Those voices spoke about respect for women and the undocumented; for our Muslim brothers and sisters, for all people no matter what their sexual orientation or gender identification. Their voices loudly echoed concerns for civil rights and human rights.

The people heard the president’s voice; I hope that the president heard their voices and during the next hundred days responds to those important issues they spoke to on that Saturday after the inauguration.

Change is difficult no matter when it occurs. We all become very comfortable and at times complacent. The landscape of our nation is riddled with conflict and division. The rhetoric is hateful and divisive. The leadership of our nation from both sides of the aisle must come together and lead by example. The tone and language of dialogue must change. We must embrace a language that speaks of respect and integrity for every American, no matter what their social, economic or political perspective might be.

The leaders of our faith community, both locally and nationally, must move out of their coma of silence and not become political or feed the rhetoric of hate and divisiveness; rather they must stand up and call us to civility and to a discourse that supports and respects the human dignity and integrity of every American citizen.

Trump is our president, whether we like it or not. He was fairly elected. We must support the unity and healing he spoke about at his inauguration. As citizens, we must hold him accountable for what he says and what he does. He is not above the law. We must urge him to engage in a civil discourse about our complicated social issues and the future of our nation.

As this new chapter of American history unfolds, we have a powerful opportunity to engage and/or reengage in our democratic process. If you are not happy with the way things are, get involved; make a contribution; run for public office. Recognize that your voice counts and that you can make a difference in our nation and in our world.

Remember hope does not abandon us! We abandon hope! I am hopeful that if we all take responsibility for the future of our country, this new chapter in our history can make our great nation even greater!

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

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

As the New Year begins, we are still a polarized nation because of our politics and profoundly disrespectful rhetoric. Racial hatred and violence continues to increase. Concerns about the undocumented and our broken immigration system continue to instill fear and paralyzing anxiety among so many people from so many different ethnicities. Health care is becoming a nightmare, and no one seems concerned enough to challenge the insurance companies that are continuing to sentence so many people to premature death.

The heroin epidemic continues to be a national health crisis that falls on deaf ears. Treatment beds are not increasing and with the anticipated crisis in health care, there will probably be even fewer beds for those afflicted with this life-threatening addiction we call heroin.

Although the present social and political landscape across our nation is in turmoil, there is a profound awareness that we need to live and act differently; the American dream is not dead but truly alive! Hopefully our new president will spend his first hundred days healing and unifying our nation, building bridges and not walls with his message to make “America Great Again.”

For many of us, America is already great and for me that is best seen during the holiday season. This year I was amazed that in spite of all the turmoil nationally, people’s generosity toward others, especially those in need, has been extraordinary. Each day, I see firsthand the generosity of so many talented and gifted people. Local physicians, lawyers, accountants, social workers, psychiatrist, teachers and tradespeople to name a few who volunteered to help those who are trying to navigate the difficult landscape of daily living. Thanks to the generosity of so many hands and hearts, those they touch have a chance to keep their lives on track and move forward. Without this generosity, many people in need would lose their way.

For more than two decades, I’ve been privileged to share my insights and my observations in this space. Every New Year I make a couple of recommendations as the New Year begins. This year begins a whole new chapter for us as a nation! This past election was unprecedented. The future is exciting, challenging and probably a bit frightening — because our newly elected president is not predictable — like most of life!

Probably my most important recommendations are that we reclaim a civil and respectful discourse when discussing any issue; that we work harder at respecting all people no matter what their race, creed, color, sexual orientation or political perspective. Respect costs nothing but shapes everything. It serves no purpose to gossip or malign another person’s character and reputation.

We need to work harder at being less judgmental of human circumstances and situations that we don’t understand. We should never judge another by the color of his or her skin, the clothes he or she wears, the piercings or tattoos he or she displays or the lifestyle he or she embraces. If we judge less and respect more, the violence that is infecting our communities will be substantially reduced.

My final recommendation has to do with risk-taking. Too often we see things that trouble us and we keep silent. Sometimes that silence can be lethal, especially when it comes to our children’s social behaviors. We need to speak up and step out in regards to the reckless decision-making that a number of our young people are engaging: the illegal use of alcohol, prescription medication and illegal drugs. If we care about our children and their future, we must have the courage to risk our own comfort and do the right thing.

As this New Year begins, let us be more vigilant. Let us call our government to greater accountability to be more responsive to the needs of those among us who are less fortunate. The poor and the homeless are not invisible and government should not act as if they are. We are painfully reminded that we are vulnerable and not invincible. All life is sacred but only temporary. Thus, whatever we can do to make life better, we need to do it now for we may not pass this way again.

So, let us think and act more positively with a cooperative spirit in ways that will make our community better. Let us become the change we wish to see in the world (Gandhi). Remember, you can make a difference that really counts!

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

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli
Father Frank Pizzarelli

Many are still recovering from the most historic presidential election in our lifetime. This campaign season was probably the most horrific. It was disgraceful. The lack of respect for the dignity of all people, never mind all Americans, reached a despicable all time low. The ad hominem attacks were heartless, demeaning and unchallenged. So much money was spent this campaign season on paper and digital propaganda that it was scandalous. If only that money had been better invested in feeding all the poor and the homeless in our nation, we would have cared for their needs for almost a year!

Shame on all our elected leaders for fueling the “Swamp,” the media that exploited all of the negativity being expressed by all those running for public office this season; shame on so many of our church leaders, who kept silent about the hate, degradation and social injustice. No one with power called our candidates to speak about the issues and the policies they believed in.

Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, changed the course of American history. The Electoral College elected a wealthy businessman as our commander-in-chief. That vote clearly rejected business as usual. Our president-elect is a nonpolitician, a person who’s never served in the military or held public office. On Jan. 20, 2017, he will assume the most powerful office in the world without the majority of the popular vote. Trump will begin his tenure as president with a very divided nation; a nation riddled with anxiety, fear and hate. His first order of business must be to attempt to bring us together and begin the important process of healing.

As president, he must build a bridge among us, not a wall! He must end the rhetoric that is divisive and hateful and take on a language that speaks of love, respect and inclusiveness of all Americans. Our nation is deeply divided; that has been best illustrated by the ongoing demonstrations around the country based on profound dissatisfaction and fear.

Early on Wednesday morning, Nov. 9, President-elect Trump stated that he was the president for all Americans, no matter what their race, religion, sexual orientation or economic circumstance. He spoke sincerely about healing our nation and moving forward.

The president-elect is correct. We are deeply wounded and still bleeding as a nation. We need our president to lead in that healing by example. Words are empty if they are not accompanied by actions. How great it would be if he began his tenure as our president by apologizing to the nation, to all Americans, for his inappropriate rhetoric during his campaign and stating that he intends to listen and lead all Americans to a more unified and stronger America!

If he had the courage to do that before or at his inauguration, we could stand in solidarity once again and celebrate the untapped potential that is there for every human being blessed to call our nation home. Remember 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.

Voters wait outside the first Presidential debate at Hofstra University. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

It amazes me how socially indifferent so many young people are today. Every semester I take an informal survey on how many of my students are registered to vote; how many know who is running for elected office and what his or her social platform is about. The number of students who are not registered is most disturbing. Probably a little more than half are registered to vote and less than 20 percent of those students are planning to vote. Most of them have no idea what the candidates stand for.

However, the most shocking issue was their indifference. Many expressed that voting was a waste of their time because their vote does not count. A number of students expressed that our political system is so corrupt and inept, they wanted nothing to do with it. They expressed frustration that from their perspective government only paid attention to special interest groups and not to the real needs of their constituents.

As we continued this conversation, it became apparent to me that too many of our students are academically bankrupt when it comes to government, social policy and human affairs. Many of these students believe that special interest and community opinion on issues is shaped by what CNN or Fox News reports. Their lack of understanding of our political system is a poor reflection on our educational system. We definitely need to do more to educate and engage our students in our political process. They are our future leaders.

The debates this presidential election year were a disgrace. They were not true debates. Neither candidate really answered the questions posed within the time frame that was established. The moderators were too timid and did not keep the candidates on task. Thankfully “fact finders” clarified and corrected all the misleading and blatantly false statements that were made. Neither candidate made a strong case for his/her political agenda or what they really were going to do to change and transform America if elected president. Instead of watching two well-educated candidates debate the serious issues facing our nation, we heard countless ad hominem attacks directed to each other. At times, it was very entertaining but lacked any real substance or helpful information.

One of my graduate students asked if those who run for public office are the best that we have to offer! It’s an interesting question. Another question was why don’t the best of the best choose public service as a possible career? Look at what we do to those who choose to serve our nation. Our focus is never on their ability to lead and serve and the political agenda they advocate for; but rather we focus on exploiting their family and every misstep or imperfection they possess. Why would anyone in their right mind want to subject their family to that kind of public scrutiny that is genuinely unconscionable? If we want the best of the best to lead us, then we must treat them with dignity and respect. We must work harder at attacking the issues and not the person. As a nation we deserve the best to lead us.

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