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Father Frank

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By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

It is unfortunate that we tend to label and stigmatize people because of unfortunate circumstances in their lives. If someone has gone to jail and served their time, they are labeled by many as useless lowlifes. 

They try to get a job and live a normal productive life but the ex-con is marked and not oftentimes given the chance to redeem themselves. So, the ex-con who has been rehabilitated is going to fail because there are no resources to empower them to succeed and move beyond the destructive label we have created for them.

Illegal drug use is out of control within our country. Overdose deaths are at an epic high. Treatment resources are overburdened and unfortunately too often ineffective, if we look at the terrible relapse rates. The numbers are staggering!

There is most likely not a person reading this column who has not directly or indirectly been affected by out-of-control drug use. We are in the midst of a national health epidemic around the abuse of heroin and fentanyl. People of every age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and economic status are dying senselessly every day because of overdosing. Too many people stigmatize those battling addiction. We support people who are battling cancer, why don’t we support those afflicted with addiction?

Believe it or not there are a growing number of people with tremendous support who reclaim their lives and become productive members of our larger community. That road to wellness and freedom is not easy!

JB was born into a wonderful upper-middle-class family. He went to Catholic high school. He went on to college but failed out because of his drug use. His parents spent tens of thousands of dollars on various treatment programs that did nothing. He lived on the streets of Florida, underneath bridges and in shelters.

Finally, JB saw the light and went into a long-term residential treatment program for addictions. He went back to college, graduated at the top of his class and earned a scholarship to law school. A month ago, he graduated from law school as number one in his class. He was the valedictorian and gave his speech to a packed arena. His address was about his journey to recovery and wellness which led him to law school. Today he works for a big law firm in New York City, but also does pro bono work for those who are battling addiction and need law services.

The salutatorian at Five Towns College told his story of hope and transformation as a gay man in recovery. JM hopes to leave for Spain in September to teach children English in Madrid.

People do recover from addiction and do great things. These two men in the midst of all the darkness around us are clearly beacons of light and of hope among 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 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 Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

Recently Newsday carried a front-page story in its’ Sunday edition on the opioid epidemic and all of the Pharma money given to Suffolk County. It appropriately highlighted a number of exceptional professionals who are providing lifesaving support in the area of prevention and education for those who have been afflicted with addiction.

Education and prevention are vital services in reaching out to those who are struggling with this life-threatening affliction. We need to provide more funds in these areas and wider program opportunities for those in need.

Our county is sitting on millions of dollars due to the Pharma settlement. The County Executive has had access to millions of dollars due to the settlement for months. Unfortunately, no RFP (request for proposal) has been issued; no comprehensive task force has been announced that contains more than government bureaucrats. After 40 years of dealing with the government, I know their wheels regarding change in any kind of progressive action are slow. Unfortunately, we can no longer wait, we must act now!

How many families have to senselessly bury their children before we realize that we lack the important resources to save a life? Education and prevention are very important. However, right now in our county we do not have the necessary long-term residential treatment programs for those who need and seek them.

Chronic heroin relapse addicts are not going to get better in a 28-day program or a three-month program. Evidence-based research underscores that a year to 18 months is needed, if someone is genuinely going to learn the skills to sustain a life of recovery and wellness.

In our county, we have a desperate need for long-term residential treatment. The two programs that exist have endless waiting lists. Every day I get at least three or four desperate calls from parents who are afraid that their children are going to die and they have no place to turn. Every day I place another cross in our garden of remembrance for a young person who overdosed on heroin or fentanyl.

Our silence on this important life issue is deafening. We need to stand up, be counted and demand action before someone close to us dies senselessly — someone we might have been able to save if there was a place for him or her to go.

Insurance companies in our country set people up to fail and ultimately to die. The games they play with people’s lives is scandalous and reprehensible. We need to demand greater accountability for the money spent on healthcare; we need to create opportunities that will save people’s lives and empower them to wellness. Spring is a time for new beginnings, new life and renewed hope. Let’s be courageous and be that spring!

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

Father Frank Pizzarelli

Recently, I had a powerful discussion around a very toxic social issue. It was in my Honors Sociology class at Suffolk County Community College, which is probably one of the best kept secrets in public higher education on Long Island.

My class is diverse on every level. Their commonality is they are all bright and from all over Suffolk County. The respect and critical thinking skills they employed was refreshing. I have been an adjunct professor of Sociology there for over 35 years and I have never had a class that disappointed me.

However, this class has truly raised the bar. They took this very complex opinion piece  and were able to dissect it, respond and not react to each other. They raised phenomenal questions and pursued them. They acknowledged that civil discourse was critical and ad hominem attacks were not acceptable. They agreed to disagree in an acceptable and respectful manner. They also demonstrated a quality that is sadly lacking in Washington —  empathy for each other. Their quest for vetted evidence-based research for some of the more complex questions was refreshing.

The initial issue raised some important life issues and important life questions in a free society. The student’s quest for knowledge and truth was impressive. At the end of our discussion they were amazed at how much they all learned from each other because they were open and responsive instead of reactive and confrontational. They represent a real hope for tomorrow. Some who are leading us would learn much from their wisdom if they took the time to listen!

Recently, the federal government released another disturbing report regarding the heroin epidemic. They spoke about how this unfortunate health issue is out of control and is exponentially taking life senselessly. Most of us already know that!

However, the programs they are recommending money be spent on once again are misguided and will ultimately be ineffective in confronting this national health crisis. We in the trenches are dealing with this painful epidemic every day. The number of young men and women around the country who are senselessly dying is out of control. The lack of resources to make a difference in addicts’ lives and our response, at best, is pathetic.

Education and prevention are important, but we have no long-term treatment beds and no money being allocated to develop them. Our present system of treatment is inadequate and shameful. Every day we are bearing a growing number of young people that need not die. Visit the grounds of Little Portion Friary at Hope Academy in Mount Sinai, go behind the grotto of Our Lady of Hope to the Garden of Remembrance and you will find more than 100 crosses and other symbols that mark the young people who have died senselessly during this pandemic. Every day two or three more crosses are added. When are we going to say no more?

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 Father Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

A few weeks ago, the federal government announced over 100,000 people died from heroin/fentanyl.  In Suffolk County, the number of senseless deaths is beyond numbers and words.

The pandemic has strained mental health services; and comprehensive residential treatment beds are hard to find. Long-term residential treatment is almost nonexistent.

However, the County Executive’s office allegedly has millions of dollars to distribute that are being held hostage while they decide how to distribute it. Meanwhile, countless lives are being senselessly lost due to this inaction.

It seems pretty clear to many of us in the trenches that a request for proposals should be sent out. Those interested should submit evidence-based proposals that primarily focus on opioid treatment and relapse prevention.

A team of professionals in the field of addiction, County legislators and parents who have lost children to this health epidemic should be left with the task of deciding who gets what, but it must happen soon! Time is of the essence. Every day I get calls from at least two parents representing two different families asking me to pray for a son or daughter that has overdosed and died.

Insurance is useless. It is not shaped on wellness or positive outcomes; it is shaped on saving money, not lives. Outpatient treatment for chronic relapses does not work for most. It is really a death sentence. Look at the data. Too many insurance companies refuse to pay and do the right thing. They should be forced to pay and should have no say in determining the kind of treatment necessary for the patient. That should be left in the hands of trained professionals.

It is December; in the Christian community it is known as Advent — a season of hope. In the Jewish community, they celebrate Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights. Christians light advent candles, Jews light candles on the menorah. For both religious traditions, it is a time for renewed hope.

This holiday season is a powerful opportunity to celebrate the gift of hope — to transcend all the infectious negativity that is polarizing our nation. It is a time to celebrate the goodness that is all around us. The random acts of kindness in our community are inspirational. I continue to be amazed and inspired by our young people.

Christmas Magic, a local charity, collects thousands of gifts for children in our homeless shelters throughout Suffolk County. It engages hundreds of high school and college students who donate their time, collect and wrap gifts for poor children.

Christmas Magic was the creative idea of a dad more than 25 years ago who wanted to teach his children the real meaning of Christmas. That father is a man from our community who has done so much for so many never looking for anything in return. His power of example is extraordinary. He not only talks the talk but he walks the walk.

As we celebrate the Season of Hope and the Festival of Lights, let us make every effort to be beacons of hope and festivals of light for people who often hover in darkness.

May this season be a blessing for all of you — thanks for blessing me!

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

The pandemic has changed the world forever. It has profoundly reminded us that all life is sacred, but also very fragile. Many families have drawn closer together. More and more people have strengthened their human connections and value their time together.

Unfortunately, it has also further polarized our nation. The heart and soul of our country is wounded and bleeding profusely. Stress and anxiety are on the rise and we are all ill-equipped to meet the escalating need for competent mental health professionals.

Our schools are struggling with this new landscape that our children must travel. There is a great need for a stronger mental health support system to meet the growing number of students who are frightened and anxious.

The lack of quality childcare makes it even more stressful for single moms and moms whose working income is critical for survival.

The light at the end of the tunnel is blurred with mixed messages, conspiracy theories that are blatant lies and elected leaders who are not interested in the people that elected them but rather special interest groups.

Some of our religious leaders have been painfully silent when they should speak to social justice, human rights and doing what’s right for our communities. Our moral compass seems to be broken. How many more lives need to be senselessly lost before we stand up and work harder at building bridges and not walls? 

As a divided nation, we are giving power to divisive mean-spirited persons who do not care about the heart and soul of our country.

We are continuing to bury an epidemic number of young people who are dying from heroin because of our horrific insurance and healthcare system— one that is more focused on the bottom line financially than empowering a person to long term wellness and recovery.

Millions of dollars continue to sit in the Suffolk County Treasurer’s office while the bureaucrats decide who is going to get what. We are in the midst of a national health crisis. We need action now. We need more beds for long-term treatment. We need to support the few hospitals that provide limited treatment to expand their services.

As we bicker, an increasing number of families are burying their children senselessly. What will it take to force us to reclaim our humanity and restore the character and integrity of our great nation?

We the people — what does that mean in a country that is so divided? I have seen firsthand, in the midst of our diversity and difference, people come together to support each other in our times of need. We need to reclaim that spirit, transcend our differences and renew the hopeful spirit of our nation.Hope does not abandon us. We abandon hope.

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