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Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

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By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

It’s hard to believe that we are in the midst of another college graduation season. As an educator, I have valued my time teaching college and graduate students.

Since the pandemic, educating college students has changed radically. Their academic skills could be stronger, as well as their critical thinking and analytical writing skills. However, I have still found them open to new ideas and broader perspectives on their view of the world. Like many of my colleagues, I am concerned about their tendency towards isolation and their disconnectedness from their peers.

This graduation season has been challenging with the college student protests around the country. Unfortunately, these protests have further polarized our nation.

The right to protest is every American’s right, whether we support the issue or not. What is important for those who protest to know and practice is peace and nonviolence at all costs. Hateful speech is not nonviolent; provocative speech often spurs on violence. In my Social Science classes and Graduate School classes we discussed the war in the Middle East and the senseless loss of innocent life, among the Israelis and the Palestinians. War never resolves conflict; it only perpetuates more violence and hate. 

Teaching Social Science and Graduate School Social Work provided a forum at the end of the semester to begin this important conversation. As always, I urged my students to be sociologically mindful and when it comes to this very sensitive issue to respond, not to react.

Graduates, as you continue your journey, do not let the social filters of our time enable bigotry, exclusivity and social injustice. Always speak up and work for human rights. Try to realize that being human and sensitive to others is more important than any successful academic record. Try showing compassion and understanding rooted in justice. 

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 only know hate. And let that love embrace you as you continue in the world.

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 non-judgmental way.

May your moral compass be grounded in respect for all human beings no matter what their color, their race, their creed or 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 the world.”

Congratulations college graduates of 2024. Thank you for making the world a little richer, a little brighter, and a little bit more hopeful.

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

Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Two presidents have declared that the heroin/fentanyl epidemic is a national health crisis. Both administrations dropped the ball on this critical health issue. The death toll due to overdoses has increased exponentially in the past year. We have less beds for treatment today than we had four years ago.

Our political leadership, from both sides of the aisle, have gotten lost in the rhetoric about our southern borders and the drug cartels. That’s all part of this tragic story but that’s not the story. The story is that a growing number of young men and women are dying senselessly because we do not have the appropriate treatment professionals and beds to respond. We need to advocate for more comprehensive treatment programs for those who are in need and want to change their lives.

Every week our local newspapers tell horrific stories about talented, gifted young people who have lost their lives due to heroin and fentanyl. We get monetary action and concern when someone of importance overdoses and dies. Meanwhile there is not a family in America that directly or indirectly has not been touched by this horrific crisis.

Talk is cheap … actions speak louder than words. St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson has been on the frontline and is a backbone in the area of treatment for addiction for decades. Jim O’Connor, the President of St. Charles Hospital, has been a leader in the trenches advocating for more beds and giving voice for the need for more comprehensive payment for treatment.

We need more people to step up and offer creative treatment possibilities, especially for the dually diagnosed — those who suffer from a substance use disorder and an untreated mental health issue.

The chronic heroin and fentanyl user needs more than 11 days. One has barely detoxed within that timeframe. The evidence-based research in this regard speaks to at least a year of comprehensive treatment.

My experience after working and living with addicts for more than three decades is that they absolutely need long-term treatment to reclaim their lives and move in positive directions.

Outpatient treatment programs tend to be disasters for people in early recovery from any kind of opioid addiction. Drug dealers just wait outside to prey on them.

The other issue that no one speaks to is the insurance industry and their destructive influence on people’s road to recovery. Very few insurance companies will pay for long-term treatment; they talk the talk but refuse to walk the walk.

We need to support legislation that is advocating that clinical social workers be empowered to write scripts for long-term care and that insurance companies, Medicare and Medicaid will have to pay.

People do get better and make positive contributions to our larger community. I see it firsthand every day; it sustains my ministry. I see men on the recovery journey becoming doctors, lawyers, teachers, tradesmen who are determined to give back and to help make the world a better place!

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

Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

When I first started teaching as a young, idealistic educator, I loved my first assignment to teach in the inner city of Washington, D.C. I was asked to teach seventh and eighth graders and to be the dean of discipline. What I think really saved me in those early years was being the basketball coach of an all African-American basketball team. Some of my students and players still reach out to me today.

Two years in, I was named principal of the junior high school division of this inner-city school. I’m still going for counseling for that experience, but I must admit I really loved my students and faculty and learned so much about what it really means to be an educator.

In the early 1980’s, I graduated to teaching on the college level. I started teaching social science at St. Joseph’s University, formerly St. Joseph’s College, in Patchogue. About the same time, I started to teach at Suffolk County Community College in Selden. After 10 years and being promoted to the rank of full professor, I was invited to teach in the honors college, probably one of the best kept secrets of higher education on Long Island.

Twenty years ago, I was invited to join the adjunct faculty at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Social Service. I teach second year graduate students clinical practice. Their passion for their profession inspires me to stay the course and continue the journey! 

Over the years, from my perspective, education has radically changed. Technology has been reshaping our schools for the past two decades. The pandemic had the greatest impact; my post-pandemic freshmen have, at best, weak communication skills. Their writing and critical thinking skills have been severely impaired. I have seen firsthand their tendency towards isolation, even in the midst of a crowd. So needless to say, its been a real challenge.

However, hope does live on! This spring semester at Suffolk County Community College, I have a 3:30 p.m. Introduction to Sociology class. It’s a full class with 35 students. I’m known for being tough and for giving a lot of work so I was somewhat surprised that the class was packed.

These young men and women have given me renewed hope for the future. Our class is like the United Nations. They are bright, hard-working and articulate; we speak about every social issue that is happening in our world. Their respect for diversity and difference is refreshing.

Recently, I asked them why they are so free to say what they think; without hesitancy a group of students called out and said because it’s a safe space. Maybe we need to work harder at creating more safe spaces in our schools at every level for the next generation!

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

As 2024 unfolds, we find ourselves at war in the Middle East and in the Ukraine. Tens of thousands of innocent people have been slaughtered because of hate.

We have people running for public office peddling the election lie, demeaning and name-calling fellow Americans who are also running for public office. The people in power sit in silence and by their silence they affirm it’s okay to peddle lies and hatefully assassinate another person’s character.

In the religious community, many of our major religious leaders keep silent and are complicit, making excuses for those who hate and have no respect for the human person.

Congress is paralyzed. They were elected to lead and for the most part are frozen in place and distracted by nonsense, instead of really doing the people’s business.

COVID has impaired our educational system. The next generation of college students are ill prepared to continue higher education. Many don’t even know what a declarative sentence is. They possess very weak critical thinking and writing skills. On some levels, we as educators have failed them. We must do things differently.

They have little or no interest in civics, or on becoming the next generation of public leaders. They are more fixated on their cell phones and their social media platforms.

Every semester I ask my freshman at St. Joseph’s University and Suffolk County Community College how many would be willing to hand in their cell phone for the semester. The reaction is unfortunately predictable. You would think I was asking for a kidney. Last semester not one student was willing to take the risk and do this.

As a student of human behavior, I have seen a steady increase in student isolation, student disconnectedness, anxiety, and depression. When I raised these observations, they affirmed what I was seeing. I asked why? They said COVID, cellular technology intensified their insecurity and their fear of reaching out and honestly not knowing how to do it!

However, hope still lives. Those same students indicated that they wanted to make a difference in the world. They wanted to feel and strengthen their human connectedness. I am cautiously optimistic with the right support and education their human connectedness will grow and be strengthened.

They are our next generation of leaders, teachers, social workers, law enforcement professionals, and healthcare professionals just to name a few of the professions before them. We need this generation to recapture compassion, service and the desire to make the world a better place. I am hopeful that they will do a better job than we did.

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

The holiday season is quickly unfolding right in front of us. It’s hard to believe that another new year is almost here. 

We are so polarized as a world and troubled by the war between Israel and Hamas; impacting Israelis and Palestinians as well.

Our world is so infected with hate, violence and discrimination. The world is bleeding with no real healing in sight.

Constantly, I hear people complain about how selfish and self-centered the world has become. However, I’ve recently seen a different world. 

On November 1, I finally had the hard cast removed after six weeks. I felt so good to be liberated as I walked out of the surgeon’s office like a new person. I have been struggling with my knee and a tendon repair for almost a year due to a ski accident last year.

On my third day of liberation, I ended up back in the hospital due to an infection. Thankfully, the infection was contained. After a week and a half of intravenous antibiotics, I was able to walk out of St. Charles Hospital slowly and very carefully.

I went back to teaching this semester at St. Joseph’s University and Fordham University. I also usually teach a class at Suffolk Community College but due to poor enrollment my regular class was canceled.

It was great being back with my students. It’s the end of the semester and I returned just in time for final oral presentations. At Fordham, my graduate students were finishing their final papers.

I love teaching. I love my students. Every semester, I learn something new from my students. My graduate students inspire me to stay the course by their powerful commitment to wanting to make a difference and serve others.

Since coming back to school, especially graduate school, it has not been a walk in the park. To protect me from falling, I have my good friend Ethel my walker to keep me balanced.

Everyone complains about how violent the world is especially New York City. I have been teaching on Tuesdays at Fordham University for almost 20 years; I have never seen a violent act. To the contrary, I have seen compassion.

Every Tuesday I take the 5:38 AM train from Ronkonkoma. It is an express train to Pennsylvania Station. Whether I’m getting on the Long Island Railroad or getting on the subway, immediately someone pops up to offer me a seat or to assist me; it has amazed me beyond words, especially since I’m not dressed as a priest.

On the contrary, some would say I look like a homeless man! I am forever grateful for those random acts of compassion. Holiday blessings, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

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

Allison Van Cott-McEntee

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

The war in the Ukraine continues to rage on with countless innocent people dying. In the Middle East, the war between Israel and the terrorist group Hamas in Gaza continues to take innocent lives. When will the violence and the hate end?

Social media is not helping. It is misrepresenting the truth on both sides and fueling hate and not peace.

Despite the complicated landscape we must navigate, there are still courageous men and women who are making a difference and attempting to protect the quality of life around us. The Play It Forward Project was founded after a sister had to bury her brother senselessly because of addiction. Instead of becoming bitter and angry, she decided to use her gifts and talents to help other families who are struggling with addiction to find help and support in a world that is out of control.

The primary goal of The Play It Forward Project is to break the stigma, bring awareness and offer resources to people and families struggling with addiction. Allison Van Cott-McEntee is the foundress of this creative approach to providing support, education and awareness in regards to this national health crisis. She and her team, Taylor Solomon and Kurt Hall, have created a dynamic podcast that airs every other Friday from 1 to 2 p.m. on 90.1 FM — Stony Brook University’s radio station.

Since their podcast has aired, they have interviewed Frank Tarentino from the Drug Enforcement Administration’s New York Division, Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney and Executive Assistant DA Megan O’Donnell, along with members from the police department and EMS. Probably their most powerful interview was with a father and son who are now both in recovery. Their story is emotionally very powerful and an important reminder that people do get better and live happy, productive lives.

The Play It Forward Project’s long-term goal is to have a mobile podcast that travels to local schools and to hold assemblies where students can get involved and share their stories. Their greatest hope is to create a peer-to-peer advocacy group that can bring young people into our schools to share their stories of struggle, recovery and hope.

Since the pandemic, drug use is even more out of control. Fentanyl is more lethal than heroin and is being laced in everything. Our present generation of young people, for all of their access to technology and information, are still grossly uneducated when it comes to using illegal substances that potentially can kill them.

The Play It Forward Project is a refreshing response to a devastating epidemic that we need to address today not tomorrow but now. This creative initiative needs our support. As someone in the trenches, I am grateful for their courage, their energy and their commitment to make a difference.

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

METRO photo

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelliather Frank

These are painfully polarizing times. The recent behavior in Washington D.C. is a disgrace. The language used by some of our public officials is reprehensible. Our former president continues to act in public with language that is clearly unpresidential and not respectful. Who should the next generation look up to?

The power of positive example is clearly missing. In the past, no matter what your political affiliation, you could always have civil conversation. No matter what your political side, both sides could work together for the common good.

The blatant lies, manipulative dialogue, lack of truth and destructive ad hominem attacks make us look weak and foolish on the international stage. In simple terms, it is an embarrassment.

The weaponization of religion is even more disturbing. It is shocking that all major faith traditions including my own have remained so silent in all that is happening. This silence borders on the immoral. By this silence, they are complicit!

Many of us in the trenches are concerned about the next generation. What kind of example are we setting for them? Many talk about their moral compass being broken; I think our moral compass is destroyed.

Our schools are not being allowed to educate. Non-educators are butting in and infecting our curriculum with half-truths; some schools are being forced to rewrite American history.

Meanwhile, too many are blinded to the impact that the two years of the pandemic have had on our children’s development. Their basic academic skills are not on level. Many of their critical thinking skills are weak, and in some cases totally lacking.

However, what I find most disturbing is our children’s tendency to isolate and their fear of human connections. I have seen all of this firsthand in all of my freshman; many of them are exceptionally bright but very impaired.

What are we doing to address these concerns? Too often we get lost in the weeds and forget about our most valuable treasure — the next generation. I have seen firsthand their untapped talent and giftedness.

Our schools are the center of most of our communities. We need to work harder at supporting them fiscally and emotionally. We need to hold them accountable but we also need to allow them to educate our children and provide all of the support resources that are critical for our children’s holistic development, academically, socially and spiritually.

Education is one of our most vital resources that needs to be strengthened and supported. We need to invest in more creative ways to support our students to become the best version of themselves. They are our invaluable future.

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

The statue of St. Charles outside the hospital. Photo by Marilyn Fabbricante

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

September is National Substance Use Disorder Awareness Month. Saint Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson began substance abuse awareness month by acknowledging International Overdose Day.

People from our local school communities and local elected officials were present, as well as our town supervisor, Edward Romaine. Representatives from other treatment and support programs were also present. The program was simple but to the point. Fentanyl and heroin overdoses are out of control across the country and locally. It is a growing epidemic in every town and village across the nation. I was asked to share a reflection that day as someone who has spent more than four decades living and working with people battling substance use disorders and mental health issues.

Saint Charles Hospital has been a leader in the field of detox and rehabilitation treatment for decades. Their dedicated professional staff has done and continues to do an extraordinary job with those battling addiction. Saint Charles continues to give voice to this epidemic need but unfortunately due to the insurance industry and politics, addiction treatment still gets buried in the weeds because it does not break even.

They have the space to increase the number of beds desperately needed for treatment. As a community, we need to stand up and give support to these vital services for our local and larger community. Saint Charles is leading our region in partnering with our school communities, and other not-for-profit resources that support people battling substance use disorder and mental health issues.

Every morning when I get up, I look out my bedroom window on the grounds of Little Portion Friary. I am greeted by the 120 crosses representing the 120 young people from our community that have died due to an overdose since the pandemic. Our Garden of Remembrance has become a safe place for a growing number of families who feel so displaced and shunned because they buried a son or daughter due to addiction.

It is scandalous that insurance companies have so much power when it comes to authorizing vital treatment for people who are battling addiction and mental health issues. The insurance protocols that determine whether or not someone will be approved for detox, residential treatment and outpatient treatment services are ridiculous. It’s not about the person in need of services, but rather about how much it will cost; that attitude is shameful and out of control.

In the past 10 days, I buried two young people who overdosed and one young woman who killed herself due to addiction. These senseless deaths are not decreasing, they are escalating. We do not have enough treatment services to keep up with the epidemic need.

We must stand up and support programs like Saint Charles, and other programs that are going the distance and so much more to protect the quality of life for the growing number of young people that are struggling with substance use disorders and mental health issues.

Every day I see firsthand the miracles of change and transformation for those struggling with addiction and mental health issues, who have the opportunity to work on themselves and reclaiming their lives; we can do better in this regard. People do get better and reclaim their lives; families are healed and renewed.

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

 

King Quality of Bohemia recently donated a new roof to Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson. The dedication ceremony took place on Aug. 16. 

The endeavor was made possible not only through King Quality’s contribution but also through the generous material donations from ABC Supply Company and GAF Materials Corporation.

“I am truly thankful for King Quality, because over the years Jeff has stepped up and stepped forward to assist us when things happen,” said Father Francis Pizzarelli, founder and executive director of Hope House Ministries.

“Father Frank and Hope House have been changing and saving lives one at a time for over 40 years,” said King Quality CEO Jeff Brett. “A miracle happens every day at Hope House. I’ve been blessed by my association with Hope House and it is such an honor to be able to give back and help a place that helps so many.” 

 

METRO photo

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

It’s hard to believe that the summer is almost over. Many of our college students are already getting ready to begin college for the first time and/or returning back for another full semester.

As our college freshmen are preparing to leave for school for the first time, I am sure there is a lot of excitement about being away, being on one’s own, but also some anxiety on how to manage all of this freedom.

College is not high school where everyone was constantly reminding you of everything you needed to take care of. It is in college where you learn how to act as an independent and responsible adult. No one will chase after you regarding getting to class on time, coming home at a reasonable hour or handing in assignments when they are due.

Time management is in your hands. You will have to design a schedule that works for you. Balance is probably the most important concept that you must learn during your first semester.

It is very easy to get lost in all of the newfound freedom. It’s easy to lose sight of what’s important and how to balance everything out. Balance is not just about your schoolwork and your school related activities; it also relates to your social life and your mental health.

Too many young people are still suffering from post -pandemic stress and anxiety; they have become overwhelmed by the simplest things that too often become overwhelming.

Communication even before the pandemic was weak; now it’s a disaster. Too many young people are obsessed with their technology and devices. They would rather text than talk; social media is their top priority over human relationships.

Interpersonal relationships have gotten lost by the wayside. Human connections for the right reasons are things of the past. We have to work harder at helping this year’s freshman class reclaim some very basic human dynamics.

Over the last three decades, I have watched firsthand this shift in my college classroom. My college students of just a few years back were not afraid to communicate. They valued human connections and were not driven by so much anxiety and depression.

However, what has not been lost in the shuffle is their generosity of spirit; their wanting to reach out to those in need and their commitment to volunteerism. Each freshman class continues to inspire me by their hearts of compassion and commitment. In the midst of all the chaos, they genuinely do care for others. I hope they don’t lose any of that caring concern during their next four years.

They are the hope for tomorrow; may we give them all the support they need to thrive and succeed.

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