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Safety

Tulips bloom on Barnum Avenue in Port Jefferson. Photo by Heidi Sutton

Spring has sprung, and with it comes the welcome sight of people emerging from their winter cocoons. As we bask in the warmer weather, our streets and sidewalks come alive with pedestrians, cyclists and drivers all eager to soak up the sunshine. But this surge in activity also necessitates a collective reminder: Springtime safety is a two-way street.

It’s easy to get caught up in the allure of the season, but amid the blooming flowers and gentle breezes, we must not forget the importance of vigilance and awareness. Each year, countless accidents occur on our roads and walkways, many of which could have been prevented with a little extra caution and mindfulness.

Drivers, vigilance is essential. Pedestrians, many of whom may have been less active during colder months, are now reclaiming their space on our roads. Be extra cautious at crosswalks and intersections, and remember that pedestrians have the right of way. Yield to those with strollers, wheelchairs or mobility aids, and be extra aware of children who may be less predictable in their movements.

Pedestrians, while enjoying the fresh air, do not let down your guard. Sidewalks are for walking, not texting or talking on the phone. Stay alert to your surroundings and avoid distractions that could impair your ability to react to traffic. Make eye contact with drivers at crosswalks and do not assume they see you. Wear bright clothing during the day and reflective gear at night to ensure maximum visibility.

Cyclists, as always, prioritize safety. Obey traffic laws, use hand signals and wear a properly fitted helmet. Remember, you share the road with cars, so ride defensively and avoid weaving in and out of traffic.

By working together, drivers, pedestrians and cyclists can all contribute to a safer community this spring. Let us embrace the season’s vibrancy while keeping safety at the forefront of our minds. A little awareness goes a long way in ensuring everyone enjoys the beautiful weather without incident. So, buckle up, put down the phone and let us all step safely into spring.

Photo from Stony Brook Medicine

By Daniel Dunaief

[email protected]

While looking after the physical and mental well-being of patients who come in for care, Suffolk County hospitals are also focused on protecting staff, patients and visitors from the kind of violence that has spread recently throughout the country.

Over the past six months, hospital security staff and administrators have added a host of procedures to enhance safety and are considering additional steps.

“New measures have been put in place to minimize risk and better secure our buildings from a variety of threats,” Frank Kirby, Catholic Health Service line manager, wrote in an email. Catholic Health includes St. Catherine of Siena in Smithtown and St. Charles in Port Jefferson, among others.

“All Catholic Health facilities have an ‘active shooter’ contingency policy, which includes training for our employees on what to do in such an event,” Kirby wrote.

Executives at several health care facilities shared specific measures they have put in place.

The safe room

“Over the last six months or so, we have created something called the safe room,” said Dr. Michel Khlat, director at St. Catherine of Siena. Inside that room, hospital staff can hide and can find emergency items, like a door stop, medical supplies, gauze and first aid equipment.

St. Catherine recommends putting all the tables down in the safe room and hiding.

Khlat added that the hospital recommends that staff not open a door where another staff member knocks, in case a criminal is squatting nearby, waiting for access to the hospital.

Kirby added that Catholic Health facilities actively conducts drills across their hospitals, medical buildings and administrative offices to “sharpen our preparedness for any potential crisis that could impact safety and security.”

Catholic Health hospitals have onsite security guards and field supervisors who have prior military or law enforcement experience, Kirby added.

Northwell Health

As for Northwell Health, which includes Huntington Hospital, Scott Strauss, vice president of Corporate Security at Northwell, said the hospitals have an armed presence that includes many former and active law enforcement officers.

Strauss himself is a retired New York Police Department officer who, as a first responder on 9/11, rescued a Port Authority officer trapped by the fall of the World Trade Center.

Northwell is researching the possibility of installing a metal detection system.

Strauss suggested that the security program could not be successful without the support of senior leadership.

He suggested that staff and visitors can play a part in keeping everyone safe by remaining vigilant, as anyone in a hospital could serve as the eyes and ears of a security force.

The security staff has relied on their 15 to 35 years of experience to deescalate any potentially violent situations, Strauss said.

Northwell hospitals also offer guidance to staff for personal relationships that might
be dangerous.

“People don’t realize they’re in a poor relationship, they might think it’s normal,” Strauss said.

Across social media and the Internet, the communications team at Northwell monitors online chatter to search for anything that might be threatening.

“We evaluate it and notify the police as needed,” said Strauss.

Aggressive behavior

Strauss urged people who see something threatening online to share it with authorities, either at the hospitals or in the police force. “You can’t take a chance and let that go,” he said.

At this point, Northwell hasn’t noticed an increase in threats or possible security concerns. It has, however, seen an increase in aggressive behavior at practices and in
the hospitals.

In those situations, the security team investigates. They offer to get help, while making it clear that “threatening in any way, shape or form is not tolerated,” Strauss said. “There could be consequences” which could include being dismissed from the practice and filing police reports, Strauss said.

Anecdotally, Strauss believes Northwell has seen an increase in police reports.

When the draft of the Supreme Court’s decision that will likely overturn Roe vs. Wade, the landmark 1973 case that made it unconstitutional for states to restrict abortions, became public, Strauss was concerned about the potential backlash for health care providers.

So far, Strauss said gratefully, Northwell hasn’t seen any violence or threats related to the pending decision.

Stony Brook

Stony Brook University Hospital has an accredited and armed law enforcement agency on campus, in addition to a team of trained public safety personnel within the hospital, explained Lawrence Zacarese, vice president for Enterprise Risk Management and chief security officer at Stony Brook University.

Zacarese indicated that university officers are extensively trained in active shooter response protocols and are prepared to handle other emergency situations.

He added that the staff looks for ways to enhance security.

“Our training and security activities are continuous, and we are committed to exploring additional opportunities to maintain a safe and secure environment,” he explained in an email.

Kirby of Catholic Health Security suggested that hospitals do “more than provide care for surgical and medical inpatients. They also need to guarantee safety for all who enter our grounds.”

The Greenway Trail in Port Jefferson Station. Photo by Heidi Sutton

After sitting home for over a year, people are finally emerging from their living rooms. The world has opened back up, restaurants and venues allow 100% capacity again. Things are starting to look like they’re coming back to normal. 

Remember before COVID-19 how many murders, shootings and disputes there were — not only on Long Island but across the country? 

For almost a year, there was little news of a gunman entering places of business. Schools weren’t open, so there were no high school shootings — something that happened relatively  often in 2019.

It was nice, wasn’t it?

But now, we’re seeing a lot of instances again where we need to remember to be safe. 

Last week, there was a stabbing in the early morning on the Greenway Trail in Port Jefferson Station. Barely two days later, a shooting occurred outside a bar in Port Jeff village. 

Now that life is seemingly regular, the people who have pent-up energy, anger or who are emotionally disturbed are back out in the public. 

It’s time to be aware of our surroundings again. 

People might have forgotten to look over their shoulders while walking in a parking lot in the dark. They might not realize it’s not safe to be alone during a walk at night. If a customer looks unstable at a business, it might be good to alert someone and stay away.

Things are back to normal and, unfortunately, that means the bad stuff is back, too. 

Keep your phone handy, bring a friend to places infrequently visited so you’re not alone and maybe invest in a whistle for your keyring to deter someone coming at you. If someone is walking toward you, look them in the eyes, so they know you can identify them if needed. Also, it never hurts to let someone know where you are going, especially when it’s late at night or you are traveling in an unfamiliar area.

Nowadays there are also apps for your phone that can help you stay safe, from ones that you can check before you venture out to see if any crimes have been reported in the area, to others that will send a message to your contacts you predetermine if you scream or don’t respond to a text message from the service by a certain time.

It’s important to stay safe. Look out for yourself and look out for others. 

We’re all in this together.

Photo courtesy of Herb Herman

It’s official — the boating season starts on Memorial Day, May 27. Here’s some tips for you before taking your vessel crashing over
the waves.

You get the family in the car and go to the marina, but being a responsible boater, first of all you check the weather forecast and make sure that you won’t face any surprises out on the water. You get to the boat and go through the required check-off items: the fuel level, check oil, Nav-lights in order, see that the personal flotation devices are in the right place — at least one per person and easily accessible in an emergency, set up the anchor for easy deployment, flares and other emergency items in order and handheld VHF radio charged and readily available. You will have an up-to-date first aid kit on board. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list.

Assuming you are a responsible boater, the final thing to do before you cast off is to inform the passengers and crew as to where the emergency items are and where and how to don the PFDs. And if you are a diligent boater, you file a float plan with friends, so that in the eventuality you aren’t where you’re supposed to be in the coming days, they can inform the Coast Guard of a potential problem.

All of the above seems like a lot of hard work to go out for a day trip to the local anchorage, but with some experience and perhaps some nasty events you will tend to do these things automatically. Better yet, have an actual check-off list so you forget nothing. Then you’ll have a fine day to go boating.

Added to the above list should be what the Coast Guard teaches — rather preaches — to its boat crews and to the Coast Guard Auxiliary as well:

The USCG boating statistics for the U.S. in 2017 are as follows:

• Fatalities: 658 

• Drownings: 449 

• Injuries (requiring medical treatment beyond first aid): 2,629 

• Boating accidents: 4,291 

• Property damage: Approximately $46 million 

• Number of registered recreational boats in the U.S.: 11,961,568 

Situational awareness, that is, what’s going on around you. In the parlance of the local guru, it’s called mindfulness, or the state of knowing the environment in which your boat plows. These include water state, weather — both now and what’s coming — wind, other boats and buoys, and all the impediments that exist on local waters. It’s important to have a designated lookout in case someone falls overboard. 

Above all, know the rules of the road, or the elements that dictate, mainly through common sense, what to do when boats approach one another. This covers a myriad of circumstances in which both professionals and amateurs alike find themselves. These regulations, also known as COLREGS, are devised to avoid collisions at sea. The main elements should be learned either by way of courses given by various authorities, such as the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, or through a variety of books and videos. The Port Jefferson auxiliary gives a Safe Boating Course as well as a course entitled Suddenly in Command, conveying essential know-how when the second-in-command must take over the running of the boat.

You will, of course, have a nautical chart available for the waters in which you wish to sail. The chart, unlike a land road map, gives you broad swaths of safe passages and also tells you which regions to avoid due to shallow depths, rocks and a wide range of impediments. One can navigate using charts — themselves marvels of information collected over years of careful observations by mainly government vessels — your key to safety and enjoyment on the water, whether you’re out for a day or on a longer passage. 

If you’re a power boater or a sailor with an accessory motor, you should know something about the innards of the beast. Have you enough fuel for your planned voyage (boats frequently have notoriously inaccurate fuel gauges). Will you check the oil dip-stick, or do you assume that the marina personnel does that for you? Note they won’t unless you ask them to. Are all your oil, water, fuel and water filters clean and can you change-out a clogged filter? Water cooling sea cocks open? Can you troubleshoot easy problems and do you have the essential tools for such work? Most aspects of inboard and outboard motors can be handled by a layman with a little study. A quick course on troubleshooting your power plant by the marina mechanic can really payoff. Don’t forget that emergency “road side” help from Sea Tow or Boat US can save the day.

Paddle craft safety is of growing concern to the Coast Guard, with over 20 million Americans enjoying the sport. According to industry figures, some 100,000 canoes, 350,000 kayaks and an increasingly large number of stand-up paddlers are sold annually. A tragic consequence of these large numbers is that as of 2015, 29 percent of boating deaths were related to paddle craft. In response, the USCG has generated a Paddle Craft Vessel Safety Check, which is administered free by a USCG-approved vessel examiner, such as Coast Guard auxiliary personnel. Paddle crafters should wear PFDs and have a sound producing device, such as a whistle.

Herb Herman is the flotilla staff officer for public affairs, Port Jefferson Auxiliary Flotilla 14-22-06.

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I didn’t see a horrifying and preventable accident this morning. I didn’t see a little girl, let’s call her Erica, on her way to her first week of school.

Erica, who, in our story, is 10 years old, wants to be a veterinarian, and has pictures of animals all over her room. She begged her parents so long for a kitten that they relented. They saw how well she took care of the kitten, putting drops in her eyes when she needed them, making sure she got the correct shots and even holding her kitten in the office when they had to draw blood to test for feline leukemia, which, fortunately, her kitten didn’t have.

Two years after she got her kitten, Erica continued to ask for additional animals, adding a fish, a rabbit and a hamster to her collection. Each morning, Erica wakes up and checks on all the animals in her little zoo, well, that’s what her father calls it, to see how they’re doing.

Her mother is convinced that the animals respond to her voice, moving closer to the edge of the cage or to the door when they hear her coming. When mother leaves to pick up Erica from school, the animals become restless.

I didn’t see Erica walking with her best friend Jenna. Like Erica, Jenna has a dream. She wants to pitch for the United States in softball in the Olympics. Jenna is much taller than her best friend and has an incredible arm. Jenna hopes the Olympics decides to have softball when she’s old enough and strong enough to play. Jenna thinks bringing a gold medal to her father, who is in the Marines and has traveled the world protecting other people, would be the greatest accomplishment she could ever achieve.

I didn’t see a man, whom I’ll call Bob and who lives only four blocks from Erica and Jenna, put on his carefully pressed light-blue shirt with the matching tie that morning. I didn’t witness him kissing his wife Alicia, the way he does every morning before he rushes off to his important job. I didn’t see him climb into his sleek SUV and back quickly out of his driveway on the dead-end block he and Alicia chose more than a dozen years earlier.

I didn’t see Bob get the first indication from his iPhone 7 that he had several messages. I didn’t witness Bob rolling his eyes at the first few messages. I didn’t see him drive quickly toward the crosswalk where Erica and Jenna were walking. The girls had slowed down in the crosswalk because Jenna pointed out a deer she could see across the street in a backyard. Jenna knew Erica kept an animal diary and she was always on the lookout for anything her friend could include in her cherished book.

I didn’t see Bob — his attention diverted by a phone he had to extend to see clearly — roll too quickly into the crosswalk, sending both girls flying. I didn’t see the ambulances racing to the scene, the parents with heavy hearts getting the unimaginable phone calls, and the doctors doing everything they could to fix Jenna’s battered right arm — her pitching arm.

I didn’t see it because it didn’t happen. What I did see, however, was a man in an SUV, driving way too quickly through a crosswalk, staring at his phone instead of looking out for Erica, Jenna and everyone else’s children on his way to work.

It’s an old message that we should repeat every year: “School is open, drive carefully.”

This Column is reprinted from September 14, 2017 issue.

Members of the SCSSA Executive Board met with Suffolk County law enforcement officials and lawmakers to discuss its five-point Blueprint for Action to Enhance School Safety Aug. 27. Photo from SCSSA

Superintendents in Suffolk County are trying to get their schools all on the same page when it comes to safety.

Following the particularly deadly school shooting — though just the latest in a long line of similar occurrences — that took place in Parkland, Florida at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February, which resulted in 17 casualties, discussions about concrete steps to enhance safety for students and staff in buildings from coast to coast have been seemingly unending. In Suffolk County, school officials have teamed up to release a five-point blueprint of actionable steps, officially recommended by the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association Aug. 27 to local, state and federal lawmakers.

The superintendents are calling on lawmakers to invest in the School Resource Officer program, providing additional officers in Suffolk County schools; adopt legislation that enhances campus safety, including amending the New York State Criminal Procedure Law dealing with setting bail; make the New York State SAFE Act the law of the land; support the social, emotional and mental health of children through screening programs and education initiatives; and provide institutional support to finance school safety, calling for the state to initiate School Security Aid and to exempt school safety expenditures from the tax levy limitation.

“While school safety has always been a top priority, following the horrific massacre at Columbine High School in Columbine, Colorado, and the tragic events that followed, the importance of a strong working relationship between the police, mental health providers and public-school officials has become more important than ever,” the association said in a press release. “The SCSSA plans to continue to work together with Suffolk County law enforcement and local, state and federal legislators to turn these plans into actions that will improve school safety and the safety and wellness of all students in Suffolk County.”

In August, representatives from Sandy Hook Promise, a national nonprofit organization that was founded by parents from the Connecticut elementary school to carry out its mission of preventing all gun-related deaths, held a forum for the association and law enforcement officials. The purpose of the meeting was to share details about four programs they’ve created aimed at preventing violence in schools.

The four strategies, which fall under the nonprofit’s Know the Signs program, are taught to youth and adults free of charge in the hopes of fostering an environment that empowers everyone in the community to help identify and intervene when someone is at risk free of charge. Superintendents who were in attendance from several local districts pledged to further examine Sandy Hook Promise’s programs and to take steps toward implementing them.

During an exclusive interview with TBR News Media in July, Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. said creating countywide standards for school security is a priority for his department.

The Weiss family and friends place daisies into the waters off Centerport Yacht Club in memory of Ryan Weiss. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Suffolk County’s newest boating safety law aims to prevent future tragedies like the one that claimed the life of a Greenlawn boy last summer.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) signed legislation July 28 at Centerport Yacht Club named Ryan’s Law that will require all boats used for instructing minors to be equipped with propeller guards. After the tragic death of their 12-year-old son, Ryan, Greenlawn resident Kellie Weiss and her husband, Kevin, led the charge calling for a law change.

“We stand here forever heartbroken,” Weiss said. “Although this can’t bring Ryan back to us today, we hope that we have the opportunity to protect someone else, some other child out there.”

Ryan died July 18, 2017, when he was taking part in a boating lesson at Centerport Yacht Club where the vessel was intentionally capsized in a controlled manner. An 18-year-old instructor operating a small Zodiac inflatable boat pulled him from the water and onto the inflatable raft. As the instructor started to move the boat forward, Ryan again fell into the water and became entangled in the propeller.

“This is Ryan’s happy place,” Weiss said, wiping away tears. “I know in my heart he did what he loved to do.”

The Weiss family and elected officials look on as Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone signs Ryan’s Law. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Under the new law, anyone who owns a boat used for instructional lessons that is registered in Suffolk or operates in county waters must install a propeller guard, a metal cage that surrounds the propeller of a motorized boat. The legislation was unanimously co-sponsored and then approved by all 18 members of the Suffolk County Legislature in June.

“This is a family that has really had to bind together over the last year,” Suffolk Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) said, crediting the Weiss’ advocacy in getting the legislation passed. “What they have done is nothing short of incredible, to take something that is so deep and painful, and turn it into something positive.”

The law will take effect in approximately 90 days, giving boat owners an opportunity to modify their watercrafts as necessary. Those caught operating an instructional boat without a propeller guard will be fined between $250 and $500 for first offenses and from $750 to $1,500 for subsequent violations.

Erik Rosanes, commodore of the Centerport Yacht Club, said his club is onboard with the legislation.

“As we continue in our club’s mission to encourage the sport of yachting and educate the next generation of sailors, we look forward to promoting any measures that may improve the safety of our children in and on the water,” Rosanes said.

The Weiss family and members of the yacht club were joined by New York State, Suffolk and Town of Huntington elected officials in placing white daisies into the waters of Northport Harbor in memory of Ryan. Flowers were also placed on a rock marked with his initials.

Kellie Weiss said she is hopeful that one day propeller guards will become mandatory under New York State law.

“We urge every parent who has a child, teen or young adult who is going to be operating a boat or wave runner,” she said. “Think about installing a prop guard to protect your kid. No one wants to get the phone call we got a year ago.”

If I could only talk, I could tell some exciting stories.

For starters, many people think of me as a nuisance. No, I’m not a politician, journalist or lawyer. And, no, I don’t write parking tickets or tell you why you should join my religion and how I’ll promise you bliss in this life or the next one.

I’m much closer to earth. In fact, you could say that I’m closer to earth than almost everyone.

You see, I’m a speed bump. Now, hold on, I’m not some metaphor, like the layers of an onion. Don’t you hate how onions have become the metaphor of choice for complicated stories?

I’m a mound-over-a-road speed bump, designed to force cars racing through school areas, regions filled with small children playing on and around streets, and people approaching dangerous curves to slow down.

Kids don’t start hating me, just as they don’t start hating most things. In fact, small children often enjoy the miniature carnival ride I provide when their parents roll over me during a stroll. Sometimes, parents and children make excited noises as they approach, with their voices rising and falling as they reach the top of my back and then come back down.

As children get older, they like to ride their bicycles, skateboards, hover boards and scooters over me, often at high speeds, as they hope to catch some air. I’m like a skateboarding park with training wheels for children who haven’t graduated to more advanced, and dangerous, versions of high-speed obstacle courses.

Bus drivers sometimes use me to distract a raucous collection of children who are eager to get home. In fact, one of my speed bump friends on Main Street in Setauket described how kids at the back of the bus bounced up and down on their seats, hoping to reach my friend at exactly the right time so that the force of the bump caused them to launch into the air.

But then, as they get older, some kids find me as frustrating as their parents do. They want to go faster, because they’re late to meet friends, need to get to a job interview, or can’t be bothered looking at signs on the side of the road that introduce me. They sometimes call me a speed bump, speed hump or even a speed cushion.

They reach me at speeds that are dangerous for a car’s alignment, axle or wheels. The ones that race too quickly over me often shout something unpleasant in my general direction, especially if they hear a crunch or a crack in the car below them.

But, you see, more often than not, that means I’ve accomplished my goal. If they remember to slow down next time, they will protect their cars and, more importantly, the people who live, walk, work and, best of all, play in the area.

They may not think of the younger versions of themselves, or about their own children, as they slow down, but I don’t care. I’m not there to protect their car or to help them get somewhere more rapidly.

If they choose another route — maybe one that involves a highway — I’ve also gotten them away from local roads. Speed bumps like me serve a purpose, whether or not people enjoy me and the stripes they sometimes put on me.

And, as you know, school will be starting in a few weeks. I know because I’ve seen some of the back-to-school signs that pass slowly over me on the way to the stores.

Maybe, some day, self-driving cars will automatically slow down through areas where people are out and about. Until that day comes, I’m here for you and your children.

Stock photo

The next couple of months are packed with celebrations, including high school and college proms and graduations. When planning any outdoor festivities, PSEG Long Island urges customers to think carefully
about how they handle Mylar balloons. Though they can make a party more festive, Mylar balloons can also cause power outages when they get loose and come in contact with electrical equipment.

The distinctive metallic coating on Mylar balloons conducts electricity. Because of this, when a Mylar balloon comes in contact with a power line, it can cause a short circuit. This short circuit can lead to power outages, fires and possible injuries.

To reduce the risk of outages and injuries, residents should keep the following safety tips in mind:

• Mylar balloons and other decorations should be kept away from overhead power lines and all utility equipment.

• Make sure balloons are secured to a weight that is heavy enough to prevent them from floating away. Keep balloons tethered and attached to the weights at all times.

• Always dispose of Mylar balloons by safely puncturing the balloon in several places to release the helium that otherwise could cause the balloon to float away.

• Never touch a power line. Do not attempt to retrieve a balloon, toy or other type of debris that is entangled in an overhead power line. Call PSEG Long Island to report the problem at 800-490-0075 so crews can remove the item safely.

For more kite and balloon safety tips visit PSEG’s website.

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Bridge of Hope Resource Center founder Celina Wilson is planning to turn a family owned home on Roe Avenue into a shelter for at-risk girls ages 16 to 21. Image from Google Maps

As the old cliché goes, it’s impossible to know when opportunity will knock, just be ready to answer the door when it does. Opportunity knocked for Celina Wilson about 30 years ago, both literally and figuratively. She went on to dedicate her life’s work to the opportunity that was standing at her front door.

The Port Jefferson Station resident founded Bridge of Hope Resource Center with her husband, George, in the late 1990s, a nonprofit dedicated to strengthening communities through family communication. The organization for years has been holding seminars, forums, workshops and other similar events to educate the community and arm parents with strategies for connecting with teens and young adults. Wilson and the organization’s overarching ethos is that education and prevention are the best means for keeping kids from falling victim to the ills lurking in society, like drug addiction and depression. In 2018, Wilson is hoping to advance Bridge of Hope’s mission a step further.

Wilson’s in-laws lived in Port Jefferson Station for about 30 years, but 10 years ago, after her husband’s mother died, her father-in-law, John Wilson, decided to move out of the longtime family home on Roe Avenue. The home was left to Bridge of Hope to use as an asset, sheltering families in crisis who had a hard time finding a place to live. Wilson said the only stipulation was the tenants needed to find work and contribute to the rent. Over the course of the last decade, Wilson said three or four families have stayed at the home.

Now, she plans to repurpose it to serve as a shelter for at-risk girls between 16 and 21 years old. The shelter — which will be called John’s House, to honor Wilson’s late father-in-law — will be a place for girls who run away from home or pose a risk of doing so due to conflicts with parents or guardians. While at the home, those staying in the five beds will be supervised and subjected to counseling and other programs in an effort to restore open lines of healthy communication with parents.

The inspiration for the home was several decades in the making for Wilson.

She was living with her now-husband’s family in the same Port Jeff Station home about 30 years ago, she recalled, when a 16-year-old boy knocked on her door. Even though it was 10 p.m., the then-21-year-old answered.

“He was wondering if he could sleep in our house,” Wilson said. “He was tired. He had a fight with his mom, and I’m figuring, ‘He must have knocked at plenty of houses. Why ours?’ We didn’t understand. But he asked us, ‘Please, just for the night, can I just come in?’ What went through my mind was, ‘If we don’t let him in, he’s going to be in the street and who knows what?’”

In the morning, Wilson remembers waking up wanting to hear more of his personal story, but by that time, he was already gone.

“What went through my mind was, ‘If we don’t let him in, he’s going to be in the street and who knows what?’”

— Celina Wilson

“I realized then, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s so many young people out there, I wonder what his mom was thinking, if she knew he was somewhere safe,’” she said. “The story repeats itself if we fast forward, but it’s
different today because of what our young people are facing.”

Wilson said the home will be funded by donations and some money from the New York State Office of Children and Family Services, which will also help in placing some of the girls in the home, though space will be available to accommodate the weary traveler like the one who knocked on her door 30 years ago.

“We feel the house is going to be a place where families can send their teens and work on situations that they themselves cannot work on in the home, and prevent them from running away,” Wilson said. “The goal is to reunite that youth back with their family.”

She said the length of stay for occupants will be determined on a case-by-case basis, with an eye toward sheltering those most in need, though she estimated many will be allowed to live there for up to 18 months. Each of the tenants will be expected to participate in counseling sessions and work toward agreed-upon goals, all while Bridge of Hope will be maintaining contact with the families to try to rebuild lines of communication. Wilson said the organization will follow up with the tenants even after they leave the home to make sure they stay on track as they grow up and prepare for independence.

One representative from the resource center will live permanently at the home, who Wilson referred to as the “house mom,” though aides, case workers and other specialists will also be on hand on a rotating basis seven days a week. She said tenants will be supervised at all times and expected to be at the home unless they’re at school, work or an organized activity.

She said admittance into the home will have nothing to do with demographics, as family conflict is common among all segments of society.

“It could be anyone’s child that is out there on the street,” Wilson said. “It could be my child.”

One community member who was helped by Wilson and Bridge of Hope said she sees the organization’s founder as the perfect person for an initiative like John’s House.

“She made things happen for me,” said the woman, who asked to remain anonymous. She said Wilson and the
center worked with her for five years, assisting in finding work and getting her life on track while dealing with a physical disability. “She’s right for these kids. A lot of young people don’t have a place to go.”

She called Wilson a good person and a woman of her word, adding she wished the founder would run for political office.

Wilson said she contacted the Suffolk County Youth Bureau, an entity under the county executive’s purview dedicated to ensuring effective management of county funds for youth services, for assistance in
establishing policies for her initiative. She said the organization also conducted an inspection at the house, which will undergo minor renovations prior to her October target date for opening.

Though members of the bureau’s leadership declined to comment on the dealings with Bridge of Hope, one of its responsibilities includes monitoring and evaluating youth programs, research and planning; information and referrals; and training and technical assistance for community-based youth organizations, according to its website.

Wilson said she sees John’s house as a fitting tribute for the man it’s named after, who migrated to the United States from Jamaica in the Caribbean. He worked for years as a custodian at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital.

“He left such a legacy here and abroad that we thought it appropriate to call it John’s House because he lived a life of service, kindness and love to his fellow man,” she said.

To donate to help Wilson’s cause, visit www.gofundme.com/xtzv6n-hope-for-her.