11/21/13 3:00pm
11/21/2013 3:00 PM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Michael Hubbard (left) hangs out with classmates in the Riverhead High School Interact Club Wednesday afternoon.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Michael Hubbard (left) hangs out with classmates in the Riverhead High School Interact Club Wednesday afternoon.

For the first time in two years, Michael Hubbard will be spending Thanksgiving at home, surrounded by family and a feast.

The Riverhead teen is still recovering from a gel candle explosion in May 2011 that severely burned him and lead to cardiac arrest and brain damage. Michael had been in rehab at Blythedale Children’s Hospital in Westchester County since the accident.

But since returning to Peconic Bay Medical Center Health’s Skilled Nursing Facility this spring, Michael has been steadily improving, his mother, Nancy Reyer, said. He’s gone through a growth spurt and has gained weight thanks to a new diet.

Being back home — surrounded by medical and emotional support — has given him a noticeable boost, she said.

“He looks better,” Ms. Reyer said. “He has that little look to his face … He seems to be doing really well.”

Michael — who turned 17 in August — will leave the nursing facility next week to spend Thanksgiving with family, after a worker at PBMC offered to help, Ms. Reyer said.

“Coming to Peconic Bay Medical is nothing but a godsend,” she said.

Michael was also visited Wednesday afternoon by members of the Riverhead High School Interact Club, who decorated the common room at the Skilled Nursing Facility.

“You can’t teach compassion. You kind of have to show it,” said Allison Pressler, a parent of an Interact Club member and friend of Ms. Reyer who chaperoned the trip. “I was really proud.”

The students put up turkey decorations and spent time with Michael, who smiled and laughed, Ms. Reyer said. The Interact Club — which is affiliated with the Riverhead Rotary — also made Michael an honorary member.

The club plans to come back every month to redecorate the room and spend time with their classmate, who will graduate this spring from Riverhead High School with an honorary diploma.

Ms. Reyer said returning home has been a “reality check” as the family grapples with Michael’s ongoing medical care. But efforts like the Interact Club’s, fundraising efforts to build a full-time home at Brendan House on Sound Avenue – where he is expected to live – and the level of care he gets from nurses at the center eases her mind.

“[It’s] the greatest comfort knowing that everyone here loves him,” she said.

psquire@timesreview.com

11/08/13 10:00am
11/08/2013 10:00 AM
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO |

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Several Suffolk County jail inmates are renovating Brendan House in Riverhead. The group first started working on the Sound Avenue project Wednesday afternoon.

Up until last March, Michael McNemar had a computer business and did various construction projects on the side. That experience may have seemed like a distant memory when Mr. McNemar, 42, landed in jail.

But thanks to a partnership between the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department and New Beginnings — a Medford nonprofit group — Mr. McNemar and other inmates with skilled labor backgrounds have been given the chance to assist with helping to build a home for the disabled.

On Wednesday, Mr. McNemar was one of the inmates working on a construction project at Brendan House in Riverhead, which is owned by New Beginnings. Several inmates were using their construction and carpentry skills to build a frame for an extension to the house.

“We’re good people at heart,” Mr. McNemar said. “Sometimes, bad things happen to good people. We’re able to take this and turn it around for a very good thing.”

With saws and tape measures in hand, Mr. McNemar and Tyler Schiffelbian, 29, said they were happy to volunteer because they believe it gives them an opportunity to turn their negative situation into a positive experience.

“We’re all skilled labours and we’re putting that to good use for the community,” Mr. McNemar said.

Mr. Schiffelbian said he’s volunteering because he believes it’s an opportunity to repay his debt to society while supporting a noble cause, a situation he finds is better than sitting in a jail cell.

“In my personal life, I don’t enjoy work this much,” he said as he placed a slab of wood on a work bench. “Everybody here has something to put into it. I learn something new every day.”

New Beginnings president Allyson Scerri said she’s grateful the county inmates will be helping out on a weekly basis. She said there are two paid staff workers overseeing the project. The rest are volunteers.

“It feels like a lot of pressure has been lifted,” she said. “Having all of this manpower helps.”

Sheriff Vincent DeMarco said the inmates volunteering in the program are skilled laborers. Under his tenure since 2006, Mr. DeMarco said he’s expanded the program because he believes it’s a “win-win” for inmates to work on vocational skills while helping nonprofit causes.

In February, he attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Right Path Home, a new program that provides housing for men ages 17-21 who are released from the Suffolk County Department of Corrections. Inmates also helped build the facility.

As for the Brendan House project, Ms. Scerri said her group is still seeking additional support for 25 windows, siding and roofing. She’s also planning a holiday-themed fundraiser Dec. 5 at Martha Clara in Riverhead to help raise funds for the project.

Ideally, Ms. Scerri said she hopes the house is move-in ready by March, which is also brain injury awareness month.

Michael Hubbard, a 17-year-old who suffered third-degree burns over 40 percent of his body in 2011 after being burned by a gel candle that exploded in his backyard, is one of 10 people that plan to move into Brendan House. The local community has been rallying support for him and his family since the accident.

His mother, Nancy Reyer, organized the area’s first-ever human bowling ball event sponsored by Skydive Long Island and All-Star bowling to benefits Brendan House. Ms. Reyer said she plans to skydive for the first time on Michael’s 18th birthday, Aug. 16, to raise additional funds.

Mr. McNemar said he’s glad to be a part of the project because he finds the end result will be very rewarding.

“We’ll be able to drive by this place a few months from now and, knowing that we worked on it, feel good that we were able to help out for a good cause,” he said.

jennifer@timesreview.com

10/14/13 6:21pm
10/14/2013 6:21 PM
NEW BEGINNINGS COURTESY PHOTO | Volunteers helping frame the first floor of New Beginning Brendan House on Sound Avenue.

NEW BEGINNINGS COURTESY PHOTO | Volunteers helping frame the first floor of New Beginning Brendan House on Sound Avenue.

Work has officially begun on the long anticipated New Beginnings Brendan House, but to get the home finished the non-profit foundation is in need of volunteers.

“We’re very exited. The more people the better. We want to keep the project moving,” said Allyson Scerri, founder of The New Beginnings Community Center in Medford. “We’ve been going full force, really, for the past month.”

She and husband Steve are looking for volunteers to help with the project, which will serve as a home for people who have suffered traumatic brain injuries and need round-the-clock care.

They are looking for framers, electricians and plumbers, as well as cleanup crews and people to donate or help prepare lunches.

“Even guys that are willing to learn, it’s a great way for them to learn fast from professional guys,” she said

Volunteers will be needed every Saturday and Sunday, Ms. Scerri said. Those that need to perform community service can also take part, and letters outlining their service will be given, she said.

“It seems like for most people, the time they do have is on the weekends,” she said. “If we have enough volunteers we will work during the week as well.”

They have hired Roy Schweers of Schweers Construction to work as the project manager. He helped build the non-profits Medford site, she said.

“We call him the builder of dreams, and he’ll donate a day here and there too,” she said.

This Sunday three volunteers helped frame the first story of the home, Ms. Scerri said.

“We want to get the word out. There are so many good people that want to get this done for the community,” she said.

At the same time, the non-profit is still trying to raise the funds needed to complete the home, so the more volunteers the better, she said.

“Funding is difficult. We’re just going off fundraisers and the lumber bill alone is like $30,000 so the money is going fast,” she said. “I am trying to think of other fundraisers we could do.”

Those interested in volunteering should reach Steve Scerri (516) 356-5642.

Michael Hubbard, a Riverhead teenager who suffered severe brain damage in the aftermath of being badly burned by an exploding gel candle in his backyard in May, 2011, is expected to be one of the residents of Brendan House.

09/29/13 5:00pm
09/29/2013 5:00 PM
PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | New Beginnings Brendan House on Sound Avenue in Riverhead.

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | New Beginnings Brendan House on Sound Avenue in Riverhead.

Brendan House, the proposed community residence for people who have suffered traumatic brain injuries and need round-the-clock care, was granted town approval this week to house eight people, instead of the previously-approved four.

The New Beginnings Community Center in Medford, a nonprofit care group, is building the facility in an former farm house at 4079 Sound Avenue in Riverhead.

In April, the group received a favorable town Zoning Board of Appeals ruling that a “traumatic brain injury facility with a second residence for the ‘house parent'” is considered a permitted use in the Agricultural Protection Zone, in which the house is located.

The approval allowed the facility to house four residents.

But New Beginnings vice president Steve Scerri told the ZBA on Thursday that when the group went for the building permits for the project, employees from the building department and the county health department asked why the group was only using four bedrooms when there are other bedrooms in the house.

“They said that if we got approval from you guys, they would be fine with giving us approval for extra bedrooms,” Mr. Scerri told the ZBA on Thursday.

The aides that will work at the home will not stay overnight, he said.

The house mother will be in a separate house on the property.

With no one speaking in opposition, ZBA  members approved the request Thursday by a 4-0 vote, with one member absent.

Michael Hubbard, a Riverhead teenager who suffered severe brain damage in the aftermath of being badly burned by an exploding gel candle in his backyard in May, 2011, is expected to be one of the residents of Brendan House.

New Beginnings has been holding a number of fundraisers for the Brendan House and another one is scheduled for this Sunday, Sept. 29, at noon, at the site on Sound Avenue across from Reeve Farm.

The event is being billed as “country fair” and will feature things like pig races, duck races and food and games.

tgannon@timesreview.com

09/16/13 8:00am
09/16/2013 8:00 AM
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Skydive Long Island and All-Star bowling sponsored Sunday's human bowling ball event to benefit Brendan House.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Skydive Long Island and All-Star bowling sponsored Sunday’s human bowling ball event to benefit Brendan House.

Sound Beach resident Pawel Bistram really is Superman.

Wearing a shirt featuring the superhero’s iconic logo, he soared through the air Sunday afternoon in Calverton after jumping out of an airplane. He then turned himself into a “human bowling ball” and struck a bunch of novelty-sized inflatable pins, knocking them all down with his body.

He was the only person to have a strike at the area’s first-ever human bowling ball event. The fundraiser was sponsored by Skydive Long Island and All-Star bowling in Riverhead and benefits Brendan House, a group care facility planned for Riverhead.

“It was awesome,” Mr. Bistram said shortly after jumping. “I must have had perfect timing and the wind was just right.”

Fellow skydiver Domenick Gilio of Setauket also had a successful jump, leaving only two standing.

“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “I tried to hit as many pins as possible with my body by spreading my legs as wide as I could.”

Nancy Reyer, whose 17-year-old son, Michael Hubbard, plans to move into Brendan House when it opens, attended the event and said she’s grateful for all the support from participants. The facility is estimated to open within the next four months.

“The community has been behind us 100 percent,” she said as her eyes teared up. “Everyone has been really good to us.”

Ms. Reyer said she plans to skydive for the first time on Michael’s 18th birthday Aug. 16 to raise additional funds for Brendan House.

Her son suffered third-degree burns over 40 percent of his body after being burned by a gel candle that exploded in his backyard May 28, 2011. He went into cardiac arrest a week later, causing traumatic brain injury, as well as kidney failure and lung distress. Michael was originally taken to Stony Brook University Medical Center, but was moved to Blythedale that September.

Blythedale, a short-term care facility, could no longer keep Michael for the extended care he needs, his mother has said. It left her looking for other facilities.

In June, he moved to Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead with much fanfare, an arrangement Ms. Reyer said she’s very pleased with.

“His physical therapy at PBMC is nothing but the best,” she said. “Michael was born there and was raised in Riverhead … Every day is a new day and he’s making progress.”

As for the unique fundraising idea, Ms. Reyer said one of her grade-school friends works at Skydive Long Island and had talked to the owners about holding a benefit there for Brendan House.

The timing was good because over the past six months Skydive and All-Star have been coming up with cross-promotional ideas and developing community fundraisers. Recently, the small business owners created a cocktail called LIV free or DIVE. It’s made with locally produced Long Island Spirits’ LIV vodka from Baiting Hollow.

All-Star co-owner Peter Sgroi said he’s happy to be a part of the area’s first human bowling ball event and described it as a fun way to help the community.

“It couldn’t be more perfect,” Mr. Sgroi said of Sunday’s fundraiser. “The turnout is great and the weather couldn’t be better.”

New Beginnings, a Medford nonprofit group that offers support for people with traumatic brain injuries and owns Brendan House, is holding a country fair Sept. 29 at Brendan House to raise funds for the facility. The event will include pig and duck races, music from the Boot Scoot Boogie Band, games, prizes and refreshments.

For more information, visit New Beginnings’ website nbli.org.

jennifer@timesreview.com

08/08/13 5:00pm
08/08/2013 5:00 PM
COURTESY PHOTO | Members of the Rotary Club of Riverhead presented a check to New Beginnings Community Center for the renovation of its Brendan House home for traumatic brain injury survivors on Aug. 6. Pictured, from left, front row: Marshall Aykroyd, Allyson Scerri and Sandi Sandi Aykroyd accept a presentation check from Riverhead Rotary president Mary Ellen Ellwood. Back row: Nancy Reyer, Rotarians Joe Ingegno, Linda Hulse, George Dupree, Patrick Wiles and Tom Lennon.

COURTESY PHOTO | Members of the Rotary Club of Riverhead presented a check to New Beginnings Community Center for the renovation of its Brendan House home for traumatic brain injury survivors on Aug. 6. Pictured, from left, front row: Marshall Aykroyd, Allyson Scerri and Sandi Sandi Aykroyd accept a presentation check from Riverhead Rotary president Mary Ellen Ellwood. Back row: Nancy Reyer, Rotarians Joe Ingegno, Linda Hulse, George Dupree, Patrick Wiles and Tom Lennon.

One nonprofit’s dream of having a long-term care facility for those rehabilitating from traumatic brain injuries is a few steps closer to reality thanks to the Riverhead Rotary.

The community group donated $5,000 to Brendan House, a group home on Sound Avenue proposed by the Medford-based New Beginnings Community Center, on Tuesday, according to a statement from the Rotary.

“Riverhead Rotary wanted to make a significant contribution to this worthwhile local charity,” Riverhead Rotary president Mary Ellen Ellwood said.

R083012_Pediatric_PS_R.jpg

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | The New Beginnings Brendan House on Sound Avenue in Riverhead.

The donations will help pay for renovations for the group home, which will hold up to 12 people and provide round-the-clock care services.

Allyson Scerri, founder and president of New Beginnings, accepted the donation along with Sandi and Marshall Aykroyd, the parents of 25-year-old Brendan Akyroyd, a young TBI survivor who died in June 2011. The group home will be named in his honor.

Nancy Reyer, the mother of Michael Hubbard — the Riverhead teen who was severely burned and suffered brain injuries in a gel candle explosion in May 2011 — also attended the ceremony.

Michael, who turns 17 next week, has been guaranteed a room in Brendan House, Ms. Scerri said.

Ms. Scerri said the donation will help the group meet its goal, adding that the organization still needs to raise between $75,000 to $100,000 in additional donations to finish the project. Building supply companies and volunteers have already donated their time and materials for the project, cutting down on costs.

New Beginnings has now obtained all town permits needed to begin construction, Scerri said. The state health department has also issued the necessary approvals, she said.

“We’re ready to go,” Scerri said.

New Beginnings will hold its 5th Annual Summer Gala at the Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead on Aug. 15. For more information on the event and how to donate to Brendan House, visit the New Beginnings website.

06/24/13 8:08am

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | New Beginnings Brendan House on Sound Avenue in Riverhead.

New Beginnings is seeking donations of materials and services for Brendan House, a long-term independent group home for residents with traumatic brain injuries that is slated to open on Sound Avenue in Riverhead.

Building materials needed include lumber, siding, roofing, decking, paint, molding, appliances, hot water heater, septic system, plumbing and electrical supplies, and alarms. Professional services needed include contracting, roofing, painting, janitorial, cesspool, electrical, plumbing and fi re prevention as well as general assistance.

Contact Allyson or Kate at New Beginnings, (631) 286-6166, if you’d like to help.

The community residence, planned for a vacant Sound Avenue farmhouse, would house four people who have suffered traumatic brain injuries and may be considered medically dependent, thus in need of around-the-clock care.

Each resident would have an aide, but the aides would work shifts and would not live in the residence themselves.

Under the plan, a barn building that is already on the property would be converted into an apartment for use by the “house master,” who would oversee the facility and serve as backup for any aides who cannot make their shift, the group said.

Michael Hubbard, a Riverhead teen who suffered brain damage in the aftermath of being badly burned by an exploding gel candle in his backyard in May of 2011 is expected to be one of the residents of Brendan House.

The home, which officials hope to have open in the fall, received ZBA approval in April. It is named in memory of Brendan Aykroyd, a 25-year-old Blue Point man who suffered a brain injury in a 2009 assault.

04/26/13 8:30am
04/26/2013 8:30 AM
Brendan House in Riverhead

PAUL SQUIRE FILE PHOTO | Brendan House is named in memory of Brendan Aykroyd, a 25-year-old Blue Point man who suffered a brain injury in a 2009 assault.

The vice president of New Beginnings Community Center of Medford had just gotten up to speak at Thursday’s Zoning Board of Appeals continuation of a hearing from two weeks ago, when ZBA chairman Fred McLaughlin told him to sit down.

Mr. McLaughlin then asked the audience, “Do we have anyone here in opposition to the Brendan House?”

When no one spoke, the ZBA then proceeded to vote on the resolution unanimously approving the proposed group home for people with traumatic brain injuries.

The community residence, planned for a vacant Sound Avenue farmhouse, would house four people who have suffered traumatic brain injuries and may be considered medically dependent, thus in need of around-the-clock care.

Each resident would have an aide, but the aides would work shifts and would not live in the residence themselves.

Under the plan, a barn building that is already on the property would be converted into an apartment for use by the “house master,” who would oversee the facility and serve as backup for any aides who cannot make their shift, the group said.

Michael Hubbard, a Riverhead teen who suffered brain damage in the aftermath of being badly burned by an exploding gel candle in his backyard in May of 2011 is expected to be one of the residents of Brendan House.

He has been staying in a children’s hospital in upstate Valhalla for about two years since the accident because no such facility exists on Long Island.

His mother, Nancy Reyer, has been staying upstate to be near her son.

Since the Town Code has no specific category for this type of facility, the application was sent to the ZBA for an interpretation as to whether it is a permitted use in the agriculture protection zone on Sound Avenue.

“It is the determination of the ZBA that based upon existing federal, state and local statutes toward brain work as well as a litany of federal and state court decisions interpreting the same, the community residence to be known as Brendan House, as proposed, meets the definition of a single family dwelling use and the use is therefore a permitted use in the agricultural protection zone,” ZBA attorney Scott DeSimone said in reading the board’s decision.

The separate apartment for the house master is a customary and incidental accessory use to a community residence, the ruling stated.

Following the hearing two weeks ago, Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said publicly that he believed the proposed home may be exempt from town zoning under a state law called the Padavan law, which usually is applied to group homes for developmentally disabled residents.

The ZBA ruling Thursday included a condition stating that if the principal use of the community residence ceases, the other building can no longer be used as an apartment.

At the meeting two weeks ago, ZBA member Leroy Barnes had asked to review the town’s entire file on the property and other ZBA members had asked for more specific information about what was being proposed in the building and what uses existed there in the past.

New Beginnings vice president Steve Scerri was unable to immediately provide that information at that meeting.

On Thursday, he thanked the ZBA for the approval.

Mr. McLaughlin said Mr. DeSimone had worked quickly to get all the information needed to make a ruling on the case this week.

Mr. Scerri told a reporter afterward that the group’s next step will be getting building permits and county health department approval.

The renovations needed for the structure should take about four months.

He is hopeful the Brendan House will be up and running by the fall.

Brendan House is named in memory of Brendan Aykroyd, a 25-year-old Blue Point man who suffered a brain injury in a 2009 assault.

tgannon@timesreview.com