08/16/14 6:29pm
08/16/2014 6:29 PM
Jerry Halpin and Nancy Reyer teamed up for Saturday's fundraiser at Skydive Long Island. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

Jerry Halpin and Nancy Reyer teamed up for Saturday’s fundraiser at Skydive Long Island. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

Nancy Reyer and her son, Michael Hubbard, had always planned to go skydiving on his 18th birthday.

Michael turned 18 on Saturday, and while he and his mom couldn’t skydive, they found a way to still complete their goal at Skydive Long Island.

(more…)

08/01/14 12:00pm
08/01/2014 12:00 PM
Nancy Reyer and her son Michael Hubbard with 2013 'Person of the Year' award. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch file)

Nancy Reyer and her son Michael Hubbard with 2013 ‘Person of the Year’ award. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch file)

More than three years after her son was badly burned in a gel candle accident in 2011 — an accident that has left him in need of constant care for traumatic brain injuries — Nancy Reyer will be honored at a fundraising gala next month at Long Island Aquarium & Exhibition Center in Riverhead.

And a little more than a month after she watched him earn an honorary diploma at Riverhead High School, Ms. Reyer will be named Caretaker of the Year for her dedication and hard work caring for Michael, as well as her constant work to raise awareness for traumatic brain injury survivors and for Brendan House, a group home under development on Sound Avenue that will one day serve as Michael’s new residence.

The award will be presented to Ms. Reyer at the 6th Annual Summer Gala, a fundraiser for the traumatic brain injury nonprofit New Beginnings Community Center — the organization building Brendan House — Aug. 15.

“She’s always out there talking to businesses, promoting our fundraising,” said Allyson Scerri, founder of New Beginnings Community Center. “She’s amazing.”

But Ms. Reyer said she’s just “doing what any mother would do.” She said it’s the people and businesses across Riverhead who have supported her, Michael, and Brendan House that deserve the praise.

“It’s such an honor to come from such a loving town,” she said. “It makes me feel proud.”

Several businesses — like Riverhead Building Supply, Lowes, and Home Depot — have donated supplies and construction materials for Brendan House, which will provide 24-hour care for up to eight residents suffering from traumatic brain injuries. Costs for care would be covered by the patients’ insurance, Ms. Scerri said.

The 1,900-square-foot historic property being renovated for the project was built in the early 1900s and once served as a group home for unwed mothers. The building was given to New Beginnings in 2011, and plans for Brendan House began soon after.

As part of its renovation, a 2,500-square-foot extension was built on the rear of the structure.

The property is named after Brendan Aykroyd, a 25-year-old Blue Point resident who died in 2011 after suffering a brain injury in an assault two years earlier.

Ms. Scerri said the group hopes to open Brendan House this fall. She said that while the siding of the house is finished, the home still needs to have fire alarm systems installed and must undergo inspections.

“It was a tough winter to get through, but we’re on a bit of a roll now,” Ms. Scerri said. She said that while Brendan House has received numerous donations, the group still needs more funding to pay laborers and contractors to finish the job.

06/28/14 2:27pm
06/28/2014 2:27 PM
Michael Hubbard receives his honorary degree at Riverhead High School's graduation ceremony Saturday morning. (Credit: Robert O'Rourk)

Michael Hubbard is cheered as he makes his way onto the stage at Riverhead High School’s graduation ceremony Saturday morning. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)

Hundreds of friends and family members packed the sidelines of Riverhead High School’s football field Saturday morning to watch members of the Class of 2014 receive their diplomas.

The outgoing seniors shared hugs and tears, reminiscing on the past triumphs and tragedies that shaped their education. (more…)

02/06/14 10:13pm
02/06/2014 10:13 PM

Daniel De Mato photo | Michael Hubbard, joined by his mother Nancy Reyer, was given a team jersey and autographed basketball by the Riverhead boys basketball team at halftime of Thursday’s game against West Islip.

BLUE WAVES 55, LIONS 46

As the crowd inside Riverhead High School rose to its feet, the smile on Michael Hubbard’s face couldn’t have been any wider.

In an emotional halftime ceremony Thursday night, Michael was recognized as an honorary member of the boys basketball team and presented with an autographed basketball and jersey. (more…)

12/29/13 9:00am
12/29/2013 9:00 AM
CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Michael Hubbard and mon, Nancy Reyer, in his room at Peconic Bay Medical Center's skilled nursing facility Thursday afternoon.

CARRIE MILLER FILE PHOTO | Michael Hubbard and mon, Nancy Reyer, in his room at Peconic Bay Medical Center’s skilled nursing facility.

After years of rehabilitation upstate, a local teenager who was severely injured in a gel candle explosion two years ago came home this June, just as a nonprofit organization is readying a long-term home for him and other young people suffering from traumatic brain injuries.

Michael Hubbard was 15 when he 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. Originally taken to Stony Brook University Medical Center, Michael was moved that September to Blythedale Children’s Hospital in Westchester County.

He had been recuperating slowly, learning to speak again, but the hospital could no longer accommodate him. That’s when Peconic Bay Medical Center officials called his mother, Nancy Reyer.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Ms. Reyer said of the opportunity to move her son back to Riverhead.

Michael will remain at PBMC until a home currently under development on Sound Avenue is completed. The facility, called Brendan House, is being built the nonprofit New Beginnings.

Editor’s note: We’re counting down the top 10 news stories of 2013. Check back every day until Jan. 1 to follow along.

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