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.


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.


11/08/13 10:00am
11/08/2013 10:00 AM

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.


10/19/13 5:59pm
10/19/2013 5:59 PM
RACHEL YOUNG PHOTO | Michael Hubbard, seated, led the Class of 2014's float at the Riverhead homecoming parade Saturday.

RACHEL YOUNG PHOTO | Michael Hubbard, seated, helped lead the Class of 2014′s float at the Riverhead homecoming parade Saturday.

East Main Street was infused with the spirit of Dr. Seuss at the Riverhead homecoming parade Saturday afternoon.

Riverhead High School students presided over Dr. Seuss-themed floats during the festivities, which began at 12:30 p.m. on East Avenue and East Main Street.

Leading the Class of 2014’s “The Lorax” float in a wheelchair decorated with blue and white garlands was 17-year-old Michael Hubbard, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in 2011.

Michael, who suffered third-degree burns over 40 percent of his body when a gel candle exploded in his backyard, was wheeled by a classmate as fellow members of the senior class walked beside him during the parade.

Other Dr. Seuss-themed floats included the Class of 2015’s “The Cat in the Hat,” the Class of 2016’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and the Class of 2017’s “The Foot Book.”

The freshman class proved to be the big winners in the float competition, the results of which were announced during the football game. The Riverhead football team defeated Walt Whitman, 28-0, to cap the homecoming festivities.

Numerous clubs and sports teams were represented in the parade, including the Riverhead High School marching band, Riverhead PAL football and the Riverhead High School cheerleading squad.

After a walk down Main Street, parade participants marched west toward Coach Mike McKillop Memorial Field to watch the Blue Waves improve to 5-1 in Division II.


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.