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.

07/06/13 10:00am
07/06/2013 10:00 AM

I often tell people there’s no greater place to cover news than in Riverhead.

This town has it all: diversity, a downtown in flux, agriculture, silly politics, great local sports and loyal residents who are passionate about the place they call home.

With all of this comes the good type of news and the bad. This town is heartwarming one day and heartbreaking the next. The past week provided the perfect example of this.

My wife, Vera, and I were camping near the Jersey Shore two years ago when we received word of the horrible gel candle incident that left Michael Hubbard badly burned. The breaking news reporter for the paper at the time, I remember Vera, the breaking-news reporter at the time, trying to report the news from the road. It was exactly the kind of story you hate to have to tell, the kind where everything changes for the worst for a young person with promise.

Ever since that day, we’ve enjoyed hearing little bursts of good news as Michael has experienced small victories in his long road to recovery. Two years later, his friends and family were able to celebrate his biggest win yet as he was returned home to Riverhead from the Westchester County facility where he had been cared for since September 2011.

As a great example of a community hospital looking out for one of its own, Michael is now being cared for at Peconic Bay Medical Center’s skilled nursing facility as he awaits the opening of Brendan House, a group care facility planned for Riverhead. (I’d be remiss to not mention the role riverheadlocal.com publisher Denise Civiletti played in connecting Michael’s family with the hospital, where she previously worked. She declined to accept credit when asked about it last week, but both Michael’s family and hospital officials say she was a critical piece of the puzzle.)

Michael’s move back home was among the best news for Riverhead in quite some time. It was only one day later, that this community received some of its worst news in awhile.

If you know that feeling of nervous tension you get deep in your stomach when you hear unexpected bad news, than you know exactly what I felt when I received a phone call Friday night from one of our reporters was who was on the scene of a fire at Athens Grill in downtown Riverhead.

It’s not that uncommon to hear volunteers responding to a kitchen grease fire at a local restaurant over the scanner. But this one, I was told immediately, looked real bad.

News that a local restaurant was lost in a fire would never be good, but I can’t think of too many places I’d less like to see destroyed than Athens Grill.

Opened in 2004, John Mantzopoulos’ restaurant was ahead of others in the push to revitalize downtown Riverhead. And despite the restaurant’s reputation for serving up great food, it was clear he wasn’t making a killing there.

Like a lot of businesses on East Main Street, Athens had seen some ups and downs, and I don’t think it would be a leap of faith for me to say the restaurant had seen more slow days than busy ones as revitalization efforts downtown have ebbed and flowed over the years.

Still, Mr. Mantzopoulos carried on in a town where many before him had packed up and taken their recipes elsewhere.

It would take a heart of concrete not to feel sorry for the man and his staff, or to the many other downtown business owners affected by the news that his restaurant burned.

But this is Riverhead, the place where you get knocked on your back one day and you’re up on your feet another. This is a place where despite its flaws and the cynicism that breeds, everyone loves a tale of rejuvenation. This is, after all, the home Michael Hubbard returned to.

I’m sure the fundraisers that are already in the works to help rebuild the restaurant will be a major success.

I look forward to the day when the Athens building is restored and the restaurant rises from the ashes. I look forward to my next plate of lamb meatballs.

Grant Parpan is the executive editor at Times/Review Newsgroup. He can be reached at gparpan@timesreview.com or (631) 354-8046.

06/27/13 3:00pm
06/27/2013 3:00 PM

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

Friends, family and former teachers lined up outside Peconic Bay Medical Center Thursday afternoon, waving signs to welcome home a local teen who’d been gone far too long.

Michael Hubbard is back in Riverhead.

Michael, who will turn 17 in August, was moved from Blythedale Children’s Hospital in Westchester County to PBMC Health’s Skilled Nursing Facility today, where he will be cared for until the opening of Brendan House, a group care facility planned for Riverhead.

“I’m excited, I really am,” said his mother, Nancy Reyer, who has been caring for Michael at the upstate facility. “It’s the next step in the journey. We’ll just take it from here. I am glad Michael can now see his friends and all the people who couldn’t travel upstate to see him before.”

Michael 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 said. It left her looking for other facilities.

She was originally considering moving Michael to a hospital in Albany, before receiving a call from officials at PBMC Health.

“We knew the story of Michael, so we really wanted to do everything we could to get him here,” said Ronald McManus, senior vice president and administrator of the skilled nursing facility. “We knew how important it was for the family to get him home to Riverhead.”

The hospital sent two nurses, Marta Troyan and Wendy Dolan, upstate to visit Michael at Blythedale, to see if PBMC Health could accommodate him.

“They came back and they said, ‘Yes, we can.’ We will be able to take good care of him,” Mr. McManus said.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Ms. Reyer said of moving back to Riverhead. “My mom will be 92 in July, and now she’ll be able to see her boy.” Michael is her youngest grandson, she said.

Ms. Reyer credited Denise Civiletti of Riverhead LOCAL for reaching out to PBMC, and bringing Michael home.

“Denise has done more for this family than I can say,” Ms. Reyer said. “This experience has shown me that family doesn’t have to be blood. She has become my sister. She will always be family.”

While covering the homecoming Thursday, Ms. Civiletti downplayed her role in getting Michael to PBMC.

“I really didn’t do anything,” Ms. Civiletti said. “I just picked up the phone and told them about it.”

PBMC President and CEO Andrew Mitchell said finding a place for Michael to receive the care he needs is in line with the goals of the hospital.

“That has been the 60-plus year mission of the hospital,” he said.“The fact that he has been away from the community two years makes it that much more special that he’s coming home.”

Michael recently underwent a skin grafting procedure and he had the stitches removed from his head and chin at Stony Brook University Medical Center Thursday morning.

Just about two weeks ago, he spoke the word “Mom,” Ms. Reyer said. She said she thinks being in Riverhead will help with Michael’s transition into Brendan House.

“Now he can see familiar faces and hear familiar voices,” she said.

cmiller@timesreview.com

05/04/13 2:58pm

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Riverhead PAL coach Chris Kielbasa with the fifth/six grade lacrosse team who played Middle Country Saturday morning.

Nearly 700 lacrosse players, from kindergarten to eighth graders, coaches and spectators were spread over the Riverhead School District athletic fields stretching rom Pulaski Street Elementary School to Riverhead High School for the first-time fundraiser ‘Lax for a Smile’ Saturday morning. The all-day event featured girls and boys teams playing 22 games to raise money for gel-candle burn victim Michael Hubbard and his mother Nancy Reyer. One-hundred percent of the money raised goes to them.

Michael Hubbard in April. (Photo courtesy of Nancy Reyer)

Michael Hubbard in April. (Photo courtesy of Nancy Reyer)

Leading up the effort was long-time Riverhead PAL coach Ed Lucas.”It is great to teach the kids about giving back to the community. If next year there is another worthy candidate we have the entity in place. If not we will do it for Michael again.” He went on the say that the name came from the fact that since Michael is disabled from his injuries he continues to flash his beautiful smile every time his mother asks for it.

Nick Bartolomeo, president of East End Marketing, which operates a dozen Valero gas stations within 10 miles of Riverhead, donated the ‘Lax for a Smile’ t-shirts that were given to all the players who participated. All proceeds from the concession stands, Chinese auction and Mother’s Day flower sales amounted to almost $10,000 by the end of the day Saturday.

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

04/18/13 1:00pm
04/18/2013 1:00 PM
TIM GANNON PHOTO |  Steve Scerri, vice president of New Beginnings Community Center in Medford,  urges the Riverhead ZBA to approve the group's proposal to build a home for people with traumatic brain injuries on Sound Avenue.

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Steve Scerri, vice president of New Beginnings Community Center in Medford, urges the Riverhead ZBA to approve the group’s proposal to build a home for people with traumatic brain injuries on Sound Avenue.

Representatives of a nonprofit organization planning to open a group home in Riverhead for victims of traumatic brain injuries appeared before the town Zoning Board of Appeals last week.

New Beginnings Community Center, which is raising money to renovate a vacant Sound Avenue house that had been donated to the nonprofit, needs an interpretation from the ZBA on whether the long-term care facility is a permitted use. The town code doesn’t make any mention of such facilities.

ZBA members, rightfully, had some questions on the application, and are planning to undertake a fact-finding mission to learn more about the property, how it’s been used in the past, and whether a secondary structure on the land is suitable as a residence for a “house mother.” That person would live on-site and serve as backup to the trained aides who will be hired to care for medically dependent residents.

There is a true need for such a facility in town — and similar facilities across Long Island. One need look no further than the circumstances of Nancy Reyer of Riverhead and her son, Michael Hubbard, who suffered brain damage after a gel candle explosion in May 2011.

Since then, Michael, who needs constant care, has been living at Blythedale Children’s Hospital upstate because there are no large facilities on Long Island for medically dependent children or young adults. All large assisted living facilities in our area are only for the elderly.

So nonprofit groups such as Angela’s House — which runs three facilities for medically frail children in Suffolk — and New Beginnings of Medford have stepped in to fill the void. New Beginnings has already promised space for Michael, should the facility get up and running.

Riverhead ZBA attorney Scott DeSimone and ZBA members are not to be vilified for requesting more information and asking that the nonprofit representatives come back April 25. That’s their responsibility.

But it’s hard to imagine the board ever finding anything of substance to preclude New Beginnings from building its facility, so ZBA members should be cautioned against getting caught up in nit-picking and minutia, as government boards and attorneys are wont to do. As New Beginnings deals with the town and its local laws, fundraising efforts are underway to purchase pricey medical equipment and staff the facility, while also renovating the house. These efforts have already been slowed by Hurricane Sandy and subsequent winter storms. If potential donors come to believe the group might be having trouble with the town, and building plans stall, they might be reluctant to open their hearts and their wallets.

The ZBA and, moving forward, other town departments and officials should make it a priority to facilitate all dealings with New Beginnings — and get things moving. Every day accident victims like Michael Hubbard have to live away from loved ones is regrettable.

04/13/13 12:00pm
04/13/2013 12:00 PM
TIM GANNON PHOTO |  Steve Scerri, vice president of New Beginnings Community Center in Medford,  urges the Riverhead ZBA to approve the group's proposal to build a home for people with traumatic brain injuries on Sound Avenue.

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Steve Scerri, vice president of New Beginnings Community Center in Medford, urges the Riverhead ZBA to approve the group’s proposal to build a home for people with traumatic brain injuries on Sound Avenue.

New Beginnings Community Center’s proposal to create a home for victims of traumatic brain injuries in Riverhead needs an interpretation from the Riverhead Zoning Board of Appeals as to whether it is a permitted use, because town code doesn’t specifically mention that type of facility anywhere.

New Beginnings in Riverhead

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

Group respresentatives appeared before the ZBA on Thursday, and will have to appear again on April 25, as ZBA members asked for more information about what type of uses were allowed in the large colonial house on Sound Avenue, in which New Beginnings hopes to build.

New Beginnings is looking to convert the vacant house at 4079 Sound Avenue into a facility that will be named Brendon House, after Brendan Aykroyd of Blue Point, who died at the age of 25 from injuries sustained through a traumatic brain injury two years earlier.

Brendan’s parents, Sandra and Marshall Aykroyd, attended Thursday’s ZBA meeting in Riverhead Town Hall.

The group is planning to renovate the building to house four brain-injured patients, either veterans or civilians, New Beginnings vice president, Steve Scerri, explained to ZBA members. The center will be staffed with aides working around the clock to ensure the patients are fed and take their medication, although the aides will work in shifts and not actually live in the home, he said.

New Beginnings also plans to convert a separate building on the property into a home for a “house mother,” who will live in that home and will manage the facility and fill in when an aide can’t make it to work, Mr. Scerri said.

Michael Hubbard, the Riverhead youth who was badly burned by a gel candle explosion in May of 2011 and suffered brain damage after his heart stopped beating for a short time, is expected to live in Brendan House once it opens. Because there is no such facility locally, he has been staying in an upstate hospital with his mother, Nancy Reyer, by his side the whole time sine the accident.

ZBA attorney Scott DeSimone and ZBA members wanted more specifics, particularly about what was on the property before it was donated to New Beginnings, and when was the second building built, and for what purpose.

Mr. Scerri said he didn’t know when the second building was built, although he believes it was at least eight years ago.

Richard Reeve, who owns a farmstead across the street from the proposed center, was also in attendance Thursday night.

He said the second building was originally a shed that was renovated into an apartment by the previous owner about two years ago. He said the shed wasn’t there in 2004. Mr. Reeve said he believes the proposed facility is “good endeavor” but warned the New Beginnings representaties that the building is in the middle of an agricultural area — and that there will be noise.

ZBA member Leroy Barnes said he wanted to see the building department and assessment records for the property before making a decision.

The ZBA adjourned the hearing to their April 25 meeting.

Alysson Scerri, president of New Beginnings and the wife of Steve Scerri, said she got involved in New Beginnings about two years ago, when her father suffered a traumatic brain injury in a motorcycle accident.

“I saw the debilitating effect it has on families,” she told the ZBA members. ”When I work at the center, on a daily basis, I see a lot of parents who struggle with the thought that, if something happens to them, what happens to their loved one?”

New Beginnings Community Center provides office space specifically designated for individuals or groups committed to providing treatment to individuals with traumatic brain injuries and other similar disabilities.

Sandra Aykroyd said her son was blind-sided with a punch in 2009 that severed an artery and left him unconscious with a fractured skull.

He spent 71 days in an upstate hospital, and then continued his rehabilitation in New Beginnings when he came back home. He had been working with the group but still had seizures, never drove a car again and lost his independence.

On June 16, 2012, she said, he died suddenly.

“I can’t say enough about what New Beginnings has done for him and what is has done for us as a family and what it has done for community of survivors of traumatic brain injuries,” she told the ZBA. “It changes lives forever.”

Ms. Aykroyd said the proposed home will give its residents the sense of independence, hope and freedom they lost when they suffered their traumatic brain injuries.

“I thank you for the consideration of this project and I ask that you think about traumatic brain injuries, reach out and find out a little bit about it and look into your hearts before you make a decision,” she told the board.

tgannon@timesreview.com