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.

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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 (by julio at dresshead). 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.

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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.

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04/13/13 10:08am

RIVERHEAD SCHOOL DISTRICT PHOTO | Riverhead High School emerged on top at Friday night’s Crazy Sports Night, which raised money for the Brendan House.

From crawling under barriers to hula-hooping, Riverhead teachers and staffers left it all on the court Friday night at the annual Crazy Sports Night, a fundraiser for the Brendan House.

Teams were based on each school, plus the district office, and the high school won by winning the final tug of war event against the middle school. The high school team, wearing blue T-shirts, dethroned the defending champs by the slimmest of margins.

The sports night inside the Riverhead High School gym featured an obstacle course, a 3-point shot competition, a scooter race and a three-legged sack race.

Riverhead principal Dave Wicks served as the referee while Doc Greenberger and Lorene Custer entertained the crowd by emceeing the event.

The event raised $5,427 for the Brendan House home for victims of traumatic brain injury on Sound Avenue in Riverhead. Michael Hubbard, the Riverhead teen who suffered brain damage after a gel candle explosion two years ago and has since been recovering in an upstate children’s hospital, will be one resident of the home.

RIVERHEAD SCHOOL DISTRICT PHOTO | Representatives from the Brendan House at Friday night’s Crazy Sports Night.

03/24/13 12:00pm
03/24/2013 12:00 PM
Riverhead New Beginnings

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

It’s been more than a year since New Beginnings Community Center announced plans to build a group home on Sound Avenue for people with traumatic brain injuries who need long-term care but are too young for nursing homes.

And although a storm-packed fall and winter slowed down fundraising, the effort is still going strong, said the group’s founder.

“Not only are we raising money to put the house up but we’re educating people as well,” said Allyson Scerri, who founded New Beginnings, a Medford-based outpatient center, in 2011 after her father suffered a traumatic brain injury in a motorcycle accident.

Help with renovating the house was redirected due to storm cleanup, she said.

“A lot of our volunteers had prior commitments because of the storm, but I feel that we’re back on track now,” Ms. Scerri said. “I feel like finally now after this long winter we can really get refocused and just plunge right through and get the building up.”

The group has raised $35,000 of the roughly $250,000 needed to renovate the house, a two-story home on Sound Avenue that once served as a refuge for single mothers.

When completed, the 12-bed Brendan House will offer round-the-clock nursing care for those with traumatic brain injuries or other cognitive and physical disabilities as they make their recoveries and learn to live with their conditions.

Michael Hubbard, the Riverhead teen who suffered brain damage after a gel candle explosion two years ago and has since been recovering in an upstate children’s hospital, will be one resident of the home, she said.

Speaking at a meeting last August at the group’s Medford location, Michael’s mother, Nancy Reyer, said the house would be an answer to her prayers. “It’s nothing but the grace of God that Brendan House is going to be two miles away from where I live,” Ms. Reyer said. “If this is not God in the works, I don’t know what is.”

The home will be named in honor of Brendan Aykroyd, a 25-year-old Blue Point man who suffered a brain injury in a 2009 assault. Mr. Aykroyd joined New Beginnings in 2011 for rehabilitation, but he died in his sleep last June.

The group originally planned to open the home this coming June, but Ms. Scerri said they are now shooting for an August grand opening.

While it appears the group has a ways to go to reach its funding goal, Ms. Scerri said the target price tag will likely be much lower thanks to donations of supplies from companies like Home Depot that cut down on construction and renovation costs.

New Beginnings has also gotten support from Riverhead residents. A fundraising drive was held at River-head High School, and Riverhead Rotary Club members have also worked to raise money for the cause.

“The community’s wonderful,” Ms. Scerri said. “Nancy [Reyer] is out there working hard for Michael.”

Ms. Scerri said the town government, specifically the zoning department, has also helped move the project along.

“They’re doing everything in their power to get the permit to us as fast as possible,” she said.

For more information about Bren-dan House, including how to donate, visit the New Beginnings website.

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08/31/12 12:00pm
08/31/2012 12:00 PM
Brendan House, Michael Hubbard, Nancy Reyer, New Beginnings

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | When completed, Brendan House will help fill a medical care void on eastern Long Island by providing round-the-clock care for young adults.

Nancy Reyer held back tears as she spoke about how Michael Hubbard, her 16-year-old son who was seriously burned in a gel candle accident in May 2011, would benefit from a proposed group home in Riverhead for traumatic brain injury victims.

“It’s nothing but the grace of God that Brendan House is going to be two miles away from where I live,” Ms. Reyer said. “If this is not God in the works, I don’t know what is.”

CARINGBRIDGE.COM COURTESY PHOTO | Nancy Reyer and her son, Michael Hubbard, celebrated Mother’s Day this year at Blythesdale Children’s Hospital.

Renovations and fundraising efforts are almost ready to begin for Brendan House, a planned 12-bed long-term care home on Sound Avenue for people with brain injuries and other cognitive issues, organizers said at an informational meeting last Thursday night in Medford, attended by about a dozen people, including Ms. Reyer.

Organizers said they’re in the process of getting permits from Riverhead Town to begin improvements on the structure, which once served as housing for single mothers before it was donated last year to New Beginnings Community Center, a nonprofit outpatient rehab center in Medford.

New Beginnings and nonprofit group Family Residences & Essential Enterprises of Old Bethpage will run the home, named in honor of Brendan Aykroyd, a 25-year-old Blue Point man who suffered a brain injury in a 2009 assault. Mr. Aykroyd joined New Beginnings to continue his rehabilitation last year but died in his sleep that June.

The home will allow victims of traumatic brain injuries to live independently while still receiving the care they need. Few centers like Brendan House currently exist to aid people who are in need of long-term care but too young for seniors-only assisted living facilities, a February special report in the News-Review found.Family Residences & Essential Enterprises has already begun interviews with potential housemates; Michael has been guaranteed a spot in the home already, New Beginning’s founder Alysson Scerri said.

Since there are no local options for Michael to receive the support he needs, he must stay at Blythedale Children’s Hospital in Valhalla, N.Y., more than 80 miles away from his Riverhead home.

Plans for Brendan House, designed pro bono by architect Roger Smith of BBS Architecture, who designed the Long Island Aquarium and the Hyatt Place East End hotel, are nearly complete, said project manager and New Beginnings executive vice president Steve Scerri.

Once the permits and plans are finalized in the next month or two, fundraising and renovations for the home will begin in earnest.

“We’re still going to need volunteers. We’re going to need materials,” Mr. Scerri said.

Renovations are expected to cost between $200,000 and $250,000, volunteers said. The group has already received donations from The Home Depot and has several shipping containers of supplies already on hand, but it will need funds to complete the construction work.

Supporters discussed ways to raise money for the project. Carolyn Carrera, a classmate of Michael’s, said she would try to organize students at Riverhead High School to help with construction efforts and would also sell T-shirts. Ms. Reyer suggested the group set up a booth at the upcoming Riverhead Country Fair to raise awareness and funds.

A first fundraising event has already been organized, a golf outing in Mount Sinai on Sept. 25, Ms. Scerri said.

In the meantime, Ms. Reyer will continue to do what she’s done for more than a year: fight to help her son. Michael is making progress in his recovery and now smiles and laughs, gifts Ms. Reyer said are the “greatest things” God gave her back, she said at last week’s meeting.

“We’ve come a long way,” she told those in attendance. “I just continue to say the Devil is a liar; my son will walk and talk someday.”

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