02/15/14 11:00am
02/15/2014 11:00 AM
BOCES COURTESY PHOTO | Holding the big scissors is Sister Margaret Smyth of North Fork Spanish Apostolate at 220 Roanoke Ave. Riverhead.

BOCES COURTESY PHOTO | Holding the big scissors is Sister Margaret Smyth of North Fork Spanish Apostolate at 220 Roanoke Ave. Riverhead.

A new program in Riverhead is hoping to provide “a pathway out of poverty,” helping struggling Riverhead families and residents receive the education they need to get ahead.

Two weeks ago, Eastern Suffolk BOCES opened the doors to the state’s 51st Literacy Zone — a state-funded reform initiative aimed at aiding the community’s poorest — by helping residents gain English language proficiency.

Riverhead’s Literacy Zone, located at the North Fork Spanish Apostolate, will offer a variety of courses to meet the literacy needs of residents, from birth through adulthood.

The center will operate as a collaboration between ESBOCES staff, the Riverhead School District, Riverhead Library, Riverhead Senior Center and Suffolk County Department of Labor — just to name a few. Executive director and founder of the North Fork Spanish Apostolate, Sister Margret Smyth — well known for her commitment helping residents who struggle with English — will serve as an educator at the Literacy Zone.

As a matter of fact, Sister Margaret said, an employee funded through the program will operate out of the Apostolate, located at 220 Roanoke Ave.

Though the employee hasn’t started working full-time yet, Sister Margaret said about 20 people have still signed up for the Literacy Zone courses.

“The idea behind it is to really offer a service for people, particularly in language, and our office usually has tons of people going through here” who could use those services, she said.

Classes will include everything from after-school enrichment programs for children to workforce development programs that include work site tours, job shadowing, internships and apprenticeship opportunities for adults.

The framework enables multiple local outreach groups to reduce duplication of services and enhance and expand supportive services to help residents overcome barriers, according to Barbara Egloff, who serves as divisional administrator of career, technology, and adult education for ESBOCES.

“We are looking forward to working with Sister Margret,” ESBOCES spokesperson Nancy Lenz. “She is a staple in this community.”

The center is expected to grow its resources and expand by the start of next school year, Ms. Lenz said.

“We are just getting started,” she said.

12/13/13 5:30pm
12/13/2013 5:30 PM
PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | More than 40 worshippers ran from Greenport to Riverhead Thursday afternoon to deliver a holy flame honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe, a popular religious symbol.

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | More than 40 worshippers ran from Greenport to Riverhead Thursday afternoon to deliver a holy flame honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe, a popular religious symbol.

A small crowd was gathered around a blue pickup truck parked outside St. Agnes Church in Greenport just after noon on Thursday for the big unveiling.

As one of the men began pulled off the wrapping protecting a statue strapped to the bed of the truck, the worshippers circled the truck to take pictures.

A small statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe — a beloved religious icon for Latin American Christians — was perched on a cherry-colored wooden pedestal called an anda, which was decorated with flowers laid on fake grass.

An arch framing the idol was interwoven with roses. The display took almost a month to prepare, organizers said.

As four men carefully carried the platform into the church, another group was rushing back to the East End from New York City by van, bearing a sacred flame to commemorate the day.

For these devout Hispanic men and women, the hours of preparation were worth it.

“It’s to say thank you,” said Riverhead resident Tarciso Cerafico — who helped build the tribute — through a translator. “For my health, for my family’s health, for what I’ve received here in the United States.”

More than 40 runners — men, women, and children from across the North Fork — helped carry the sacred flame from Greenport to a special mass in Riverhead Thursday evening to honor the religious symbol on her feast day.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, also known as the Virgin of Guadalupe, is a title for the Virgin Mary connected to a specific image of the holy figure that is believed to have been revealed to a devout Catholic in Mexico on the man’s cloak in the 1500s.

Though Our Lady of Guadalupe was originally a Mexican icon, she has since spread to areas across Latin America as a symbol of peace and protection.

“They dedicate everything they do to be under the protection of Our Lady of Guadalupe,” said Sister Margaret Smyth, founder of the North Fork Spanish Apostolate.

The Virgin of Guadalupe is celebrated each Dec. 12, the day the image was originally revealed, according to the church. While Latin American Christians on the North Fork have celebrated her feast day in the past, organizers decided to try something special this year.

A group of worshippers drove into New York City to retrieve a holy flame that had been run from the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City to New York City over the past 80 days.

The flame was part of the ceremony held at St. Patricks Cathedral. As residents gathered in Riverhead for an early morning mass Thursday morning, the volunteers lit a lantern with the flame in the city and drove it back out to Greenport.

Organizer Jose Galvan said the flame had been a tradition in celebrations in New York City for years, but the ceremonies were too far for most North Fork residents.

“It seemed like it was impossible for us to go in and do it,” Mr. Galvan said. Someone came up with the idea to bring the flame out East, and the community rallied around the plan.

“We got a lot of people for our first time,” he said.

The flame was transferred to a hand-made torch and carried into St. Agnes Church on Front Street.

Worshippers sang hymns in Spanish and prayed as the display Mr. Cerafico helped build was laid at the head of the altar in the church.

After blessing the statue and the flame, the group of runners loaded up the statue into the back of a pickup truck. They then took turns running with the flame along Route 25 into Riverhead, with the truck carrying the statue driving close behind.

Local police in Southold and Riverhead approved the parade in advance and helped keep the runners safe, Sister Margaret said.

The group ran for hours, finishing the roughly 20-mile journey later that evening at St. John’s the Evangelist Church in time for the second mass at 7 p.m.

“We put ourselves in her hands,” said Oscar Cruz, a Greenport man who helped carry the flame. “It means everything for us. So we’re glad and we’re happy to do something for her.”

psquire@timesreview.com

05/25/13 10:00am
05/25/2013 10:00 AM

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Sister Margaret Smyth speaks to a woman at the North Fork Spanish Apostolate’s office in Riverhead Tuesday morning.

It’s been 15 minutes since the North Fork Spanish Apostolate’s doors in Riverhead opened for the day and the waiting list to see Sister Margaret Smyth is already growing.

On this Tuesday morning, she’s seated behind her wooden desk, surrounded by homemade paintings, trinkets and gifts received from those she’s helped. Sister Margaret talks with a woman in Spanish, gesturing with a pen as the woman explains her situation.

Across the room, behind a thin divider, people sit patiently, waiting for their chance to ask for Sister’s help. Some have traffic tickets they don’t know how to answer in English. Others need advice or assistance with immigration matters, a translator to get married or advice on where to find a dentist.

Juan and Betty traveled from their Greenport home to speak with Sister Margaret. Juan, a Guatemalan national, and Betty, who is Mexican, have a 4-year-old daughter who needs a U.S. passport.

The couple speak English, but not well, and can’t read the language well enough to complete the paperwork themselves. They came to the Apostolate because they know what so many other Hispanic people on the North Fork also know: If you’re in need, go to Sister Margaret.

“Everyone needs to know what she does,” Juan says.

Last Thursday night, Sister Margaret received some official recognition, winning a Human Rights Lifetime Achievement Award for her service as executive director and founder of the North Fork Spanish Apostolate.

More than 100 people gathered in Holtsville at the 50th anniversary awards dinner of the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission, which works to eliminate bias and discrimination.

Sister Margaret plays a key part in the commission’s efforts to reach Suffolk County residents who would otherwise have no voice, said commission chairman Rabbi Steven Moss.

“Someone like Sister Margaret is essential for all this,” Rabbi Moss said.

Luis Valenzuela, a commission member, said he met Sister Margaret through his wife, who was working with Sister Margaret to educate families. Mr. Valenzuela’s wife told him stories about the woman who “got up with the birds and did not go to sleep with the sun.”

Since then, he said, he’s often witnessed her dedication firsthand.

Mr. Valenzuela recalled a time when Sister Margaret was suffering from exhaustion and was hospitalized. She was scheduled to take part in a panel with him the next day.

“I’m talking [to the audience] and I’m saying ‘Sister Margaret isn’t going to be able to be here,’ and all of a sudden everybody’s clapping and Sister Margaret shows up,” he said during the awards dinner.

Sister Margaret embodies the idea of working for others, Mr. Valenzuela said, adding she has good reason not to stop.

“People in pain exist 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said, “and they need people like Sister Margaret.”

Sister Helen Muhlbauer has been volunteering at the Apostolate for the past two years. A friend of Sister Margaret’s from the convent, Sister Helen said she’s still impressed by her friend’s enthusiasm and commitment.

Sister Margaret is more than an advocate, she said.

She was a schoolteacher and principal. She’s part social worker and part lawyer, versed in immigration law and the courts, and her work doesn’t end when she leaves the office at the end of the day, Sister Helen said.

On Monday night, Sister Margaret and some friends were walking to Digger’s restaurant on West Main Street to celebrate her award when a Hispanic man approached them.

“Hermana Margarita?” the man asked, “Are you Sister Margaret?” He needed legal aid for an upcoming court date, but didn’t know how to get help.

Sister Margaret had the man come back to her office at 7 p.m., reopened the doors and walked him through the steps.

“Every [praise] she gets, she deserves,” Sister Helen said. “I don’t know where she gets her strength from, but she does it.”

About 11 a.m. Tuesday, Sister Margaret sees a break in the action. She’s just finished helping a woman and Juan and Betty are nearby, filling out their child’s passport application.

She prints out directions for another man, then spins through the Rolodex on her desk. The office waiting room is starting to fill with people again.

“Oh, this is light,” she says of the turnout, flashing a smile.

The Apostolate was founded 16 years ago, after Sister Margaret saw the potential to help an underserved population.

She’s busy almost every day now even after the office doors close, attending masses, conducting weddings, organizing youth groups and more.

This Tuesday is no different. Sister Margaret is planning to go into court in the afternoon to advocate on behalf of a child in an adoption case.

And she doesn’t plan to slow down anytime soon. Sister Margaret has helped the Apostolate grow from a tiny office to the multi-room operation she now oversees. She says the organization is constantly looking for new ways to help those who need it most.

Used clothes in plastic bins line a wall and plastic bags filled with food wait for the hungry in cubbies in a back room. Sister Margaret says the Apostolate may soon create a website.

She says she does it all for one simple reason: that’s what you’re supposed to do.

“Isaiah says we are called to bring sight to the blind … to set those who are prisoner free and to bring Good News to people,” she says. “And the Good News is that you are dignified and you are worthy of respect.”

psquire@timesreview.com

09/15/12 10:00am
09/15/2012 10:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Sister Margaret Smyth of the North Fork Apostolate in her Riverhead office.

Sr. Margaret Rose Smyth, executive director of the North Fork Spanish Apostolate, will receive  the National Catholic Development Conference’s 2012 NCDC Good Samaritan Award Sept. 25 at the 2012 Annual NCDC Conference and Exposition at the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville.

Since 1963, Sr. Margaret Rose has been an activist and educator, working to help minority communities. Well known on eastern Long Island as an advocate for the Latino population, she began her efforts in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, where she taught high school and assisted the Hasidic community. She also ran meetings for thousands, worked in storefronts, marched with Caesar Chavez and ran numerous workshops for women.

An Irish immigrant, Sr. Margaret Rose identified with the challenges of foreign born immigrants: leaving their home country, adjusting to an unfamiliar culture and being far from family and friends. Sr. Margaret Rose was inspired to help the impoverished by empowering them to use their voice, according to an account of her career from the NCDC.

In 1997, Sr. Margaret Rose became the director of the North Fork Spanish Apostolate (NFSA), based in Riverhead and Greenport. It reaches approximately 17,500 low-income residents who are dependent on public transportation. As executive director, Sr. Margaret’s goals have included building opportunities for education and employment and focusing on parenting and immigration issues.

She works with the Long Island Immigrant Alliance, Family Service League, New York Immigration Coalition, Peconic Community Council, Maureen’s Haven, Riverhead Anti-Bias Task Force, area hospitals, and local government and school officials.  She provides healthcare workshops for residents, visits the sick and works with volunteers to coordinate home visits.She created a bilingual court mediation program and English literacy and computer programs, in addition to serving as a translator.

“With rational approaches to co-existence, she is a voice for the voiceless, speaking out for justice,” said Amy Lax of the Sisters of St. Dominic in Amityville. Greenport’s Mayor David Kappell lauded Sr. Margaret Rose as a “powerful leadership example for her entire community in her commitment to practical and humane treatment of the new Hispanic community on the East End.”

According to the NCDC, a national Catholic fundraising organization, the Good Samaritan Award was established in 1968 to recognize those who exemplify concern for others through exceptional service. Nominees must have a life of service that is an outstanding example of the Gospel message, as manifested by the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The nominee’s service has also made a significant impact on the lives of the persons in need and must be actively engaged or recently associated with such services.