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

09/07/13 3:00pm
09/07/2013 3:00 PM

COURTESY PHOTO | Sheriff Vincent DeMarco presented Laura Ahearn with a check for just over $50,000.

Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco presented a $50,000 check today to Laura Ahearn, the executive director and founder of Parents for Megan’s Law and the Crime Victims Center.

The funds came from money seized from convicted drug dealers and was donated as a way to help the organization improve its technological capacity to track sex offenders and provide important safety information to the public, according to a press release.

Parent’s for Megan’s Law is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the prevention and treatment of child sexual abuse and rape. The organization has long been at the national forefront of promoting victims’ rights and assisting law enforcement agencies with enforcing laws designed to track registered sex offenders.

Ms. Ahearn said Sheriff DeMarco is a dedicated leader in the ongoing effort to protect children.

“He has been instrumental in ensuring that parents and community members are provided the tools they need to help keep our most vulnerable safe,” she said in a release.

“I can’t think of a better way to use criminal asset forfeiture funds than to help protect vulnerable children from dangerous sexual predators,” Sheriff DeMarco said.

02/25/13 3:30pm
02/25/2013 3:30 PM
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | A 24-hour support facility for homeless youths opened Monday in Riverhead.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | From right, Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch executive director Thaddaeus Hill, Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco and Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter on Monday during a ribbon cutting at the Right Path Home in Riverhead.

The area’s first 24-hour support facility to house young men who are former prison inmates has opened in Riverhead.

The Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department has partnered with Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch in Riverhead to create Right Path Home, a new program that provides housing for men ages 17-21 who are released from the Suffolk County Department of Corrections.

The six-month program aims to help former inmates transition back into society by providing support from caseworkers and career counselors.

Right Path Home, located on Old Farm Road in Riverhead across from Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch, is a 1,300-square foot house that will become a home to as many as four former inmates at once and a full-time caretaker.

Ranch administrators are in the process of finalizing a certificate of occupancy with the town.

Thaddaeus Hill, executive director of the Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch — which houses abused, neglected or otherwise troubled boys and young men — said the property was donated to the ranch in 1996 and had been used to house staff. It has been vacant for the past three years, he said.

LEARN MORE ABOUT THE RANCH

Mr. Hill, along with Sheriff Vincent DeMarco and Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter, attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday and toured the house, which has been completely remodeled. New fixtures and tiling have been added to a bathroom and kitchen space, the kitchen has stainless steel appliances and the livingroom comes complete with new couches and a flatscreen TV.

Mr. DeMarco said Right Path Home is needed because many of the youths in jail are homeless or have dysfunction families. Some of them, he said, can’t go back to the community they came from because they run the risk of hanging out with “the same people they were with when they got arrested.”

“A lot of the youth in the jail don’t have a place to go to right away when they get out of jail,” Mr. DeMarco said. “This is a wonderful opportunity.”

Mr. Walter agreed and praised Mr. DeMarco and Mr. Hill’s efforts, adding he appreciates the ranch’s approach to helping youths.

“They do it with discipline, with love, with reward and it’s a wonderful program they run for the children,” Mr. Walter said. “I’m positive this will be an overwhelmingly success.”

The remolding project started last summer, with Riverhead Building Supply and B-Marascia Construction donating labor and supplies.

B-Marascia Construction owner Brett Marascia said he volunteered because he believes the program will help troubled youths.

“Everything that they need to start a new life is here,” said Mr. Marascia, who is also the ranch’s maintenance manager.

In addition to local businesses contributing to the cause, current prison inmates Grant Mcrelli, 40, and William Fray, 38, worked on the siding, roofing, sheet rocking, painting, paneling and other construction for the house.

“It seems like a great idea and a good way to keep kids out of trouble,” Mr. Mcrelli said. “It will keep them out of jail … I would be glad to help out again.”

Mr. Fray said he was happy to volunteer his carpentry experience to the cause.

“It’s a good way to spend my time,” he said. “[Right Path Home] is important because it provides an opportunity to become well-rounded through education, fitness and religion.”

jennifer@timesreview.com