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Spirit’s Promise to collaborate with Stop the Violence to help people suffering from pandemic

A nonprofit organization with the slogan “Help us. Help horses. Help people” is now getting some help itself.

Spirit’s Promise Equine Rescue and Rehabilitation in Baiting Hollow rescues horses and then uses them to provide equine therapy and recreational services for children and adults. The organization is teaming up with Stop the Violence, which runs an annual basketball tournament in Riverhead, and is looking to expand the type of programs they offer to help the community.

“We’re looking to collaborate with Spirit’s Promise because they have the staff and the professionals on hand that can help us to help people who are suffering from mental illnesses that may be caused by COVID,” Dwayne Eleazer, co-founder of Stop the Violence, said in an interview. “They have the professional people that will help us help them.”

Stop the Violence has been holding its tournament for about 15 years, but only became a nonprofit organization in March of last year, and Mr. Eleazer says they want to expand to help in other ways beyond the basketball tournament. These include helping people to get through the problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic as well as trying to determine why some people haven’t gotten the vaccine yet. 

In particular, Mr. Eleazer says, drug use has increased during the pandemic. 

“You see people you know that are out there, and they get addicted to drugs,” he said. “We want to reach out to those people, too, because they are good people. They just happened to take a wrong turn. I’ve seen people bounce back from drug addiction and become pillars of society. We want to help them.”

Mr. Eleazer said one man he knows was a top player in the basketball tournament.

“Now I see him walking Main Street, and he’s on drugs,” he said. “I think a lot of it is from people being locked down due to COVID. I see young men who were good students in school, and now they’re on drugs.”

Marisa Striano, the founder of Spirit’s Promise, spoke at last Wednesday’s Town Board meeting.

“What I’d like to do is to bridge the gap between Sound Avenue and Main Street, and try to help people who really need the mental tools to help them, after the year that we had in 2020,” she said. “We’d like to implement some programs at our farm.”

The Town Board held a hearing last Wednesday on possible uses for federal grant money dealing with COVID-19 relief. 

“I am a life coach, a grief counselor and I work with kids and adults in trauma,” Ms. Striano said. “This has been really traumatizing to most of us. I don’t think everybody realized the extent of it until this year.”

She said it’s been a different type of life that people are experiencing due to “the loss of lives we thought we were going to have.”

Mr. Eleazer said the joint effort with Spirit’s Promise is seeking $20,000 in grant money.

He said Stop the Violence has already done some volunteer work with the horse rescue.

“So I’m proposing that, with Dwayne, we work together, with Stop the Violence and Spirit’s Promise, to come together and help the kids deal with all the anxiety they have to work with,” Ms. Striano said. “I’ve had calls from so many parents. Children have gone mute. They don’t know how to be in school anymore. My whole objective for my entire life is: How can I help? So I’m asking for your help, too.”

Bob Kern, president of the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce, spoke in support of the joint Stop the Violence/Spirit’s Promise proposal.

“I’m familiar with the fact that the mental health issue is not just with the youth; it’s going on all over town,” he said. 

The money comes from federal Community Block Grants, which are then provided to the town through a Suffolk County consortium, according to Dawn Thomas, Riverhead Town’s community development director. A total of $75,000 is available in Riverhead Town. This is the third round of funding, and it’s designated specifically for COVID-19 recovery and response, Ms. Thomas said. 

The new funding was authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act on March 27, 2020.

The town received about $180,000 in the first round of CARES Act funding, but the county consortium the town is part of didn’t receive any funding in the second round, Ms. Thomas said.

Also requesting funding last Wednesday was Gwen Mack, representing the Church of the Harvest Food Pantry on Raynor Avenue. 

“We do a lot to help the community and we also provide help to the homebound,” Ms. Mack said. “Any financial help we can get from the board and this grant will be greatly appreciated.”

JoAnn Vitale of RISE Life Services, formerly known as Aid to the Developmentally Disabled, also requested funding for its East Main Street food pantry. 

“We’re a community food pantry, and we’ve been here in Riverhead operating the food pantry, as well as our residential services and our day program services,” she said. “We opened a community food pantry about four years ago, and through COVID-19, we’ve seen a tremendous increase in the need in the area. We’ve also partnered with the Department of Health, so when folks in Riverhead and surrounding towns are diagnosed with COVID-19, and they can’t get out to get to get food because they can’t get food delivery, we provide delivery services to them and bring them food.”