“I started to cry because he didn’t say to me, ‘Mommy, I hear better,’ he said, ‘Mommy, I feel better.’”
“My heart was crushed. I didn’t understand why this was happening to us.”
That was Zina LoDuca’s first thought when she found out her 3-year-old son, Peter, was going Deaf.
Zina mentally checked a long line of family history; no one had ever been Deaf before: Peter was the first. Zina didn’t know where to turn. The family pediatrician referred them to Mill Neck’s Early Childhood Center (ECC)—a school that helps 3 and 4 year olds with a wide range of special communication needs—where he was diagnosed with sensorineural hearing loss.
“I felt so nervous,” Zina remembers as tears roll down her cheeks. “My only comfort was that I knew Peter was in good hands with Mill Neck; they walked us through a very difficult time.”
Through Mill Neck Services Center for Hearing Health (formerly known as Mill Neck Audiology), Peter was fitted for hearing aids and Zina could instantly see a change in her little boy.
“I started to cry because he didn’t say to me, ‘Mommy, I hear better,’ he said, ‘Mommy, I feel better.'”
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without Mill Neck’s help,” Peter says. “They’ve been by my side through everything. Now, they’re family.”
Peter progressed beautifully at the ECC and after graduating he was able to attend a mainstream school.
As the years went on, Peter enjoyed his academics and found his niche on the baseball field.
Unfortunately, that didn’t stop him from being physically and mentally bullied every day because of his disability.
“People didn’t see me; all they saw was my hearing aids,” he says with a lump in his throat. “They would play with my hearing aids and switch them on and off. For so long, I have battled and it’s engrained so deep in me. But I’m proud of who I am now.”
With the help of Mill Neck, Peter took this life-altering obstacle in stride. But it wasn’t long before he would come face-to-face with another one. And this time, it was a matter of life and death.
Peter was 12 years old when a CAT scan revealed a diagnosis that turned his world upside down, again: Lymphoma, an aggressive form of cancer.
When Marianne Artinian—a longtime employee for Mill Neck Services Center for Hearing Health and, now, a close friend of the LoDuca family—heard the news, she visited the hospital right away.
“I was so relieved when Marianne came to see us,” Zina says. “She brought her son with her who was a cancer survivor and said, ‘Look at my son; he’s fine. This will be Peter soon, too; don’t you worry.’”
The only way Peter knew how to handle this unfathomable situation was to focus on recovering with enough time to get back on the baseball field for the spring season. During this time, he connected with the Make-A-Wish Foundation and fulfilled his dream of catching the opening pitch from former New York Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca (no relation).
(Click here to view Peter on the Today Show as an ambassador for Make-A-Wish Foundation.)
With a new outlook on life, Peter excelled in school is now studying Sports Management at Farmingdale State College on Long Island.
Join us in our mission to give individuals like Peter the support and resources they need to overcome life’s obstacles by making a contribution.
I thank you in advance for your generosity and wish you and your family a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a healthy joyous New Year.
Michael F. Killian
President and CEO
By Larry Manning, Physical Education and Athletic Director
Heading into the 2016 season, the Mill Neck Manor (MNM) soccer team had its sights set on the annual Eastern Schools for the Deaf Athletic Association (ESDAA) Soccer Tournament. Mill Neck returned five starters from last year’s team: Keren Guerra, Julio Reyes, Kevin Canales, Noel Rodriguez and Jose Yanes, plus two newcomers: Nataly Osorio and Bianca Llorens. In addition, Mill Neck also had two young players, Bryan Alfaro and Jonathan Velasquez, participating to help prepare them for the future.
Prior to the ESDAA Tournament, the team participated in the 26th annual Friendship Soccer Tournament on Oct. 14-15 at the New York State School for the Deaf in Rome, N.Y. In order to have enough players to participate, Mill Neck combined with Pennsylvania School for the Deaf (PSD). Struggling to find the right balance and chemistry with PSD, we, unfortunately, lost both games. However, the players gained valuable experience during the two games and it helped prepare both MNM and PSD for the ESDAA Tournament.
On Oct. 21-22, Mill Neck, again, combined with PSD for the annual ESDAA Division 2 Soccer Tournament. This year’s tournament was held at Rochester School for the Deaf (RSD) and co-hosted by both PSD and RSD. Other schools participating included: Rhode Island, New Jersey, St. Mary’s (Buffalo), Rochester, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The team entered the tournament unsure of how they would fare due to the previous weekend’s results. MNM/PSD opened the tournament against defending champions, Rochester, and proceeded to lose 3 – 0.
The team had an hour to ponder and discuss strategy for the next game against West Virginia School for the Deaf (WVSD). Something must have clicked between the first game and this game as we soundly beat WVSD 10 – 0. Noel had 3 goals, Keren had 2 goals and Julio and Kevin had one goal apiece. Bianca Llorens narrowly scored, but the ball hit the post and bounced harmlessly away from the net. Our bench players had plenty of playing time during this game.
At the end of day one, we were seeded number two in Pool A and were set to play against the number one seed from Pool B, N.J. On Oct. 22, with thoughts of last year’s loss, MNM/PSD came out on fire and jumped out to a 2 – 0 lead thanks to goals from Noel and Keren. N.J. narrowed the lead to 2 – 1, which was the score at half time. MNM/PSD got one back on a beautiful breakaway goal by Keren to take a 3 – 1 lead. N.J. came back less than a minute later to make it a 3 – 2 game. With less than two minutes left in the game, Jose banged one into the upper left corner on a free kick to take a 4 – 2 lead. On the final whistle, players and coaches of both MNM and PSD teams were thrilled to not only win, but to clinch a spot in the championship game.
MNM/PSD had to play Rochester again for the championship. The game was deadlocked at one apiece at halftime. However, the second half was all about Rochester as we could not contain their two-time tournament MVP who scored four goals in the game.
It turned out to be an excellent tournament for the MNM/PSD team, finishing runner-up after coming in fifth place last year. For her efforts and talents, Keren Guerra was named onto the All-Tournament Team.
Great job everyone!!
“Giving back”: two words, three syllables, and jam-packed with power.
When you decide to participate in this selfless act of kindness, you decide to stand up. You stand up for a cause you believe in; you stand up for change; you stand up to make a difference; you stand up for those who are less fortunate.
Mill Neck Family of Organizations encourages you to stand up alongside us as we partner with #GivingTuesday—a national movement that embodies the phrase “pay it forward,” redefining the giving season by dedicating an entire day to give back to a charity you’re passionate about.
On Tuesday, November 29, 2016—after we give thanks to our loved ones on Thanksgiving, and after we find the best deals with holiday shopping through Black Friday and Cyber Monday—choose to support Mill Neck’s mission to give children and adults who are Deaf and have other disabilities a chance to live a fulfilling life.
Even the simplest acts of giving back can have a monumental impact.
To learn more about #GivingTuesday, please visit GivingTuesday.org.
- FACEBOOK: Facebook.com/GivingTuesday
- TWITTER: Twitter.com/GivingTues
- INSTAGRAM: Instagram.com/GivingTuesday
Wani, a former student of Mill Neck Manor School for the Deaf, has spent most of his life in silence, unable to communicate with the world around him.
Born Deaf, losing both of his parents at a young age coupled with a string of misfortunes, has landed Wani in a nursing home for the past 16 years. The trouble is that Wani, who is only 52 years old—and extremely smart and capable—doesn’t belong in a nursing home: he belongs back in the community. Wani deserves to begin a new journey, experience meaningful relationships and let the light back into his life—a light that has been dark for quite some time now.
When Patricia Gormley, Medicaid Services Coordinator, and Christine Oddo, Associate Director of Mill Neck Services, Inc.—an organization that gives Deaf and Hard of Hearing people access to employment and community services—found out about this, they made it their first priority to break Wani free. Free of feeling trapped; free of thinking this was all that life had to offer; and free of living as though he was already gone.
Upon first meeting, Wani aimlessly walked the halls of A. Holly Paterson Extended Care Facility in Uniondale. We headed over to a quiet area to chat, when Wani politely pulled up an extra chair for me—he aptly noticed there wasn’t enough seats for the three of us—and motioned for me and Christine to sit down. Wani stared back at us with heavy eyes—eyes that had seen a lot of hurt, eyes that had given up hope. “I’m just tired today,” he said to us, his fingers flowing through the air to communicate in American Sign Language.
Christine brought him the good news that she was going to visit the new Epic community home in Port Jefferson Station that he would be moving to soon. “It’s really lovely,” she said. “I think you’ll like it.” She went on to explain about the Mill Neck Services program he could join, Day Habilitation—a program for people who are Deaf and have other disabilities, helping them to become more independent through socialization, communication and leisurely activities. Wani’s lips curled up into a smile for the first time all day: it suited him.
Wani was adamant that he wanted to be around Deaf people. Who could blame him? No one knew sign language at the nursing home except for Nick, a security guard. But Wani, who grew up in Harlem, N.Y., was unfortunately accustomed to being unable to communicate with the people around him. “My father died when I was nine; he didn’t know any sign language,” he explained. “My mother signed fluently but she died four years after my father. Then, I went to live with my aunt who knew some sign, but not much.”
When Wani was 19 years old, he attended Mill Neck Manor School for the Deaf—a school that helps Deaf children to unlock their potential through quality education. “I really enjoyed it there,” he said. But while in school, the tragedies that Wani endured during his childhood caught up with him. He was thrown into an unfathomable depth of depression. Unable to think of a way out, Wani suffered a self-inflicted injury that caused him to have seizures, ultimately landing him in an extended care nursing facility.
“My mother and my father were gone and I was so scared and alone,” Wani recalled. “I didn’t have Mill Neck’s phone number; I kept looking through the phone book.” Christine signed “I’m sorry” with her hand circling her heart. “But we’re here now.”
“I trust you,” Wani replied. “I know you’ll get me out of here.”
Wani’s story is leading example of the isolation and helplessness a Deaf person can feel when they aren’t given the right tools and resources. But Wani’s story is also one of strength and perseverance. His future finally looks bright: Mill Neck Services will make sure it stays that way.
For more information on Mill Neck Services, Inc. or how to help individuals just like Wani, please call 516-922-3818 or visit millneck.org/our-services/community-services-for-adults-and-children/.
Disclaimer: All stories regarding Mill Neck Services participants have been reviewed and approved by respective subjects.
The students of Mill Neck’s Deaf Education Center (DEC) experience hands-on learning at its finest this summer. From touring the Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park in Oyster Bay to volunteering at Sunrise of Glen Cove Assisted Living Facility to meeting the Stony Brook University football team, students have the opportunity to discover their interests while engaging in experiential learning.
New York State has approved a new graduating credential for special education students. The Career Development and Occupational Studies (CDOS) Commencement Credential is a certificate that is intended to indicate a student’s readiness for entry-level jobs. Mill Neck Manor School for the Deaf has created a comprehensive summer program where students have the opportunity to participate in work-based learning experiences, including job coaching, shadowing, community service, internships and more.
Taking trips all over the island, DEC students have enjoyed learning about possible future career paths. A tour of the Planting Fields Arboretum was given by Director Vincent Simeone, who welcomed the students as neighbors from a fellow Gold Coast Estate and explained the various jobs and responsibilities. Students toured the green houses, grounds and sensory garden, where they planted seeds that will grow in the fall. The students were very encouraged to hear that the Planting Fields has already employed a past student of Mill Neck. After the tour, they enjoyed a picnic on the grounds.
On Mondays and Wednesdays, the DEC students volunteer their time at Sunrise of Glen Cove Assisted Living Facility. The residents’ faces lit up as they saw the students walk through the doors. Some students stayed on the ground floor, where they set up a nail painting station for the women of the facility to enjoy a nice manicure. Others went to a different floor to engage the residents diagnosed with dementia, where they played games and danced Zumba.
“It’s so great for our residents here to have young kids come and volunteer their time,” says Diana Blacharski, Life Enrichment Manager at Sunrise. “They really enjoy it.”
The students also took a trip to Stony Brook University to meet players on the Seawolves football team: they have been studying American Sign Language as a Foreign Language. The students and players communicated with each other, throwing footballs and high fives.
A Safe Place for all Deaf Individuals with Developmental Disabilities
Individuals who are Deaf with developmental disabilities often have a hard time feeling like they belong. It isn’t as easy to socialize with friends or participate in meaningful group activities within the comfort of a safe environment.
Because of this, Mill Neck Services, Inc.—whose main goal is to empower Deaf and developmentally disabled individuals to become more independent—created a one-of-a-kind project called Signs with the Times Café. Mill Neck Services recently received a $5,000 grant from Wheat Ridge Ministries to help with program funding.
This Café—the sole program of its kind on Long Island—opens its doors to all individuals who are Deaf with developmental disabilities throughout the community. A variety of activities are offered on- and off-site that engage and connect not only the Deaf population, but the community at large.
Under the direction of two extremely passionate coordinators—Diana Pelchuck, who has been Deaf since she was three years old, and Nicole Shaw, who earned a bachelor’s degree in Deaf Studies and a master’s in Teaching ASL as a Foreign Language—the program’s participants enjoy casino night, movie night, visits to museums, sports and more.
Offering a sense of comradery and an inviting environment to individuals who daily face adversity and social isolation, this program breathes new life into a once stagnant feeling of belonging.
While the impact of the program on these individuals is significant—gaining confidence, exploring new experiences, establishing friendships within the Deaf culture and more—hearing individuals are also profoundly affected just by simply engaging with and being introduced to Deaf culture.
The Cafe is currently held at Mill Neck Services’ Day Habilitation Center every Wednesday evening and one Saturday a month.
Lutheran Friends of the Deaf is pleased to announce that a new interpreted worship service opportunity will be available to people who are Deaf through a new partnership. Beginning on Sept. 11, Lutheran Church of the Resurrection (420 Stewart Ave., Garden City, N.Y.) will have an American Sign Language interpreted service each second Sunday of the month at 11 a.m.
Nancy Mark Attributes her Son’s Success to the Mill Neck School
Nancy Mark reluctantly waved goodbye to her then 3-year-old son, Charlie, as he traveled by bus for more than an hour each way to the Mill Neck Manor School for the Deaf campus, where he would be attending Mill Neck’s Early Childhood Center (ECC).
The ECC provides early and intensive assistance to hearing children, ages 3 and 4, with a range of special communication needs, including speech and language delays and disorders, cognitive and motor deficits and autism-related disorders.
Charlie, who was diagnosed with speech delay as well as no receptive or expressive language skills at the age of 3, was not very fond of getting in and out of his car seat. “He was frequently extremely frustrated and it was very challenging to control his meltdowns,” Nancy says.
She stood there each morning with a heavy heart, watching that giant yellow bus drive away with her most precious cargo, her mind swirling with worry. But one thing eased her anxiety a bit: “I knew he was going to one of the best early intervention pre-school programs on Long Island.” And for that, she was hopeful.
“We were relieved that Charlie wasn’t diagnosed with a lifelong disorder,” Nancy admits, “but we knew we faced a significant challenge to get him on track academically, and we were concerned about the impact of the delay on his social/emotional development.”
Within three weeks, Nancy noticed a significant improvement in Charlie’s language. “I visited the school to see how they did their ‘magic’ and I was blown away by the teachers’ intensive focus and techniques.”
Charlie was mainstreamed into a remedial kindergarten class at the age of 5 in his hometown of Port Washington. “The transition was very smooth,” recalls Nancy. “Charlie began reading early in his kindergarten year and was fully mainstreamed into a regular kindergarten class within eight months.”
Fast forward eight years to present: Charlie is 13 years old and about to enter eighth grade with solid A/B grades across the board. “I am a strong student,” says Charlie. “I love watching basketball and I am very active in both tennis and skiing.” Charlie plans to attend college and pursue a career in sports management.
To help more children just like Charlie, please call 516-922-4100. For more information about the Mill Neck Manor Early Childhood Center, click here.
This year’s Early Childhood Center (ECC) graduation was one to remember. Not just for the 50 preschool graduates and their families, but for the entire ECC staff. “This graduation fell on a very special year—the ECC’s 25th anniversary year,” says ECC Principal Suellyn Giserman.
Many changes have occurred since the school’s inception 25 years ago. One, in particular, was the number of graduating students, which jumped from only 22 in 1991 to now 50 this year. “For us it’s always a bit bittersweet because we get attached to you and to them,” she said with a full heart to an audience filled with proud family members, friends and staff.
After Giserman’s welcoming remarks, a mother of two children, both of whom were among the graduates this year, made her way to podium to reflect on her long road and emotional journey. “There aren’t any words that can explain my gratitude toward the ECC staff that have touched my children’s lives,” she said. “Mill Neck is a place that makes things possible that you never thought were possible.”
The audience then turned in their seats with anticipation as 50 little graduates proudly walked down the aisles, some happily waving to their families. As the children gathered around the stage, they sweetly performed the ABC Song, “Good Day Sunshine” and “Wheels on the Bus” at the top of their lungs. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Right after, the lights dimmed as a slideshow appeared on the projector screen. The children squealed with delight as they recognized their faces and the faces of their friends.
At the end of the ceremony, the graduates accepted their diplomas from Giserman and Social Worker Cecelia Lynch. Cheers and applause roared throughout the auditorium as everyone jumped to their feet to celebrate the graduates and dance as Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” floated in the background.
The Mill Neck Family joins friends, family and staff in congratulating our little graduates and wishing them the best of luck as they head off to kindergarten and their new school adventures!
Founded in 1991, the Early Childhood Center (ECC) provides early and intensive assistance to children, ages 3 and 4, who may have deficits in speech, language/communication, cognitive and gross and fine motor development. Most children who attend the program graduate and attend kindergarten in their home school districts. The ECC is part of the Mill Neck Family of Organizations, which also includes Mill Neck Manor School for the Deaf, founded by Lutheran Friends of the Deaf in 1947. For more information about the Early Childhood Center, please call 516-922-4276 or visit: millneck.org/our-services/early-childhood-center-2/.
Mill Neck Manor School for the Deaf goes beyond in-classroom learning and provides their students with real-life learning opportunities. This summer, Deaf Education Center students went on many experiential learning excursions. One of which was learning how to cook. Each week, the students, along with staff, would go to different grocery stores to practice shopping following an itemized recipe list. Once they have purchased their items, they would then head to the school’s Life and Sciences kitchen to cook and eat together as a group.
“I want them to learn how to make simple recipes that they can do on their own,” says Maria Limperis, a teacher at Mill Neck Manor School for the Deaf. “There are so many learning factors that play into this activity, including literacy skills by writing and following a list; learning about reusing ingredients to make another meal; navigating directions to each grocery store; working on cooperation and team building; learning how to use equipment and more.”
Joel Pastrana, a high school student at Mill Neck Manor School for the Deaf, finds this particular activity to be extremely enjoyable. “We all get together and work as a team. When we go home we can cook because we have done it already in school.”