JCC’s Rick Lewis recalls personal link to shooting, locals step up
When Mid-Island Y JCC CEO Rick Lewis heard about an active shooter at a school in Florida, he looked out of his office window into the lobby to make sure the community center’s safety protocols were in place. But when he heard the shooting was at a school in Parkland, FL, he looked at his phone, wondering who to call first.
“It hit me a few minutes later that I actually knew people that could be in danger,” he said.
Lewis’ brother Dave is a sergeant in the Broward County Sheriff’s Department—the department whose jurisdiction covers Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. He also has two young cousins in Parkland, one at a middle school and one at Douglas High.
“I really didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to call my mother in case she didn’t know yet,” he recalled. “I waited until the shooter was apprehended and texted my sister-in-law to see if our cousins were OK. She quickly replied ‘yes.’”
Soon after, Lewis asked his sister-in-law if Dave was accounted for—to Lewis’ relief, Dave was safe.
“I knew at that point that he was safe, but would be working around the clock to safeguard the scene and help people with the trauma of this horrific event,” said Lewis. “I didn’t hear anything from him until much later in the evening when he was able to answer his phone. I was relieved that my family was spared, but was heartbroken for the families whose lives were changed forever.”
Cheryl Dender has been an active member of the Plainview community for 25 years. Her three children attended schools in the district, but have all since graduated. While her children were in school, Dender served on all of the PTAs and the Board of Education. She is currently the Child Care Director for the Before & After school program at Plainview-Old Bethpage School District.
While she was PTA council president, Dender was close friends with Shari Corn, who was PTA president of Pasadena Elementary School. Corn moved to Florida a few years ago, eventually settling in Parkland.
“I felt a deep connection there,” said Dender. “Parkland is a community very similar to Plainview. Many of our kids have camp friends in Parkland. I felt heartbroken for the parents and the kids and felt so helpless.”
After the shooting, Dender saw on Facebook that Douglas officials wanted to cover the walls with banners when students returned, as a way to provide solace, strength and comfort to the grief-stricken students. Dender posted the idea on the Plainview Moms and Plainview Moms and Dads Facebook pages to see if anyone wanted to chip in and help get a banner designed and eventually delivered to Parkland.
Help poured in, with parents donating money while making suggestions as to the design of the banner. And when Dender needed a graphic designer, Laura Mastorides from Hi Tech Events stepped forward, offering to design the banner at no cost and in time to mail it out on Monday, Feb. 26.
Mastorides, whose business, now located at 290 Duffy Ave. in Hicksville, has Plainview roots going back 20 years, said contributing to this effort was a no-brainer.
“Everyone’s life is on hold thinking about what the world is turning into, whether you have kids or not,” she said, adding that Hi Tech will make another banner for the students to carry at an upcoming rally. “Anything we can do to help. And it’s a good cause to teach kids the right thing to do. It’s how I was raised.”
Dender said her message to parents sparked a deluge of donations.
“All of the generous Plainview-Old Bethpage residents started flooding my Venmo and my mailbox with donations,” said Dender. “I had suggested $5 and I’ve received between $5 and $50 per family. I’ve received over $2,000 so far, which we will be donating to one or more of the Parkland funds that have been set up.”
Lewis flew down to Florida last week with his family to grieve with Parkland and mourn at the many memorials. While he was down there, he was reading an article in a local newspaper that listed ways to help—included among the suggestions was sending a banner to the school.
“I immediately recalled that after the Mid-Island Y JCC received a bomb scare last February, the amazing support from the community, our very successful Break the Hate Rally we held and the many cards and letters I received from all over the world expressing their support,” said Lewis, adding that he expects the JCC will send multiple banners to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
A banner might seem like a small gesture in the grand scheme of things—but for Lewis, Dender and all the other Plainview community members, many small gestures can add up to a grand heartfelt response to an unthinkable tragedy.
“At these times, people just don’t know what to do, but are always looking for something,” said Lewis. “We decided that we wanted the community to take part and decided that we would invite people in to the community center to write their own messages on the banner.”
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