Paul Arfin has published his second book, called Unfinished Business: Social Action in Suburbia: Long Island NY–1945-2014, which chronicles the struggles and accomplishments of social welfare and environmental pioneers and civil rights leaders over a 70-year period. Philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Arfin hopes his book will combat this all-too-common phenomenon.
The Hauppauge resident was inspired to write Unfinished Business after reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s The Bully Pulpit in late 2013. The acclaimed historian recounts tales of politics and journalism at a national level during the Progressive Era and beyond.
“It got me thinking, that at a local level, like Long Island, those stories don’t get told,” Arfin said. “They are…left for obituaries and the minutes of meetings of nonprofit organizations.
“I’m going to write that story,” he decided.
Life on Long Island changed dramatically after WWII. Seventy-four-year-old Arfin lived through that era and knew it would make an interesting and important story.
“I was there during the ’50s and ’60s and ’70s when Long Island really didn’t have enough hospitals,” Arfin said. “It didn’t have family agencies, counseling programs, mental health centers.”
The book details the story of businessman Leon “Jake” Swirbul and publicist Paul Townsend, who foresaw the need for the dramatic expansion of hospitals on Long Island and organized the corporate community and the wealthy for fundraisers at Roosevelt Raceway and Belmont Racetrack. Their work led to the development of the United Way of Long Island.
He also discusses the development of Levittown. “Originally people who weren’t of the Caucasian race couldn’t buy or rent homes there,” Arfin said. “Originally Jews were not welcome. …People fought for civil rights of African Americans, to welcome them as neighbors. …I tell that story.”
Arfin tells the story of Robert Moses and the significant role he played, both good and bad, on Long Island, including his efforts to build a four-lane highway on Fire Island, which was defeated by people concerned about the environment.
He also discusses the origins of the now Mineola-based Family and Children’s Association (FCA), which began in the late 1950s and became a major provider of family and individual counseling. Arfin writes about the first mental health centers and group homes.
There were battles all over Nassau and Suffolk county to establish group homes where people with different forms of disabilities could live within the community at a time when institutionalization was the only option. He said, “There were people like Joan Saltzman and others who…appealed to village boards to convince them that people with mental illnesses and disabilities of other kinds weren’t threats to their safety or property values.”
During his research, Arfin found that Long Island history of Native Americans, the Revolutionary War and civil rights movements were easy to find, and he does touch on those subjects in the book, but the stories of social welfare and access have not been written, until now.
Arfin interviewed many people, now in their 80s and 90s, to gather the information included in the book. He also made use of Hofstra University’s Long Island Studies Institute and Stony Brook University’s special collections archives to gather the histories of organizations and the significant people who contributed to a better quality of life on Long Island.
The author believes social workers, directors of nonprofits, people involved in politics, civil associations and libraries, educators and those with an interest in Long Island history will be responsive to the book, as well as anyone who was out there in the 1960s and ‘70s fighting against ignorance and resistance to change.
“This publication will provide a context for decision-making by human service providers, government officials and agency boards,” said Louise Skolnik, professor emerita of Adelphi School of Social Work. “It should also prove to be essential reading for students enrolled in Long Island’s undergraduate and graduate social work programs.”
“One of the motivations to write the book was to tell inspiring stories to future generations,” Arfin explained. “That they stand on the backs of people who had foresight, vision and perseverance.”
He wishes to end stereotypes about Long Islanders and illuminate the fact that Long Island has served to lead the state and nation in establishing new public policies and programs.
“Each generation is called to…face up to the challenges of their moment with persistence and commitment,” said Richard Dina, former CEO of FCA. “I believe these stories from 1945 to 2014 provide heart and hope for the warriors of today.”
Arfin’s first book was an autobiography titled Portrait of a Peace Corps Gringo. “It was about me growing up in Mineola, my time in the Peace Corps…and how the Peace Corps experience had a tremendous impact on the rest of my life.”
A departure from his first book, Unfinished Business was a natural step to take for Arfin, who has spent 50 years involved in social action. He has a master’s degree in social work from Adelphi, worked at the YMCA for eight years and founded an organization that sponsors intergenerational day care centers.
To purchase Unfinished Business: Social Action in Suburbia, send a check for $33.65 (includes shipping fee) payable to Paul Arfin to: Paul Arfin, 75 Windwatch Dr., Hauppauge, NY 11788. It is also available on Amazon.