The Rev. Dyanne Pina, the new executive director of The Long Island Council of Churches, thinks it might be time to launch one of the Island’s oldest and largest interfaith organizations into the twittersphere.
Pina, 55, of Islip, who earlier this month became the first African-American and the first woman to lead the nonprofit organization, already has Facebook and Twitter accounts. Tweets and Facebook posts could be a key to reaching millennials — who, according to recent surveys, are turned off by organized religion — with information about the council’s work coordinating volunteer and advocacy efforts among 800 faith communities from Nassau County to the East End.
“As far as ministry goes, it’s something that we really have to be more involved with,” Pina says. “We need to have some movement with that age group, and get to the Twitter crowd.”
Another challenge as Pina takes over the council’s leadership: keeping donations flowing into food pantries in Riverhead, Freeport and Hempstead. On a recent visit to the council’s offices at the rear of the United Methodist Church of Hempstead in downtown Hempstead Village, Pina took a quick tour of the food pantry. Although small — it occupies a wall of an office shared by staff members — in May it helped to feed 303 local children and adults.
“Our shelves are full right now, but they were bare two weeks ago” Uriel Welch, the council’s financial manager, told Pina. Signing up for donations from Long Island Cares: The Harry Chapin Food Bank, shipments from Island Harvest and items collected by the National Association of Letter Carriers’ food drive, replenished the shelves, she said.
The staff members have become expert at finding and distributing items that clients, many of whom are homeless or otherwise living on the edge — need for their daily lives including essential items such as soap. “Whatever somebody asks for, I start begging for it,” says Yolanda Murray, the office manager.
Helping low- and-moderate income Long Islanders stretch their household budgets and keep the heat on in winter is a goal Pina also shares with the council’s outgoing executive director, The Rev. Thomas Goodhue, 67, of Amityville, who is retiring after 17 years on the job. About two-thirds of the executive director’s job is dedicated to providing assistance for people whose needs go “beyond the resources of any single parish,” says Goodhue.
“The Long Island Council of Churches makes sure these folks have security and the peace of mind to know they don’t have to worry about the end of the month,” Pina says. She adds, “I just love that we’re relieving the burden of worry and despair.”
The council also hosts The Long Island Multi-Faith Forum educational programs, which promote understanding between people of different faiths. It provides chaplains at the Nassau County Jail in East Meadow and the county’s Juvenile Detention Center in Westbury. Pina’s background, her work as a chaplain, and her enthusiasm for the job were qualities that helped the council’s 14-member board of trustees choose her, says board member Henry Boerner of Manhasset.
“Tom has been there for 17, 18 years, so he’s hard to replace,” Boerner says. “What appeals to us as we say goodbye to Tom is her [Pina’s] enthusiasm, her broad background of experiences and her commitment.” Also important to the board was “gender diversity,” he says. Pina is the first woman to lead the council, which was created in 1969, merging a Nassau group and an organization that had provided assistance as far back as the 1920s to Suffolk’s migrant farmworkers.
Pina’s appointment was praised by The Rev. Wendy C. Modeste, pastor of the United Methodist Church of Bay Shore, one of the council’s member churches.
“The day I met Dyanne, I knew she was a force of nature,” Modeste says of Pina, who is a member of the Bay Shore congregation and sometimes preaches at the 10 a.m. Sunday service. “Working with her over the past year has shown me her commitment to social justice, community engagement and nurturing people in need,” Modeste says.
Pina is no stranger to the struggles of the poor. She experienced hunger while growing up during the 1970s in a struggling, single-parent household in Roxbury, a predominantly African-American neighborhood of Boston. “There were days when we had absolutely no money. No money in the penny jar, no money in any pockets, no money between the sofa cushions, no money anywhere,” Pina wrote in her autobiography, “Stuck in the Past Can Get You Burned,” (Professional Women Publishing, 2015).
This was the era of forced busing in Boston, when many whites were resisting the integration of public schools. Racial tensions elicited a piece of point-blank advice from her mother. “You are African-American. You’re Black. You have to be better than the next person,” Pina’s mother told her. “She was saying that because it was so hard for Blacks to have any kind of quality positions” at that time.
Pina went on to earn a bachelor of science degree in broadcasting and film from Boston University. That’s where she met her future husband, Jeffrey Pina, now 56 and an executive at Veeco Instruments in Plainview. They have three children, Corey, 31, Janay, 26, and Blair, 21.
Raised as a Roman Catholic, Pina became a Baptist in 1983. Over the years, she served in executive and management positions with the American Cancer Society in Boston and Methodist Hospital of Southern California in Arcadia, California. She earned a Master of Divinity Degree from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, and was ordained to the work of Christian ministry upon recommendation by the American Baptist Churches of Los Angeles. she and her family moved from California to Long Island two years ago.
Pina recently joined the United Methodist Church (UMC), where she says “roles for women clergy are encouraged, condoned and affirmed.” Currently, Pina is a United Methodist Church provisional elder, the equivalent of a Baptist pastor.
Among her most challenging assignments has been serving as a chaplain in residence at trauma centers. In Santa Clarita, California, she stood at the beds of dying inmates, held their hands and prayed with them at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center. During those moments, she says, “You have to remove all of your stereotypes, and any biases that you have, and be what the person needs. It could have been anybody lying there. All I knew was . . . he was dying.” Recently, she ministered to seriously ill patients receiving palliative care at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, now part of Northwell Health.
Some might say Pina is taking on another difficult assignment at an age when others are planning for retirement, but Pina practically bristles at the idea. I’m not ready for retirement yet,” she says. “But at the same time it’s all about making good decisions, wise decisions, decisions that are good for me and my family and also for the community, so I’m 100 percent at peace and ready to do the work.”