Brian Leary was taking care of his sick daughter, Morgan, when two callers arrived at his home in Center Moriches on a recent afternoon bearing a gift of cheer.

The visitors were volunteers from the Pilot Club of Patchogue, a service organization with a soft spot for caregivers.

Morgan, 8, a twin diagnosed in 2014 with severe brain cancer, underwent surgery and was hospitalized for nearly a year at New York University Hospital and Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia.

“We’d like to give you a gesture of support,” Pilot member Waveney Klaiber, of Bellport, told Leary as she handed him a $50 Stop & Shop gift card on behalf of the club. “It’s devastating to have sickness. This is a tangible expression of support for you.”

Leary, a teacher at East Hampton High School, and his wife, Emily, a teacher in the Comsewogue School District, take turns caring for Morgan. Their daughter gets therapy three days a week at St. Charles Hospital.

Morgan, whose twin is Emma, smiled cheerfully as she dropped marbles into a marble run toy in a gentle game with her father and Klaiber, a retired Internal Revenue Service specialist.“I’m very honored and appreciative, flattered that they thought of my family,” Leary said of the volunteers’ visit.

Such acts of kindness are the hallmark of the Pilot Club of Patchogue, a nonprofit chartered in 1962 to foster youth leadership and development, to care for families in times of need and to promote brain fitness and safety.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Those are core values the club adopted from Pilot Club International, an organization that was founded in 1921 in Macon, Georgia, its name inspired by riverboat pilots of the time who successfully navigated their vessels through rough waters.

The riverboat pilots’ example was an incentive for Pilot Club International to “help others navigate the rocky waters of life,” according to its website. Its mission is to influence positive change in communities throughout the world by giving people opportunities for service.

Pilot Club of Patchogue is one of Pilot International’s 375 clubs. Its 25 members are from all over Suffolk, and most of them are retired. Some have been with the club for more than 20 years.

Pilot Club of Patchogue is one of four Pilot Clubs on Long Island. Others serve Sayville, Babylon and Greater Long Island.

Minnie Giuri, founder of the Patchogue club, attended a convention in Georgia, “liked what she saw and brought it back to our area,” said Susan Kahl, 69, the group’s current president.

A central focus of the Patchogue club is Pilot International’s “Pick-Me-Up” service project. The visit to Leary’s home was an effort to brighten someone’s day.

Caregivers are specially sought out for pick-me-ups. They get gift certificates, time at a spa, tickets to movies or a local theater show, a goodie bag and a letter thanking them for the difference they make in the community.

“So far we’ve given over 75 gift cards, most valued at least $50 since the club started the program in 2013,” said Kahl, who lives in Bellport and accompanied Klaiber to visit the Learys. “We’re just recognizing the stresses of caregivers: balancing family, career and taking care of their loved ones.”

Most recipients are nominated anonymously by health care providers and clergy, Kahl said, but casual conversations or even a blood donation can also generate a Pick-Me-Up delivery.

“We listen to people around us,” Kahl said. “I teach water aerobics at the YMCA in Patchogue. I listen to conversations in my class. One woman had pancreatic cancer; one woman’s husband had Alzheimer’s. I sent Pick-Me-Up gift cards to them anonymously.”

advertisement | advertise on newsday

In return for giving blood during a Patchogue Fire Department blood drive, Kahl received two tickets to a Mets game. “I gave them to the parents of a special-needs adult son,” she said. “They were thrilled!”

During International Care and Kindness Week — observed the second week in November and created by Pilot International — club members distributed goodie bags with protein bars and candy to soup kitchens, food pantries, ambulance companies, police and strangers.

“The reactions are incredible,” Kahl said. “The letters we get bring me to tears. A husband who had to do everything when his wife broke both her arms put his arms around me and cried when he received a movie ticket and a $25 gift card from the club.”

At Brookhaven Rehabilitation & Healthcare Center where, Kahl said, about 70 percent of the clients are nonverbal, the club donated three iPads in October. The devices have a “Go Talk” app enabling users to communicate with their families and therapists. A grant from Pilot International matched $642 that members raised for this specific project.

“We’re particularly proud of this,” Kahl said, adding that the recipients are using the iPads for banking, e-mail and accessing the Internet. “Little things make such a difference. We just wanted to spread a little cheer.”

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Concern for children

Pilot Club of Patchogue’s members show they care in other ways. They teach kindergarten students to wear bicycle helmets and cross streets safely to protect their brains, and also to wear reflector bands so they can be seen in the dark. They provide labels in Spanish and English for identifying a child in a car seat or stroller should a parent or guardian become incapable of communicating with authorities.

Partnering with the Anchor Club, a service organization at Patchogue-Medford High School, club members collect books for a program designed to stimulate educational development for children aged 3 to 5 who live in homeless shelters in Suffolk. Trainers from Eastern Suffolk BOCES teach parents and caregivers how to read and talk to the children so they’re prepared to enter school ready to learn.

Every November, the club sponsors a dance for adults with developmental disabilities. Pilot members and students from the Anchor Club participate and serve refreshments.

“That’s how we’re teaching the youth to be community-minded,” Kahl said.

Once a year, the club sponsors a “Day of Renewal” for caregivers at Day Haven, a day-care center for adults with cognitive issues. The day includes workshops and yoga classes. Last year, each caregiver there received a copy of “The Unsung Heroes,” a book about caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s. Each book cost $12, Kahl said.

“That’s why fundraising and sponsorship are critical,” she said. “We spend the money on these projects.”

The club’s fundraising includes annual membership dues of $85; a Christmas holiday benefit, yard sales and a Preakness event held on the day of the horse race, the second leg of the Triple Crown, when members run with toy horses and raise money from bets. In March, the club sells discounted tickets it receives for shows at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson. Showgoers who buy the tickets can participate in a luncheon and raffle.

Gail Braverman, of Setauket, a retired English teacher in the Patchogue-Medford School District who is liaison to the Anchor Club program, as well as a past president of the nonprofit, makes scarves and tote bags that the club sells.

 

Kudos for caring

The Pilot Club of Patchogue has been commended for its humanitarian outreach. In 2015, it won Pilot International’s Outstanding Pick-Me-Ups award and received a $50 gift certificate from Pilot International and a paper certificate.

“That was quite an honor,” Kahl said. “Out of all the clubs, to have little us recognized. We were very proud.”

On Nov. 3, the club was among four honorees feted at Day Haven’s Neighborhood of Caring Breakfast for enhancing the quality of life for frail, older adults and family caregivers.

Pilot volunteers also pay visits to group homes for abused and abandoned girls, and pregnant and parenting young mothers.

Toni Gehringer, the house director at one of the residences, said receiving a bouquet of flowers for staff “makes my day.” Her assistant, Carla Ceron, agreed.

“It makes us as staff feel appreciated,” Ceron said.

Kahl said Pilot Club of Patchogue’s volunteers are recruited largely by word-of-mouth. Eileen Sribnick, of Bellport, a retired teacher, became the newest member when she joined the club just over a year ago. “They do wonderful things for people in the community,” she said.

Fran Wiener, 70, of Farmingdale, who works part time at the South Country Library in Bellport, is the club’s longest-serving member, joining the nonprofit in 1974. She said the club offers camaraderie as well as service.

“You go for the service, but you make friends for life,” she said. “It’s just a wonderful experience.”