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Inmates pitch in for Riverhead group home build

Nancy Reyer, 54, of Riverhead, and her son

Nancy Reyer, 54, of Riverhead, and her son Michael Hubbard, 17, spend time together at Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead. Hubbard developed a traumatic brain injury after a gel candle accident in 2011 gave him third-degree burns over 40 percent of his body, and he later went into cardiac arrest. (Nov. 21, 2013) (Credit: Brittany Wait)

Nancy Reyer couldn’t imagine being far from her son. So when she heard he’d be moving into a house two miles away from her, she felt it was a “miracle.”

It’s a miracle that’s being helped along by several inmates who are doing some good while repaying their debt to society.

Reyer’s son, Michael Hubbard, suffered third-degree burns over 40 percent of his body after a gel candle exploded in his backyard in 2011. He subsequently developed a traumatic brain injury after going into cardiac arrest nine days after the incident. After traveling for treatment upstate and across Long Island, her son will finally be able to live in a house close to home.

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This spring, Hubbard, 17, and 11 others will be able to live independently while receiving the care they need at the Brendan House, a home with long-term care for those with a traumatic brain injury.

The property, which was once used for young, single mothers, is located at 4079 Sound Ave. in Riverhead. Last year, it was donated to New Beginnings Community Center for Traumatic Brain Injury, a nonprofit outpatient rehabilitation center in Medford. Since September, the organization has been building a 3,500-square foot addition to the farm house.

Suffolk County jail inmates with building experience have been helping to renovate the house, which is named after 25-year-old Brendan Aykroyd, of Blue Point, who suffered a brain injury in a 2009 assault, and died in his sleep in 2011.

Tyler Schiffelbian, whose six-month sentence for a parole violation ends in January, has plumbing and building experience. He has been joining other Suffolk County jail inmates in helping to renovate the Brendan House once a week.

“My time would seem a lot longer if I wasn’t here helping,” said Schiffelbian, 29, of Center Moriches. “It’s nice to be able to help make this happen for those who need it.”

Correction Officer John Whitehead, who supervises the inmates, said when admitted to the jail they're asked about their skill set, and those with building experience were chosen for the build.

"They've been working hard on the outside of the house so that it'll be enclosed for winter and can work on the inside," he said of the eight inmates working on the project. "This is good for them and they're glad to help."

The house, equipped with a kitchen, dining room, 12 beds, laundry room, offices and a library, will be staffed with nurses and aids, supervised by New Beginnings and operated by nonprofit Family Residences & Essentials Enterprises of Old Bethpage.

Allyson Scerri, founder and president of New Beginnings, expects the renovation to cost $200,000, which will come from community fundraisers and donations from the public.

To help finish the renovation, there will be a holiday event, “Raise the Roof — Deck the Halls,” on Dec. 5 at Martha Clara Vineyards.

“There’s nothing out there like this,” said Scerri, 52, of East Moriches, who began volunteer work with traumatic brain injuries after her father Al Barone, was injured when he fell off his motorcycle in 2007. Barone, 74, now lives in Montana.

“The house will give them independence,” said Scerri. It will be built as if my own father was moving in.”

Before Hubbard’s accident, he and his mom promised each other they would skydive for the first time together on his 18th birthday. To keep her promise she’ll be jumping from a plane at Skydive Long Island in Calverton next Aug. 16, to benefit Brendan House.

“I want Michael to be more comfortable in his new life,” Reyer, 54, said. “The Brendan House is making that happen for him.”

Tags: Riverhead , town , focus , towns , Brendan , House

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