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Sachem North dads lend helping hands

The Father's Club at Sachem North High School

The Father's Club at Sachem North High School organizes two major events each year, the Festival of Trees and Lights, which took place this weekend at the high school, and a classic car rally in the spring. The club also helps the students in organizing food drives for Thanksgiving and Christmas. (Dec. 4, 2011) (Credit: Erin Geismar)

When Cliff Aronson’s kids were in high school, he wanted to get involved.

He attended a couple of Parent Teacher Association meetings at Sachem North High School, where his children attended, but found that he couldn’t fit in the highly structured organization around his work schedule.

Not to mention: “When you think of PTAs, it tends to be mothers.”

Then in 2003, Jose Cruz, the high school’s assistant principal, put out the call for people like Aronson — dads who wanted to be involved but didn’t have the right avenue for pursuing it.

“I said, ‘Yeah, right, the dads are not going to do this,’” said Cruz, who was asked by the school superintendent — then the building principal — to assemble the club. “But all you need are a few really interested guys, and it takes off.”

Now there are about 12 active members and a total of 40 who participate in events throughout the year, Cruz said. Some of them, including Aronson, 53, of Holbrook, have continued to participate even after their children have graduated.

“I don’t have kids here anymore,” Aronson said. “When my kids come home, they’ll say, ‘Dad, why are you still in the Father’s Club?’”

The group organizes two major events each year, the Festival of Trees and Lights, which took place this weekend at the high school, and a classic car rally in the spring. The club also helps the students in organizing food drives for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The events raise money for student scholarships (almost 15 a year), local organizations in need and student clubs at the high school. Cruz said last year’s Festival of Trees and Lights raised about $6,000.

“The goal is to be community oriented and civic minded,” said Aronson, who was one of the founding members of the club. “As fathers, we have to serve as good role models for our kids.”

Paul Chiarella, 64, of Holbrook, was also a founding member of the Father’s Club and has also remained a dedicated member although both of his children graduated. A retired union plumber, Chiarella said he has the time to dedicate to the students and he wanted to do more than what he had done in the past, which mostly revolved around school sports.

“I wanted to be able to give more of myself,” he said.

Chiarella said the group is loosely structured — there are no titles, no monthly dues, and no egos.

“It’s all about the kids,” he said. “That’s why we do it.”

Aronson said the Father’s Club also spreads the image that dads are good for more than just sports-related activities.

“It’s not all just throwing around a football,” he said.

The Father’s Club, of which a few women are also members, aims to inspire the students to do more good for the community, he said. At the annual holiday festival, the student clubs do just as much work as the Father’s Club and they each run their own vendor tables to help raise money.

Jessica Francavilla, 17, of Ronkonkoma, worked with a group of seniors at her school to throw a special holiday party for local underprivileged children on Saturday, the first day of the Festival of Trees and Lights. She and her peers hosted 150 children, selected by district social workers, who ate pizza, opened gifts and took pictures with Santa Claus.

Francavilla said she’s also worked with the Father’s Club before to help organize one of the car rallies.

“I think it’s good that we have them,” she said. “You usually only hear about things the PTA does. So it’s good to have them just to go that extra mile and be able to have something like this.”

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