Back in 1993, Samantha Krakauer, then 36, sat riveted to television news coverage of Long Island kidnap survivor Katie Beers. Distraught by the abuse the young girl had suffered at the hands of her captor, the East Northport resident recalled dropping to her knees to ask, “God, why can’t there be a place for good people?” Seconds later, she says, she heard the words “That’s heaven” and prayed, “Why can’t there be a little bit of heaven on Earth?”
A year later, she opened Samantha’s Li’l Bit of Heaven, a storefront nondenominational ministry in East Northport. The donor-supported and all-volunteer nonprofit religious organization, which will mark its 24th anniversary in April, features live inspirational music; squeaky-clean entertainment, including comics and dog acts; and biblical messages of hope and faith presented by artists and guest speakers from around the world. Upcoming musical guests include Christian contemporary singer Kirsten Joy (Friday), inspirational vocalist Frank Rendo (Saturday), gospel rockabilly band The Found Cats (Feb. 9) and Christian rock band Dana Isles & Facedown (Feb. 10).
“Samantha’s is a place for all ages, all backgrounds and ethnicities, so we can celebrate our differences and stop being divided by them,” said the 61-year-old, who now goes by her married name, Samantha Tetro. “With no money, no clue about how to run this ministry and a lot of prayer, God did the impossible and made something out of nothing. Hundreds of thousands of lives have been blessed by this ministry.”
In the ministry’s early days, neighbors thought Samantha’s Li’l Bit of Heaven was a restaurant, a nightclub or even a strip club. “I think the most confusing part for the community is that people don’t expect a ministry outreach to be in a storefront,” she said. “Interestingly, people peek in all the time, and when I invite them in, they seem to walk around with a sense of wonderment, feeling God’s peace and presence.”
FINDING HER CALLING
Tetro, who grew up in an observant Jewish family in Rockaway Park and attended Hebrew school, may seem an unlikely candidate to found a nondenominational ministry. At 33, she converted to Messianic Judaism and her aspirations for a career in fashion merchandising began to change. She pondered closing her clothing boutique in East Northport, she says, as she found herself “more interested in what was happening to them [customers] on the inside than the outside.”
“I felt the calling to be a missionary, not off in some distant land, but right here, where so many people were hurting, yet so few knew the healer,” she recalled.
With Samantha’s Li’l Bit of Heaven, Tetro says she has found God’s calling for her life.
“My mission for this ministry is to help people grow in faith and discover that they can have a personal relationship with a miraculous, good God who loves them unconditionally,” said Tetro, who was introduced to her husband, Anthony, 51, a lineman and a Messianic rabbi, at the ministry. “Once a person truly experiences the love of God, their life changes in ways they can’t imagine. For me, there is no greater reward than a front-row seat to a transformed life.”
When Pattie Routzahn, of Selden, first visited Samantha’s Li’l Bit of Heaven with a friend, she was a 35-year-old single mother, lacking self-confidence and faith. After attending spiritual lectures and Bible studies, she started volunteering to run the ministry’s soundboard. “I’m at peace,” said Routzahn, now 54, who credits the ministry with bolstering her faith. “They have become my family. There’s something different about this place. We have a community of love and encouragement, which is so important in this day and age.”
Routzahn is one of 70 ministry volunteers who perform a variety of tasks, including greeting, housekeeping and setting up tables. Also helping out every Friday for the past 17 years have been students from the Farmingdale-based Young Adult National Institute for People With Disabilities. “Samantha is always so welcoming and they love the environment,” said Brenna Falkowski, a senior community training specialist, referring to the physically and intellectually disabled adult helpers.
ALL IN A DAY’S WORK
Up before dawn, Tetro starts her day by listening to Bible teachings and then takes time for personal prayer. By 7:30, she says, “the phone starts ringing” with requests for prayer from friends, guests and volunteers on all sorts of matters such as healing for a sick loved one or finding a home for a pet. “Our ministry is about people and that’s a large part of what I do, helping people, connecting people,” she said. The remainder of the day is spent on the ministry’s paperwork, scheduling volunteers and performers and running errands before setting up the ministry for the night’s events.
At first, the ministry only offered performances on Friday and Saturday nights. Over the years, the weeknight calendar was filled with events such as a women’s fellowship, men’s ministry, Messianic fellowship, sexual abuse and bereavement support groups and even poetry and comedy coaching workshops. Past performances are also aired on cable television’s channel 20 on Mondays at 10:30 p.m.
Rendo, who has performed monthly at the ministry for more than 23 years, recalls when the audience consisted of “eight people playing card games and having coffee, tea and dessert.” Within six months, Samantha’s Li’l Bit of Heaven started catching on and the storefront was filled to capacity for concerts across all genres — gospel, contemporary, jazz, blues, Latin and rockabilly, says Rendo.
“Samantha’s is a lighthouse in the middle of the Island and a crossroad for different artists and comedians and all the people who come through,” he said. “That’s what I love about it. It’s not part of a church basement. It’s a unique work.”
Margie Woods, 60, a fan of Rendo’s music, first visited Samantha’s Li’l Bit of Heaven nearly three years ago. Since then, her parents and her two children also have become regulars. “The reason why we never stopped going is that when you go in there, you feel like you’re walking into a real heaven,” said the Wantagh resident. “It’s a feeling of love, warmth, nurturing and peace . . . you always leave there feeling like you’ve gained something.”
Eric Haft, one of several stand-up comics who perform at the ministry and throughout the tristate area, says comedy acts cannot include “any type of sexual innuendo or using God’s name in the wrong way,” referring to Tetro’s “Comedy Commandments,” 10 rules that keep the comedy clean. “And if you are doing a clean show and you say ‘hell,’ you would say ‘heck.’ I don’t have a dirty act to begin with, so it’s altering a few words here and there that I might not use at Samantha’s.”
Also popular are Rick Caran’s poker-playing, basketball-shooting and musically inclined Yorkshire terriers and Chihuahua, who have been performing at Samantha’s Li’l Bit of Heaven for 15 years. The Huntington resident says he’d still perform there even if he lived in Montauk because “Samantha’s is like home. She’s down to earth, loving, caring and humble, and there’s always a warm, charming feeling in the audience, which comes from the top.”
Tetro says she owes the ministry’s longevity to “prayer and praise” and hopes to offer seniors programs during the day. “I am putting my faith, trust and hope in God that the ministry will continue to grow so that all can experience what a special place this is,” she said.
Adds her husband: “We have had the pleasure to watch over these 24 years what the Lord has birthed. It is still growing and developing and we believe the best is yet to come.”
A LI’L BIT OF MUSIC
If you’re looking for both inspiration and entertainment, here are some of the acts headed to Samantha’s Li’l Bit of Heaven over the next few weeks (reservations recommended):
FEB. 2 Kirsten Joy
FEB. 3 Frank Rendo
FEB. 9 The Found Cats
FEB. 10 Dana Isles & Facedown
WHERE 287 Larkfield Rd., East Northport
INFO Free, but a $15 donation includes dessert and unlimited coffee and tea; 631-262-1212, samanthaslilbitofheaven.org