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Long IslandSuffolk

At Huntington St. Patrick's Day Parade, special-needs focus leads the way

Organizers are raising funds for special education PTA organizations.

Thomas Dougherty and his son Jacob hang out

Thomas Dougherty and his son Jacob hang out at the 2017 Huntington St. Patrick's Day Parade. Photo Credit: Cliff Weissman

Thomas Dougherty began a tradition three years ago by marching in the Huntington St. Patrick’s Day Parade with his son Jacob -- who has Down syndrome -- and now pounds the pavement to support local families with special-needs children.

Jacob Dougherty, 15, was under the weather and unable to march in this year’s parade last Sunday, but his spirit has guided Thomas Dougherty to promote more inclusion for those with disabilities. As the new Huntington Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) president, Thomas Dougherty has expanded the group’s charitable outreach to raise funds for area special education PTA (SEPTA) organizations that aid postsecondary opportunities for deserving students.

“I am a past president of the South Huntington SEPTA and many other members are on the boards of the local SEPTAs,” said Thomas Dougherty, an independent financial/insurance adviser at Blue Chip Financial Corp. in Melville. “When you are involved you realize how many people are out there with special-needs children and do not know where to turn for help or guidance.”

Thomas Dougherty organized a comedy night fundraiser last year that allowed the Huntington AOH to award $500 scholarships to SEPTA organizations in the Huntington, South Huntington, Harborfields and Northport school districts. He has organized another SEPTA comedy night fundraiser for Nov. 15 at the Huntington American Legion Hall with hopes of turning the benefit into an annual event. His goal is to eventually provide backing to all SEPTAs within the Town of Huntington.

“It’s incredible for an organization like the Huntington Hibernians with so much history to embrace the SEPTAs,” said Sue Broderick, president of Harborfields SEPTA. “They are a very large group with a lot of power behind it and we hope that will allow us to do a lot more.”

The Huntington AOH’s expanded community outreach has also included supporting the Old Bethpage-based FREE Players Drum & Bugle Corps, which is raising money in hopes of becoming the first special-needs marching band to perform in the Drum Corps International World Championships in Indianapolis this summer. The corps proudly marched in the Huntington parade last Sunday.

“It’s wonderful that they are doing so many things for the special-needs community,” said Brian Calhoun, founder and director of FREE Players, which is run by the nonprofit Family Residences and Essential Services. “It’s a huge honor to be asked to perform in a parade with so much tradition and so much history.”

Thomas Dougherty talked about giving a check to one college-bound SEPTA scholarship recipient last year who planned to use the funds for a laptop. He said what the student told him while getting the award provided a small glimpse of how they are making a difference.

“He told me because of his disability he was not very popular in school and did not have many friends and was very thankful and proud to have earned this scholarship,” said Thomas Dougherty. “It brought tears to my eyes.”

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