Jordan Berry smiled as a wave crashed into his chest Wednesday. The 13-year-old's shorts pockets filled with water and his legs became covered in sand as the wave sat him down on the beach.
“Are you having fun?” Star Wahnon asked, laughing. The 52-year-old Sayville resident was the boy’s chaperone for the day, and he wanted to make sure he experienced everything he could in the seven short hours he had on Fire Island.
“No,” Berry fibbed, the Lake Ronkonkoma resident looking at his feet to mask a grin.
The two traveled to Barrett Beach together for the fifth annual Backpack Pirates event, which provides some of LI’s less fortunate children with a day of fun and kindness they are too often unused to. Kids entered open water for the first time, were entertained by pirates and were given backpacks filled with school supplies to carry them through the new school year.
The event is run by Every Child’s Dream, a Sayville-based charity whose mission is to help children in need. It was started by local entrepreneur Ken Mangan, 56, of Sayville, while he was working for the New York State Department of Labor. The job showed him a level of poverty that he didn’t know existed on Long Island. In 2006 he told his wife, Karen, that he didn’t want anything for Christmas and he wasn’t getting anything for her. Instead he was going to throw a huge Christmas dinner and invite as many people as he could from local homeless shelters to the meal at St. Lawrence the Martyr Parish in Sayville.
The inaugural dinner brought together 500 people from local shelters, with Mangan and 150 volunteers cooking and serving the food. That dinner evolved into the organization that now works to help children in need enjoy their youth.
“Childhood should be innocence,” he said.
Wednesday was the third time on the trip for Wahnon, assistant principal at Central Islip Intermediate School. She said she picked Berry out on the ferry because she wanted to soften him up with some kindness.
“It’s [the trip] taught me that when you expose children to nature, they appreciate it so much,” Wahnon said.
Later she looked off in the distance at Berry, who was digging a huge hole on the beach, and commented that he was finding himself. Berry later buried a newfound friend with a group of other kids, and bodysurfed his first wave.
Wahnon, who as an educator has worked with gangs, said the relationships forged on the beach can keep "children from going the wrong way."
Berry, who is going into the eighth grade, said his day on the beach has him thinking about joining a swim team, and Wahnon said she will contact whomever she needs to in the Lake Ronkonkoma school district to help make that happen.
Said Wahnon of her efforts, “It’s what you’re supposed to do, isn’t it?”