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OpinionColumnistsRandi F. Marshall

Inside a home in Glen Cove, lives are being saved 

Emily Keleher, left, and Jackie Rafferty. They were

Emily Keleher, left, and Jackie Rafferty. They were staying at Monte Nido, a home on St. Andrews Lane in Glen Cove that helps young women and men recover from eating disorders and run by Monte Nido. In this photo, both were at the New York City National Eating Disorders Association walk in October. Credit: Emily Keleher

Glen Cove, meet Emily Keleher and Jackie Rafferty.

Keleher, a 19-year-old college sophomore from Nesconset, studies musical theater. Rafferty, a 22-year-old college graduate from Valley Stream, is looking for a job in fashion.

This summer, Keleher and Rafferty were your neighbors. You may have seen them taking quiet walks down St. Andrews Lane or shopping carefully in a local grocery store.

They were staying at a home where up to 14 staff members help young women and men recover from eating disorders. It is run by a company called Monte Nido. Last year, more than 100 neighbors came out to fight the initial application to convert the home into a residential treatment facility, and City Council members unanimously and cowardly rejected it, only to have the state overrule them.

The recently renovated home opened earlier this year, but several fearful and angry Glen Cove homeowners are battling it still, saying they see it as a commercial operation that will lead to traffic and other concerns. 

If they visited the house, they'd see displays of courage as residents struggle through challenges and tears to get well.

"There's nothing to be ashamed of. It's not a choice," Rafferty said of her eating disorder. "But you do have the choice to get better. It's not easy, but it's certainly possible."

Rafferty was diagnosed with anorexia in March. The disease had whittled her 5-foot, 2-inch frame down to 78 pounds. For Keleher, the low point came in March, too, when a doctor tried to take her blood pressure nine times and couldn’t get a reading. Rafferty feared even her family's weekly pizza dinners; Keleher, who was diagnosed with anorexia and orthorexia, couldn't do a turn in her dance classes without feeling faint.

Outpatient care wasn't enough. Rafferty’s psychiatrist suggested residential care in Utah. Keleher expected to head to Boston. But after they finished their college semesters, each discovered another option: Monte Nido's just-opened large Colonial in Glen Cove.

The two young women didn’t know one another until they met in June at 1 St. Andrews Lane. Now, they’re close friends. And the inspirational pair credit Monte Nido with changing, perhaps even saving, their lives. 

“Without Monte Nido, I would not have my life back right now,” said Keleher, who hopes to return to dance classes next semester.

Recalling the day Rafferty came home, her mom, Eileen, said: "The sparkle and life was back in her eyes again."

During their stays, Rafferty and Keleher and about 10 others filled their days with planned meals, therapy, yoga and walks outside. Sometimes, they ate out together, a particularly difficult task for those so focused on food. On the weekends, their parents and friends visited. There were, the two young women recall, lots of quiet and time to start getting well.

Clearly, such a place must be feared, and stopped, right? 

Of course not. But neighbors are trying anyway. They're asking the city’s board of zoning appeals to revoke permits for a parking area and landscaping, even as construction is ongoing. The board is scheduled to hear that application Thursday, and should reject it. Neighbors also argue that rooms above the home's stand-alone garage should not be used as a bedroom and bathroom for residents. It’s just the latest in a constant, ugly drumbeat that likely will be resolved in court.

Glen Cove's mayor and zoning board, and the lawyer representing the neighbors refused interview requests about 1 St. Andrews Lane. But here's the thing: Monte Nido isn't going anywhere. And ultimately, state law seems to be on its side.  

As the neighbors fight this fight, and the board adjudicates it, they'd be wise to consider the more important and much quieter battles that women and men wage inside the house.

There, the stakes are far higher. It's a fight those residents, like Keleher and Rafferty, must not lose.

Randi F. Marshall is a member of Newsday's editorial board.