As the sun set over Seaford High School on June 8, more than 100 people gathered behind a thin pink ribbon that stretched across the school track.
Joe Satriano, the founder of the Susan Satriano Memorial Foundation, thanked the crowd for attending the first annual Walk of Lights, an event organized in partnership with the school to benefit the foundation that bears his late wife’s name.
“If Sue were here tonight, she’d tell you all that you did a mitzvah,” Satriano said moments before cutting the ribbon.
The nonprofit foundation gives scholarships to students who have a parent who has cancer or has died of the disease. Some of the participants walked in memory of family members or friend stricken with the disease, placing paper-bag luminarias around the track to honor them.
“Joe brought everyone together,” said Lisa Garcia, a Seaford Parent Teacher Student Association mother who helped organize the walk. “From the staff to the businesses, students and neighboring towns, he brought everyone together for this wonderful cause.”
Satriano, of Oceanside, a retired math teacher, recalled being overwhelmed with grief when his wife died of breast cancer in 2005, at age 53. But after spending much of the next six months in his bedroom, he had an epiphany. “I wasn’t doing nothing under those covers in my bed,” Satriano said. “I was no longer teaching, but I realized a new way to help kids.”
Soon after, he established the foundation, which, he said, has given out $1 million in financial aid to more than 1,500 high school seniors over the past 12 years.
The only requirement of the scholarship, besides the student’s situation, is that he or she meet with Satriano for a one-on-one chat about their unfortunate common bond.
Satriano visits schools around Long Island to share his story, and that of the foundation. One of his stops was a Seaford PTSA meeting last October, when, Garcia said, the organization saw his passion for helping students with parents who have cancer, and decided to join his cause.
“These kids get scholarships for academics, sports, and arts and music,” Garcia added, “but when they go home, nobody knows what they’re dealing with.”
Seaford High administrators worked with the Satriano Foundation throughout the school year to organize a charity walk on campus. Principal Scott Bersin said that the foundation has given scholarships to his students in the past, and that the event was indicative of the school community’s commitment to service.
“Any time our community learns of an opportunity to do service, especially for kids whose families are fighting cancer,” Bersin said, “we’re going to jump on board.”
About 75 volunteers from the school district and the PTSA took part, and more than 100 luminarias glowed on the track.
One of them honored the memory of Seaford resident Angelo Ferrara, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2015. One of his daughters, Andrea Monopoli, said that Angelo’s family — his wife, his children and some of his grandchildren — attended the walk because they know how much cancer affects families in their community and around the world.
“Whenever I hear about a cancer fundraiser,” Monopoli said, “I’m always there to help.”
Although many of the participants, from families to faculty members to elected leaders, thanked Satriano for helping so many students, he insisted that he does not want the foundation to be about him. Rather, he said, his purpose is simply to help students touched by cancer — many of whom, fueled by their personal struggles, have a desire to help others that leads them to the medical field.
“They’re my heroes,” Satriano said. “They make a difference in this world, and giving back to them is the best thing I can do.”