'He was the single most selfless individual'

Oceanside community mourns Alex Levy, 28

OHS alum brought joy to children battling cancer

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Whether it was in the classrooms where he taught first-graders or his time at Sunrise Association Day Camp as a counselor for campers battling cancer, Alex Levy went to great lengths to bring happiness to children.

“Alex was always willing to make a fool of himself to put a smile on the kids’ faces,” recalled Brielle Brook, a camp supervisor at Sunrise, which is in Wheatley Heights. “He would go on stage in a tutu and coconut bra and put himself out there in front of the entire camp. He made those campers feel comfortable in their own skin by showing them you can be silly and still be OK.”

Levy, who worked as a summer supervisor at the camp and also taught first grade at P.S. 305 Learners and Leaders in Queens, died on Oct. 19 after a tragic accident while on a limousine bus in Baiting Hollow. The 28-year-old left behind a lasting legacy through the lives he touched at the camp and in the classroom.

Alex was born on Aug. 28, 1991, to Vivian and Jerald Levy. He had an older sister, Lauren, 32, and a younger sister, Jessica, 23, who also worked at Sunrise. He attended Oceanside School No. 4 and Oceanside Middle School, and graduated from Oceanside High School in 2009. He earned a bachelor’s degree from SUNY Oneonta and a master’s in teaching from Queens College.

After his father died of cancer in 2007, Levy was inspired to join Sunrise to help children with illnesses. He became friends with many employees and campers alike. “One of the amazing things about Alex is that he came to Sunrise and never made it about him,” Brook said. “It was always about the kids. He didn’t make a big deal about what happened in his personal life. … He was the single most selfless individual I have ever known.”

Brook added that Levy didn’t believe in bad children and would take time to sit with campers who needed help. She described him as a voice of reason at the camp and a mentor for her. When she started at Sunrise three years ago, Brook said, she was unsure what her job entailed, and he offered a calm, measured presence while helping her adapt to the environment.

Dan Silver, the assistant camp director, echoed Brook’s sentiments, noting that Levy had a knack for getting through to middle school-age children. “He was so patient with them, and he kept it so lighthearted,” Silver said. “They all looked at him like a big brother, or for some of them, a father figure. He was someone they could laugh with, and someone they could go to with their problems.”

Jarred Harwitt said he had known Levy since kindergarten, but their friendship didn’t blossom until they were in middle school. They were both big sports fans, Harwitt said, often went to Jets games together and played fantasy sports. He described Levy as a selfless and compassionate person who would be there whenever a friend was in need.

“That smile was always on his face, regardless of the situation,” Harwitt said. “He always had that positive vibe to him. He was always trying to help others, and lit up every room.”

Harwitt and Silver eulogized Levy at his memorial service at Gutterman’s Funeral Home in Rockville Centre on Oct. 23. They touched on how much helping children meant to him, and Harwitt saidthat their close-knit group of eight high school friends — known as “the crew” — would never forget what Levy meant to them. Hundreds of people attended the service, which Harwitt and Silver said made clear how many lives Levy touched.

Harwitt said that Sunrise had a special place in Levy’s heart, and even when he began teaching at Learners and Leaders in 2017, he kept his summers open so he could continue to work with children with cancer. At Learners and Leaders he taught both special-education and general-education students, and Principal Lynn Botfeld said she was most impressed by Levy’s devotion to his students and the impression that he made on everyone.

“The kids loved him, the staff loved him, and the families loved him,” Botfeld said. “He had a wonderful demeanor with children. It’s not so often that you come across someone who’s really good at instructing and really understands kids.”

Botfeld said she was impressed by how Levy worked with children academically, socially and emotionally, and noted that his understanding of his students helped them excel in many ways. She added that instead of relying on teacher-directed education, his students talked with, and learned from, one another in class. Levy also served on the school leadership team, which comprised parents and school staff members. Botfeld said it was an honor to know him, and that she was amazed by the deep friendships he developed in a short time at the school.

Harwitt said that even though his friend was gone, his impact would not be forgotten. “He was more than a friend to us — he was a brother,” he said. “He will always be part of our crew, and we will continue to live in his honor, just the way he wanted.”

The Levy family asked that donations be made to Sunrise Day Camp, 15 Neil Court, Oceanside, N.Y. 11572, to the attention of Beth Fetner. To donate online, go to bit.ly/31MGZFe.