All day Saturday, while Hurricane Henri whirled threateningly up the East Coast toward Long island, Freeport shrugged off doom and gloom to enjoy the largest police-community event ever staged in the northern sector of Freeport.
The Community Affairs Division of the Freeport Police Department sponsored the event, but the enthusiasm shown by attending police, state troopers, elected officials, the Freeport Chamber of Commerce, multiple community and health organizations, and a daylong stream of interested villagers all spoke to Freeport’s community spirit.
Shortly after 11 a.m., a Nassau County Police Department helicopter thrummed overhead and landed on the green of the baseball and soccer field, where its operators kept it for several hours, giving brief tours of its interior.
Along the main walkway between the baseball field and the tennis courts, a deft balloon artist attracted visitors to a Fidelis Care tent. At one end of the walkway, a medical van brought by Community Care of Molloy College was stationed next to a Fidelis Care van, administering wellness screenings and informing the public of services available for self-care, emotional health, speech/language pathology and music therapy.
Nearer to the mobile stage, deep-purple T-shirts worn by members of Hold On Be Strong drew the attention of passers-by. “We’re an organization for training the police and the community to understand each other through workshops at police stations and community centers,” said Calvin Bryant, executive vice president of community membership. “Eric Crumbley is the leader, a retired NYPD officer who is now looking to help
On the other side of the mobile stage, a volunteer named Mary Ngernnak handed out free books donated by the Freeport Public Schools. Lois Howes and Larry Dresner of the Long Island Council for the Arts at Freeport helped children create a poster made of fingerpaint palm prints, which would later decorate the wall of Freeport police headquarters. Nearer to the basketball courts, Mr. and Mrs. Buck Shai passed out flyers for their organization, the Freeport Disciples, which runs basketball teams for children ages 7 through 16. The Disciples practice at Bishop Frank O. White Park. The Shais also provide mentorship and homework help.
At intervals along the path, Freeport police officers clustered, chatting with passers-by.
Wearing deep-blue polo shirts and khaki slacks, the officers of the Freeport Police Community Affairs Division roved, talking to villagers. This division is just over a year old. Its lead officers are Samantha Sepulveda, Donnetta Comberbatch and Sgt. Bobby Ford. Their mission is to build understanding between police and community.
“The annual Nautical Mile event this year was the first event we organized,” Sepulveda said. “This Field Day is the second.”
As noon drew near, dignitaries gathered on the mobile stage. They cheered when Mayor Robert Kennedy snipped a broad red ribbon with the huge Chamber of Commerce scissors, launching the new Bridging the Gap Field Day as an annual event.
Kennedy then named the many officials present. “Hold your applause to the end,” he said, “because there are a lot of people here.” The long list of names symbolized the deep interest that Freeport holds for the wider Nassau community.
As applause for the officials faded, radio and TV personality Bernardino Rosario stepped forward to emcee. He announced the ball games and other activities throughout the park, and directed the public to the picnic area near Parsons Avenue, where Chamber of Commerce President Ben Jackson stood grilling burgers with other chamber members, and Chick-fil-A employees handed out free sandwiches.
A high point of the day was Rah-Quel Bryant’s “Making a Difference” award (see “Rocky kicks it,” this issue). As Rosario explained it, the 15-year-old girl, whom everyone calls “Rocky,” had provided the spark that developed into the Bridging the Gap event. In a conversation with Community Affairs officers during the Black Lives Matter protests in June 2020, Rocky suggested that the Freeport Police Department organize a unifying barbecue and basketball game.
“She’s now a junior firefighter and a cookie entrepreneur, who looks at the police without fear and with a changed perspective,” Rosario said. “On behalf of our community and the police department, I ask for a big round of applause for this amazing young lady.”
After Rocky received her plaque, officials gave out other community service awards. The event proceeded with games of basketball and kickball, sack races and a lacrosse clinic, culminating at day’s end with a hilarious tug-of-war.