Kevin Harney, the Center Moriches resident and driving founder with Alan Nahmias, of Contractors for Kids, was present in spirit in Bohemia on Tuesday.
As supporters flowed in, warmly greeting each other, stories emerged about his compassion, dedication and kindness in establishing the nonprofit which aids families financially while they care for a sick or injured child. Harney died on May 20 from multiple system atrophy at age 58, but he had a hand in the planning of the first Kevin Harney Courage Award, held on the grounds of the Patriot Organization on Floyd’s Run.
Two words describe the event: Touching. Inspirational.
Valerie Jackson, from Amityville, was the inaugural award recipient. She attended with her adopted son Brian, a foster child who came to her in 2010. Brian, 12, suffered a traumatic brain injury as a child that caused permanent damage, affecting his vision and overall development. He also had cancer in his right kidney, but has since recovered.
“They did a little bit of everything,” said Jackson. “They paid $4,000 for a high chair for Brian, they did Christmas for him when he was 4, paid some bills. I met Kevin when Brian was 5. He told me, ‘You and Brian are in my heart.’” Jackson’s extended family came, too.
“These are all the people who supported me, church people and Brian’s social worker,” she said, gesturing to the phalanx of supporters.
Brian, wearing a snappy hat and outfit, sat in his wheelchair. He can’t walk or sit up on his own. He receives all his nutrition through a gastronomy tube.
His mom shared this touching life lesson we could all use.
“He woke up one morning and said, ‘God is good,’” Jackson said.
Harney and Nahmias, principals of Stalco Construction in Islandia, founded Contractors for Kids in 2005. In a Contractors for Kids video, Harney spoke about the organization’s impetus. He and Nahmias were selected as contractors for the U.S. Open in the summer of 2005, a major breakthrough for the then-struggling construction company. Harney heard about a little boy with seizures whose family would have to refinance their home to pay for his surgery. Harney was urged to step up. Nahmias agreed, and they paid for the operation, which had an $88,000 price tag. That was the start.
“To this day, the child is alive,” said Steve DeLuca, Contractors for Kids board president.
“We had our first gala in March 2006 at the Long Island Aquarium,” he continued. “We didn’t know who would come. We wound up with 600 people.”
DeLuca said most families they aid in Nassau and Suffolk are referred to them by social workers at Stony Brook University and Winthrop hospitals or by word of mouth.
Harney got everyone close to him to help start the organization, including DeLuca, a banker at People’s United Bank.
“Since them, we’ve helped over 600 families and gifted over $3 million,” added Jonathan Singer, a board member and president of The Patriot Organization Inc. and Patriot Real Estate.
“Kevin always wanted to be broke,” Singer said of Harney’s penchant for helping as many people as he could.
Singer, 38, was in fact mentored by Harney. “I started working for Kevin out of high school,” Singer said. “He was a wonderful boss and stood by me in tough times. He taught me the construction business and was very much like a father.”
When he founded his company in 2012, “the following few years I was ill-equipped, but I would go to Kevin for advice. One time, he came out of a critical meeting in a conference room to help me with a steel problem.”
Singer now has 55 people working for him. The building he owns is 10,000 square feet, half of which he rents out.
Debbie O’Rourke, who was on the event committee and takes care of the cases, works as business administrator for The Eventide Group. “He’s not telling you he’s a major contributor,” O’Rourke interjected about Singer.
Patricia Snedecor, another board member, who hails from Patchogue with her husband, Rick, works for Custom Construction in Bay Shore and has been a firsthand recipient. Her then 16-year-old and first grandson was struck by a hit-and-run driver in 2016 and was helped by Contractors for Kids. “Austin was in the hospital for six months, couldn’t walk or talk,” she said. “They gave him a handicap van to take him back and forth.”
Another Kevin comment emerged.
“He said, ‘I love Pat to death, but wish I’d never met her.’ That’s what got me through Austin’s 15 surgeries.”
Patricia Snedecor was the recipient of a Courage Award with Mary Byrnes; they both received engraved watches. “They both joined Contractors for Kids to help after going through what they did. Mary, who’s also a board member, lost her son to cancer and with Pat, her grandson has traumatic brain injury,” explained DeLuca. “They decided to pay it forward. We wanted to honor those who went above and beyond.”
Maureen and Abigail Harney accepted the Courage Award that would have gone to Kevin.
Their galas and events have attracted officials like former county executive Steve Levy, former football player Marty Lyons, and at Tuesday’s event, congressman Andrew Garbarino and Suffolk County Legis. Anthony Piccirillo. (Piccirillo went to high school with Singer.)
Another board member, Eric Seigneuray, looked over the enthusiastic throng of 100 people who came out on a sunny afternoon, greeting friends, then aiming for the buffet table.
“This is our family,” he said, nodding his head. “It really is.” For more information, visit www.contractorsforkids.org.