It takes a village (with Grace)


Ten volunteers from Berdon Accounting were completing the new ramp at Grace A.M.E. Zion Church in Patchogue on Thursday. “It’s a day of service for them,” said Rebuilding Together Long Island vice president Steve Walker, whose nonprofit provides free home repairs for seniors, frail people with disabilities, and veterans and their families. Also ramps.  “We had six here on Tuesday; the majority who volunteered are women.”

National Building & Roofing founder Mike Capozzi was there, too, with his crew. His daughter Debbie, who now runs the company, was in Hawaii, he said. The company sponsored the wood—not just any old wood, but sturdy, good-quality wood that would last.

“She’s been great,” said Patchogue Village trustee Tom Ferb, who was tasked with getting the ramp materialized.

Jason Pontieri provided the steady hands needed for the engineering plans, pro bono.

Pastor Jesse Fields, with Mary Durham, Thelma Smith and Pamela Gwathney, observed the finished project. The only detail left was securing a railing that bordered the front of the ramp to the five steps on the side. And a plaque.

The saga of the ramp for Grace Church—the small but spiritually mighty place of worship on the corner of Grant Road—has aced another chapter. Now 102 years old and the birthplace of the Brookhaven NAACP, it has been hanging in there after Gwathney and Fields approached mayor Paul Pontieri for help. There were six narrow steps up to their church, a challenge for its aging members. With a ramp, more worshipers would come. They needed funds and support.

“They showed up at my office they and came in asking for help, not demanding it,” said Pontieri of the 2019 request. “They made you feel good wanting to help them. I slid their request down the table to Tom [Ferb].”

Ferb arranged a GoFundMe account via the Greater Patchogue Chamber of Commerce’s Foundation and got in touch with supporters and volunteers.

Funds raised tallied in at $6,700.

“Tom Ferb did a magnificent job of putting that together—the funds, the people. Tom gets the big thank you.”

Jason Pontieri provided the engineering plans pro bono. One of the holdups was getting a mason to construct the new foundation for the ramp and the steps, he said. And for a reasonable price. “The masonry was finished in April,” said Jason Pontieri.

Pastor Fields led a group downstairs. The church had been walloped last September with a flood. The floor had to be leveled with new flooring purchased; newly painted walls had been accomplished. Appliances for their kitchen were coming next week.

“When they say we can open, we’ll have a dedication for the ramp and our new basement,” Fields said, hoping for the end of August.


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