The St. Francis de Sales, Belle Harbor, community gathered Sept. 20 for a barbecue in the parish’s newly renovated schoolyard, thanking the sponsors who contributed to the restoration project.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the schoolyard served as a recovery center for the Rockaways, providing food and supplies to up to 10,000 people each day.
The center served as a beacon and a lifeline for the community and operated out of a huge tent in the middle of the schoolyard. The surrounding fences were cut to accommodate some of the heavy machinery, and the tent left holes in the outdoor basketball courts.
Earlier this summer, a committee comprised of lifelong St. Francis de Sales parishioners devised a game plan to restore the schoolyard, which has served as the home of the annual St. Francis de Sales Summer Basketball Classic for the past 29 years.
“Tonight is another milestone marking the progress we have made,” said Keith “Bugsy” Goldberg, Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) sports coordinator and the commissioner of the summer classic.
Jim McCool, head of security for NBC and parishioner at St. Francis de Sales, had raised money for the Rockaways after the storm and got the ball rolling by donating funds to the restoration project.
From there, the project received sizable donations from several foundations. The Relief for Rockaway fundraiser sponsored by Tal and Michael Sheinman of ReSette Restaurant in Manhattan contributed $40,000. The Friends of Sean Lugano Foundation donated $50,000. Sean passed away in the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Shermane Bilal and Julie S. Robbins of the Rockefeller Foundation also sent a $20,000 grant.
Each of these three major sponsors received a plaque with the words that will eventually adorn a sign that will hang on the new fence at the schoolyard.
“When Hurricane Sandy hit, our family said that we had to do something to help the Rockaway community,” said Michael Sheinman.
“He (Sean) loved it here,” said Eileen Lugano. “He loved the beach, and he would have absolutely loved this project.”
St. Francis parishioner Terence Mullin was also instrumental in the project. He was vital in bringing aboard the athletic company AND1, which donated $5,000 as seed money to the project and also provided basketball uniforms to this summer’s tournament participants. The company will also replace the St. Francis CYO uniforms washed away in the storm.
In addition to the major sponsors, Goldberg presented plaques to the 75 sponsors of the various summer classic teams. He also gave out three special awards: a Founder’s Award to Flip Mullen, who founded the St. Francis de Sales Summer Basketball Classic, and Lifetime Achievement Awards to Steve Stathis and Kenny Whalen, who have both been heavily involved in the smooth operation of the tournament over the years.
On Aug. 30, over 1,000 people packed into the St. Francis schoolyard for the last night of the summer classic. That further proves the Rockaways have come back even stronger than before.