• Smithtown Messenger: Smithtown’s “Angela’s House”

    Almost three years after the first “Angela’s House” was built in East Moriches for medically frail, technology dependent children, a second house was purchased in Smithtown, which will be rebuilt to accomodate seven children and keep them close to home.

    State Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg (D-Long Beach) and Robert Policastro of Smithtown, father of the home’s namesake, broke the ground with theit ceremonial shovels on June 6.

    The groundbreaking ceremony was held at the new location for “Angela’s House” on Brooksite Drive in Smithtown, which was sponsored by the Independent Group Home Living Program (IGHL).

    The house located on the property is in the process of being torn down. A new house will be constructed on the site modeled after the first “Angela’s House,” and construction will start around early August. The new house will include five bedrooms for up to house seven children, a recreational play area, special bathroom facilities, and a nursing station with vital medical equipment.

    IGHL’s Chief Executive Officer Walter Stockton said, “The house will be professionally landscaped and take on the characteristics of most any other new home in this neighborhood.”

    Stockton estimates there is a waiting list of about forty children between the ages of four-nine on Long Island who would benefit from an improved quality of life at this home.

    “The family who used to own the Smithtown house for 50 years were happy the property went to a great use,” said Weisenberg. “A number of people applied to get into “Angela’s House,” but we took the ones in critical need.”

    The first “Angela’s House” was named after Angela Policastro who died when she was fourteen months old. Her parents, Robert and Angela, began a campaign after her death to develop a home on Long Island for severely disabled children. The Policastros hoped to spare other families from their ordeal of searching out of state for a place that would take care of their child.

    Weisenberg took the Policastros cause to Albany to get $500,000, which was needed to buy land in Suffolk and build Angela’s House. Weisenberg not only succeeded in getting the State Legislature to approve the funding for the home, which was built on June 30, 2000 but was just as successful in obtaining State Budget approval of $500,000 for the second “Angela’s House.” “I begged and I screamed, so to shut me up, they gave us the money,” Weisenberg said. “We’re still exporting our handicapped children out of state, and it’s outrageous. We need to bring our children home. These children have the same basic needs that every other child has – to be loved, acknowledged, and respected.”

    “When it comes to these children, I have no problem letting people know that either these kids or other kids like them at home need help,” Robert Policastro said.

    The Policastros chose IGHL, a non-profit agency for the developmentally disabled community in the Northeast who recently celebrated its 25th anniversary to open and run “Angela’s House.”

    “Shame on New York for exporting children with handicapped needs,” said Weisenberg. “Those that cut money from mental health don’t know what they are doing. I made Governor Pataki aware of the situation, and I got the money to create another ‘Angela’s House.’ It took almost eight years to get these two houses.”

    “My son, Thomas, is already in “Angela’s House” in East Moriches,” said Kelly McGrath. “He will move into the Smithtown house and be ten minutes away from home.”

    “It is the state’s obligation to provide this type of facility,” Weisenberg said. “It is devastating to families to have their kids move away.”

    Ellen Weisenberg said, “It is important to have these kids close to home.”

    Weisenberg and his wife, Ellen take care of their son, Rick who recently turned 45 who suffers from mental or physical disabilities. “You don’t have that experience of taken care of somebody such as your son, and you’re missing out,” said Weisenberg.

    Anne Bingham, a parent of a child with special needs, said, “Parents don’t want an institution, and this type of home is long overdue.”

    Smithtown’s own state representatives were also on hand for the groundbreaking ceremony and to offer their support.

    Senator John Flanagan (R-Northport) said, “Any parent or family with a child with special needs is something the government needs to focus on,”

    “It is important to have a facility like this close to the family. Some state support “Angela’s House” for children, and the rest of the funding comes from fundraisers,” added Assemblyman Michael Fitzpatrick (R-Smithtown).

    By Melissa R. Mendelson
    Smithtown Messenger (June 12, 2003)