IN THE NEWS|
07/22/13 - Graybeards Ltd. Visits the NYSE
05/02/13 - PIX11 - Graybeards raise over $1.1 million for Sandy victims
01/31/13 - Morning Joe MSNNBC - Volunteer Group Graybeards working to Repair Rockaway
12/12/12 - Daily News - The Fall and Rise of Rockaway
12/04/12 - San Francisco Chronicle - Tranist Museum store raises Rockaway Relief Funds
11/20/2012 - Nightly News with Brian Williams: Post Sandy, Graybeards plot of Rockaway comeback
11/02/2012 - The Tower – The News Site of The Catholic University of America
06/07/2012 – NY Daily News - Support for Rockaway family who lost son
09/11/2011 – The New York Times - Hit Hard by 9/11, a Piece of Queens Struggles to Let Go
09/11/2011 – The New York Times - Wounded Warriors Weekend
09/15/2011 – NY DailyNews - Soldier who lost both legs and left arm in Afghanistan inspires neighbors to hold benefit
09/08/2011 – NY Times - Hit Hard by 9/11, a Piece of Queens Struggles to Let Go
07/02/2011 – The Wall Street Journal - Retiree Finds New Hobby in Helping His Neighbors
12/16/2010 – NY Daily News - Wounded Marine gets New York Christmas wish courtesy of 'Graybeards'
07/16/2009 – Queens Chronicle – Wounded Vets Find Healing in Queens
06/27/2009 – NY Daily News - Iraq and Afghanistan veterans to get wet at Adaptive Water Sports Festival
06/30/2008 – Reuters.com - 4th Annual Adaptive Water Sports Festival Offers Wounded Soldiers Opportunities to...
12/19/2007 – NY DailyNews - Retired FDNY helps wounded G.I.
07/31/2007 – NY DailyNews - Wounded Vets Make a Splash
07/06/2007 – The Wave - Wounded Warriors Return
07/14/2006 – MSNBC – Giving Vets the Homecoming They Never Had
07/06/2006 – NY DailyNews - Hearts & Homes Open for Iraq Vets
07/06/2006 – The Daily Nightly – MSNBC – From Rockaway
08/05/2005 - NY Daily News - Gung-Ho Graybeards Rebuild Homes, Lives
07/08/2001 – NY DailyNews - Good Sportsmanship Water Festival to Give Disabled Vets a Timely Lift
Graybeards’ Silver Lining: Past their prime, they shoot for good causes
By Jerome Sherman, Freelance Writer
May 29, 2003
The Rockaways' Graybeards organization has increasingly focused on community service over the past few years, but the group of middle-aged men still revels in a game of pick-up basketball.
Copyright 2003, Newsday, Inc.
They discovered about a dozen deflated basketballs during a massive cleanup recently in and around the garbage-strewn premises of the Claddagh Inn, a food pantry on Rockaway Beach Boulevard in Far Rockaway, and immediately, some of the guys started thrusting the balls through the air, aiming for the back of a sanitation truck. "We kept missing," Graybeard Chris Boyle said. "That shows you how good we are."
Their basketball skills notwithstanding, the Graybeards have become a respected, community-focused group among the tight-knit neighborhoods of the Rockaways. In 1995, they started a popular summer basketball league for men 40 and older, but after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 devastated the peninsula a year and a half ago, the motley collection of lawyers, accountants, firefighters, stockbrokers and police officers decided that they could use their talents to help heal some of the wounds.
"We figured that there's really nothing we can't do if we put our minds to it," said Graybeards president Steve Stathis. They soon put their minds to a range of activities off the basketball court, organizing more than 60 charitable events, from blood drives to magic shows for children.
The Claddagh Inn cleanup has been the Graybeards' most ambitious project to date. The food pantry long has been a lifeline for many Rockaways locals, and its weekly handout of hot meals and canned goods draws anywhere from 50 to 100 people.
Many Rockaways residents also have come to view the Claddagh as a place where they can donate old clothing, foodstuffs and the like. But some cross a line in their giving, according to Tony Job, director of the Claddagh. "They see us as an invitation to come dump," he said.
Indeed, the Claddagh's parking lot has become a dumping ground for almost everything imaginable - barbecue grills, tires, couches, broken televisions and the occasional bowling ball. Some of the items find new homes, but many of them were relegated to a monumental trash heap in the garden area adjacent to the small, one-story building.
So Job, 50, was thrilled when the Graybeards contacted him a few months ago about organizing their second annual "Spring Spruce-Up," following a successful cleanup event last spring at a rundown house in Rockaway Park. Stathis, 53, went down to examine the Claddagh with a few other Graybeards. After seeing the mammoth pile of discards, they were a little taken aback, he admitted. But the cleanup went ahead on May 17, and it was a huge success. From 7 a.m. until the late afternoon, many of the Graybeards' more than 75 members filled eight garbage trucks and two large dumpsters. They also painted the Claddagh's interior, weeded the garden, and planted a bed of colorful flowers below a banner carrying the Graybeards' motto, "Old Maybe, But Not Extinct."
And they were happy to do it. "If it's for a good cause, the guys don't mind giving up a Saturday to come out," said Belle Harbor resident Kevin Judge, a lieutenant with Engine 229 in Red Hook, which lost nine firefighters on Sept. 11, 2001. "Our longtime volunteers couldn't believe that it was the same place," Job said. "One volunteer nearly fell over when she saw what the Graybeards had done. We are so grateful to them."
He noted that the city is mulling over the fate of the Claddagh, as the Arverne-by-the-Sea housing development goes up across from the food pantry. "We're trying to put our best face forward," he said. Meanwhile, the Graybeards continue to push their community activism to new levels. They recently secured a $60,000 grant from the Robin Hood Foundation for their role in delivering post-Sept. 11 aid. In a few weeks, they will hold a grand opening for their new office on Beach 129th Street.
But it is doubtful that the Graybeards will lose interest in basketball, even if events like the Claddagh cleanup take a toll on their playing skills.
The morning after the clean-up, Stathis and fellow Graybeard Kevin Boyle went down to a local basketball court. "I was so sore from all the lifting the day before," Stathis said, "of the first 11 shots I took, six hit the rim. The rest were air balls."
The Graybeards Helping Their Neighbors In Rockaway
A Rockaway Beach garden and soup kitchen got a major facelift recently, and this week’s New Yorkers of the Week say it's all in a day's work for their community. It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it. And for one tight-knit community in the Rockaways, it's the Graybeards to the rescue. “Our goal is to help our neighbors in their time of need and do anything for the community,” says Steven Stathis.
Stathis, a senior safety specialist for Con Edison by day, is the driving force behind The Graybeards by night and on weekends. He started the group informally in his dining room after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, but he and his "over 40" friends have always believed in helping a neighbor.
“We used to always do little things like cook a meal or pick up a child,” says Stathis. “Then, after 9/11, we were hit pretty bad, and then on top of that [we had] the plane crash, and it just kind of justified what we wanted to do. It was a way for us to give back to a community that has given a lot to us.”
“It's a group of people that know what community is all about, and what friendship is all about,” says Graybeard Kevin Boyle.
The Graybeards have hosted dozens of events, including magic shows for kids and basketball games, but one larger-than-life project is what the Graybeards call a "spring spruce-up." Last year, they fixed up a neighbors home. This year, they tackled a major renovation for the Claddagh Inn, a local soup kitchen.
“Our goal is to get the whole garden up and running, because they have children, handicapped people and special needs kids, that come down and plant in the summer, and we'd like for them to have a much nicer place to them to be able to do that,” says Stathis.
Kids from the neighborhood plant vegetables and flowers. The Claddagh Inn also distributes clothing, toys and furniture. After a while, director Tony Job couldn't keep up with all the donations. “Luckily, this group, the Graybeards, who are volunteers from the community, have decided to come and help us,” Job says. “This is a tremendous effort, and we are so grateful.”
The troops get down to business, where the name of the game is painting, plastering, raking, replanting, and lots and lots of throwing away. “They came with their tools, they came prepared, and they have everything from A to Z,” says Job. “The specialists, they're painting inside. They're not only working outside, they're working inside as well.”
It took nine hours, 60 volunteers, a bulldozer, and a dump truck, but finally the project was finished. And you won’t believe the results. “It's really an amazing, amazing transformation,” says Job. “This is nothing short of a miracle. It's a major blessing.” So, for their miracle makeover, Steven Stathis and the Graybeards are our New Yorkers of the Week.
Rockaway’s grit reveals: It is a wonderful life (originally published 12/21/2002)
It's almost as if George Bailey himself came walking through the night air, up the block from the sandy beach and the dark ocean waters, strolling along 130th St., right past St. Francis de Sales Church, through the door of the Harbor Light restaurant just in time to see the whole neighborhood standing around, feasting on a good-size portion of yesterday. Sure, Frank Capra made the movie "It's a Wonderful Life" with Jimmy Stewart as Bailey a long time ago, but the lessons so compelling in that film still thrive in a real place called Rockaway.
Here, there is a story on every block, inside just about every house, too. There's even a narrator now, an updated voice to take you by the hand as you stroll through the sadness of Sept. 11 along with the startling crash of Flight 587 two months later.
Kevin Boyle is the narrator. He is a 43-year-old Brooklyn guy who got lucky enough to marry a Rockaway girl and make it across the Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge to a house in Rockaway. He used to own a bar, the Brooklyn Dodger, in Bay Ridge.
The actual Dodgers, the fugitives with the baseball team out in Los Angeles, once sued Boyle over the use of the name on a tavern window. So he hired a lawyer and ended up beating the Dodgers in court just as badly as the Yankees used to pummel them when the whole country would come to a dead stop for the World Series.
After tossing that legal shutout, Boyle became editor of Rockaway's newspaper, The Wave. On 9/11, he stood on the sand staring across the harbor at an act of war that consumed so many Rockaway boys who were part of a noble family tradition - 496 from Rockaway were on active duty for the Fire Department that morning - or who were up in the towers, moving money instead of driving a ladder truck.
The drama of the day, the drumbeat of so many funerals, the unyielding determination of all around him to keep close the memory of those who were lost prompted him to try and write a book.
"I honestly thought there'd be some top writers coming around to do this story," Boyle said the other day. "But it never happened."
The book is "Braving the Waves ... Rockaway Rises and Rises Again." Reading it is like shaking hands with the people who form the heart, soul and spine of the kind of place you've always wanted to call home.
In a sense, the Harbor Light restaurant is the stage where the drama is played out. It's owned and operated by Bernie Heeran. He is a 54-year-old retired city firefighter, the father of five, three boys, two girls. None of the boys went on the job. Heeran wanted more for them and sure didn't want them around all the danger. His twins, Charlie and Billy, like hundreds of other young guys, a huge number of them Irish, ended up with good jobs in brokerage houses.
Charlie was an equities trader for Cantor Fitzgerald, working on the 104th floor in an office with a startling view of a spectacular future. Billy worked in Battery Park. On 9/11, they were 23 years old. Charlie died. Billy lived.
The father grieves, yet goes on; same with the community around them. They endured the day as well as the calamity and horrible irony of the plane crash. "The plane crash that never happened," Boyle points out. "It was the second-deadliest airline disaster in United States history, but almost as quickly as it happened, the war in Afghanistan pushed it off the front page and out of people's minds. Except here."
Now, all these months later, with another Christmas just days away, comes a Rockaway version of Capra's George Bailey: a good-looking young guy, dark hair, big, broad Irish face, infectious smile, a little shy but eager to get on with his own wonderful life. He's working at the Harbor Light, right alongside his dad. His name is Billy Heeran, and he has just quit his job on Wall Street, the one with the big future, bonuses, stock options and a Manhattan office where he could look out the window and see Rockaway Beach glittering in the sun. None of that for Billy. Not now. Not with his twin brother's memory tugging at him and his father's old job hanging there in the shadows, like a ghost wearing a turnout coat from Engine 281.
Next month, when the city finally gets around to assembling a new class for fresh fire-fighters, Billy Heeran wants to be right there. He is taking the exam, hoping to go on the job and join a life and a profession dedicated to saving people.
Part of his story is within the pages of Boyle's fine book. Most of it, though, is on display each and every day in Rockaway, where the people are so proud of all the Billy Heerans they know as friends and neighbors.
Graybeards No Over-the-Hill Gang
August 11, 2002
When Msgr. Martin Geraghty first heard about the Graybeards of Rockaway Park, he asked Steve Stathis, who is president of the nonprofit outfit, "Aren't you the guys who drink beer and play basketball?" Stathis, 52, who grew up in the tightly knit Rockaways community, replied, "Well, not necessarily in that order, even though it may look like that." That was shortly after the twin disasters of 9/11 and 11/12, and now Geraghty, who is pastor of St. Martin de Sales in Belle Harbor, has become one of the group's biggest fans.
The Graybeards began several years ago, says Kevin Boyle, who has completed a book, "Braving the Waves - Rockaway Rises and Rises Again," which will be published later this year. Boyle describes the group as a "bunch of over-the-hill guys who got together and formed a basketball league for men over 40 years old."
But it was after 9/11 and the American Airlines Flight 587 plane crash in November that the Graybeards decided they had to do more than have fun and play games. They formed a nonprofit community group, with Steve Stathis as president and Boyle as one of its directors, and what they have done in the past year is sprinkle stardust over a devastated community.
Some of that stardust landed on Arlene and John Otton's "big old house" as Arlene describes it. It was Geraghty who recommended the couple to the Graybeards, who were looking for a one-day home fix-up project for a deserving family. About 60 Graybeards and their family members descended on the four-story, six-bedroom house on a Saturday in May and painted, put in new plumbing and electricity, installed ceiling fans, two vanities and new windows, storm doors and even a new mailbox. Each member contributed $25 for materials. Geraghty walked over and dropped off a $250 check. "I cried when I walked in that evening and saw what they had done," says Arlene Otton, whose husband, John, has been sick. "I wrote a letter to them and told them that I had never had a gift like it in my entire life."
The Ottons have lived in the home for almost 40 years and knew many of the men, women and children who came to spruce up their home. "They were so gracious making me believe I was doing them a favor to let them do all this work," she said. "Our home is like heaven now," she says, "and the idea that there are people like that living next door to me is inspiring."
Geraghty, who has been with the church for 14 years, and is an honorary Graybeard - he's a big supporter, along with Bernie Heeran, owner of the Harbor Light restaurant - and marched with the Graybeards in the Rockaway St. Patrick's Day Parade in March. "Their real strength," Geraghty said, "is that they are a grass roots group. These two terrible events here made them think about doing bigger things."
His church buried the six firefighters and six civilians from the community who died at Ground Zero. Geraghty also presided over the funerals of the five residents who died at the crash site in November.
"We still do counseling and hold community events, and the Graybeards will be involved in a blood donation event a few weeks from now," Boyle said.
One of the first people to join after 9/11 was Jimmy Bullock, and when his gas station was nearly destroyed in November by a fallen engine from the plane, the Graybeards were there to help him get back on his feet. Boyle, 43, former editor of the weekly "The Wave," and who now writes a column for the paper, says, "We're not trying to save the world, but we feel good when we do things like the Otton home and so we feel it's OK to give us a few pats on the back."
In the past several months, the Graybeards - whose motto is "Old Maybe, But Not Extinct" - have donated more than $10,000 in scholarship money for local high school students, hired a magician (a retired police officer) to entertain at a half-dozen events, staffed various basketball leagues and tournaments, circulated resumes and helped get jobs for some college students from the area.
They have grown in size as well. From an original group of 40, they now have a membership of about 90, all paying $250 yearly in dues. And they include a diverse section of the community, from lawyers and doctors to cops and firefighters, many of whom have grown up on the peninsula. Geraghty adds that "there is still pain here, but the summer and the ocean and the beaches here had a soothing effect on many people." And the resurgent Graybeards, once known as a "bunch of arthritic Peter Pans" as Boyle puts it, also have helped calm a distressed community. As Boyle puts it "something nice has happened in Rockaway."
Copyright 2002, Newsday, Inc.
Recently published in The Wave
Letter to the Editor: A Grateful Rockawayite
Arlene Otton & Family
Dear Editor; I am writing this letter so that all Rockaway residents may know how fortunate we are to have a community service group called Graybeards right here in our own neighborhoods. Two years ago my husband was diagnosed with a large tumor on his brain. He underwent immediate major brain surgery and wound up having to spend three and one half months in the hospital. Over the two years that followed, there were many repairs in our home that went undone. Due to the extensive aftercare that John needed subsequent to his surgery, and the financial devastation that went along with that situation, we were unable to maintain upkeep in our house and yard. This past May our own neighborhood group of men known as the Graybeards stepped in and offered to do a one day, all inclusive "Spruce up" at our house (some painting, some plumbing, some electrical work, some gardening, some everything). What an awesome job they did! It was truly a blessing for my family. Rockaway should be very proud of these "home grown heroes." They are a top-shelf group of men (and women). They are a real tribute to their families and to our community. I will never forget them or their kindness.