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Churches Honor Volunteers

It’s an annual event that cuts across the Oyster Bay-East Norwich community and it was held on May 12. Every year the Interreligious & Human Needs Council of the North Shore celebrates the work of individuals who go above and beyond in working for their respective churches. The decision of whom will receive the awards is made by the member churches. The award dinner was again held in the St. Dominic Social Room, the only place large enough in the community to host the event. Members of each church attend, bringing potluck dishes for all to share.

The Reverend Jeffrey Prey of the First Presbyterian Church of Oyster Bay, as the President of the IRHNC, was the host for the evening. He said, “It was well attended, and showed a good spirit of community.”

The IRHNC’s titular co-president is Rick Robinson. The IRHNC has a member of the clergy and a layperson as co-leaders of the group.

The honorees this year were: Ashley Zavala of the Cultural Centro Hispano (youth award); Adolfo Zepeda of the Cultural Centro Hispano; Viola Carter of the Hood A.M.E. Zion Church; Carolyn Wilson of the Community United Methodist Church of East Norwich;

Deborah Hudak of the First Presbyterian Church; Marguerite Casparian of Christ Church; Tamika and Rodney Hill of Mount Olive Baptist Church; Eve Bernstein of the Oyster Bay Jewish Center; Ann Wulff of St. Dominic R.C. Church; Shari Dembowski of Christ Church for her work at Christ Church and her volunteerism in the community, as she is the Oyster Bay-East Norwich Chamber of Commerce administrative assistant; Karina Kalpaxis (youth award) and James Westbrook from the North Shore Community Church.

Clergy members attending included Senior Warden Ton Heijmen of Christ Church; Rabbi Marvin Demant of the Oyster Bay Jewish Center; Rev. Jeffrey Prey of First Presbyterian Church; Rev. Nelson Kalombo Ngoy of the Community United Methodist Church of East Norwich; Pastor John Yechenko of the North Shore Community Church; Rev. Kent Edmondton of Mount Olive Baptist Church; the Rev. Linda Vanager of the Hood A.M.E. Zion Church and Dawn Leat, St. Dominic director of Pastoral Ministry and Outreach. The Casparians, both the Rev. Peter and honoree Marguerite were out of town for the event.

A Long History

In 1982, a group of local houses of worship and community agencies got together to see how they could better coordinate their good works in our town. Out of this meeting came the Inter-religious and Human Needs Council, which celebrated its 25th Anniversary at the Annual Awards Dinner on Monday, May 7, 2007.

“So we are now up to our 32nd anniversary,” said Prey.

The charter members of the council were the First Presbyterian Church, the Oyster Bay Jewish Center, Christ Church, St. Dominic’s Church, Hood A.M.E. Zion Church, Mt. Olive Baptist Church, the Unitarian Fellowship of Muttontown, the Community United Methodist Church (formerly St. Paul’s and Wesley United Methodist Churches), the Visiting Nurse Association, and Youth and Family Counseling Agency. Current members include the North Shore Community Church, the Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is, and Doubleday Babcock senior Center, now the Life Enrichment Center of Oyster Bay.

The purpose of the organization was three-fold: to facilitate communication between member organizations that would lead to unified actions; to be an instrument of collective advocacy; and to provide opportunities for unifying activities. “Over the past 25 years plus, all this has been done - and much more,” said Prey.

He said of the group, “One of the truly wonderful things about Oyster Bay has always been the way the different religious groups get along. There is a tremendous sense of cooperation here, and I believe this council has done a lot to achieve that. And that cooperation has only been a good thing for the community.”

Two of the more significant outreach events the council is involved with are the annual food drive and the annual toy drive, held in November and December each year. The Community Thanksgiving Service gets it all started as different houses of worship host this event each year.

“It just makes sense for this cooperative sort of effort to take place here,” said Rev. Prey. “We’re all a part of the community, and we all want to work to see this be a better place for all its members.”

The award winners were presented with what was originally known as the Netta Drummond Good Neighbor Award, that was changed more than a dozen years ago to honor Rene Harer, the wife of Dr. Harer, who served the community as a nurse and as a volunteer long after most people retire. It is now called the Rene Harer Community Service Award. For more information, please contact Rev. Jeff Prey at 922-5477.