The North Fork Spanish Apostolate just got a big payday

05/19/2015 8:00 AM |
(L-R) United Healthcare’s Juliette Serrano and Robert McBrien; Pat Celli, United Healthcare Community Plan of New York president; Riverhead Councilman James Wooten; Sister Margaret Smyth; Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter and Riverhead Councilman John Dunleavy. (Credit: courtesy)

(L-R) United Healthcare’s Juliette Serrano and Robert McBrien; Pat Celli, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of New York president; Riverhead Councilman James Wooten; Sister Margaret Smyth, North Fork Spanish Apostolate executive director; Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter; and Riverhead Councilman John Dunleavy. (Credit: courtesy)

Sister Margaret Smyth had no idea thousands of dollars of private grant money was up for grabs.

She only found out when she got a call a couple of weeks ago announcing that the sister’s organization, the North Fork Spanish Apostolate, had just won $25,000.

“You didn’t have to apply for it; they just called me up and told me we got it,” Sister Margaret said. “I was like, ‘Wow!’ ”

The United Healthcare Community Grant will be used to expand health care offerings from the Apostolate — which serves Hispanic and poor communities from Riverhead to Greenport.

The money will also be used to send children to summer camps, as well as pilot a Spanish literacy program for undereducated immigrants, Sister Margaret said. The funding matches nearly a quarter of the organization’s usual budget.

“[United Healthcare] appreciate all that goes on, so they selected us to get this,” she said. “It’s a huge amount.”

Sister Margaret’s organization was one of four chosen in New York State, said United Healthcare spokesperson Maria Gordon Shydlo.

“When I was doing research I couldn’t believe how much work she does in the community,” Ms. Shydlo said. “She’s just like a rock star.”

The North Fork Spanish Apostolate was the only local organization to be awarded a grant.

The funds set aside for health care programs will help cover co-pays for needy residents, as well as prescription medication that may otherwise be too expensive, she said. The Apostolate’s program is open to all, she added.

“Not just the Spanish community, but the [whole] community,” Sister Margaret said.

The Apostolate also sends needy children to summer camps like the 4-H camp in Baiting Hollow or to sleepaway camps. Last year, about 50 kids were given the opportunity.

“We’re looking for kids who can really use a week [at camp],” Sister Margaret said. “[We] try to expose them to more than just being home in the house all the time. And the kids love it.”

The Spanish literacy program, which would yield a certification that can help those seeking employment, will be organized through the Mexican consulate and offered in Riverhead.

“We have many people who don’t read and write their language,” she said. “They never had the opportunity to really go to school.”

Though many immigrants on the North Fork are not Mexican — most are Guatemalan or Salvadoran — a certification from the program will be recognized in countries outside of Mexico.

The Spanish Apostolate’s new grant comes after the organization moved last year to new offices at St. John the Evangelist’s Church. More than 60 volunteers help with the program, Sister Margaret said.

“I can always use more,” she said. “We continue to grow and grow and grow.”

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