Featured Story
06/26/18 5:01am
06/26/2018 5:01 AM

A community rally to denounce the separation of migrant families at the U.S. border and advocate for their reunification will take place Saturday, June 30, at Mitchell Park in Greenport.

The North Fork Spanish Apostolate is sponsoring the #FamiliesBelongTogether gathering, which will run from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.  READ

Featured Story
03/02/18 6:00am
03/02/2018 6:00 AM

A quickly growing rapid response network on Long Island aims to connect locals with immigrants living daily with the fear that they maybe deported.

The systems are organized by Long Island Jobs With Justice, a coalition that supports immigrants’ rights.  READ

10/20/14 11:44am
Bethzy Lopez in 2012.  (Credit: Fe Fuerza Vida, Spanish language newspaper of the Diocese of Rockville Centre)

Bethzy Lopez in 2012. (Credit: Courtesy of Fe Fuerza Vida, Spanish language newspaper of the Diocese of Rockville Centre)

Bethzy Lopez lived life to the fullest, those who knew her said.

The 7-year-old loved dressing up and painting her fingernails: pink and purple were her favorite colors to splash on the end of her fingers.

The Greenport girl also loved attending birthday parties, going to church and playing with her two younger siblings.

“No matter what her obstacles were she just charged right through them,” said Sister Margaret Smyth of the North Fork Spanish Apostolate, who was close with Bethzy and her family. “She was bright, funny, and bilingual.”

Bethzy died Sunday after living with a genetic disorder that affected her heart and lungs, and prevented her body from getting enough oxygen. She was tethered to an oxygen tank by a tube inserted in her throat and she was the size of a 1 1/2-year-old child, Sister Margaret said.  (more…)

02/15/14 11:00am
02/15/2014 11:00 AM
BOCES COURTESY PHOTO | Holding the big scissors is Sister Margaret Smyth of North Fork Spanish Apostolate at 220 Roanoke Ave. Riverhead.

BOCES COURTESY PHOTO | Holding the big scissors is Sister Margaret Smyth of North Fork Spanish Apostolate at 220 Roanoke Ave. Riverhead.

A new program in Riverhead is hoping to provide “a pathway out of poverty,” helping struggling Riverhead families and residents receive the education they need to get ahead.

Two weeks ago, Eastern Suffolk BOCES opened the doors to the state’s 51st Literacy Zone — a state-funded reform initiative aimed at aiding the community’s poorest — by helping residents gain English language proficiency.

Riverhead’s Literacy Zone, located at the North Fork Spanish Apostolate, will offer a variety of courses to meet the literacy needs of residents, from birth through adulthood.

The center will operate as a collaboration between ESBOCES staff, the Riverhead School District, Riverhead Library, Riverhead Senior Center and Suffolk County Department of Labor — just to name a few. Executive director and founder of the North Fork Spanish Apostolate, Sister Margret Smyth — well known for her commitment helping residents who struggle with English — will serve as an educator at the Literacy Zone.

As a matter of fact, Sister Margaret said, an employee funded through the program will operate out of the Apostolate, located at 220 Roanoke Ave.

Though the employee hasn’t started working full-time yet, Sister Margaret said about 20 people have still signed up for the Literacy Zone courses.

“The idea behind it is to really offer a service for people, particularly in language, and our office usually has tons of people going through here” who could use those services, she said.

Classes will include everything from after-school enrichment programs for children to workforce development programs that include work site tours, job shadowing, internships and apprenticeship opportunities for adults.

The framework enables multiple local outreach groups to reduce duplication of services and enhance and expand supportive services to help residents overcome barriers, according to Barbara Egloff, who serves as divisional administrator of career, technology, and adult education for ESBOCES.

“We are looking forward to working with Sister Margret,” ESBOCES spokesperson Nancy Lenz. “She is a staple in this community.”

The center is expected to grow its resources and expand by the start of next school year, Ms. Lenz said.

“We are just getting started,” she said.

05/25/13 10:00am
05/25/2013 10:00 AM

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Sister Margaret Smyth speaks to a woman at the North Fork Spanish Apostolate’s office in Riverhead Tuesday morning.

It’s been 15 minutes since the North Fork Spanish Apostolate’s doors in Riverhead opened for the day and the waiting list to see Sister Margaret Smyth is already growing.

On this Tuesday morning, she’s seated behind her wooden desk, surrounded by homemade paintings, trinkets and gifts received from those she’s helped. Sister Margaret talks with a woman in Spanish, gesturing with a pen as the woman explains her situation.

Across the room, behind a thin divider, people sit patiently, waiting for their chance to ask for Sister’s help. Some have traffic tickets they don’t know how to answer in English. Others need advice or assistance with immigration matters, a translator to get married or advice on where to find a dentist.

Juan and Betty traveled from their Greenport home to speak with Sister Margaret. Juan, a Guatemalan national, and Betty, who is Mexican, have a 4-year-old daughter who needs a U.S. passport.

The couple speak English, but not well, and can’t read the language well enough to complete the paperwork themselves. They came to the Apostolate because they know what so many other Hispanic people on the North Fork also know: If you’re in need, go to Sister Margaret.

“Everyone needs to know what she does,” Juan says.

Last Thursday night, Sister Margaret received some official recognition, winning a Human Rights Lifetime Achievement Award for her service as executive director and founder of the North Fork Spanish Apostolate.

More than 100 people gathered in Holtsville at the 50th anniversary awards dinner of the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission, which works to eliminate bias and discrimination.

Sister Margaret plays a key part in the commission’s efforts to reach Suffolk County residents who would otherwise have no voice, said commission chairman Rabbi Steven Moss.

“Someone like Sister Margaret is essential for all this,” Rabbi Moss said.

Luis Valenzuela, a commission member, said he met Sister Margaret through his wife, who was working with Sister Margaret to educate families. Mr. Valenzuela’s wife told him stories about the woman who “got up with the birds and did not go to sleep with the sun.”

Since then, he said, he’s often witnessed her dedication firsthand.

Mr. Valenzuela recalled a time when Sister Margaret was suffering from exhaustion and was hospitalized. She was scheduled to take part in a panel with him the next day.

“I’m talking [to the audience] and I’m saying ‘Sister Margaret isn’t going to be able to be here,’ and all of a sudden everybody’s clapping and Sister Margaret shows up,” he said during the awards dinner.

Sister Margaret embodies the idea of working for others, Mr. Valenzuela said, adding she has good reason not to stop.

“People in pain exist 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said, “and they need people like Sister Margaret.”

Sister Helen Muhlbauer has been volunteering at the Apostolate for the past two years. A friend of Sister Margaret’s from the convent, Sister Helen said she’s still impressed by her friend’s enthusiasm and commitment.

Sister Margaret is more than an advocate, she said.

She was a schoolteacher and principal. She’s part social worker and part lawyer, versed in immigration law and the courts, and her work doesn’t end when she leaves the office at the end of the day, Sister Helen said.

On Monday night, Sister Margaret and some friends were walking to Digger’s restaurant on West Main Street to celebrate her award when a Hispanic man approached them.

“Hermana Margarita?” the man asked, “Are you Sister Margaret?” He needed legal aid for an upcoming court date, but didn’t know how to get help.

Sister Margaret had the man come back to her office at 7 p.m., reopened the doors and walked him through the steps.

“Every [praise] she gets, she deserves,” Sister Helen said. “I don’t know where she gets her strength from, but she does it.”

About 11 a.m. Tuesday, Sister Margaret sees a break in the action. She’s just finished helping a woman and Juan and Betty are nearby, filling out their child’s passport application.

She prints out directions for another man, then spins through the Rolodex on her desk. The office waiting room is starting to fill with people again.

“Oh, this is light,” she says of the turnout, flashing a smile.

The Apostolate was founded 16 years ago, after Sister Margaret saw the potential to help an underserved population.

She’s busy almost every day now even after the office doors close, attending masses, conducting weddings, organizing youth groups and more.

This Tuesday is no different. Sister Margaret is planning to go into court in the afternoon to advocate on behalf of a child in an adoption case.

And she doesn’t plan to slow down anytime soon. Sister Margaret has helped the Apostolate grow from a tiny office to the multi-room operation she now oversees. She says the organization is constantly looking for new ways to help those who need it most.

Used clothes in plastic bins line a wall and plastic bags filled with food wait for the hungry in cubbies in a back room. Sister Margaret says the Apostolate may soon create a website.

She says she does it all for one simple reason: that’s what you’re supposed to do.

“Isaiah says we are called to bring sight to the blind … to set those who are prisoner free and to bring Good News to people,” she says. “And the Good News is that you are dignified and you are worthy of respect.”

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09/15/12 10:00am
09/15/2012 10:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Sister Margaret Smyth of the North Fork Apostolate in her Riverhead office.

Sr. Margaret Rose Smyth, executive director of the North Fork Spanish Apostolate, will receive  the National Catholic Development Conference’s 2012 NCDC Good Samaritan Award Sept. 25 at the 2012 Annual NCDC Conference and Exposition at the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville.

Since 1963, Sr. Margaret Rose has been an activist and educator, working to help minority communities. Well known on eastern Long Island as an advocate for the Latino population, she began her efforts in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, where she taught high school and assisted the Hasidic community. She also ran meetings for thousands, worked in storefronts, marched with Caesar Chavez and ran numerous workshops for women.

An Irish immigrant, Sr. Margaret Rose identified with the challenges of foreign born immigrants: leaving their home country, adjusting to an unfamiliar culture and being far from family and friends. Sr. Margaret Rose was inspired to help the impoverished by empowering them to use their voice, according to an account of her career from the NCDC.

In 1997, Sr. Margaret Rose became the director of the North Fork Spanish Apostolate (NFSA), based in Riverhead and Greenport. It reaches approximately 17,500 low-income residents who are dependent on public transportation. As executive director, Sr. Margaret’s goals have included building opportunities for education and employment and focusing on parenting and immigration issues.

She works with the Long Island Immigrant Alliance, Family Service League, New York Immigration Coalition, Peconic Community Council, Maureen’s Haven, Riverhead Anti-Bias Task Force, area hospitals, and local government and school officials.  She provides healthcare workshops for residents, visits the sick and works with volunteers to coordinate home visits.She created a bilingual court mediation program and English literacy and computer programs, in addition to serving as a translator.

“With rational approaches to co-existence, she is a voice for the voiceless, speaking out for justice,” said Amy Lax of the Sisters of St. Dominic in Amityville. Greenport’s Mayor David Kappell lauded Sr. Margaret Rose as a “powerful leadership example for her entire community in her commitment to practical and humane treatment of the new Hispanic community on the East End.”

According to the NCDC, a national Catholic fundraising organization, the Good Samaritan Award was established in 1968 to recognize those who exemplify concern for others through exceptional service. Nominees must have a life of service that is an outstanding example of the Gospel message, as manifested by the Parable of the Good Samaritan. The nominee’s service has also made a significant impact on the lives of the persons in need and must be actively engaged or recently associated with such services.