Mattituck man pays it forward to Riverhead teacher following Kait’s Angels event

The community turned out in droves to support two local families at the Kait’s Angels community yard sale Sept. 12.

The annual fundraising event is held in honor of Kaitlyn Doorhy, a Mattituck High School graduate who was tragically killed in 2014 while attending college in Connecticut. 

This year, the yard sale raised $6,800 to benefit Nick Coutts, a 25-year-old from Mattituck man who was critically injured after a motorcycle crash in June, and Keri Stromski, 46, a beloved Riverhead teacher and mother of three who is battling Stage IV breast cancer.

After learning her story, Mr. Coutts decided to donate half of his proceeds from the yard sale to Ms. Stromski.

“It’s awesome that [Kait’s Angels] raised money for me,” Mr. Coutts said during an interview after a physical therapy appointment last Wednesday. “But [Ms. Stromski] needs it more than I do. I can’t imagine what she, her kids and husband are going through.”

When Ms. Stromski heard the news Thursday, she was overcome with emotion. “Wow,” she said. “It’s all very overwhelming. As sucky and horrible as this has all been, there’s just been so many beautiful moments.”

November will mark three years since her Stage IV diagnosis. “They gave me weeks or months,” she said.

In recent weeks, Ms. Stromski was dealt another blow as a scan revealed growing liver metastasis. “They decided to bring out the big guns. Those are the words my doctor used,” to describe a new, aggressive chemotherapy treatment she is currently undergoing.

While October is breast cancer awareness month, Ms. Stromski has been outspoken against “pinkwashing,” where brands use pink ribbons for marketing purposes. Instead, Ms. Stromski advocates for donations towards Stage IV research, through organizations such as METAvivor, or the North Fork Breast Health Coalition because of their important work helping local women undergoing treatment, she said.

Ms. Stromski is continuing to teach her class of 24 kindergarteners at Aquebogue Elementary School while undergoing chemotherapy treatments every other week. She said acts of kindness — from Mr. Coutts and others in the community — fuel her to keep going.

Mr. Coutts, who graduated alongside Kaitlyn in 2012, hardly remembers the June 7 crash that left him with a traumatic brain injury, broken femur and several fractured vertebrae in his neck.

“I’m just taking it day by day,” he said of his recovery. He said that even though he’s always been into dirt bikes and street bikes, he’s not sure he’ll ever ride again.

Darla Doorhy, Kaitlyn’s mother, said she was moved by Mr. Coutts’ decision, calling it “an angel’s act of kindness.”

“He always looked out for my Kaitlyn — he’s the type of boy who always made sure the girls got home OK,” she said. “He calls her his guardian angel now.”

Ms. Doorhy said Mr. Coutts embodies Kaitlyn’s mantra of paying it forward and helping others. “She’d be thrilled,” Ms. Doorhy said, that the yard sale helped someone she knew.

A check will be presented to Ms. Stromski along with an additional $1,000 donation from the North Fork Breast Health Coalition, Ms. Doorhy said.

Despite their different journeys, Mr. Coutts said he and Ms. Stromski do have something in common. “She’s proved everyone wrong so far, like I have.”

The community yard sale was first held in 2015 and has since raised thousands of dollars for neighbors including Ben Pileski, William Esposito, Johanna Benthal, Morgan West, Dylan Newman and Matthew Rolle.

Ms. Doorhy said it has become one of the organization’s biggest fundraisers and is something that everyone can get involved with.

On behalf of the organization, Ms. Doorhy thanked the community for donating items, the Southold Police Department for helping move traffic, Mattituck Environmental, McBurnie Tent Rental and their neighbors on Ole Jule Lane for “putting up with all of the traffic.”

Caption: Ms. Stromski was the News-Review’s Educator of the Year in 2013. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

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