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Franklin Square man plans mental health street fair

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Kyle Heckler wanted to get away from the stress of the coronavirus pandemic over the summer, and decided to visit some friends from SUNY Potsdam in a small upstate town. While he was there, however, Heckler realized he was not the only one who needed a break from the stressors of the pandemic, and decided to create a street fair for mental health.

The Rock In Peace Fest would be held in October to promote the businesses on Franklin Avenue, where Heckler grew up playing music at the annual Franklin Square Street Fair, promote Outrlimits Art Studio owner Darren Boerckel’s Art Experience exhibit in Tribeca and raise money for a Hempstead-based mental health facility known as the Turquoise House. The House is a crisis respite and hospital service diversion program that is provided by Consumer Link, the recovery and peer-services division of the Mental Health Association of Nassau County.

“That’s why I wanted to do it,” said Heckler, a Franklin Square native. “It was for the businesses in the area, and to bring awareness of art.”

The event would be a “reject street fair,” Heckler said, with sectioned-off tables, live painting demonstrations outside the art studio, live music, a gelato cart from Dolce Gelateria, a pretzel cart from the Philly Pretzel Factory and a stand from Sew Fine. Tables would be placed six-feet apart to ensure social distancing, there would be hand sanitizing stations and masks would be required, with some local artists distributing and selling handmade ones.

Heckler also put up signs throughout the community to advertise the event, and word quickly spread. “The local people really listened,” Heckler, 25, said. “They wanted it to happen and supported it.”

Unfortunately, however, the festival did not go as planned.

Heckler had hoped that it would be the first event permitted since the pandemic began, and spoke to members of the Fifth Precinct and Franklin Square Munson Fire Department about it. He even had all of the residents and business owners between Adams Avenue and Fenworth Boulevard sign a permit application from the Town of Hempstead, only to find out that Franklin Avenue is actually a county road. So, he started calling county officials, and was transferred between departments several times, until he received a one-week expedited permit application.

He then submitted it back to the Nassau County Department of Public Works, but received an email the Friday before the scheduled event that they would need a play-by-play of what he was planning. He did so, but the county still denied his permit.

“As far as anyone was concerned,” however, Heckler recounted, “it was happening.”

And he didn’t want to disappoint his neighbors.

He set up a stage at Chuck’s Auto, where four local bands played music, and a boutique clothing truck was parked for customers, as cars whizzed by. People also stopped by to eat at Dolce and Philly Pretzel Factory, and Heckler spoke to the crowd about mental health, before presenting Jeffrey McQueen, a recruiter for the Turquoise House, with a small check for the organization.

“He was like blown away by the whole thing,” Heckler said of McQueen, adding that the Rock In Peace event “could’ve been better, but it was what it was.”

He is now planning to hold a larger festival over the summer.