A 300-year-old house on East Rockaway Avenue in Hewlett that has been used as a sanctuary and resource center for people and their families who are enduring cancer has been transformed by the “George To The Rescue” team into a modern oasis of tranquility.
“No one compares to Geri Barish, she is the Mother Teresa of Long Island,” said George Oliphant, about the multiple-time breast cancer survivor and executive director and president of Hewlett House and the 1 in 9: The Long Island Breast Cancer Action Coalition, a nonprofit battling cancer since 1990. She is “the most courageous woman” and has “saved countless lives,” the television personality added. Barish is the only employee. There are many volunteers.
Hewlett House, at 86 East Rockaway Road, was purchased by Nassau County for $1 in 1995. Town of Hempstead Councilman Bruce Blakeman, then the presiding officer of the County Legislature, pushed for the acquisition with the help of then Hewlett-Woodmere Board President Richard Braverman. It opened in 2001.
“I was eating dinner a mile away from here, when the couple who owns Modell’s told the story on how they helped establish Gilda’s Club in Manhattan and a light bulb went off in my head,” Blakeman said. The couple was Hewlett Harbor residents William and Shelby Modell. William died in 2008. Noting that it’s a place of peace for patients, Blakeman said that it also counsels children, who are very likely to be “scared to death” after hearing the word cancer.
Gilda’s Club is a community organization for people with cancer, their families and friends. Comedian Gilda Radner, her husband actor/comedian Gene Wilder and TV personality Joel Siegel founded the group. Both Radner and Siegel died of cancer. George Oliphant and Ben’s General Contracting Corp. in Freeport, Elite Painting Services in Malverne, others dove in and for a few weeks this winter re-did the HVAC, the roof and rooms, and painted, creating a brighter and cheerier atmosphere.
“You can’t do this project unless you have it in your heart,” said Barish, adding “it’s very emotional” and she “hasn’t stopped crying.” “This project has left something on every single person who has moved through the doors.”
County Executive Laura Curran said that she has known Barish for many years and they share the same home community: Baldwin. “This place is here to give people hope and it comes from the heart,” Curran said, about Hewlett House.
Councilman Anthony D’Esposito who noted Barish’s “deep Island Park roots,” his home community, said that the town is the largest — by population — in the country, and there are few places that have a place “as beautiful as Hewlett House,” where people have a “big heart” and others are “not being judged.” He compared it to the town’s Camp Anchor, a place for special needs youth.
Looking at the audience on Hewlett House’s back lawn and then highlighting Oliphant, Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby said, “I’m grateful to everyone and young man you are always right,” most likely meaning his choice of projects.
The Hewlett House episode of “George To The Rescue” is scheduled to air on April 20. It can be seen on WNBC, channel 4.