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Fundraiser supports local nonprofits

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The Tommy Brull Foundation’s annual fundraiser returns to the lawn of St. Mark’s Church on Saturday. Now in its 12th year, the event will raise money for local organizations that help people with physical, mental and emotional challenges.

This year, the Rockville Centre-based foundation will donate to 12 nonprofits. And for the first time, it will also have a team running in the village’s annual 5K earlier that day. A group of runners have raised funds for Mr. B’s Playground, an accessible playspace to be built at the John A. Anderson Recreation Center and named for Recreation Superintendent Anthony Brunetta, known as Mr. B, who died in 2016.

“He ran the race for so many years,” said Martin Brull, founder and president of the Tommy Brull Foundation, “so we thought it would be cool to have people run in his honor.”

Founded in 2008, the foundation has raised money to benefit people with disabilities in memory of Brull’s late brother, Tommy, who died in an accident in 1999. The November fundraiser is its main event of the year, and will benefit several groups — many of them adaptive sports leagues — as well as the foundation’s own Ladybug Ball and Tommy Brull Adaptive Surf Program.

“Opportunities like this make our program possible,” said Carrie Callahan, co-founder of Empower Spinal Cord Injury Inc., one of the fundraiser’s recipients.

While the event supports many of the same organizations year after year — such as Hoops For All and Camp ANCHOR — Empower Spinal Cord Injury is a newcomer.

The two-week summer program takes a “whole-life” approach to rehabilitation at Stony Brook University, Callahan said. Twelve participants receive physical and occupational therapy, peer mentoring and counseling. The organization also offers activities like quad rugby and recreational excursions such as adaptive paddling.

“Any of the funds [the Brull Foundation] will be raising go right to programming and keeping costs down for participants,” Callahan explained.

The fundraiser was previously held at Cannon’s Blackthorn, which closed in March 2018. This will be the event’s second year at St. Mark’s, in a large, heated tent. Photos of Tommy Brull will decorate the space, his brother said.

For the fifth year, the foundation will present the Tommy Brull Courage and Resilience Award. The award, Martin Brull said, recognizes someone “with a physical, emotional or mental challenge who works really hard to overcome the challenges they face daily.”

Ashley Andree, 30, of Wantagh, will accept the honor this year. She was born with cerebral palsy and is now a rehab counselor in the disability services department at SUNY Farmingdale.

“I use my own disability experience to relate to my students,” Andree said, “and help them feel comfortable embracing their best selves.” 

In December, Andree will receive her second master’s degree, in rehabilitation counseling, from Hofstra University. She will become a nationally certified rehabilitation counselor, helping individuals achieve career and life goals and acting as an advocate for the disability community to fight against stigma, discrimination and inaccessibility.

Friends from Camp ANCHOR nominated Andree for the Courage and Resilience Award — “but these people are really more like family,” she said.

“It is such a humbling honor,” Andree added. “It means a lot to know that I have so many cheerleaders in my corner, and that I’m considered a trailblazer for those in the disability community.”

During the event, the foundation will also present the work it has accomplished throughout the year. There will be food, raffle tickets for Chinese auctions and a 50/50 as well as live music. There are also big prizes up for grabs: Two lucky attendees will win vacation box pools — one is a trip to Charleston, S.C., and the other a trip to Nashville, Tenn.

The evening’s musical lineup includes local acts Jim “Wolfie” McGrath, Peter Buckley and the Palace Trio (comprising Matt Barthel, Dave Cagner and Tricia Seifert). The after-party band is the Knobs.

“It is such a great time, and really brings light to so many awesome organizations,” Andree said. “The work they do can sometimes slip under the radar, and they deserve to be acknowledged. The people behind these programs work so hard at improving the quality of life of people with disabilities in our community.”

The fundraiser will take place from 6 to 9 p.m. There is a $40 suggested donation at the door, and cash or check is preferred. For more information, visit tommybrull-foundation.org.