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Shining a light for those with special needs

Tommy Brull Foundation's music series to benefit RVC playground

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Kurt Vile is set to headline the Shine A Light Music Series show at 7 p.m. on Friday at Cannon’s Blackthorn in Rockville Centre.
Kurt Vile is set to headline the Shine A Light Music Series show at 7 p.m. on Friday at Cannon’s Blackthorn in Rockville Centre.
Courtesy Martin Brull

“There’s a certain feel that people get when they walk in,” Martin Brull said of the Shine A Light Music Series, which returns to Cannon’s Blackthorn in Rockville Centre on Friday. “They immediately understand that this is more of a homegrown show than something put on by one of the larger promoters.”

Hundreds are expected to gather in the unorthodox music venue for the event, which has been staged since 2011 to benefit the Tommy Brull Foundation, a Rockville Centre-based nonprofit dedicated to raising money for people with physical, mental and emotional challenges.

Martin co-founded the foundation in 2008 in memory of his brother, Tommy, who died in an accident in 1999. Tommy was a counselor at Camp ANCHOR — Answering the Needs of Citizens with Handicaps through Organized Recreation — in Lido Beach, and the foundation has raised more than $100,000 for the camp alone.

All told, it has raised nearly $500,000 since its inception for the camp and other causes, including Connor & Friends, a monthly special- needs play group at the Recreation Center; Centre Stage, a South Side High School drama program that couples students with special-needs peers; and the Challenger Baseball League. The foundation has also benefited individuals suffering with a variety of debilitating conditions.

In addition, the Tommy Brull Surf Camp — for kids with special needs at Camp ANCHOR — enters its fourth year. By working with Long Beach’s Will and Cliff Skudin, who co-founded Surf For All, a program that hosts surf outings for those with disabilities, Martin looks forward to continuing the initiative that has helped hundreds of children learn to surf each summer.

Rock musician Kurt Vile and his band, the Violators, will headline this year’s Shine A Light show, which will raise money for Mr. B’s Playground, a special-needs-accessible play space named in honor of longtime Recreation Superintendent Anthony Brunetta, widely known as Mr. B, who died last year. Julie Byrne will be a special guest.

The project — to be located on the northwest corner of North Forest Avenue and Sunrise Highway, adjacent to Hickey Field — has been in the planning stages for years, according to Judge Anthony Paradiso, a past president of the Rockville Centre Lions Club, which, with the help of the Tommy Brull Foundation and the RVC Challenger Baseball League, is leading the charge.

“Rockville Centre’s a special community where we try to take care of the needs of all of their residents,” Paradiso said. “To the extent that the community can really rally around children with special needs in order to make them feel very much a part of our community and an important part of our community, I think that’s something that all of the residents can get behind.”

With community help, more than $200,000 has been raised for the playground, Paradiso said, with about $50,000 coming from the Brull Foundation. Phase One of the project is estimated to cost about $750,000, and with Phase Two, the project is expected to total about $1.4 million.

The foundation raised $10,000 for the playground at its event last month, which featured local musicians playing classics by Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and Neil Young, and drew more than 400 guests. “They’ve been very generous,” Paradiso said of the Brull Foundation, “and we’re looking forward to continue working with them.”

Friday will mark the 10th show in the Shine A Light Music Series. Martin tries to book acts that Brull, who enjoyed music, liked or would have liked. Vile, a former lead guitarist for the War on Drugs, which played at Shine A Light several years ago, has been one of his targets for a few years, Martin said. “I’ve always loved Kurt Vile’s music,” he explained. “It’s like a stream of consciousness, almost like a dream the way he writes songs.”

Though the event has always been a hit in the community, Martin said he has focused on reaching out to fans of the bands he books, so they can also enjoy the show while learning about the foundation and its mission. Fans from 15 states have bought tickets to the show, he added, as well as others from Brazil, Spain and Canada.

The foundation will be silent auctioning a guitar signed by Vile, and Martin set up a meet-and-greet session for 20 guests who purchased the opportunity to meet the rocker.

“I think when they realize that we’re doing this from the heart, and we’re not doing this to put money in our pockets, and we’re doing it to help others, then the whole vibe just changes and it’s very different than just seeing a band on a regular Friday night,” Martin said.

With the variety of events that have benefited the playground — especially in the last few months — Martin said he is happy to be involved. He recalled picking up his kids from the Recreation Center a few years back, and seeing Mr. B, whom he hadn’t spoken to in decades.

Brunetta said hello, and to Martin’s surprise, knew his name.

“He remembers everybody, and he was a nice man, and I think it’s a nice tribute to him,” Martin said. “… Just the fact that there’s awareness and that people want to build a structure that allows the integration of typical children with special-needs children so they can play together is something that’s close to my heart.”