Category: Community

“Spooky Walk” raises over $150,000 for special needs summer camp

Originally published at The Osprey

She’s dressed in red and white polka dots, the same pattern as the wall behind her. She holds a red balloon in front of her face, while a stripped bulb flickers over her head. Her face is flecked with spattered blood over her Glasgow grin. Around the corner is a two-faced pagliacci brandishing a chainsaw while down the hall, a demented Bozo lurks in a bathroom stall.

The “Psycho Circus,” horrifying by any estimation, is one of four exhibits at this year’s “Spooky Walk,” an annual fundraiser at Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck in Center Moriches. Over two weekends, the haunted house walk is estimated to raise over $150,000 for the camp, which serves children with developmental disabilities.

“One hundred percent of the money goes to the camp,” Marcella Weiss, who helped start the event in 1989, said. “What we make here goes a pretty good way, while the rest is raised through fundraisers by the rotaries and other community events.”

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The camp’s total operating cost is about $800,000, Weiss said. Funding efforts like the “Spooky Walk” allow the camp to keep a near one-to-one camper-to-counselor ratio, while also helping to provide financial aid for parents sending their children to camp.

“This isn’t a business to make money for ourselves,” Marina Gress, an event vendor who has been involved with Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck for the past 25 years, said. “All of this is for the kids.”

Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck is the only overnight summer camp on Long Island that exclusively serves children with autism, Down syndrome, and other disabilities.

The camp accepts up to 50 campers per week-long session, with 10 to 12 sessions throughout the summer, and requests to join have increased in each of the last four years, Weiss said. Across the country, autism is diagnosed in one of 68 children, according the latest available Center for Disease Control data, taken in 2014. The prevalence has increased over the last 30 years, from a one in 2,000 rate in the 1980s, according to the CDC.

As the camp has grown, so has the fundraising. Weiss recalled the origin of the “Spooky Walk,” nearly three decades ago, which was spurred from her own love of Halloween Her parents used to deck out their own house as the neighborhood’s haunted destination.

“We sold tickets for two dollars each,” Weiss said of the first annual walk. “We had 400 people and we made $800, and we thought that was amazing.”

Today, attendance for the event nears 3,000 people per night, with the line to enter stretching over 500 feet, a wait time of over an hour. All of the 600 “Spooky Walk” workers — set designers, actors, venders, even the DJ   — are volunteers. There are four different “houses,” each with their own theme, scary in their own way.  

“Everything you see is put up by us,” Nicole Jakob, overseer of the “Club Boo” exhibit, said. “It’s all arts and crafts, it’s what turns one of these buildings into a nightclub.”

The whole event has grown into a community Halloween tradition in the small Suffolk County village. Even adults who had never been were taken aback from the thrill factor.

“It was amazing. The houses were awesome,” Eve Goncalves, who, with her son, were first-time attendees, said. “It’s definitely something worth supporting, though I wasn’t expecting it to be so scary.”

The “Spooky Walk” will be open again for its second weekend of the year this Friday and Saturday night from 7 to 9 p.m..

Local Muslims experience double-standard in wake of recent London terrorist attack

Originally published at The Long Islander

Abdur-Rahman Partap’s coarse, black beard stands out in mostly white Long Island. To a point that, he says, he gets beeped at, and scorned on his drive to work. The niece of Habeeb Ahmed fears leaving her house in a hijab without her husband now. She has had her scarf pulled in public, and regularly receives dirty looks when wearing it. One woman, who wished to remain anonymous for her own safety, said that the day after the London attack, she got a phone call from an unknown number: “B***h, f**k you. Go back to your country,” the voice screamed from the other end of the line.

Hate crimes against the Islamic community in the United States are at their highest levels since 2001, according to FBI data. And, in the wake of London’s terrorist attack last week, the anti-Islamic rhetoric on Long Island has soared.

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“When people say ‘go back to your country,’ what do I have to say to these people?” Ahmed, the vice-president of the Islamic Center of Long Island, asked. “This is my country. My son was born and brought up here. What gives you the right to talk to us, legal residents here, like that?”

Ahmed has noticed a double-standard in the way Muslims are treated after high-profile jihadist attacks.

“[When white people commit crime,] a report comes back to say that a shooter is mentally disturbed,” Ahmed said. “No Muslim is ever mentally disturbed if they do these things.”

Every time a terrorist attack happens, his heart races in anticipation of what could happen to him, his family and his community if the perpetrator claims to be a Muslim.

“I feel that subconsciously local Muslims [wait] after extremist events to settle down,” Hashaam Nasheer, a resident of Manorville, said. “They try to avoid anything that would cause attention to themselves or to Muslims in general.”

Shirley Masjib has upped its security in recent years after heightened discrimination both locally and around the world.

Negativity is not all that local Muslims experience, though it is pervasive.

“I’ve been in the grocery store and had a woman come up to me and apologize on behalf of her country and what’s going on and how Islam and Muslims are portrayed,” Abdul-Lateef Poulos, the Imam of Shirley Masjid, said.

Poulos believes the source of discrimination is American’s zero-sum take on immigration: equal rights for others are equated to a lost rights for the majority.

“I think there is a feeling of losing of power, culturally speaking, in America where what was once a monolithic culture, at least the dominant one, is being lost,” he said.

Other factors that have contributed, Poulos said, including media-generated stereotypes. Some of these ideations are so strong that they can creep into the thoughts of Muslims themselves.

Last June, during the Islamic holy season of Ramadan, Nasheer walked down the streets of Manhattan before the crack of dawn, 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning, wearing his white Thawb, a traditional Arabic robe. Through the early fog, he saw another man donning similar attire, with a black beard and a big bag.

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“For a second, and just for a split second, I was a bit afraid,” he recalled. “Then I came to my senses.”

The phrase “Islamic terrorism” is also problematic, Ahmed says, due to its improper use of being a descriptor and emblem of a much larger group of people.

“Just call me a terrorist, don’t call me an Islamic terrorist,” he said. “Why do you need to bring a population of 1.6 billion into the picture. That’s a major problem.”

Ahmed, who as a Muslim born in India, says he has always faced religious discrimination and reaches out to other marginalized groups to find solace. He is friends with the brother of Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorian immigrant who was killed in a 2008 hate crime. Every anniversary of his death, Ahmed visits Lucero’s grave.

“This is the least I can do to pay my respects to this man,” Ahmed said.

Poulos added that one way to break the tension toward the Islamic community is to abolish the “us-versus-them” binary perspective of many ethnically Western Americans.

“If a view the world as ‘us’ and ‘them’ and you define ‘us’ as being Americans or Christians,” he said. “And the other as being Muslims, than that’s how you’re going to see the world and you’re not going to give those courtesies that you would to your own to the other.”

Despite the visceral attacks to his own people, Ahmed uses the teachings of Muhammad to remain hopeful for the future.

“[God] is going to take care of everyone, whether you’re a Muslim or Christian or a Jew or whoever you are,” Ahmed said. “Because he has created all of us.”

Rutgers cancels trip to Mecca despite executive ban appeal

Originally published at The Long Islander

The Center of Islamic Life at Rutgers University has cancelled an upcoming hajj, citing airport discrimination anxieties despite a federal appeals court refusing to reinstate President Trump’s executive travel ban.

The cancellation of the hajj to Mecca on March 11, considered a mandatory religious duty for any Muslim to carry out at least once in his or her life, is indicative of a greater trend among universities throughout the Tri-State Area. The schools are promoting cautious travel policy and citizens from the seven potentially banned nations have expressed travel timidity due to ambiguous status, as expressed by a number of university chaplains and students in the Greater New York Area.

“I don’t want to put students through an interrogation myself,” Kaiser Aslam, Rutgers’ Muslim Chaplain said. “I’ve been in one for six hours in previous years. We don’t want to put students through that and we’re not sure how they would react to it, so it’s causing us to halt our travel plans and our programming.”

He estimates that 200 to 300 Rutgers students have expressed general fears of prejudice at jama’ah, an Islamic congregational prayer. These anxieties played a part in the trip’s indefinite postponing.

“Honestly it’s leading to a cultural phenomenon where students are just giving up their travel plans because they don’t know what is going to happen,” Aslam said.

At least one Rutgers student studying abroad was barred from reentering the United States, although no specific names were disclosed due to ongoing legal proceedings and in order to preserve the wishes of the impacted student(s), Aslam and Yasmin Ramadan, former president of Rutgers’ Muslim Public Relations Council, confirmed.

Some schools, including Yale University, are recommending that students from nations who would be debarred if the executive order stands preclude themselves from any travel outside the United States.

“We have received a lot of personal e-mails from the dean and the president of the university and everything,” Mohamed Osman, a sophomore chemistry major at Yale and a Sudanese citizen, said. “They have been in very close contact with us, letting us know what’s going on.”

Osman attended high school at an English-speaking international high school in Khartoum, and struggles with the possibility that students there now — including his younger brother Khalid, now a high school junior — would not have the same opportunity he had: to attend an American university.

“The director of the school recommended that you don’t plan on going to the U.S.,” Osman said. “It is true that a lot of the people this year are not going to have the opportunities that I got two years ago, which is really sad in my opinion.”

Osman is the only member of his family that lives in the United States, and acknowledged that the ban would prevent him from seeing his relatives, either during the upcoming spring break or in the case of an emergency.

For Stony Brook sophomore Niloofar Sima, this anxiety has become a reality. Sima, who grew up in Mashhad, Iran, moved to the U.S. at age 14 with her immediate family, but all of her extended family still lives in the Middle East, including her grandparents, who helped raise her and her sister.

“[My mom] called me yesterday to tell me that my grandma is in the hospital,” Sima said. “And she was crying. She was like, ‘I don’t even care. I’m gonna go regardless. It’s my mother.’ I told her you going there is not going to change a thing. Whatever happens to her still happens.”

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Feb. 9 in a 3-0 decision not to reinstate the order. The future of the case remains up in the air.

A group of 17 prominent higher education institutions, including all eight Ivy League colleges, co-authored an amicus briefing Feb. 13 in support of the plaintiffs of a district court case relevant to the ban, Columbia University Assistant Chaplain Mouhamadou Diagne confirmed.

“The uncertainty generated by the Order and its implementation is already having negative impacts well beyond persons from the seven affected countries. People from all over the world are understandably anxious about having their visas prematurely canceled through no fault of their own,” the 33-page briefing stated. “Comments by high-ranking Executive Branch officials have suggested that the Order could be extended to other countries, heightening institutional anxiety.”

The president tweeted on Thursday, “SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!” insinuating that he would appeal the case to the Supreme Court, but White House officials later said that rewording and reissuing the initial executive order is also an option.