2012-07-20 / Community

Block Party Celebrates Successful WW Weekend

By Ana Solares

If there’s a little league game, a parade, or a festival, Rockaway is sure to be seen cheering and whistling from the sidelines. This last Saturday, the community gathered for a greater cause, which was to celebrate the weekend of activities honoring our wounded soldiers. The block party which raised money for St. Camillus Special Olympics took place on Beach 134 Street with the wounded warriors as their special guests. It was celebrated with loud music, a barbeque, raffles and a lottery, as well as small talk amongst family and friends.

The Special Olympics fundraiser was begun 11 years ago by Flip and Rita Mullen. What began as an effort meant to help these Rockaway children was later joined with the Wounded Warriors Project.

“We started it because we love our Rockaway special athletes, they are just the best bunch of kids here in Rockaway. We decided to help and we held our first event on September 8, 2001,” said Rita Mullen. “Then September 11 happened and that was when we got involved with the Wounded Warriors Project and brought in the soldiers. We like to say that the Wounded Warriors are the guests of honor of the Special Olympics.”

Departments from all over the peninsula come to help chaperone the event, from the NYC police department to the fire department.

“Everybody helps,” continued Mullen. “I like to say that my husband is the one that comes up with the great ideas, but he surrounds himself with wonderful people that really do help realize those dreams. The community comes together for these men, we like to say, for the homecoming they never received. Today we have 50 soldiers, and 20 of them are in wheelchairs.”

This year, according to Barbara Camhi, the sister of Flip Mullen, there was a new addition to the already long list of activities in which the soldiers participated.

“This is the first time we initiated surfing and it was great. We lucked out on the weather,” said Camhi, who has also been helping with the annual event since it began. “The amputees were out there on the water and it was great because they didn’t think they could do it. It boosted their enthusiasm and everyone was out clapping and cheering for them. It’s a shame they have to go back.” To participate in the activities, soldiers must endure a process of rehabilitation and be physically fit.

Longtime attendees Mary Beth O’ Neil and Kathy Ryan commented that the event was an especially enjoyable one.

“We’ve been supporting it since its inception, I believe. It’s always been the same big crowd,” said O’ Neil. “After 9/11 it definitely attracted more people but the purpose has always been the same. It’s about overcoming handicaps.” Ryan added, “Bringing in the Wounded Warriors, it adds something. It’s really a fabulous event.”

For many of the Wounded Warriors, such as serviceman Garrett Carnes, the fundraiser allowed them to reflect upon the overall uplifting weekend.

“I think every veteran, whether wounded or not, deserves to have an event in their honor,” said Carnes. “I did waif boarding, skiing, surfing… It was my first time doing the water sports and it was the best weekend of my life. It’s a bit of a motivation bump.”

Joseph Serpico, whose family is one of the many host families that take in these soldiers for the weekend, said the event also allowed for the communication of a “greater message.”

“I’m here with my children, my wife and this is a great and humbling experience, to hear their stories,” Serpico said. “In our home, our soldier gave a different perspective of some of the things we take for granted, such as how precious life really is. This event basically sends a multi message that this country still has a lot to offer, it doesn’t matter what we are dealt with, whether it be war or not.”

For Wounded Warrior Chris Bane, who stayed with host family Jim and Marie Morrioritti, the event was a worthy reminder of endurance, as much of his own as that of our nation.

“This is my sixth time coming here and I love it. Rockaway is the epitome of a true America. I did water skiing, surfing, scuba diving... I keep myself pretty physically fit. I know I can still do anything I did before, I just do it differently. Just because I’m injured it doesn’t mean I lack ability,” Bane said. “Going back to 9/11, New York and Rockaway especially was devastated. This is the community of saying, ‘We’re still here and we are not going anywhere. We’re hurt but we’re still fighting back.’ It’s the nation’s way of saying, ‘I got my way.’ ”

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