Written by Rich Forestano Friday, 01 October 2010 00:00
Joseph Wood is not a fireman, police officer, soldier, lifeguard or masked vigilante fighting crime in the wee hours of the night. However, like the professions and superhero mentioned, he is a hero in every possible definition of the word.
The Town of North Hempstead has been searching for a Hometown Hero for months, sending out nomination forms in and around Mineola. North Hempstead Clerk Leslie Gross awarded the Mineola resident a citation and recognized him for the philanthropic work that he has done in making homes for men who are recovering alcoholics.
Wood operates and owns two not-for-profit homes that are used to re-integrate men back into society. People are allowed to stay up to two years in homes. Wood is retired and a former Director of Stewardship for the Diocese of Brooklyn.
Wood’s first home was Monica’s Manor, named after St. Monica, who’s been dubbed the unofficial patron saint of alcoholics, according to Wood.
“It was a dream,” Wood said of Monica’s Manor. “I speak at the jails on Thursdays and I saw a lot of guys coming back to jail and I was wondering why. It was because when they got out, they went back to the same environment they were in when they got put in jail.”
His kind heart for the needy didn’t start at Monica’s Manor; it began in his own home. Wood said he and his wife started to think about becoming foster parents many years ago.
In 1977, he received a call from an orphanage saying there were two Vietnamese children up for adoption. “I put my hand over the phone and yelled to my wife ‘Hey Margie, there’s two Vietnamese kids up for adoption. Do you want them? We both said yes and that’s where it began,” he said.
Wood said that it was his dream to create a place for people to go to so that they could get their lives on track to be a better member of society. He said when he began his quest, he looked at “sober houses” and he didn’t like what he saw.
“I looked at [sober houses] and they weren’t conducive to staying sober,” he said.
In 1995, he started his quest for a 501 (c)(3) not-for-profit application because, according to Wood, it wasn’t about the money. He wanted to help. “Everyone involved on the board agreed that no one should get paid, and everything that comes into the house goes to the house,” he stated.
In 2002, Wood was granted the 501 (c)(3) permit and in 2005, the house that would be Monica’s Manor was purchased. According to Wood, the house was filled before he could blink.
“We were full immediately,” he said. “State rules say we could only house 12 people, after 12 it gets complicated.”
In 2008, Wood’s brother-in-law Peter passed away and Wood put a down payment on a second house, named Pete’s Place. Wood is currently looking for a third house.
“We are looking for a third [house],” he said. “The need is so great. That’s the next step, which is to get that third house.”
Wood said it costs $775 per month to shelter and feed each person in the house. “We make the house a home,” he said. “It was my idea that to stay sober, you have to live sober. If you’re going to live sober, you have to have the amenities that anyone can have.”
“Joe gives people a feeling of self-worth, belonging, integrity and it’s a whole fabric of being a kind person,” Gross said. “He has done an incredible job.”
Wood told the Mineola American that it’s all about giving back. “It really is. I belong to a 12-step program and I learned a lot from there too.”
Mary Schroko learned a lot as well. Schroko, Joe’s daughter, nominated her dad to be a Hometown Hero.
“I’m so proud of him you have no idea,” Schroko said. “We try to be as much like him, but none of us can come close. He’s a special guy. Everything he does is from the heart.”
Before Wood had the houses, Schroko said some of the men would live with the family as part of the family. “I had new brothers so to speak and it was a great experience. Some of them we are still close with.”
Craig S. hopes to be one of the close ones down the line. Schiavetta has lived in Pete’s Place for seven months and said he wouldn’t trade it for anything. He said that it’s a life-changing experience.
“When I walked in the house, and I’ve been in a couple of these places, I never had welcoming like this one. My family is grateful. I’m grateful and will always be grateful,” he said.
Mike B. has been at Pete’s Place for the same duration as Schiavetta, and said it’s like, “getting your life back on track. It’s a big family. Everyone gets along. A lot of meetings and my progress is coming along. My family is back. I’m working and maintaining my sobriety.”
Adam H. feels the same. “It offers spiritual support and life support,” he said. “I’ve made great progress since I walked into Pete’s Place.”