As the snow falling outside the glass-enclosed ballrooms of Villa Lombardi’s lent a magical touch to the evening, guests at the For the Kids Foundation’s 18th annual Black Tie Gala gathered on March 20, many adorned with elegant retro fashions to complement the event theme of “The Roaring Twenties.” A jazz band of composed of East Islip High School student-musicians directed by Christopher Neske entertained the attendees, who included East Islip administrators and educators as well as parents, residents and local business representatives.
Recognized as the most successful nonprofit Suffolk County school organization, FTK has donated more than $1 million for East Islip’s educational programs since its formation. The Gala, which is the FTK organization’s premier fundraising event, honored East Islip Middle School Principal Mark Bernard as Educator Advocate of the Year, while brothers James Bruno and Louis Bruno, both funeral directors, were honored as Community Advocates of the Year.
“We were thrilled to honor Mark, Louis and James, community champions who selflessly contribute to the FTK mission,” said Nancy Goldfader, the foundation’s president.
Bernard grew up in Whitney Point, a rural town in upstate New York. After graduating from SUNY Cortland with a degree in secondary mathematics education, he spent two years teaching in Crystal City, Texas before returning to New York and settling on Long Island. He began teaching in a private school in Astoria and then for the New York City Board of Education in South Jamaica. Bernard completed his master’s degree at Queens College, finishing coursework for his administrator’s certificate at SUNY Stony Brook.
After stints in Amityville and Plainedge, Bernard came to East Islip in 2003 as the district’s mathematics director. Three years later, he took on the role of assistant principal at the newly formed East Islip Middle School, helping to restructure the former Islip Terrace Junior High School into a true middle school. In 2006, he was named principal.
“It is an honor to be recognized by an organization that has given so much to the East Islip community,” said Bernard, who was accompanied by his proud wife Amy and daughters Eliana and Sophia.
James and Louis Bruno were both born and raised in East Islip, and are lifelong community members and residents of the East Islip School District along with parents Joe and Marie, and their sister, Marie. Both graduated from East Islip High School – Louis a member of the Class of 1991, and James a member of the Class of 1994 – and continued their academic pursuits with degrees in mortuary science from Nassau Community College.
After several years in the funeral profession, Louis was employed by Charles J. O’Shea, and eventually, with partner Louis Guerra, purchased both of O’Shea’s funeral homes in Wantagh and East Meadow. James worked in West Islip and Babylon for 15 years prior to joining Louis at Charles J. O’Shea Funeral Homes in 2006. In 2007, Louis, James and Guerra expanded their business with the purchase of the landmark Albrecht Funeral Home in East Islip, now known as the Albrecht, Bruno & O’Shea Funeral Home.
James Bruno married his high school sweetheart, Kristy, and they have two children: James, a second- grader at Timber Point Elementary School, and Lila, who will begin prekindergarten next year.
Louise Bruno likewise married his high school sweetheart, Jennifer, and they have children Joseph, 13; Brooke, 10; and Andrew, 4.
A civic volunteer from an early age, James Bruno was an active member of the Knights of Columbus, Sons of Italy and Chamber of Commerce by his early 20s. He is also a member of the Islip Rotary, and was honored as the Paul Harris Fellowship Rotarian of the Year and winner of the 2013 Islip Town Small Business Award. For the district, he serves as a mentor in the East Islip School-Business Partnerships career development program, advising high school students interested in either the medical or mortuary science fields.
Louis Bruno is also an active member of the Knights of Columbus, Kiwanis Club and Chamber of Commerce, and currently holds the position of president of the Nassau/Suffolk Funeral Directors Association. A proud supporter of many FTK events, Louis participates in the annual FTK Golf Outing and FTK Carnival.
All three men were honored to be recognized for their sterling contributions to the East Islip school community and the FTK Foundation, and enjoyed an evening of fine dining and celebration. In addition their FTK awards, Suffolk County Legislator Tom Cilmi presented each with a special certificate.
“My heartfelt and sincere thanks go out to chairperson Gina Vandenburg, co-chairperson Cathy Lemon, the Black Tie committee, the FTK board members who devoted countless hours to ensure a magnificent and unforgettable evening, and of course, the friends, partners and longtime supporters who continue to make the FTK Foundation the success it is,” said Goldfader.