New Beginnings founder and president Allyson Scerri, center, with honorees, from left, Marshall Aykroyd, Sandy Aykroyd, Frank Chieffo, Nancy Reyer, Nailah Winkfield and Marvin Winkfield. (Photo: Peter Blasl)

Nancy Reyer of Riverhead was honored as “caregiver of the year” by New Beginnings Community Center at its annual summer gala held last night at the L.I. Aquarium in downtown Riverhead.

Other honorees at the gala were the parents of Jahi McMath, a 13-year-old California girl declared brain dead following surgery to correct sleep apnea eight months ago. Her parents refused to accept the doctor’s judgment and fought the hospital in court in a case that garnered national media attention.

Jahi’s parents were able to get her released in March and admitted to a hospital in New Jersey, where she remains today.

“She has good days and bad days,” Jahi’s mother, Nailah Winkfield, told the hushed crowd in the Sea Star ballroom last night.

“Some days I ask her to move her left hand, or her right hand and she does…I’m her mom and I know that my daughter is in there,” Winkfield said through tears.

Winkfield credited Scerri and New Beginnings, which said they’d provide 24/7 care for Jahi, for helping convince a California judge to sign an order authorizing the child’s release from the hospital. She was removed by the coroner’s office.

“My child has a death certificate,” Winkfield said.

The ballroom last night was filled with similar stories — messages of hope, faith and perseverance: “Never, ever give up,” in Winkfield’s words.

New Beginnings is dedicated to the treatment and rehabilitation of traumatic brain injury survivors and support for their caregivers and families. It was founded by Allyson Scerri of East Moriches, whose father was critically injured in a motorcycle accident in 2007. She learned first-hand how difficult it is to get appropriate treatment and rehabilitation services for TBI survivors on Long Island, and decided to do something about it. New Beginnings was born. It operates a treatment facility in Medford, where TBI patients can receive all the care and rehab services they need.

“Our concept is simple,” Scerri said last night. “Have all modalities under one roof. And never turn anyone away.”

Reyer’s son Michael is a TBI survivor who has been hospitalized since a liquid fuel fire pot exploded in his face on May 28, 2011. Michael is currently in the care of PBMC Health’s skilled nursing facility in Riverhead, with plans to transfer him to a long-term care residential facility currently being built in Riverhead by New Beginnings.

The new facility is named Brendan House, after Brendan Aykroyd of Blue Point, who suffered a brain injury in a 2009 assault. He died on June 16, 2011 at age 23. Brendan’s parents, Marshall and Sandy Aykroyd, were honored last night as “angels of hope.”

TBI survivor and New Beginnings volunteer Frank Chieffo was also honored for his volunteer work at New Beginnings.

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.