Mary Lundberg, who served as exectuive director of the Riverhead Community Awareness Program from its inception until her retirement in 2000, died Friday at the age of 89.
“We were just a ragtag group of people who didn’t like some of the things we saw going on in the community with the youth and we set out to change it,” recalled Agnes “Sis” Stark.
Stark was on the Riverhead school board at the time and a longtime friend of Lundberg’s — they were among a group of “city girls” who summered in Riverhead and ended up marrying local boys and settling here, Stark said. Through the bond they shared as “outsiders,” the young women — along with Jane Crabtree Stark and Liz Richard — became friends.
Though busy raising a family of five and wife to an up-and-coming young lawyer, Pierre (a partner in the law firm of Smith, Finkelstein, Lundberg et al in Riverhead) Lundberg was very involved in the community — volunteering for the East End Arts and Humanities Council and the Riverhead Music Boosters, among other groups.
Stark got Lundberg involved in the “ragtag group” that would become the Riverhead Community Awareness Program.
“We wanted to get the school to buy in,” she said, because they realized how important it was to work with children in the school environment if the group was to fulfill its mission of substance abuse education and prevention.
“In 1984, First Lady Nancy Reagan started the ‘Just Say No’ campaign. That was the springboard,” Stark recalled. “We were able to get the grant.”
In an interview in 2013, Lundberg reminisced about the origins of the group. She was one of several volunteers that worked with youth at the Riverhead teen center, which offered Friday-night activities at the NYS Armory. They wanted to provide social work services, she said.
Stark and then-Juvenile Aid Bureau officer John Dunleavy drove up to Sen. Ken LaValle’s office in a snowstorm to ask for state funding, Lundberg recalled. LaValle agreed to help.
“John told me there were some forms to fill out, and I thought, ‘OK, I can handle that.’”What I didn’t realize was it was a grant application, and that was something I never did before,” she said, laughing.
LaValle came through with CAP’s first $25,000 grant, which funded the hiring of its first social worker — after getting the Riverhead Town Board to agree to “front” the money while the group waited for the grant funding to arrive. It took a lot longer than they expected, Lundberg said. “I drove some poor fellow in Albany crazy.” Fortunately, the town board was willing to help.
Lundberg, a volunteer with the group, became CAP’s first executive director. “I think it was because I was the one with a master’s in social work,” she said in the 2013 interview.
“She was really working with a skeleton crew back then,” Stark recalled. “But they made it work.”
Dick Ehlers, former longtime CAP board member, remembers Lundberg as a catalyst for good in the community.
“She professionalized the Community Awareness Program and brought very professional, very dedicated social workers into the school environment to assist the school in addressing individual students; needs as well as the school’s problems in addressing substance abuse issues,” Ehlers said.
CAP has a dual mission, he said. “On the one hand, it’s about education and awareness. On the other, it’s about helping individual students,” Ehlers said. “And Mary was able to focus on both those and deliver to our community through hiring and training very skilled staff.”
“As a person, Mary was just wonderful to work,” Ehlers recalled. She was skilled at managing the program and the board of directors, helping them work through even the most difficult decisions, he said.
“Mary left the program in great shape,” said her successor Felicia Scocozza, who has been at the organization’s helm since 2000. “She set it up for success for after she left,” Scocozza said.
“Mary was just such a wonderful mentor to me,” Scocozza said. “She trained me for more than a month,” she said and the two remained close over the years.
“She really was Riverhead CAP,” Scocozza said. “She genuinely cared about the students in the Riverhad school district and really created that program from the ground up,” Scocozza said.
But that was just how Lundberg was, Stark recalls — the kind of person who saw a need and set about to fill it. “There wasn’t anything she felt she couldn’t do,” Stark said.
“If someone was ill, she’d be the first person to arrive with food. And she was an excellent cook,” Stark said. “She cooked meals for Maureen’s Haven, too. Even with all she had on her plate, she was a very giving person.”
The Lundbergs made their home in Aquebogue for many years before moving to Peconic Landing in Greenport in 2015.
People who knew Lundberg remember her as vibrant, generous and funny.
“She had a great smile and just enjoyed life,” Ehlers said.
“Mary was an example of how one person, with gumption and determination, can move a community.”
Mary Lundberg is survived by her husband, five children and nine grandchildren. Services will be held at a later date. Memorial donations may be made to Community Action Southold Town, P.O. Box 159 Greenport, NY 11944 or East End Hospice PO Box 1048, Westhampton Beach, NY 11978. See obituary.
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