East End Disability Associates development manager Matthew Kuriloff, center, with direct support professionals and their clients, during a Sept. 13, 2018 ceremony recognizing Direct Support Professionals Week. File photo: Denise Civiletti

Riverhead Town will form an advisory committee to address the needs of residents with mental and physical disabilities.

The committee will involve organizations in Riverhead that serve vulnerable populations, including Rise Life Services and East End Disability Associates. Town officials discussed the committee briefly at their work session on Wednesday.

“I look forward to working together with the team and hopefully we can set things in the right direction and get things where they need it to be,” said Charles Evdos, the executive director of Rise Life Services. 

Lisa Fertal, the CEO of East End Disability Associates, said the committee will focus on inclusivity and is “essential” for the town.

“I also like to think that it’s not only to address the problems, but to really celebrate the contributions that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and physical disabilities can provide in our community,” she said.

The supervisor also thanked Maureen Berrios for joining the task force and being an advocate. From Riverhead, Berrios’ family filed a lawsuit against Brookville Center For Children’s Servicesafter alleging that her son Raymond, who is on the autism spectrum and has a rare genetic condition, was subject to abuse in a care facility according to the Riverhead News-Review. Berrios did not speak during the meeting.

“At one time the disabled were represented here in town hall through an advisory committee,” Aguiar said, referring to the dissolved handicapped advisory committee. “I’m not too sure what happened, but we’re going to start fresh with one.” 

Aguiar said that Councilman Tim Hubbard, who was absent from the work session, will be the town board’s liaison to the committee. 

Hubbard sent a message, which Aguiar read aloud: “The town needs a committee to discuss problems faced by our residents with physical disabilities. We need residents with disabilities to come forward to assist us to make Riverhead as accessible as it can be.”

Councilman Frank Beyrodt thanked Fertal and Evdos for participating in the committee. “I really look forward to the recommendations that come from this, because I think there are so many things that can be done in this town to make it accessible and inclusive for everybody,” he said.

“I really think this is a great idea and it will really help integrate people with disabilities into our community,” Councilwoman Catherine Kent said.

Councilman Ken Rothwell thanked Evdos and Fertal for attending and said he hopes the committee will be not just advocates for those with disabilities, but also the healthcare employees who serve them.

Aguiar said the committee can help the town advocate for more funding for businesses in the town that serve disabled individuals. Aguiar promised to make the committee at a press conference in August held at Rise Life Services urging the state to help finance hiring and wage increases for their workers.

Evdos said in a call on Friday the committee will look at housing, activities and services for the disabled that will improve their quality of life.

“I think one of the big pieces is helping and educating families on how to get services and where they can get services,” he added.

Evdos hopes the committee will have its first meeting after the Thanksgiving holiday and decide then what issues they should tackle.

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Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Email: [email protected]