Long Island is known as one of the most densely populated areas of the United States. In fact, if Long Island was a state, it would be the thirteenth most populated and the first in terms of population density with 5,402 people per square mile, according to the World Population Review website.
The estimated 7.75 million people that reside on Long Island (as of 2013) are constantly going from place to place, whether it’s picking up a cup of coffee on their way to work or taking their kids to soccer practice or, perhaps, horseback riding lessons.. On the way to their destination, one may even pass a homeless shelter hiding in plain sight.
On this island, everyone has a story, whether it is the 7-Eleven manager, the homeless shelter volunteer or the horse farm owner.
The 7-Eleven Manager
Zahid Kahn spends his days managing two 7-Elevens – one in Lake Grove and one in Centereach. Not only does Kahn manage the employees, dealing with call-outs and other issues, but he also manages the floor. In one day he travels to both stores, which are approximately five minutes away from one another. After a long day of work, Kahn is exhausted, spending his night watching Netflix shows like Supernatural, or Indian movies.
Until about the age of 27, Kahn lived in Pakistan. He was able to come to the United States almost twenty years ago, excited to see the America he saw in the movies and to take advantage of opportunities that were not available to him as a young man in Pakistan.
“It’s like a dream that comes true,” Kahn said. “Even when I was in America sometimes I would dream that I was coming to America, and then I would wake up.”
As Kahn began working in the U.S., his father arranged a marriage for him. Kahn’s wife currently works part-time at the Smith Haven Mall in Lake Grove and makes “delicious” food, which Kahn says he enjoys eating after work.
As 18 years passed, Kahn has seen the technology and culture change at 7-Eleven. In the beginning of Kahn’s career, he used pen and paper to order food and drinks, today he uses a computer.
After the September 11 attacks, Kahn noticed an increase in discrimination towards Middle Eastern workers at the 7-Eleven stores. Kahn did not experience racism towards himself, but he certainly noticed his coworkers experiencing racism. Therefore, Kahn and the other employees hired a private security guard to stand in the stores. Kahn believes that the tension has alleviated over time, despite what the media portrays.
Throughout his years residing in the United States, Kahn has also noticed many differences between the culture in Pakistan and the United States.
For example, Kahn said that when a child does something bad or somebody steals, it is taken care of right there. Unlike in America, blame is often shifted away for the child.
Kahn outlined his observance in this story; One day a man walked into Kahn’s 7-Eleven and angrily accused the employees of selling cigarettes to his 17-year-old son. Kahn explained that in Pakistan, the parent would not go after the person who sold the cigarettes, they would go after the son. He asked the man, “Why are you so mad when you can’t control your own son?”
“If people are into bad habits [in Pakistan], nobody likes them,” Kahn explained. “There is no ID system, nothing like that.”
Stealing is also an issue at 7-Eleven. In Pakistani society, Kahn explained that there is street justice. If someone does something bad, according to Kahn, it’s taken care of right there.
In America, however, many justify stealing from big corporations like 7-Eleven since it is such a big company. What many fail to realize is that when something is stolen from 7-Eleven, the stores come up short. The corporation blames the employees, not the customers.
Kahn explained that his culture is very honest and people don’t often do bad things, and when he is accused of stealing, he takes it very personally.
“I know that the media may tell you something else, but I’m telling you because I lived there,” Kahn said. “We are mostly honest people.”
In Kahn’s opinion, Americans know very little about the rest of the world, and he wishes that Americans would understand that people from other parts of the world come from different societies and cultures. It takes time to adjust to American culture, and those new to the country need to be dealt with gently.
When Kahn attended a tobacco class, a police officer told a story that two drunk men who walked into a 7-Eleven and made fun of the cashier working behind the counter, who was fresh from the Middle East. The cashier then proceeded to bash the men in the head with a beer bottle that they were buying.
“People don’t do this type of thing [in Kahn’s culture], they are not drunk, they are not under the influence of drugs,” Kahn said. “So, this only happens if you are having a fight with someone. There’s nobody that goes into a shop and starts making fun of you. So that’s why that guy did not understand what to do, because he had nothing personal with them. So the only thing he thought to do was to hit them.”
Kahn does return to his home in Pakistan from time to time, however at times he feels like a stranger there as years go by and relatives get older and children grow bigger.
“There is a picture in your brain, like this is how it was,” Kahn said. “When you go back, you’re like ‘oh, this is something else’. That’s the biggest shock you get when you leave your country.”
The Homeless Shelter Volunteer
Jane Mccabe once traveled the world as an editor for the Tea and Coffee Trade Journal. Now she drives to a house in the suburbs of Baldwin every Thursday at 4 o’clock p.m. Inside the home, women and children relax in the living room, watching television and playing with toys. An elderly rescue dog sits in the sun that shines through the window. Mccabe does not leave the house until 10 p.m. Until then, she washes dishes, folds napkins and reminds children to put on slippers, among other duties.
This house is part of the nonprofit agency Bethany House, which calls itself a “place to come when there is no place to go.” Women and their children who are faced with issues, such as poverty or domestic abuse, reside there until they can get back on their feet. Bethany House was founded in 1978 by the Dominican Sisters of Amityville. The nonprofit is comprised of three houses and multiple programs that help women learn skills to succeed. The shelter can care for up to 75 people a night and, usually, 25 to 35 guests are children.
“It’s a great place to live,” said Natalie Stone, a guest at the house. “They guide you and help you to better yourself. Not only for yourself, but for your kids. It’s like starting over. They teach you how to clean, they teach you time management.”
After being homeless, Stone stayed at Bethany House for some time. During her stay, she has made many accomplishments, including job interviews and forgiveness of others.
“It could be anybody,” Mccabe said. “You never know. I could get hit with a financial bill, a catastrophe could happen and I could be living in these homes. Thank God for these homes.”
When Mccabe first walks through the door, she reads “the book,” which contains notes about what has happened at Bethany House over the week. She then makes a salad and sets the tables. Each napkin is evenly folded and everyone gets a fork, knife and a plate. If a guest eats at Bethany House, they must do their chores and attend a support group. Subjects such as domestic abuse, finance and health are discussed at the meeting. It’s Mccabe’s job to make sure all the women attend. While the meeting is in progress, the children settle in the dining room. They make crafts with local volunteers from churches, synagogues and high schools.
Her car parked in front of the house contained boxes and boxes of donations that she got from friends and a former thrift shop where she worked.
Mccabe was not always the local volunteer she is now. At one time, Mccabe was a world traveler, organizing events and interviews for the Tea and Coffee Trade Journal, a magazine for which she was the co-publisher editor.
“I used to get CEOs of tea and coffee companies to come and speak,” Mccabe said. “One of my greatest accomplishments was getting the president of Snapple Tea Company to come to Europe and talk about his product and how he evolved.”
Mccabe did not dedicate herself to the tea and coffee business because of an interest in the trade, however. In 1978, Jane Mccabe answered the job advertisement in the New York Times shortly after graduating from Queens College with a bachelor’s degree in English writing.
In 1979, it was rare to come across a woman in the coffee and tea trade industry. According to Mccabe, she would be the only woman found at a cocktail party.
“There was sexual harassment here and there,” Mccabe said. “But I was respected and it was nice.”
Her career in the trade, which Mccabe “fell in love with,” ended in 2009 when Mccabe retired. As a retired woman, Mccabe spent her days getting lunch with friends, doing house jobs and spending time with her children, who are in their twenties.
Her life changed in 2012 after Hurricane Sandy when Mccabe and her husband took a trip to Long Beach, which had been devastated by the storm, to help with the aftermath. Mccabe described seeing cars filled with sand.
“After Sandy and seeing how it just decimated Long Beach, it kind of changed me and I wanted to help,” Mccabe said. “I wanted to help women.”
When Mccabe first began volunteering for Bethany House, she was given the responsibility of writing the newsletter, brochures and press releases. Later on, Mccabe was upgraded to a position on the resource development committee, which was organized by Sister Aimee, the CEO and founder of Bethany House. With the resource development committee, Mccabe helps organize events, such as fashion shows.
“[Mccabe] definitely has a different outlook on life now than I remember growing up,” Katie Mccabe, Mccabe’s daughter said. “I just really think she has grown as a person.”
Mccabe recalls one situation where a woman from Ohio was living at Bethany House after being abused by her partner. The woman was considering returning to her partner after not being able to hold down a job and support herself. Irish Beauty, a hair salon in Seaford, offered Bethany House a “day of beauty”. Ten women, including the woman from Ohio, were brought to the hair salon to get a haircut.
“This girl looked great and she got a job interview,” Mccabe said. “She didn’t go home. I told the people at this hair salon, ‘You saved this girl’s life. You changed her life.’ Because maybe if she didn’t have that haircut, maybe she wouldn’t have gotten that job.”
As it gets later in the day, the guests must make it home by curfew, which is at 10 p.m. Mccabe must make sure all the women have done their chores, which include tasks such as sweeping or cleaning the tables. If it doesn’t get done, Mccabe completes the chore. Mccabe washed the dishes and smiled.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned here is how much you can fit into a tupperware bowl,” she said.
The Horse Farm Owner
All it took was a five dollar pony ride to ignite then six-year-old Cindy Laskow’s love for horses.
From there, Laskow would spend much of her youth working at stables to work off riding time. Laskow bought her dream stable in 1995, naming it Crystal Brook and using her plot of land in Centereach to teach mostly kids how to ride and care for horses.
Her goal was to provide young people with a safe environment, the type of environment she grew up in.
As Laskow grew up, one of her greatest challenges was school because of her dyslexia. Her challenges with reading, writing and math influenced Laskow to decide not to attend college.
“I knew the one thing I was good at is horses,” Laskow said. “I understand horses. I can look at a horse and think ‘oh my God this horse is just screaming for attention’.”
Laskow is now able to run the business of the stable all by herself, learning the industry through people she knew and through past mistakes. Now she is well regarded in the horse community and at horse shows, as her riders and horses are always winning very impressive ribbons.
“You’re going against these top horses [at horse shows], top riders and big stables,” Laskow said. “This little tiny farm that’s in Centereach competes with these big farms.”
Unlike many horse farms that aim for profit, Laskow’s goal is to provide an opportunity for what is known as a “rich man’s sport” to girls (and boys) who may not have the means to pay for lessons. Most of her patrons work for lessons and ride time.
Work on the farm includes cleaning the stables, grooming the horses, feeding and watering the horses, etc. Laskow takes pride in the ranch’s cleanliness, as some of her neighbors are unaware of the farm being there, a far stretch from many farms that smell of manure and attract flies.
“A lot of the kids who can’t afford to do it [take horseback riding lessons] come,” Laskow said. “They’ll help out around the barn. They’ll take riding time and riding lessons. It teaches them responsibility.”
She later said, “We’ve had kids get scholarships, cause we will write letters to colleges on how they’re an asset. They’ve grown up here. Some of these kids have been here since they were eight years old and now they’re in their thirties.”
As someone who has struggled with dyslexia, Laskow also aims to help kids who have disabilities.
Bonnie Marucheau, the founder of God’s Earth Angels Corporation 501(C)3 which is a local organization that provides assistance for individuals and families in need, fell in love with Crystal Brook because of the impact it made on her son. Her son was very sick and was using a breathing machine when he wandered onto the stable with his older sister’s friend, who made a stop at the farm on the way to 7-eleven to get the boy a Slurpee, one of the only snacks he could enjoy at the time.
Marucheau’s son knew that he should not have been there since he was allergic to horses. However, he was able to meet Laskow and even pet her horse. He then became set on coming back after he did not have an allergic reaction.
Through her son, Marucheau and Laskow became really close friends and have “picked each other up by the bootstraps” when going through hard times.
Not only did the two begin a friendship, they began a professional relationship. The two have held fundraisers called “Saddle Up” which raises money for causes such as helping a cancer patient and paying for vet bills for a horse named Jack who was found emaciated.
A friend of Laskow’s who volunteers at a horse rescue adopted Jack who was skin and bones and was always afraid. The friend brought the horse to Laskow for boarding. There, he began rehabilitation. According to Laskow, Jack was so neurotic that he was afraid to stay in a stall and get in a trailer.
Because of the fundraiser, which provided people a day of fun on the farm, Jack was able to receive the necessary health care he needed to become the healthy horse he is today.
“Jack is doing good,” Laskow said. Marucheau remarked that Laskow enjoys spoiling Jack.
“It’s [the stable] like walking onto a little piece of heaven when you walk through those gates,” Marucheau said. “Nobody really knows about it and people who do know about it appreciate it.”
One could say that horses are Laskow’s world. To unwind, Laskow enjoys grooming her horse and “making her horse look pretty.” Laskow calls it therapy.
The person who rings up your coffee, your clothing or who drives past you on your way to your destination has a story. All you have to do is open your eyes, or perhaps, ask a question.