Scores of elected officials sent proclamations and warm words of praise for New Suffolk resident Regina Calcaterra, the recipient of the East End Women’s Network “Woman of the Year Award,” at a ceremony held at Giorgio’s in Baiting Hollow Wednesday night.
From Governor Andrew Cuomo to Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, elected officials sang Calcaterra’s praises. Calcaterra, the new deputy Suffolk County executive, once waged an unsuccessful bid for New York State Senate against Sen. Kenneth P. LaValle, but has won accolades for her charitable work to help the less fortunate.
Perhaps the most heartfelt tributes for Calcaterra on Wednesday night came from her sister.
“She is the funniest, wittiest person I know,” she said. “She has a great love of animals and is just such a sweetheart. Every decision that she makes comes from who she is internally.”
As a product of the foster care system herself, has positively affected the lives of many kids going through the foster care system today.
Melanie McEvoy, one of Calcaterra’s best friends, spoke of her admiration for her friend’s resilience, growing up in a rough childhood.
“Most kids, when they bop around from school to school, get unstable,” she said. “Not Regina.”
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone described why Calcaterra should absolutely have been chosen as woman of the year — and he said that, with Calcaterra’s tireless work in so many aspects of life in Suffolk County — she immediately came to mind as his deputy executive.
“I feel very good about this, because Regina is at the heart of this,” he said.
Calcaterra took to the podium after dinner to share personal stories of what her childhood was like as a foster child who, along with her siblings, was homeless at times. After her friend shared a story of how the siblings would decide whose turn it was to wear the “big pants,” the better to fit loaves of bread and jars of peanut butter when they did not have money for food, Calcaterra said she understands all too well the challenges a foster child faces.
Her life’s mission, through her commitment to organizations such as You Gotta Believe, is to help older foster children get adopted.
Foster children, she said, are more likely to end up addicted to drugs and alcohol. “When you live in that environment, it affects you. It’s so much easier to be numb.” But in order to escape the foster care system, young people have to remain sharp, and get an education, Calcaterra said. Not an easy task when some children have never been nurtured by loving parents, she said.
“There is no light at the end of the tunnel, unless you are the one creating the light.”
Half of the homeless population in the United States, Calcaterra said, were once foster children, with large numbers incarcerated at an early age. “It’s a very dark existence,” she said.
That’s why, Calcaterra said, it’s critical for individuals to step up and adopt older children. “All they need is a family,” she said.
Calcaterra also shared stories of her work for disabled veterans and about her love for the North Fork. Once a month, she and a group of women — neighbors in New Suffolk — get together for a “stitch and bitch” to make crafts and engage in fundraising to help those less fortunate.
She thanked Bellone for his leadership and for the opportunity he afforded a woman, to serve as his Deputy. And she spoke of the family she loves.
“My sister melts my heart,” she said.