The Village of Hempstead is in need, and forgotten by many who live just a few miles to the north, said Jeffrey Reynolds, CEO and president of the Mineola-based nonprofit Family and Children’s Association.
But the way to build a community back up is not through bringing in stores or building apartment complexes, Reynolds said.
It is through dedicated individuals – like Lynn Vanderhall, a teacher at the group’s nursery co-op who died in August, Reynolds said.
“Individuals who make a choice, who make a choice at some point in time to give back,” Reynolds said. “Who look around and see there are a lot of things that are wrong and need change and step up.”
Reynolds spoke at a celebration on Monday at the Family and Children’s Association’s Nursery Co-Op, when the Hempstead nursery was renamed in honor of Vanderhall.
The celebration was held on Vanderhall’s birthday.
She would have been 59.
Vanderhall, her daughter, Melissa, and Melissa’s friend Janel Simpson were killed in their home in August, according to Newsday.
Police said Vanderhall’s son, Bobby Vanderhall Jr., who had a history of emotional issues and had been recently kicked out of his house, attacked the women with a framing hammer, according to Newsday.
Bobby Vanderhall Jr., 34 at the time, was charged with three counts of second-degree murder and one count of attempted murder involving a fourth woman who escaped with minor injuries, according to Newsday.
On Feb. 20 a judge ruled Bobby Vanderhall Jr., now 35, needs psychiatric treatment and isn’t fit to stand trial, according to Newsday.
But Monday’s celebration, though somber, was a celebration of Vanderhall’s life – specifically her work with the nursery.
Vanderhall’s family joined her colleagues and former students to honor the many ways in which she touched the lives of those around her.
Raiza Romero, 10, said Vanderhall changed her life when she was “very young.”
“She was a person I looked up to for any necessity,” Romero said. “She still lives in my heart to this day and I will always remember her.”
Romero and other young students honored Vanderhall in the ceremony by singing two of their teacher’s favorite songs, the “Pollito Song,” in Spanish, and the “I Love You Song.”
Others returned to honor Vanderhall for the impact she had on their lives when they were younger.
Elena Rios said she met Vanderhall in 1999, soon after she had her son, Steven Padilla.
Rios had been helped by the association a few years before, she said.
She was homeless at the time and the association helped her get back on her feet, allowing her to graduate from high school in 1998, she said.
Rios said she volunteered for Vanderhall and ultimately got hired by her.
“She saw something in me and that’s where it all started,” Rios said. “My life started with the agency and just got better.”
Rios said years later, after leaving the agency, Vanderhall helped her again.
At the time, Rios’ other son, David, was 3, and she was about to be evicted from her apartment.
Vanderhall helped her fill out the necessary paperwork to keep her apartment, Rios said.
At the ceremony Vanderhall was wearing the outfit she wore to an interview at Oheka Castle, she said.
The day of the interview, when Rios went to pick up her son, Vanderhall looked at her and said “you got the job,” Rios said.
Rios is now a supervisor at Oheka Castle.
“Every morning I get out of bed, and it isn’t easy getting up at 5 in the morning,” Rios said. “But my motivation is people like Lynn, that helped me get where I am now.”
Kandice Mayo’s history with Vanderhall dates back to when she was a nursery student at 3 years old.
Mayo compared her relationship with Vanderhall to that of a mother and daughter.
“She nurtured me and cared for me … and that story when on throughout my life with her,” Mayo said.
Mayo returned to the association to volunteer.
At 18, Mayo had her own son.
“She looked at me and said you wanted to go to college, I want you to go to college,” Mayo said.
Vanderhall and the nursery took care of Mayo’s son, and when Mayo graduated from college with a degree in social work Vanderhall helped her get a position at the association.
One day, Mayo said, Vanderhall told her “this is not where your story ends.”
Vanderhall helped Mayo fill out applications for an agency, Mayo said.
“Before I knew it my letter of resignation was already submitted on behalf of her,” Mayo said.
Rios and Mayo were just a couple of many former students who returned to honor Vanderhall.
Rios said people often say that certain people plant a seed.
“Well Lynn didn’t just plant a seed,” Rios said. “She planted many seeds.”