Former Great Neck resident appointed police department chaplain

Former Great Neck resident appointed police department chaplain

A former Great Neck resident, the Rev. Derek Garcia, was headed for a career as a pilot.
But, Garcia said, he had a change of heart and wanted to dedicate his life to assisting others through his faith.
“As much as I loved flying and I think it’s a passion, my desire is to help people,” he said. “My desire was to be a person who followed in my father’s footsteps as a minister of our faith.”
Now, Garcia serves as a senior pastor at El Tabernaculo de Gozo Church in East Meadow, and he was appointed last month as a chaplain for the Nassau County Police Department.
Garcia, 33, was born and raised in Great Neck in a devout Christian household.
Thirty-one years ago, he said, his father founded El Tabernaculo de Gozo Church,  a Protestant church.
While his parents could have decided to live in a more affordable area, Garcia said, they thought living in Great Neck would be best for the family.
“My parents decided very early on that they were going to take that sacrifice, take that financial hit, to try and provide us with the best possible education,” he said. “The whole reason we grew up in Great Neck was because my father wanted us to get the best education.”
Garcia attended John F. Kennedy Elementary School, then went  to Great Neck North Middle School and eventually graduated from Great Neck North High School.
He also attended BOCES in Farmingdale for aviation.
Although he was pursuing his dream of flying airplanes, Garcia decided to follow his faith instead.
He began serving as a pastor at his father’s church in 2006 and is now a senior pastor.
Aside from helping those living in his community and congregants from his church, Garcia said he found a new group of people to help after his brother became a New York State trooper two years ago.
“In the beginning of him becoming a state trooper, we were learning what it was like to be a police family,” he said. “We had a great time learning what he does and his training.”
But, Garcia said, there was a “turning point” where he realized the job had more serious implications.
“One day my brother said he had a scary experience and told me about a traffic stop where his heart started pounding harder,” he said. “I realized that, yeah, he’s a state trooper, but he’s my brother and he’s like any other person and if there’s anything I can do as a minister, I could pray for him.”
It was after that moment when Garcia decided he would offer his efforts to police officers.
He said he began assisting the Nassau County Police Department by working with recruits and offering courses on Hispanic culture to them a few years ago.
Last month, Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and Acting Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter appointed him as a chaplain for the police department.
“Reverend Derek Garcia is a great addition to the Nassau County Police Department,” Mangano said in a statement. “His dedication to the people of Nassau County is truly admirable and speaks volumes about his commitment to bettering the lives of everyone he comes across.”
Garcia said there was a natural fit between what Mangano and Krumpter wanted for the department and what he wanted to accomplish.
“The need for spiritual guidance in the police department is very real and we don’t notice it until it’s needed,” he said. “They hired me because they want me to be available as a spiritual connection between the police department and God.”
According to Mangano’s office, chaplains serve the police department in various capacities including assisting in death notifications, supporting victims during crises, visiting sick or injured personnel, counseling police officers and more.
Garcia said he was most looking forward to “being an asset” to the police department.
“Although we don’t look for applause or thank yous, those thank yous are what keeps a minister on point,” he said. “Sometimes the greatest reward is that ‘thank you’ or that ‘hey, you really helped me out.’”
“Those are the moments that will be defining in my chaplaincy,” Garcia added.
He said his duties are more complex than just offering support to police officers and their families.
Garcia said that although “you’re never fully prepared” for a difficult situation, it is his responsibility to show compassion to those who are hurting.
“I need to be compassionate with the information I’m giving and with the families,” he said. “Compassion drives the heart of a minister.”
“Whether it’s delivering difficult news or being there at somebody’s bedside, my job is to make sure that person’s faith is still intact,” Garcia added.
He said that because he speaks Spanish, he’s had a number of opportunities open up for him, including the chaplain position.
Garcia said he had spoken with an officer who was concerned about someone being able to contact his mother, who only speaks Spanish, if something were to happen to him in the field.
“He had a very pressing concern and I wonder how many other officers have similar concerns,” he said.
Garcia said that as the Hispanic population is increasing on Long Island, leadership needs to shift to reflect the change in demographics.
“When it comes to the police department, they want to increase the numbers to make sure it looks like the communities we’re serving,” he said. “I’ll be helping to encourage that in my community.”

By Joe Nikic

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