Someone who places community above personal gain, gives back, and helps achieve goals that would be unattainable without that individual.
That is the brief, yet strict criteria for the Patchogue-Medford Hall of Fame’s most prestigious award, “Person of the Year.”
This year, for the nonprofit’s second annual awards night, the selection committee will honor Trish Graham for her work in the Patchogue-Medford’s Special Education Parent-Teacher Association (SEPTA).
“I can’t say enough great things about Trish,” said Manny Felouzis, the Patchogue-Medford Hall of Fame’s president.
Graham helped lead the revival of the community’s SEPTA organization — after nearly seven years of inactivity.
“What I’ve seen Trish do is everything that I could have hoped for,” said Felouzis, also a retired Pat-Med teacher.
Although Graham is a graduate of Sachem, her initiative for bringing back SEPTA to the Patchogue-Medford community is more a personal one.
Graham, a current Patchogue resident, has a daughter, Natalie, who is on the autism spectrum. She believes her child didn’t have the same opportunities to learn and grow in her district as other students might have.
And, she wasn’t alone.
“I’ve always had an interest in making sure everyone is treated fair and equally,” said Graham, “A PTA has loud dances, but that doesn’t work for our kids, and I found a lot of other parents felt the same way.”
Graham was initially introduced to the organization by a board member in 2015 and immediately began advocating for its re-launch. She went rallying and eventually gathered 40 members for SEPTA’s first charter.
After two years of hard work and networking, the organization has grown to 175 members.
“We’ve had a very strong retention rate and I attribute that to us building a community for our kids,” said Graham.
One of the group’s main goals was to help provide a district-wide hub for parents to access resources that can help special needs children thrive.
Organizations like St. Joseph’s College have played a large role in helping build a resourceful community. For one, the college provides SEPTA with space for special needs children to do yoga.
SEPTA has been successful under Graham’s guidance, and it’s not slowing down. One of the organization’s next goals includes bringing the Special Olympics to the high school.
Graham has been overwhelmed by the attention she’s received for her work, and recognizes the fellow parents who helped grow the cause.
“I am the face of so many wonderful parents,” she said, “who work very hard to give their children the best opportunities they can.”
Photo: Trish Graham awards student Liam Rooney with SEPTA’s Kudos Award for exceptional personal growth. (courtesy)