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Queens Chronicle

At-risk kids get early Thanksgiving

Group for children with absent dads holds turkey dinner in Howard Beach

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Posted: Wednesday, November 27, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 11:11 am, Thu Dec 5, 2013.

Anthony Gurino knows what it’s like to not have his dad around.

The Howard Beach native’s father was not in his life for several key years as he was growing up. Now as an adult, he wants to make sure every child who doesn’t have a father present has a chance at a good life.

“I always vowed when I was in a position later in my life, I would spend some time with kids like this,” he said. “It’s very dear to my heart.”

Gurino, an accomplished actor who now works in the insurance industry, established a nonprofit called Dad’s Away, which aims to help children whose fathers are not around, either through incarceration, as the case was with Gurino’s dad, abandonment or military deployment. He said he was lucky growing up in Howard Beach where he had many positive male role models in his life while his father was not around, but many children in fatherless homes do not have that luxury.

“Positive male role models are an integral part of development,” he said.

For Gurino, who attended St. Helen School and later St. Francis Prep and St. John’s University, said his career in acting helped him channel his experiences of being without a dad into positive results.

“It makes you more open, more sensitive and in-tune with your feelings,” he said. “It makes you totally available to listen and respond.”

He noted that often children and families of incarcerated fathers get a negative stigma put on them by society.

Dad’s Away does a number of events, especially around holidays like Christmas and Father’s Day, when being without a dad affected Gurino the most as a child.

“The times that are magnified are the holidays,” he said. “Those memories stick out the most for me.”

Last year for Father’s Day, Dad’s Away held a basketball shoot out with St. John’s University basketball coach Steve Lavin.

On Friday, Gurino’s organization hosted it’s first Thanksgiving event, bringing eight children without a father present and their mothers to celebrate Thanksgiving dinner at Lenny’s Clam Bar in Howard Beach. The children, who all came from Upper Manhattan, were brought to dinner in limousines. Dad’s Away selected the children by working with an organization based in Manhattan called the Dominican Women’s Development Center. Gurino said he chose Lenny’s because it is a restaurant he’s familiar with and felt it had the perfect atmosphere for a family Thanksgiving setting.

“I know it’s a family-owned restaurant for 40 plus years and I was confident the children would relish the warmth of family,” he said. “It was really fulfilling. Most of these kids and parents don’t have the luxury of dining in a restaurant.”

Dad’s Away is also hosting a toy drive through Dec. 15. Toys can be mailed or dropped off at the organization’s headquarters at 98-06 101 Ave. in Ozone Park. They will be given to children ages 4 to 12.

“We don’t raise enormous sums of money,” Gurino said. “We don’t give enormous sums away, but we do try to make a difference in a child’s life.”

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