Person of the Week
Eric Casner Sees Community Giving Come Full Circle
Eric Casner, aka DJ Cassinova, brought his love of music to others as a quarantine DJ in the early COVID days and has recently seen a return of community support in a time of need. (Photo courtesy of Eric Casner )
Eric Casner has always made helping others a priority and whenever he could lend a hand to those in need, he took the opportunity. Having recently had an accident that resulted in two surgeries and nerve damage throughout his leg, Eric has seen that community support come back to him and his family.
“There are no words to express what the support has meant to me. For everyone to come together like they have for me and my family has been a blessing,” says Eric. “I’ve always been a giver and tried to make sure others have what they need, so to flip it around and see people come together for us bringing presents, cookies, or food or just checking up on me has been amazing.”
At the beginning of 2020, Eric didn’t even know some of the people who have stepped up to help his family. He met them because of his efforts to bring joy to those in his hometown of East Haven during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Over the past eight years, Eric has turned his hobby and passion for DJing into a career as DJ Cassinova. He often worked at children’s birthday parties, restaurants and bars, weddings, and other events. While he could no longer entertain at events such as those, Eric reached out to his friend Gary Guglielmo of Extreme Landscaping.
“He had a pickup truck and a generator and I had the DJ equipment and the speakers,” says Eric. “We’d done some block parties that way in the past so we came together and started driving around and playing music. It was amazing because you could take someone who is sad or upset and convert them into a dancing body and make them smile.”
The popularity of the traveling DJ began to spread and Eric began to get requests for drive-bys for special events, including a 91st birthday and anniversaries, and specific song requests. His children—12-year-old Gabreil, 7-year-old Mia, and 2-year-old Maverick—enjoyed riding along in the truck with Gabreil loving it so much that he came no matter how cold the weather.
“It was great to see the excitement of people come outside to dance and still enjoy life even though they had to be inside,” says Eric, who coached Gabreil’s football team when he was younger. “My kids really loved seeing that, too, and waving to everyone along the way.”
Visiting so many neighborhoods throughout town, Eric also began collecting donations that he used to purchase pizzas for first responders and healthcare workers. He loved seeing people donate what they could in order to support others. The donations were able to supply pizza dinners to places such as the local nursing homes, Yale New Haven Hospital, the East Haven Fire Department, and East Haven Police Department.
Little did Eric know that later in 2020, he would be on the receiving end of treatment from many of those places. When his accident occurred, Eric credits the quick response of the East Haven Police Department and East Haven Fire Department and its paramedics for saving his life, noting that they were “all so wonderful.”
He also is thankful for his neighbor’s immediate help. After he returned home from the hospital, Eric was surprised at the outpouring of support from the community.
Chris Brown, principal of Tuttle School, and Gina Fronte, who also works at Tuttle School, were on the Casner’s doorstep delivering meals. They also ensured that the children were enrolled in the toy drive program through the Fire Department as the accident occurred just before the holidays.
Eric then began to see the lasting impact his days as a quarantine DJ made. One of the requests to which he had responded was to play an anniversary song for a couple. Eric remembers seeing them dance outside as he played their song. The man who requested that song, Dominic Milano, started a GoFundMe page for Eric and his family to offset expenses from the accident and as Eric recovers (search “Help the Casner Family” on www.gofundme.com).
When the first big snowstorm of the season hit, Eric saw his wife, Ashley, struggling to clear the driveway. Despite not liking to ask for help, Eric asked for assistance on Facebook. PJ Norwood responded immediately. Eric had answered a request to play music for Norwood’s wife as she battled cancer.
“I had gone there and played a half hour of songs and she just danced and was enjoying life—it was a tear-jerker,” says Eric. “When PJ saw my post, he came running over as soon as his shift was done at the Fire Department and shoveled out my whole driveway.”
The good deed was even more important as now having gone through two surgeries, Eric is left with nerve damage, which has resulted in chronic pain and the need for visiting nurses and physical therapists, who need access to his driveway and his home.
The connections continued to show themselves as Eric then called to make a doctor’s appointment and the woman who answered the phone recognized his name and thanked him for the music and the donations.
While Eric has received a lot of support from the community, he is quick to point out that Ashley has always been his biggest supporter. As Eric is not mobile, he is not able to care for the children on his own at this time and Ashley’s employer has worked with her to allow her to be home to help her family.
The two met 15 years ago when they were a sophomore and freshman at East Haven High School. He admits that there have been challenges—especially this year—but the couple has faced them all together.
“It’s a battle and you’ve got to work hard if you want to keep it,” says Eric. “Life throws stuff in your way to try to get you down, but we’ve found a positive way to work through it all. Ashley is my rock and the one keeping me on task.”
Eric is looking forward to working his way back toward health. He can’t wait to ride bikes again with his youngest son. He is also looking forward to a return to a pre-COVID-19 lifestyle.
Despite the challenges brought by 2020, Eric chooses to look at the positive side of things, which help to lift his spirits. He is thankful to have had the opportunity to give back to the community and bring joy to others.
“2020 was definitely the worst year of our lives, but with every day in life, it’s an experience and there are going to be mistakes and things to push you down. You just have to keep your head straight and stay focused,” says Eric. “Hopefully 2021 is a stepping stone to a better life. I hope everybody is happy and seeing the positives that are out there for all of us.
“It was a blessing to be able to encourage others to want to help heal with music,” says Eric. “I’ll always give back, especially to East Haven where everyone has always looked out for me. I want to thank everyone who came, helped, and reached out. I truly am blessed to have touched so many lives through music.”
Jenn McCulloch is the Correspondent for Zip06. Email Jenn at .