MASSAPEQUA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Car parades have become popular during the coronavirus pandemic to celebrate birthdays and other special events, and one group on Long Island is taking the idea to the next level.

From exotic cars to exciting characters, each one lights up Julia Roessner’s face. She was overcome with emotion on her 19th birthday, overwhelming her family.

“She is a cancer survivor and we’re so proud of her, so every birthday is so special. I know this will be a birthday she remembers forever,” said Sue Roessner, of Massapequa.

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It’s all thanks to a caravan of cars led by Mike LaRocca, a car expert and enthusiast who was asked by his friend Phil Colucci in March to drive by his house for his son’s 11th birthday.

Mike LaRocca drives his green viper in a celebratory birthday car parade organized through his group Strong Island Car Parades 4 Kids. (Credit: CBS2)

“My kids like cars, so I text Mike. Mike came out with the viper and called a couple of his friends. They all showed up,” Colucci said.

“It’s contagious. Once you do it, once you drive, once you see the smiles, once you see the looks on people’s faces, you just gotta get some more,” LaRocca told CBS2’s Jenna DeAngelis.

So he did, creating Strong Island Car Parades 4 Kids to brighten dark days during the COVID crisis and gift kids like Nicolina Colucci, in the young birthday girl’s words, “a ginormous cool car parade.”

They parade from one town to the next, celebrating everything from birthdays to graduations.

“It felt really good to see there were so many people on my side, supporting me through my graduation and all,” said Justin Mangibin, an Adelphi senior.

CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

The group that’s used to surprises got a surprise of their own during one parade.

“It is such a pleasure to present to you a citation on behalf of the state of New York. Thank you for your leadership, thank you for your action,” Assemblyman Mike LiPetri told LaRocca.

“It’s just perfect strangers that come together to bring smiles,” LaRocca said.

They’re also bringing together the community with a group on Facebook now about 5,000 people strong and countless car parades across Long Island.

“Public cars that see what’s going on will just jump in with their flashers, and you’ll make some new friends, you’ll make some new family members,” LaRocca said.

And they make memories people like Julia will never forget.

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