'Honeymoons for Heroes': Brooklyn couple gets surprise of a lifetime after COVID alters wedding plans

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EAST FLATBUSH, Brooklyn (WABC) -- A pair of Brooklyn newlyweds who are both essential workers and whose honeymoon was derailed by the coronavirus pandemic got the surprise of a lifetime Thursday, when what they thought was a photo shoot was actually an all-expenses paid honeymoon for when it's safe to travel again.

It's part of the "Honeymoons for Heroes" program by Chase, Brides.com and Southwest Airlines, which is surprising five essential worker couples who have had plans altered by COVID-19.

Zenzile Dabreo-St. Hilaire is a kindergarten teacher at P.S./I.S. 109 in East Flatbush, while Joel St. Hilaire is an ER nurse at St. John's Episcopal Hospital. Their wedding was supposed to take place this summer in Barbados, but from March through June, they weren't even allowed to see each other.

Joel contracted the virus on the job, and Zenzile is high risk.

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On Thursday in East Flatbush, Joel thought he was coming to spent time with family.

"To be honest, I was a little annoyed," he said, "Because I was told it was my nephew's birthday brunch, and I'm like, why am I dressed up?"

All Zenzile knew was that the newlyweds were going to participate in a photo shoot. She had no idea it would look like a pop-up backyard tropical experience.

Just as they were settling in, the next surprise blew them both away -- the honeymoon they did not get to take.

They were given roughly $3,000 worth of reward points they can use for one or multiple flights for their honeymoon, that never expire.

"We didn't get to go dress shopping, we didn't get to go to venues and look at things," Zenzile said. "Bachelor (party), bachelorette (party), nothing."

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They met Memorial Day of 2014, and it was love at first sight.

"We were at a Caribbean Day event," Zenzile said. "I just wanted to pass by. He wanted to dance, and here we are years later."

As for their wedding, the couple didn't want to waste more time one COVID hit and said "I do" on July 24.

"Just acknowledging how time is short and this is the love of my life, I wanted to enjoy it as soon as possible," Joel said.

It was a virtual wedding with 98 guests, and they had planned to honeymoon in Hawaii. Now, they'll have that chance once they feel comfortable flying again.

"Married Barbados," Zenzile said. "Honeymoon, St. Lucia or Hawaii."

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Suddenly, the brutal death of George Floyd while in the custody of police officers in Minneapolis filled the streets of a nation with rage and sorrow. New York was no different. Protesters put the fear of the virus aside and took to the streets by the thousands. Abandoning the safety and comfort of social distance, to demand social change.





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