Authors Posts by Alex Petroski

Alex Petroski

Alex Petroski
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Legislator Rob Trotta, left, calls on Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone to resign. Photo by Alex Petroski

Corruption is a word used often relating to Suffolk County government recently, and at least three legislators have had enough.

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) spoke at a press conference at the Suffolk County Legislature, Evans K. Griffing Building in Riverhead on Tuesday in which he called for the resignation of County Executive Steve Bellone (D) and District Attorney Tom Spota. Trotta also called for Babylon Town Supervisor Rich Schaffer (D), who is also the Suffolk County Democratic Committee chairman to step down from one of the two jobs.

“At this point we are calling for the district attorney to step down and to let normalcy come back,” Trotta said, adding stories that continue to come out relating to former Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke, who pleaded guilty to a civil rights violation and conspiracy to obstruct justice in February, are “disgusting.” Spota, Bellone and Schaffer were all critical in Burke’s career rise and promotion despite evidence reported by Newsday the men were warned of Burke’s troubled legal past.

Trotta’s calls for Spota’s resignation also stem from his backing of Chris McPartland, a corruption prosecutor in Spota’s office, who Newsday reported in January is under investigation by a federal grand jury for political corruption.

“People need to be held responsible for their actions and right now, in this county, they’re not being held responsible,” Trotta said. “I don’t mean in federal courts or being arrested, I mean morally and socially.”

Legislator Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) and Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) joined Trotta at the press conference. Cilmi stopped short of calling for resignations when pressed, though he made a statement condemning Bellone and Spota’s alleged actions relating to Burke.

“People always have a sense that their political system is corrupt,” Cilmi said. “But day after day, week after week, year after year they’re seeing those fears play out right before their eyes in Suffolk County and it’s disgraceful. Whatever integrity Suffolk County has left is evaporating in a murky haze of finger pointing and deceit.”

Cilmi also echoed Trotta’s sentiments about Schaffer and suggested Schaffer’s two positions created a conflict of interest.

“The people of Suffolk County didn’t elect Schaffer,” Cilmi said. “The people of Babylon elected him town supervisor. Is he able to keep his government role separate from his political role?”

Schaffer could not be reached for comment but Bellone responded to Trotta’s comments in an email through his spokesperson, Vanessa Baird-Streeter.

“Rob Trotta and Tom Cilmi are partisan politicians who just don’t get it,” she wrote. “This is not a partisan issue, this is about sweeping out a culture of abuse and corruption in the district attorney’s office. I regret that I trusted the word of the district attorney regarding Jim Burke, and I have learned from that error in judgment, which is why I nominated former federal prosecutor Tim Sini as police commissioner after vetting him for more than a year.”

Bob Clifford, a spokesperson for Spota, responded in a similar fashion.

“This predictably partisan press conference calling for the resignation of the duly elected district attorney is nothing but a political challenge to the effective leadership of Thomas Spota, who has spent the last 14 years putting criminals in jail,” he said.

McCaffrey and Trotta refuted any claims that the legislators’ motivation was driven by anything other than morality.

“I can tell you there’s Democrats in there that want to be standing here with us,” McCaffrey said, gesturing toward a legislative meeting going on at the same time. “They are ashamed of what’s going on in Suffolk County right now.”

Trotta said he invited Democratic legislators, though none attended.

“This is not about Republicans — this is not about Democrats,” Trotta said. “This is about corruption. Our job as representatives is to look into this. My constituents don’t have the ability to look into it like I can. Having been a former detective for 25 years I came to this job and I am sickened by what I see. Sickened.”

The 2016 Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame induction class was honored at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Hauppauge. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

Greatness in the world of athletics was on display to be celebrated Friday night. Members of the 27th class of the Suffolk County Sports Hall of Fame were inducted at a ceremony held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Hauppauge. They will join past inductees like Boomer Esiason and Craig Biggio in the pantheon of impactful Suffolk sports figures.

“Each year we induct the very best of Suffolk County,” Master of Ceremonies and 1999 Hall of Fame inductee David Weiss said to kick off the evening. “These are men and women on and off the playing field who had a positive and lasting impact, and have left a legacy for all of Suffolk County.”

Among the inductees were Northport star lacrosse player Jill Byers; Setauket resident and 27-year New York Jets beat reporter, Rich Cimini; legendary Harborfields football coach and Smithtown football star, Tom Combs; the first varsity boys’ basketball coach at Comsewogue, Frank Romeo; and Deer Park three-sport standout and football All-American at Stony Brook University, Chuck Downey. Richie LoNigro, owner of Port Jefferson Sporting Goods, which has been open since 1973, was also honored with a special recognition award.

Byers graduated from Northport in 2005. She is the only athlete to be named All-Long Island team in three sports during her high school career, playing basketball, soccer and lacrosse. She was a two-time All-American in lacrosse during high school, and also received the distinction four times during her career at the University of Notre Dame. She also competed on the United States women’s lacrosse national team.

“African proverb states that it takes a village to raise a child,” Byers said during the ceremony Friday. She credited, among others, her three older brothers for her success, stating that they never let her win at anything. “Thank you to my village for giving me the opportunity to represent you here tonight.”

Setauket resident Rich Cimini was inducted into the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame for his accomplishments as a beat reporter for the New York Jets. Photo by Alex Petroski
Setauket resident Rich Cimini was inducted into the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame for his accomplishments as a beat reporter for the New York Jets. Photo by Alex Petroski

Cimini is the longest tenured Jets beat reporter in team history, working for the Daily News, Newsday and for the past six years, ESPN. He has received awards from the Associated Press and the Pro Football Writers of America for his work over the years.

He joked that he didn’t feel like he belonged in a class with people who accomplished so much on the field, being that his accomplishments took place entirely in the press box.

“I feel like the nerd who got invited to the cool kids party,” Cimini said.

He mentioned his supportive parents and his understanding wife of 25 years, who is okay with planning their lives yearly around the NFL schedule.

“She’s the real hall of famer in our family,” Cimini said of his wife Michelle, who is actually a lifelong New York Giants season ticket holder.

Tom Combs has been the athletic director in the Patchogue-Medford school district since 2003. Before that, he played Division II football at Ashland University in Ohio following his four years at Smithtown. He became the head football coach at Harborfields in 1990, where he won five county championships and two Long Island Championships over a 13-year run.

“I am humbled by the talent and accomplishments of this class,” Combs said. “I’m just very honored and blessed to be up here.”

Combs has two daughters who followed in his footsteps and became teachers and coaches.. He thanked his family, friends and players for helping him to achieve the successes that led to his induction.

“Being a football coach is always something I wanted to do,” he said, adding that his players earning scholarships to attend college and play football was always important to him. “That’s what I’m always proud of as a coach.”

In 1968, Frank Romeo became the first varsity basketball coach at Comsewogue. During a 24-year span, Romeo led Comsewogue to eight league titles, one large school Section XI title and 15 straight playoff appearances. From 1987 to 1990, Romeo’s record was 62-5. He left Comsewogue to become the head basketball coach at Suffolk County Community College in 1992, where he made the playoffs in all of his seven seasons there.

Romeo used the word “we” repeatedly about his spot in the Hall of Fame.

“For all of my former players at Comsewogue and at Suffolk Community College — they were the main ingredient in the term ‘we,’” he said. “They did the playing and they made the sacrifices. Some years we were good enough to win championships and other years we played just as hard and we didn’t win championships. They can now be assured that they made their mark in Suffolk County. They got us to the Hall of Fame.”

Frank Romeo was inducted into the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame for his accomplishments as varsity basketball coach at Comsewogue High School and Suffolk County Community College. Photo by Alex Petroski
Frank Romeo was inducted into the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame for his accomplishments as varsity basketball coach at Comsewogue High School and Suffolk County Community College. Photo by Alex Petroski

Chuck Downey was a standout wrestler, football player and lacrosse player during his years at Deer Park. He was a part of Stony Brook University’s first football team in 1984, where he still holds nearly 30 school records and 12 NCAA records. He was a three-time All-American while at Stony Brook, which earned him a professional contract with the National Football League’s Philadelphia Eagles. That marked the first time a Stony Brook athlete signed a professional sports contract. Downey has since followed in the footsteps of his father Raymond, an FDNY Battalion Chief. His father died in the line of duty on Sept. 11, 2001.

Weiss gave Downey a memorable introduction.

“What a great way to end a wonderful evening with an inductee who epitomizes the word hero from a family of heroes,” Weiss said of the last member to be announced.

Downey joked that he’d rather be in a burning building then standing in front of a room full of people to speak.

“I’m truly honored and deeply grateful to be up here tonight along with these other amazing athletes,” he said.

Many of Richie LoNigro’s 12 children, 25 grandchildren and five great grandchildren were present to honor the man who has become a fixture in Port Jefferson.

“I own a business that makes trophies and trophies are things that we’re all very proud of. I brought my trophies with me tonight and they’re all sitting out there in the audience,” he said, talking about his family. “These are my trophies and awards, and I take them with me wherever I go.”

To learn more about the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame visit www.suffolksportshof.com.

Patrick Ambrosio stands with his cheeses inside The Crushed Olive in Huntington. Photo from Patrick Ambrosio

The Crushed Olive in Huntington has long been a destination for residents with an adventurous palate — now it is a haven for cheese lovers as well.

Huntington’s Patrick Ambrosio, 59, opened Le Bon Fromage in April. Located inside specialty olive oil shop The Crushed Olive, Le Bon Fromage features local and international fresh, cut-to-order, artisan cheeses. Ambrosio is the resident professional cheesemonger, a title he has held for about 20 years.

“I always wanted to do something like this here,” he said in an interview last week. “I’m excited to bring some good cheese to the Huntington community.”

Ambrosio grew up in East Northport. By the time he was 30, he attended culinary school and spent time living in California, working as a chef at a winery and a cheesemonger at a restaurant.

Some of the many cheeses for sale. Photo by Alex Petroski
Some of the many cheeses for sale. Photo by Alex Petroski

All the while, Ambrosio said opening a business like Le Bon Fromage was in the back of his mind. He decided to give it a shot for a number of reasons, most important of which was to be able to spend more time with his wife, Gale, and his 7-year-old son, Ethan.

Ambrosio said he understands cheese, especially those with foreign names and unusual smells or textures that can be intimidating for eaters. He said his goal is to be approachable and informative.

“That’s the fun part of cheese, you take people on a little journey with it,” the cheesemonger said. “I very much believe in the products I represent. I’ve been doing this for close to 20 years now. I live in Huntington and I kind of want to bring that to Huntington.”

Ambrosio acknowledged apprehension from shoppers who are becoming more and more concerned with what they are feeding their families.

“There’s a whole growing market of people who don’t care if it’s a little bit more [money]; they want to know how it’s produced,” he said. “I do have some organic cheeses but while most of them may not be organic, they’re produced to a standard that is better, almost.”

That’s not to say Le Bon Fromage’s prices are hard to swallow.

Ambrosio’s goal is to offer styles and flavors that are not necessarily the norm for the American consumer. His favorite, though he said it’s difficult to choose just one, is the French Comté Marcel Petite.

“I’ve tried to put a good cross section of cheeses together,” Ambrosio said. Le Bon Fromage also offers various salamis from American producers.

The response to Le Bon Fromage during its short run has been positive, if reviews on the shop’s Facebook page are to be believed. One shopper called it “an amazing gem in the heart of Huntington village.” Another complimented Ambrosio, saying, “You won’t find a more knowledgeable purveyor of cheese.”

The cheese expert said he takes care to make sure customers enjoy every part of shopping at Le Bon Fromage.

“I think a big part of it is you have to provide an interesting and good shopping experience for people, and that’s intangible. You don’t take [that] home and you don’t eat it, but that’s part of the experience too.”

Le Bon Fromage and The Crushed Olive are located at 278 Main St. in Huntington.

Setauket Farmers Market organizers Leah Sugrue and Liv Halvorsen enjoy the fruits of their labor at one of last year’s events. Photo from Liv Halvorsen

Farmers markets featuring fresh, local produce and other food items are great for everyone involved, from vendors to shoppers, and the Three Village community is about to get another dose.

The East Setauket Farmers Market, which kicks off for the season on Saturday, May 14, on the North Country Road grounds of the Three Village Historical Society, takes “win-win” one step further. All of the money raised from vendor fees, raffles and donations goes to the nonprofit organization Hope for Javier, which is dedicated to finding a cure for Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

The East Setauket Farmers Market was started in 2015 by then freshmen at Ward Melville High School Leah Sugrue and Liv Halvorsen. The market began as a National Junior Honor Society fundraising proposal, though it has grown to be much more. This year the market will be open on Fridays from spring through fall, starting with the special kickoff date on May 14.

“It’s pretty cool to drive by and think, ‘Wow I created that,’” Halvorsen said in a phone interview Tuesday as she reflected on how the idea sprouted from a school-related proposal to an annual reality.

Sugrue and Halvorsen chose Hope for Javier because another student in the National Junior Honor Society has a family member involved with the organization, and the pair thought the devastating nature of Duchenne muscular dystrophy made it as worthy a cause as any to get behind.

“This is one we felt like the community really responded to,” Halvorsen said, adding that their involvement with the nonprofit has been as fulfilling for them. “[Hope for Javier] shouldn’t be thanking us, we should be thanking them.”

Sugrue said the response to last year’s market “changed what we were thinking, and we’ve become more involved with the cause.” She added that she’s learned a lot about local produce along the way.

The market will feature many of the same fresh, local produce from last year, along with artisanal breads, wines, olive oils, jams, beef jerky, pickles and much more this time around. The pair also hinted they are trying to secure a bouncy castle for marketgoers to enjoy on the 14th.

Sugrue and Halvorsen credited Melissa Dunstatter with helping to get the market off the ground. Dunstatter owns Sweet Melissa Dips & Gourmet catering in Rocky Point, and sells her products at the market and helps with the market’s operations.

“The outpouring of support has truly been amazing,” an informational release about the 2016 launch of the market, said.

To learn more about the market visit www.esetauketfarmersmarket.com.

Huntington High School. File photo.

Two incumbents will square off against a former administrator in the race for two seats on the Huntington board of education.

Bari Fehrs is running for her second term while Bill Dwyer is seeking his third victory. Carmen Kasper, who served as the district’s director of world languages for 14 years before retiring in June 2015, is challenging the pair.

Carmen Kasper

Kasper_Kasperw“The hardest thing about making that decision [to retire] was that I was not going to work with students any more,” Kasper said in an email. But by running for the board, “I could still work for them, serve them the best I could, and serve them to the best of my knowledge by being a trustee, making decisions that would help to improve their education.”

Kasper has lived in Huntington for 10 years. She has spent her life as an educator, teaching English in Peru and Spanish in Copiague school district. She earned a degree in education from SUNY Old Westbury and a master’s degree from Hofstra University in teaching English as a second language.

Bari Fehrs

Fehrs_FehrswFehrs, a 27-year Huntington resident, was elected to the school board in 2013. She was on the board’s Safety Committee, Health and Wellness Committee, Shared Decision Making Committee and Policy Committee during her first term.

Fehrs said she is proud of several accomplishments in her first term, like the board restoring a full-day kindergarten program, which was previously cut, without piercing the state-mandated cap on tax levy increases; expanding academic and extracurricular programs; and enhancing technological infrastructure.

“I look forward to the opportunity to serve another term as a school board trustee, to continue the excellence in education that the Huntington community has come to expect while being fiscally responsible to the taxpayers of this district,” she said in an email.

Bill Dwyer

Dwyer_FilewBill Dwyer was first elected in 2008. He left the board in 2011 after his first term, and was elected again in 2013. He served as president of the board for three school years.

“I am proud of the work we have done in adding programs and services, all within the realm of responsible budgeting,” Dwyer said in an email. “I have made positive contributions to the school district during my time on the board and would be honored to continue my service.”

Dwyer has a master’s degree in aeronautics and astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He started his own health publishing company called Rocket Science Publishing, which produces patient education materials to help in chronic disease management. He currently works for an educational technology company.

Polls will be open on May 17 to vote on the district’s $123 million budget and select two board members. There is another item on the ballot: the release of $2.4 million from the district’s capital reserves for infrastructure upgrades related to handicap accessibility.

Activists demonstrate across the state in a 2013 rally for farmworkers’ rights. Photo from U. Roberto Romano

The road to fairness for farmworkers starts in Suffolk County.

Supporters of the Farm Workers Fair Labor Practices Act, as it has been known for the majority of its existence, which has spanned years and decades, will begin a 200-mile march to Albany on May 15, starting from Sen. John Flanagan’s (R-East Northport) office in Smithtown. A group called the Rural Migrant Ministry organized the March for Farmworker’s Justice. The group has been lobbying for better working and living conditions and benefits like overtime pay and health insurance for farmworkers, who Linda Obernauer, a volunteer with the ministry, said “live in fear” under “strongholds” from many farmers.

“The owners of the farm are the landlords — the owners of the housing,” Boris Martinez, a farmworker from a nursery in Patchogue, said through translator Katia Chapman in a phone interview Tuesday. Martinez is from El Salvador and has worked at the nursery for about two years, he said. “The owners only care that the housing is okay when inspection is going to come. They don’t care what state the housing is in, what condition the housing is in. It’s most likely that there will be at least 10 people living there.”

Nathan Berger is the main organizer of the march, which is a yearly occurrence. Participants march between 10 and 15 miles per day, stopping overnight to sleep at churches or at homes provided by volunteer host families. Obernauer said anyone is welcome to march, and they can join during any leg and participate for as many or as few miles as desired. Berger could not be reached for comment.

“We should all be involved in this,” Obernauer said in a phone interview Friday. “They are who we are but we don’t give them justice.”

Martinez said during a snowstorm last year many of the rooms in the housing provided by the owner of the farm where he works had leaks. Snow and water got inside of virtually all of the rooms. About 10 tenants share the home at a given time.

“The difficulty is that if we were to say to the owner that it’s not adequate housing he would send us out of the house to rent elsewhere because here when you work at his farm we don’t pay rent and it would be difficult to afford rent elsewhere,” Martinez said. “None of the workers are paid overtime pay. None of us have health insurance and if we get sick we don’t have the resources to pay for basic medical care. I know a lot of other workers in the area and none of them are paid overtime pay. Many of us don’t have a day of rest either. I’m right now working about 60 hours a week but when the weather warms up I’ll probably be working 67 or 68 hours.”

“The owners only care that the housing is okay when inspection is going to come.”
­— Boris Martinez

Martinez added he has friends who work upward of 80 hours a week.

“Those in power, they don’t care how we’re doing as workers, what they care about is the money that we’re producing for them,” he said.

An anonymous website, located at www.nyfarmworkerprotectionbill.com, provides the farmers’ perspective on the seemingly never-ending battle. An attempt to contact the purveyor of the website was unsuccessful. The email associated is no longer active.

“[The Rural Migrant Ministry] and others have recruited various celebrities and ‘foodies’ to support the bill, as well as downstate/New York City legislators, most of whom have never even been to a farm,” the site says. “We believe these individuals have been misled and have not done the proper research to find out the truth about farms, growers, farmworkers, and the challenges we face to bring fresh food to as many tables as possible.”

State Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan (D-Queens) is the sponsor of the bill in its current form. The site suggests increased rights and benefits for farmworkers would take a financial toll on farmers’ businesses.

“What we are talking about are five or six exemptions to state labor law,” the site states. “These exemptions, like the one for overtime pay exist because of the production and marketing realities associated with farming. Farming does not take place in an enclosed building with a regulated environment. We have a limited time to plant and harvest. If overtime is enacted, farmers will have to cut hours during the growing season so as to afford the extra hours needed at planting and harvest times which can’t be avoided.”

Flanagan was a sponsor of the bill during his time in the State Assembly in the early 2000s. Since being elected to the State Senate in 2002 he has publicly supported the bill. However, despite becoming the GOP majority leader in 2015, the bill remains before the Labor Committee and has yet to pass the Senate. Flanagan did not respond to multiple requests for comment through his public relations personnel.

Jose Ventura, another farmworker from Guatemala who lives on Long Island, said his living and working conditions are not bad, but he also does not receive overtime or health benefits. He will be participating in the march.

“I’m participating in the march because even though, as I said, I like my job, I also see my friends, my companions that they are not always treated well,” Ventura said in a phone interview Tuesday through Chapman as a translator. “On their farms they’re not always paid fairly. There’s a lot of Guatemalan farmworkers and some of them are mistreated in the job and while I feel that this march is for the benefit of my people, therefore I feel motivated to be a part of the movement.”

Martinez, who also plans to participate in the march, said he knows his value and plans to fight for it.

“Farmworkers are the most important workers in every country because they’re the ones producing the food for the country.”

Jordan Ceccarini was recognized by the Miller Place board of education at a meeting last week for her remarkable accomplishments as a level 10 gymnast. From left: Nick Ceccarini, Nicholas Ceccarini, Jordan Ceccarini, Dawn Ceccarini and Athletic Director Ron Petrie. Front: Angelo Ceccarini. Photo by Alex Petroski

Gymnastics is grueling enough, even with the help and support of teammates and coaches. Sixteen-year-old Miller Place junior Jordan Ceccarini competes at the highest level for her age group with all of the pressure and physical toll that comes with gymnastics, minus that help and support. For her efforts, Ceccarini was honored by the district’s board of education at a meeting last week.

Miller Place doesn’t have a varsity gymnastics team. But beginning in eighth grade, Ceccarini represented Miller Place in competitions with the help of her outside club coach, Peter Neu.

“We wanted her to be a part of the school and participate in a sport, and this was the only way we could make that happen,” Jordan’s mom Dawn Ceccarini said. She and her husband Nick were extremely grateful for Superintendent Marianne Higuera’s and the board of education’s kind words about their daughter.

Ceccarini is a superstar in the local gymnastics world. She is classified as a level 10, the highest level of competition available for amateur gymnasts. The next step up is Olympic level. In 2013, as a level 9, she won the national championship for her age group in floor exercise. As a level 10, she placed ninth in the country on the balance beam, to go along with countless other state and regional accomplishments. In May, Ceccarini will travel to Texas to compete in nationals, representing the Northeastern region.

“I’m excited,” Ceccarini said. “I think winning is a little bit of a far reach, but I hope to place and do well.”

Her unassuming, humble outlook for a national tournament, which automatically implies a spot in the top 50 gymnasts in the country for her age group, was also noted by Miller Place athletic director Ron Petrie during the board of education meeting, along with her rare talent.

“That is just something that is not only unbelievable and impressive, we haven’t had something like this come to Miller Place since I’ve been here,” Petrie said. He’s served as the district’s athletic director since 2015, though he has taught and coached football at Miller Place since 2000.

Ceccarini, or “Momo,” as her mom said she’s also known, started doing gymnastics when she was 2 years old, at “mommy and me” classes, though it was around seventh grade that her mom said she might be special. Her five days per week, four hours per day practice schedule has netted Ceccarini a scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh after she graduates from Miller Place in 2017. It has also cost her some normal 16-year-old social activities, like attending prom this year, though Ceccarini seems to take everything in stride, with the help of a competitive fire that both her mom and athletic director recognize.

Though she competed without the benefit of a coach or a team, Ceccarini’s time at Miller Place will not be forgotten after she leaves.

“I have no doubt that one day Jordan will be inducted into the Miller Place Athletic Hall of Fame as a result of her athletic achievements,” Higuera said.

Judy Blundell writes under the pen name Jude Watson. Photo from Blundell

She may often write about a galaxy far, far away, but Judy Blundell does so from a home in Stony Brook residents’ own backyard. Blundell, also known as Jude Watson, is a best-selling author of fiction for children and young adults.

She has written somewhere around 70 books since she began writing in the mid-1990s, though she said in a phone interview last week she lost count. More than 40 of those are “Star Wars” novels written in the time that falls before, after and between the stories depicted in the seven films released to date.

Blundell, as she’s known when writing historical fiction stories for young adults, lives close enough to Stony Brook Harbor to hear seagulls and ferries while she sits in her office. She also spent time living in California, New York City, Florida, Washington and Delaware, among others.

“Coming back to Long Island is a place I know really well, and it has really been a joy to wind up in this beautiful place, Stony Brook—it has been wonderful,” Blundell said. She was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Queens.

Her mystery and adventure stories for children, usually in the ages 8 to 12 range, get the byline Jude Watson. The scenery in her hometown coupled with her own curiosity are her major sources of inspiration, she said.

“I think the world around me is a varied and fascinating place,” Blundell said. “I’m always interested in people, overheard conversations, things I witness on the subway if I’m in New York or in Target or wherever. Writers are always looking for characters. And very often, books, for me, start with a character rather than a situation and then you sort of write your way into figuring out what the story is.”

Blundell conceded she has had plenty of days with no inspiration, but her remedy is to power through. She offered that as advice to aspiring young writers: Even if you think what you’re producing is terrible, you have to keep writing. “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working,” Pablo Picasso once said, and Blundell said she shares that philosophy.

Blundell has appeared on the New York Times bestseller list several times in her career. In 2008, she received a National Book Award for young people’s literature for the first story she ever put her real name on: “What I Saw and How I Lied.”

Blundell’s husband of more than 30 years, Neil Watson, executive director of the Long Island Museum, said he’s her biggest fan.

“I have the highest respect for her and as a writer, I think it’s tremendous that she has gotten the critical and popular acclaim that she deserves,” Watson said of his wife in an interview. “She is a wonderful writer. She’s a very generous person with her craft and with her ideas.”

Together the couple has cultivated a love of the arts in their 15-year-old daughter Cleo, who is a talented artist in her own right. She is a member of the National Junior Art Society.

“It’s just a part of our house,” Watson said of art in their Stony Brook home. “It’s the home of a museum curator and a writer. Music is constantly on—all types.”

Blundell spoke fondly of her foray into the world of Star Wars, but also mentioned she had fun writing her last novel, “Sting,” which was a follow up to a story she wrote called “Loot,” about a successful jewel thief and his son.

“It was difficult to write because it was a ‘heist’ book, so the plots are very tight and obviously I’m not a jewel thief, so there’s a lot to figure out,” Blundell said, laughing. “But they’re meant to be fun to read and they can’t be fun to read if they’re not fun to write on some level, as hard as they are.”

Blundell said one of her goals is to write stories for kids who view reading as more of a chore than a pleasure.

“I consciously wrote [Loot and Heist] for kids that don’t normally like to read, what we call reluctant readers,” she said. “So the chapters are very short, there’s a lot of action, there’s a lot of fun; there’s a lot of jokes for that reason.”

Blundell said she is currently working on a novel that will be geared more towards adults, though that’s the most she wanted to divulge about it at the moment. To learn more about Blundell and her work, visit her website: www.judyblundell.com.

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Smithtown High School East and Smithtown High School West are ranked in the state’s top 100 schools. File photo by Bill Landon

Districts in New York aspire to have a high school on U.S. News & World Report’s list of the top 100 public high schools in the state. Smithtown did one better. Both high schools, East and West, cracked the top 100 for New York State on the 2016 list, and the top 1,000 nationwide. The list is based on performance on state assessments, graduation rates and how well schools prepare students for college.

“We are very proud of both of our High Schools for making this prestigious list,” Superintendent James Grossane said in an email Monday. “It speaks to the strength of our educational programming K-12 and to the hard work of our students and staff. These honors are also a sign of the support the entire Smithtown Central School District community provides to our schools. Congratulations to our students and staff and thank you to our community for their continued support.”

Smithtown High School West was 76th on the list for New York State and 663rd nationwide, while High School East was 94th in the state and 857th in the country. New York State is home to nearly 1,300 high schools according to “U.S. News & World Report.” West was the 20th best Long Island public high school on the list, while East was 22nd.

Neighboring high schools in Harborfields, Commack and Ward Melville are also within the top 100. Only schools that receive silver or gold medals receive a ranking.

Smithtown is facing potential future financial difficulties, with a declining enrollment and a void in adequate state aid looming, according to district administration, though they have prided themselves in being able to maintain academic excellence despite painful cuts.

“Despite all of the doom and gloom that we’ve talked about, throughout these cuts, the staff in our employ has continued to produce excellence in students,” Joanne McEnroy, vice president of Smithtown’s board of education, said at a recent meeting. “Our programs, although cut, have not suffered. Our students are performing despite this.”

The board of education voted earlier in 2016 to close Branch Brook Elementary School, one of the district’s eight elementary buildings, before the 2017-18 school year, as a cost saving method, much to the dismay of many community members.

A young Huntington resident gets acquainted with some of the smaller dogs up for adoption from the Huntington Animal Shelter at Huntington Honda this past Saturday. Photo by Alex Petroski

Huntington Town is trying a new approach to care for homeless and abused dogs. Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) announced last week the launch of Give a Dog a Dream, a not-for-profit foundation the town formed to raise money for dogs in Huntington’s municipal animal shelter.

“For some time, people have asked how they can help improve the lives of dogs entrusted to our animal shelter’s care,” Petrone said in a statement. The foundation is a new “vehicle through which residents can help provide the extras and specialized care beyond the basics [that] public funding provides.”

Residents are encouraged to donate money, food, beds or other supplies.

A young Huntington resident gets acquainted with some of the smaller dogs up for adoption from the Huntington Animal Shelter at Huntington Honda this past Saturday. Photo by Alex Petroski
A young Huntington resident gets acquainted with some of the smaller dogs up for adoption from the Huntington Animal Shelter at Huntington Honda this past Saturday. Photo by Alex Petroski

Gerald Mosca, the head of the Huntington Animal Shelter, said the town has worked to change the image of the dog refuge.

“What we wanted to do when I took over in 2010 was change the perception of municipal shelters,” that they’re a place where dogs go to die, Mosca said. “That was not what we wanted to portray, and it’s obviously not what we wanted to do.”

The shelter housed nearly 80 dogs when he took over, he said, and now, many adoptions later, they’re down to seven. He credited his dedicated volunteer staff for training the dogs and preparing them to be adopted.

Michael Costa, the assistant executive director of Give a Dog a Dream, stressed the importance of helping the municipal shelter not only be a “no-kill” shelter, but also to give the dogs living there a good quality of life.

“You end up with a dog that sits in a kennel for four, five years,” Costa said. “In most shelters they’re only getting out for maybe 15 to 20 minutes a day if they’re lucky. They’re confined to three-foot by five-foot kennels most of that time. It’s not adequate care. It’s not adequate compassion. These dogs physically may be fine, though mentally they tend to suffer. By working within the community and pushing the way we’ve pushed to get these dogs where they need to be — in homes — we help to make sure they get the care that they really need.”

A dog up for adoption from the Huntington Animal Shelter at Huntington Honda Saturday. Photo by Alex Petroski
A dog up for adoption from the Huntington Animal Shelter at Huntington Honda Saturday. Photo by Alex Petroski

To kick off the foundation, Huntington Honda hosted a special adoption event on Saturday. Members of the community passed through from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. to meet the seven dogs currently being cared for at the town shelter.

“These dogs are all well prepared to go into every house,” Mosca said. “Most of these dogs are very well behaved.”

Huntington Honda’s Marketing Director Jeffrey Hindla talked about the business’ commitment to be part of the community.

“We can really make these dogs’ lives better,” Hindla said Saturday. “We’re super excited to be working with the Town of Huntington and I can’t wait to do more with them.”

Give a Dog a Dream is planning to host more adoption events in the near future. To donate to the foundation or to learn more, visit www.giveadogadream.org.

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