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New dog park will be off Boyle Road

Irene Rabinowitz with her dog, Sydney, at the site of the future dog park in Selden. Photo by Erika Karp

Soon Middle Country dogs and their owners won’t have to travel far for puppy play dates or a walk in the park, as plans for a local dog park are moving forward.

The park, which will be located on a property off Boyle Road, just north of Independence Plaza in Selden and across from Washington Heights Street, could be completed by the end of this year, according to Councilwoman Kathy Walsh (I-Centereach).

Irene Rabinowitz, a Selden resident and the former owner of Barks-n-Bubbles Boutique on Middle Country Road in Centereach, has been a driving force behind the project. In 2011, Rabinowitz created Central Suffolk Paws, a local affiliate of Long Island Dog Owners Group, a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing access to parkland for dogs and their owners.

“You go into this wooded property right off of Boyle Road [and] it’s just so relaxing and peaceful,” Rabinowitz said in a phone interview about the planned site for the dog park.

Walsh said in a phone interview there is money available in this year’s town budget to create a small gravel parking lot and to install fencing for the park, but she was unsure of the project’s total cost. The park will take up about four acres on the northern side of the 10-acre wooded property. Paths that already exist throughout that section will remain for dogs and their owners to roam freely.

Rabinowitz, who owns four dogs including an 11-year-old Australian shepherd named Sydney who needs to stay active, said she has always wondered why there were no dog parks in the central Suffolk area. Last October, Rabinowitz and Sydney completed a 70-mile walk from Centereach to Montauk to raise money and awareness for Central Suffolk Paws and the Arthritis Foundation, Long Island Chapter.

“It is a matter of socialization,” Rabinowitz said about the need for dog parks. “[Sydney] wants to be out there with other dogs and people.”

Brookhaven Town has a few parks for dogs already, including the town’s Middle Island Dog Park, one in Mud Creek County Park in Patchogue and another at the county’s Robinson Duck Farm in Brookhaven hamlet. There are also other dog parks throughout Suffolk County, including the Blydenburgh Dog Park in Hauppauge and East Northport Dog Park in East Northport.

All of these are 20 to 30 minutes away from this community so that’s why we need one here,” said Kevin McCormack, the former executive director of the Middle Country Coalition for Smart Growth, a nonprofit organization working to develop and revitalize the Middle Country community.

McCormack said the idea to create a dog park in Middle Country goes back to when the group was putting together the Middle Country Sustainable Community Plan. In the 2008 community plan, which listed the community’s assets and needs, a dog park was listed as an item the community expressed “significant interest” in.

For the last three months, McCormack said residents involved with the initiative have really tried to move forward with it. A car-wash fundraiser was held recently, and Rabinowitz said she wants to continue to raise funds and hold monthly car washes over the summer. Another fundraiser will be held at the Middle Country Beer Garden in July. Rabinowitz said Central Suffolk Paws is also looking for sponsors for the dog park, with the hope of purchasing things like benches for the park and developing it further.

McCormack said residents could also volunteer to help out, especially on Saturday, May 18, when the Town of Brookhaven will hold its sixth annual Great Brookhaven Clean Up at various locations throughout the town, including the soon-to-be dog park’s location. The property sometimes attracts unwanted visitors, who leave behind alcohol bottles and other trash.

“Volunteers are more than welcome,” McCormack said. “The more we can get [the property] clean, the less we have to rely on the town.”

For updates on the park’s progress or to find out more information, residents can visit the Central Suffolk Paws Facebook group or email cspaws@gmail.com.

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Sandy Feinberg has been at the library since 1971. File photo
Sandy Feinberg has been at the library since 1971. File photo

Visitors to the Middle Country Public Library may find it hard to imagine what the library would look like today if Sandra Feinberg had left her job as a children’s librarian to become an accountant decades ago.

Today, the library has one of the largest memberships on Long Island and is unique in its partnerships within the community and the programs it offers residents. Earlier this week, Feinberg, known to most as Sandy, and responsible for much of the library’s growth since she became director in 1991, announced her retirement.

“I always said I was fortunate to take a job in Middle Country because it’s the type of community that appreciates its library,” Feinberg said.

Feinberg began working at the MCPL in 1971 as a children’s librarian and went on to develop and found the Family Place Libraries initiative, an early childhood and family support program. In September, the library was awarded an Institute of Museum and Library Services National Leadership Grant of $450,000 to support the initiative, which is now offered in more than 300 libraries in 24 states across the country.

During an October interview, Feinberg said winning the award was an honor, as only a small number of public libraries receive grants like it.

“It’s really an acclamation of my work and our work here,” she said.

Feinberg said she would continue to work part time with Family Place Libraries and will volunteer for various functions after she leaves her position in April 2013.

“It’s a nice way for me to stay mentally attached to the library and the work we’ve done here,” Feinberg said.

In addition to the Family Place Libraries programs, Feinberg also established the 2-1-1 Long Island database, a free online health, human services and education directory, the Nature Explorium, the first outdoor learning area for children at the library, and the library’s Miller Business Resource Center, a resource center for businesses, not-for-profit organizations and independent entrepreneurs. For the past 12 years, the library has also held an annual Women’s Expo, a showcase of Long Island women artists, designers, importers and distributors, with the showcase’s proceeds going to help the Miller Business Resource Center.

Feinberg said it is simply time to leave her position and is looking forward to seeing her staff have the chance to lead. Sophia Serlis-McPhillips, the library’s assistant
director, will succeed Feinberg.

Serlis-McPhillips began her career as an adult services librarian and went on to work with the Miller Business Resource Center. She said Feinberg has always worked to make the library better and it has been wonderful to work with an “innovative leader” like Feinberg.

“I am really just going to work hard to continue and foster all that is in place here at Middle County,” Serlis-McPhillips said.

In addition to her work with the MCPL, Feinberg is also a founding member and former president of the Greater Middle Country Chamber of Commerce and was one of the first women to receive the Governor’s Award for Women of Distinction. In 2007, she received the Public Library Association’s Charlie Robinson Award and in 2008 she was inducted into the Suffolk County Women’s Hall of Fame.

Feinberg said she is looking forward to spending time with her husband, Richard, who has been retired for a couple of years, and with her family who live in seven different states.

She said she has always identified with the Middle Country community and remembers how supportive they have been since her first day as a children’s librarian.

“I don’t think I could have been in a better community,” she said.

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Roller derby gets the adrenaline pumping

When asked to describe roller derby in one word, the girls of Strong Island Derby Revolution kept saying the same thing: “Awesome.”

It isn’t surprising though, as there isn’t any sport that really compares to roller derby — the derby names, the high energy, the cringe-worthy wipeouts, the makeup and uniforms — whose leagues have taken roller rinks by storm over the past few years. Strong Island Derby Revolution is no exception, as its players and fans took over the Sports Arena rink in St. James for their last bout of the season on Saturday night.

“It’s amazing just to see how many people we have,” Marie “Jett Bruise” Letourneau, said at the game, known as a bout, on Saturday, which also marked the league’s one-year anniversary. SIDR has grown from about 12 people to more than 50.

Strong Island Derby Revolution battles it out against Shoreline Roller Derby. Photo by Erika Karp
Strong Island Derby Revolution battles it out against Shoreline Roller Derby. Photo by Erika Karp

According to Jennifer “Jenny from the block” Dutton, SIDR was established by a group of local women skaters and debuted Nov. 19, 2011 with a sold-out bout. Last March, SIDR began its first full season with another sold-out bout.

“It is unusual for a team to be formed and to have their first bout only four months later,” Dutton said. “Most teams don’t sell out like we have with over 600 tickets sold in our season opener last November.”

Each bout consists of two 30-minute periods with an unlimited number of jams, where a skater known as the jammer tries to get through a pack of skaters known as blockers. The first jammer to make their way through the blockers becomes the lead jammer. Blockers work to block an opposing jammer, while also helping their jammer get through. A jammer scores points for every blocker she passes after making the first pass.

Lindsay “Vixen Bone Breaker” Estes, one of SIDR’s coaches, said she loves the strategy involved in the game and how different it is from other sports.

“It’s the only sport that plays offense and defense at the same time,” she said.
Estes also said the sport is really empowering for women, as there aren’t many full-contact sports for women.

According to Dutton, the league is owned, managed and operated by skaters and volunteers, with skaters paying monthly dues. Even so, the team still finds time to give back to the community, such as having a fundraiser for Long Island Cares and supporting the Wounded Warrior Project.

Stephanie “Trinity” Finochio, a jammer on the team, said the amazing thing about roller derby is you don’t have to be an athlete — everyone fits in.

“This is something that everyone can do,” she said.
Veronica “Queen Benzene” Bickmeyer, one of the team’s newer members, said she had no experience when she first joined.

“I got started and now I am obsessed,” she said.

Strong Island Derby Revolution players huddle. Photo by Erika Karp
Strong Island Derby Revolution players huddle. Photo by Erika Karp

She called the game addicting and added with a laugh that while she played soccer in high school, in roller derby you’re actually allowed to hit.

“It’s a good way to get out some aggression,” she said. “But in a friendly way.”

Even though SIDR lost Saturday’s game to Shoreline Roller Derby, a Connecticut-based team, Dutton said the team will spend the offseason practicing and working harder for next season, which will begin in late March or early April.

While each skater seemed to enjoy different things about the game, they all agree they love the new friends it has given them.

“I love playing, but I’ve made so many friends,” Letourneau said. “The camaraderie and the community; the feeling of family. I have a lot of friends now and its really good!”

Middle Country Board of Education is considering closing Bicycle Path Pre-K/Kindergarten Center due to low enrollment. Photo by Erika Karp

As enrollment continues to decline, Middle Country Central School District is considering closing Bicycle Path Pre-K/Kindergarten Center .

At the district’s Space/Bond Committee meeting on Oct. 18, Board of Education President Karen Lessler assured community members that no decision has been made but that the purpose of the meeting was to have a discussion between stakeholders and the board.

If Bicycle Path Pre-K/Kindergarten Center were to close, Unity Drive Pre-K/Kindergarten Center would become the district’s pre-k center next year and the elementary schools would be reorganized to serve kindergarten through fifth grade.

“It is an opportunity to capture another savings early enough in the school year [and] to work it into the budget,” Superintendent Roberta Gerold said. “We will continue to look for other
options anyway.”

According to Herb Chessler, assistant superintendent for business, the change would result in transportation, building and staff savings totaling about $750,000 a year. Gerold said an administrative position would be eliminated and staff would either be placed elsewhere in the district or excessed.

The $750,000 in savings could change, depending on what the district decides to do with the building. Lessler said it is possible that the district would lease the building. The district will also consider moving its central offices, which are currently located at Dawnwood Middle School, to Bicycle Path. Lessler said she would like to see the old office space turned into science laboratories. The cost of the transition is yet to be determined.

Capital improvement projects like this may be possible if the district decides to put a bond up for a public vote in March.

Lessler said the committee has discussed the option and asked building principals to compile a list of projects they would like to see completed. While the board decided to continue preparing for a bond, should they decide to put one up, some members voiced concern with the time constraints of preparing the bond resolution, which would have to be completed by Christmas.
According to Gerold, size and proximity to the district’s trailers were factors in the decision to look at closing Bicycle Path.

“Unity gives us more opportunities to have a variety of uses,” Gerold said.

Lessler and Gerold said the district wouldn’t sell the building and that it would be maintained since the district’s enrollment may change in the future.

“We certainly have declining enrollment now, but I don’t think that will continue,” Lessler said.
According to Gerold, the district saw a drop in the number of kindergarten classes from 33 classes last year to 30 this year.

Last year, the district discussed closing an elementary school or moving 6th-grade classes back to the elementary schools, but ultimately decided the disruption to students was not worth the savings.

Bicycle Path PTA President Dawn Sharrock said she wants the board to make sure there is adequate space in the elementary schools in order to accommodate the influx of students, while Michael Herrschaft, chairman of physical education and health, asked the board to see if kindergarteners have benefited in anyway from being in separate buildings.

“As a district administration we appreciate the opportunity to collect that data because we too will have to report out,” Gerold said. “So it’s not a matter of money — It’s having a thorough analysis of the topic.”

Like many school districts across the country, Middle Country Central School District is adjusting to new regulations for the National School Lunch Program, while trying to avoid grumbling from students and their stomachs.

At a Board of Education meeting on Oct. 3, William Kidd, assistant business administrator for the MCCSD, led a presentation on the new regulations, which include calorie restrictions based on grade level, an emphasis on larger servings of fruits and vegetables, and smaller servings of proteins (students in Middle Country can expect to see five chicken nuggets as opposed to the seven they saw last year, for example), and a switch to fat-free or 1 percent milk.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National School Lunch Program provides reduced price and free meals to students in public and private schools nationwide. The new rules, which stem from the passage of The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, are the first major changes to school lunches in 15 years. Accompanying Kidd were representatives from Whitsons Culinary Group, the district’s food service management company.

According to Kidd, the district is reimbursed $1.4 million in federal and state funding based on the sale of the regulated meals.

“The school lunch program is self-sustaining when it takes in more revenue than it spends,” Kidd said in an email. “Here at Middle Country, we have been fortunate that this has been the case for many years. All annual meal/food deposits, plus the federal and state funding reimbursements that come from those sales, have allowed the Food Service Program to operate as self-sustaining.”

According to Kidd, the district has seen an increase in the number of students receiving free and reduced price meals over the past few years. This year 2,011 students receive free meals in the district.

Elementary school lunch costs $2, while secondary school lunch costs $2.25. According to Kidd, since last year, the price rose 10 cents for elementary school lunch and 25 cents for secondary school lunch.

The transition has been frustrating at times, Kidd said. Some new options, like a deli sandwich service, which was a success in the schools, had to be revamped because of the new rules — gone are the large deli rolls.

According to Christine Kunnmann, a district manager at Whitsons, there are plans to introduce a new deli station, which will be modeled after Subway and offer students a selection of vegetable toppings since there are no limits on vegetables.

In a phone interview on Monday, Kunnmann said while portions have changed, students are still getting quite a large amount of food. She has been traveling to different districts across Long Island in an effort to educate principals, teachers, cafeteria staff and students about the regulations.

Sue Merims, a food service consultant, said that adapting to the new regulations is “a work in progress.” She said work could be done to improve the lunch’s presentation, as well as offering students more variety and flavorful foods.

After the presentation, board President Karen Lessler said that earlier in the day the board had met with students who vocalized their displeasure with the lunch program. Lessler asked to meet with Whitsons’ representatives to discuss the matter.

“We heard the grumblings,” Lessler said. “… These are serious comments being made by our students.”

On Monday, Kunnmann said meetings were arranged with board members and students to address the issues.

“Now more than ever we need to meet with the student[s],” Kunnmann said in her presentation. “We need to be involved with those students to get their feedback because we know that there are a couple of grumblings out there and we really want to make sure the kids are happy and they understand what is happening with the regulation.”

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Middle Country Public Library’s toddler program is copied throughout the country

At Middle Country Public Library, 14-month-old Shane Looney takes a crawl through a play tunnel. Photo by Erika Karp

A large room full of blocks, puppets, arts and crafts, instruments and more than a dozen lively toddlers seems more like a room in a nursery school than a library, but it is exactly how Middle Country Public Library Director Sandy Feinberg wanted the room to be.

The room is home to the library’s Parent-Child Workshop, a five-week program that provides an opportunity for young children to play with each other and their parents, and for the parents to connect with each other and learn about community resources.

It has been more than three decades since Feinberg first developed the program, which emphasizes the role of parents as the primary teachers in a child’s life. The program became the Family Place Libraries initiative in 1996, keeping the Parent-Child Workshop as one of its core components. Today, more than 300 libraries in 24 states offer Family Place Library programs and that number is continuing to grow, as 28 more libraries will soon implement the program thanks to a $450,000 grant MCPL received from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, an independent government agency.

Feinberg said that winning such a prestigious grant was an honor.

“It’s really an acclimation of my work and our work here,” she said.

Feinberg said that when she first developed the program in 1979, toddlers weren’t welcome in libraries.

“At the time there were no toys in the library,” she recalled.

But after having a child of her own and becoming immersed in parenting, she realized the positive impact libraries could have on the community if they focused on parents and caregivers.

To become a Family Place Library, libraries must complete three phases. First, librarians from all over the country attend a three-day Family Place Training Institute at Middle Country Public Library and complete seven hours of online training. Next, they go back to their libraries to implement the program within one year of the training. Lastly, evaluators visit those libraries and answer questions.

“It changes the focus of the children’s librarian to integrate toddlers and parents,” Feinberg said. “It broadens their perception of themselves [and] who they can reach.”

Kathleen Deerr, the national coordinator for Family Place Libraries, said that the program works well in all communities and helps parents engage their children in developmentally appropriate activities.

“Parents need to love first of all, and talk, play, sing and share books with their kids,” she said.

Anthony Smith, a senior grant program officer with the Institute of Museum and Library Services, said that the IMLS is always looking to support libraries and museums that serve as community anchors. The IMLS has awarded more than $2.5 million in grants this year.

“There really is strong emphasis with funding projects that demonstrate libraries and museums are working collaboratively with other community organizations,” Smith said.

Feinberg said that the role of libraries is changing and it is a goal for them to become more of a community education center. She said that she believes the IMLS grant can prove how Family Place programming can impact the entire library. Deerr agreed, stating how a library’s mission is to support lifelong learning — from cradle to grave.

“Young children learn through good relationships,” Deerr said. “[The program] helps [parents] bond with that child. That is going to really help strengthen the initial relationships that are really at the core of learning.”

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Erland was firefighter, commissioner, trustee

Joe Erland served the community for many years, including through the fire department. Photo from Bryant Funeral Home

Joe Erland, a lifelong Port Jefferson resident and longtime member of the Port Jefferson Fire Department, died on Thursday. He was 55 years old.

Erland dedicated much of his time to serving the Port Jefferson community through both the fire department and the local government. He was a fire commissioner since 1992 and once served the village as a trustee and deputy mayor.

“He was the quintessential local kid,” said Fred Bryant, one of Erland’s longtime friends and the best man at his wedding. “He was a nice person — ‘Mr. Port Jefferson,’ as we like to call him.”

According to Steve Erland, 29, the late Erland’s oldest child, his father died from Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, a rare and rapidly progressive disease that affects mental function. He had been diagnosed less than a month ago.

For 37 years, Joe Erland worked as a Long Island Rail Road engineer. He retired from the job to care for his wife Patricia, who passed away from cancer less than four years ago.

Patricia had worked for the railroad as well and the couple married in 1979. They also have two daughters: Michelle, 29, and Andrea, 23.

Born on Oct. 19, 1956, Joe Erland was part of a family who had lived in the Port Jefferson area since the early 1800s. Keeping with the family tradition, Erland, whose grandfather worked as a dispatcher, began volunteering with the Port Jefferson Fire Department 38 years ago. He went on to start the Junior Company and became its first captain.

“He was always a kindhearted gentleman that you could always speak to,” PJFD First Assistant Chief Dave Williams said. “He was very well-liked by all of the members.”

Erland had been made an honorary chief of the fire department two weeks ago, Williams said.
Harold Tranchon, chairman of the board at the Port Jefferson Fire Department, said that Erland was knowledgeable and a great asset to the fire department.

Port Jefferson Chief Constable Wally Tomaszewski recalled Erland’s bravery surpassing his duties with the PJFD. The code chief said Erland saved his life after a man in the village attacked him with a sword in the late 1970s. Tomaszewski called Erland “the pillar of the community.”

As a village trustee, Erland ran for mayor in 2009 against Mayor Margot Garant. While he was disappointed that he lost the election, Bryant said, he was tremendously gracious in his defeat.

“I consider Joe to be a Port Jefferson hero,” Garant said. “I just think he really brought the community together. We need a lot more [of] him around, that’s for sure.”

Steve Erland said his father was humble about his achievements, rarely talking about himself, and had a passion for everything he did.

In his spare time, Joe Erland enjoyed playing softball, golfing and camping. For many years, Erland even danced in Harbor Ballet Theater’s annual Nutcracker performance, in which he played the father, his son said.

Even in the face of adversity, Bryant said the elder Erland always handled things with grace.

“You felt that he was at peace with it,” Bryant said. “He was still that wonderful guy right through the end.”

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For Port Jefferson Station tattoo shop, it’s about doing the art the right way

When Ariel Padilla told his parents he was going to open a tattoo shop, they gave him two years to succeed. If he didn’t, he would go back to school and finish his master’s degree in forensic technology.

“In my heart I knew I wasn’t going to fail,” Padilla said.

His heart was right. More than 15 years have passed since he opened his first tattoo parlor in Ozone Park, Queens. Today, Dark Child Tattoo is located about two miles from his high school.

After graduating from Port Jefferson’s Earl L. Vandermeulen High School in 1987, Padilla attended NYIT, where he studied criminal psychology. Artistically inclined, Padilla worked as an airbrush artist at an artist colony in Smithtown. A Long Island tattoo artist told him he was wasting his time and talent and encouraged him to begin tattooing.

Padilla began shadowing tattoo artists in the city and New Jersey, just trying to get in where he could. Most of what he learned was self-taught, which he said was very difficult and something he wouldn’t recommend.

At the time, tattooing wasn’t legal in New York City. In 1961, the city banned the practice after a possible connection between tattooing and a Hepatitis B outbreak. In 1997, the city lifted the ban and began licensing tattoo artists. Padilla said he welcomed the industry regulation.

“Sometimes people look at you … and they think, ‘This is all you had left,’” Padilla said. “No, I had a lot of choices other than this. I chose to be a tattooist because I loved tattooing and the art form it expresses.”

Padilla began working at a tattoo shop and married his wife, Velkys, in 1996. Wanting to be his own boss and having built up a strong client base, he decided to open his own business. The couple compromised — they would move back to Long Island and open a store close to the city.

The shop has moved to numerous locations since. After Ozone Park, a Brentwood location opened, but Padilla moved the business when the area began to change. He set up shop in Uniondale, right around the block from Hofstra University, where his eldest daughter, Caryn, was majoring in Asian Studies and minoring in Japanese. She managed the Uniondale shop while attending school.

“I chose to be a tattooist because I loved tattooing and the art form it expresses.”

Padilla has two other children: Illyana, 15, and Elijah, 12.

Caryn Padilla apprenticed under her father and has been tattooing professionally for six years.

“I started it as a back-up, like as a way to pay for school. … At some point, I fell in love with it,” she said.

Ten years after opening up the first store in Queens, the family opened a second location, in Port Jefferson Station, close to their Miller Place home. While the Uniondale shop was doing well, Padilla closed the location due to the long commute and slowing economy.

Ariel and Caryn Padilla are the only tattoo artists at the Port Jefferson Station store and every employee is a family member. The daughter specializes in tribal tattoos and lettering while the father specializes in fantasy, portraits and full-color works.

“Since I am family, he is hard on me, but I appreciate it because it has helped me grow into a better artist,” Caryn Padilla said about her father.

He also isn’t scared to tell clients that what they think will work, won’t. Deanna Cammarata, a 20-year-old from Holbrook, came in wanting a butterfly on her lower ankle. Padilla sat down with her to explain it couldn’t be so small or the details would be lost. Cammarata’s boyfriend, Jim Fritz, a 27-year-old from Farmingville, heard about the store through a friend.

“I have many, many clients who want me to do it their way … but that doesn’t mean it’s the right way,” Padilla said. “The right way is more important to me. Perfection.”

Gina Daleo, whose family owns Chandler Square Ice Cream in Port Jefferson, has known Ariel Padilla since she was a teenager. He has completed pieces for her and her family. Her daughter, Dominique Godsmark, has a portrait of her late grandfather, Anthony Daleo, tattooed on her shoulder and a fox intertwined with flowers on her side.

“He’s a wonderful man,” Daleo said.

It has been very busy at Dark Child Tattoo, with the waiting room full of new and old customers. Dark Child will be heading to Long Island’s first tattoo convention in a decade at the end of July. The convention will be held at Nassau Coliseum.

“We’re just not a biker tattoo shop,” Velkys Padilla said. “[We want] customers coming back to get something that will represent them for the rest of their lives.”