Authors Posts by Kyle Barr

Kyle Barr

Kyle Barr
372 POSTS 0 COMMENTS

Joe Rella reflects on his career, his fight over state tests and how music fits into all of it

Retiring Superintendent Joe Rella and incoming Superintendent Jennifer Quinn. Photo by Kyle Barr

Joe Rella, the soon-to-be retired superintendent of the Comsewogue Central School District once, nearly 30 years ago, found himself without a job.

He was in business administration for close to 15 years, saying he had been “on top of the world,” before his company, the last private electric supplier in New York, closed. After he lost his job he did everything he could, from a paper route in the early morning to playing a local church organ, just to add a little extra money into the pot. His late wife, Jackie, went part-time in college and started working at Mercy Hospital. That’s when he saw it, an ad for a part-time job.

Comsewogue Superintendent Joe Rella with students who participated in Joe’s Day of Service. Photo from CSD

“I couldn’t even say the name,” he said in a sit-down interview less than a month before his final high school graduation ceremony June 26. “Com-sew-ogue,” he said it phonetically. 

He lived in Farmingdale at the time, but he grew up in Flatbush Brooklyn, where they used to call this area of Long Island “East Jesus,” because “only God lived out here”, there were so few people.

The job was part-time music teacher, where he would be accompanist to a middle school music teacher for a salary of $28,000. Over time, this part-time instructor would become a full-time music teacher, the high school principal, and eventually work his way up to superintendent of the entire district.

Jennifer Quinn, the current assistant superintendent and person tapped to become the next head of school starting in September, said in her 13 years of experience with the district, this climb from music teacher to superintendent was rare. She had never seen it or heard of its like since.

Rella said the jump from music teacher to a district leader wasn’t so much of a huge leap, especially considering his more-than-decade- long experience in business administration, yet he likened the practicality of music to running a school, helping one interact with people, and taking mistakes in stride.

“Because one thing you learn, there is no such thing as a mistake, it’s a springboard to your next part of the piece,” he said.

Quinn described herself as following in Rella’s footsteps. When the retiring super moved from high school principal to assistant superintendent, she became principal. When Rella moved into the big chair, he tapped her to be one of his assistant superintendents.

“It’s not a big shift, because all the programs we’ve done over these years, she’s responsible for,” Rella said.

Quinn has been encouraged to lead discussions and programs, with Rella there to offer advice.

“The fact is he always puts other people before his own ego,” she said. “Because in most places it’s close of business one day and then the next person starts. He’s purposely stepped back and given me the opportunity to start to do things and he’s here to guide me.”

They both described several necessary components for a good district leader. One is to communicate back to residents, and not wait days to respond to emails or phone calls. Another is to “be present,” to have your face and name be known not only by teachers but by students.

“They need to know who you are — kids do, parents do, everybody does” he said. “Pope Francis had a good expression, ‘The shepherds have to smell like the sheep.’”

To say the school district has been inspired by Superintendent Joe Rella would be an understatement. Unlike many other districts where one could be hard-pressed to find people who know the name of their head of schools, the name of Rella often brings an immediate impression. Rella has become a rallying cry for supporting student-first initiatives and programs based on a general idea of “kindness.” Just one example is Joe’s Day of Service, designed by special needs teacher Andrew Harris. 

Beyond Comsewogue, Rella became a name on the lips of New York State officials and even beyond, all due to standardized testing initiatives put forward on both the federal and state levels.

In 2013, the superintendent was at the forefront of protests against Common Core State Standards (implemented late in 2012), writing a letter to New York State officials asking them to address concerns or remove him from office. The letter went viral, and later that year Rella was at the head of a rally held at Comsewogue High School decrying Common Core. He said it became apparent immediately after the first standards were released to school districts that there would be no way to test the exams and offer criticism to the state’s program plans, adding letters sent to all New York superintendents suggested the state expected only a third of students would pass this first round of testing.

“We couldn’t accept what was happening to our children,” he said. “If a teacher comes in and says, ‘I’m only expecting a third of my class to pass this year,’ I would say, ‘Why don’t you throw your keys on the desk.’”

“Pope Francis had a good expression, ‘The shepherds have to smell like the sheep.’”

— Joe Rella

Though it’s been several years, the state’s testing standards still put Rella on a rant, though now he sees the district moving beyond it. Comsewogue implemented a problem-based learning (PBL) curriculum for groups of interested ninth- and 10th-graders. Last year the district relished statistics that said those who were involved in PBL had better overall Regents test scores than their contemporaries, though he said the state was not interested in any kind of replacement for standardized testing with PBL. Instead the district has looked to the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Elementary and Secondary Schools, from which they were granted accreditation in 2017.

The superintendent continued that, since the huge outcry has boiled down into a low simmer, parents have been making the choice for their own children whether they would take the tests. 

“They haven’t budged,” he said.

Rella was diagnosed with stage 4 bile duct cancer in October 2017, though he has told TBR News Media previously a “mango-sized” tumor found on his liver hasn’t grown or spread, and his health played no role in the decision to retire. He said he and his late wife Jackie, who died following a bout with breast cancer in 2016, had long discussed 2018-19 as being his last year, as it would be his 25th in the district and ninth as superintendent.

Now, he’s living with his son and his grandchildren, whose little shoes will soon be running around the Comsewogue school district. He’s looking forward to spending time with his grandchildren while working on his piano and gardening skills. 

But while he will still be close to the district, Quinn said the legacy he left will be attempted to be replicated in the years to come.

“You will never be punished for not being perfect, you will be helped, you will be coached,” she said.

Rella again likened his job to music, and the drive to improve that is always at the forefront of practice, because what is school if not practice for life?

“You’re learning a piece of music — brand- new — you don’t know it, you’re not going to play it perfect right away, but what you do know is with careful practice, you’re going to get better,” he said.

by -
0 171
First United Methodist Church in Port Jefferson. Photo by Kyle Barr

A new pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Port Jefferson will be taking over the reins of the venerable church starting July 1.

The New York Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church appointed Pastor Steve Chu as pastor, replacing Pastor Sandra J. Moore who has served the local church for three years. Pastor Chu currently serves as the Youth and English Ministry Pastor at Plainview UMC and prior to this appointment held positions in Herndon and Arlington, Virginia. He holds a Master of Divinity from Wesley Theological Seminary and an undergraduate degree from Hunter College of the City University of New York. 

The First United Methodist Church on Main Street, Port Jefferson has a long history in the community. The current building was erected in 1893 by Loper Brothers while the original chapel had been established on Thompson Street. The parsonage next door was purchased in 1930 and is still used today as a pastoral home. In 1961, the former New York Telephone Company brick building was purchased to hold Sunday school classes and now a day care program. The church is committed to Thanksgiving donations for needy families, sharing with patients at nursing homes, community concerts, a summer chicken barbecue and Christmas fair/cookie walk during the Charles Dickens
Festival weekend. 

On July 14, a welcome barbecue is being planned to follow the church service. People are asked to come and meet the new pastor.

Teacher Brooke Bonomi holds a prize a student won during a halftime Simon Says game at the Feb. 8 Basketball game fundraiser. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Pat Sparks

The school year is ending, and I would like to express my thanks to the retiring employees of the Rocky Point School District.

I knew Maria Liantonio and Nancy Stark, teachers at the Frank J Carasiti Elementary School, when I was with the Before and After Care program. These very dedicated educators always impressed me with their kindness and concern for the young students in their care. They have surely left an indelible impression during their combined 50 years of service to the children of Rocky Point, and they will be missed.

Andrew Levine, English teacher in the high school, has provided 20 years of excellence to his students. I personally witnessed his dedication and positive commitment when I performed clerical work for the summer school program a number of years ago. His contribution will undoubtedly be remembered with gratitude by the many students whose lives he has impacted.

Rocky Point High School. File Photo

My youngest son had the good fortune of having been in Thomas Bunnell’s health class, and although he graduated 15 years ago, he remembers his time in Mr. Bunnell’s class as a positive experience, that he was a great teacher and a “nice guy.”  In my opinion, he truly is that, as well as a caring, concerned educator for 24 years. Mr. Bunnell also gave fine example by assisting student community service groups, and his absence will be felt by many who will remember him with gratitude and appreciation for a job well done.

Also retiring are Victoria Pachinger and Theresa Collins, School Teacher Aides with a combined 41 years of service to the children of Rocky Point. These dedicated individuals, along with Joanne Davis, the lead food service worker for 21 years, deserves the thanks of a grateful community for the assistance and care they have devoted to our children for so long.

Virginia Sanseverino, office assistant, has given 19 years of excellent service to the students of this district. I was fortunate to know her on a personal basis when our children were classmates and friends but had an opportunity to witness what a dedicated and committed employee she was when I worked one summer at the middle school. Ginny is an extremely kind and caring individual who helped me with “learning the ropes” while attending to her own work load, and I will always be grateful for her patience and assistance. Her departure will certainly be felt by all.

Congratulations and thanks to Gregory Hilton, Business Manager, who will be retiring in August after 13 years with Rocky Point Schools. Thank you for sharing your expertise with this district, enjoy your next chapter.

Superintendent Michael Ring is retiring after 11 years of service to Rocky Point School schools. During his tenure, the district has seen much change, and the commitment he has exhibited to his position and the dedication he has put forth to achieve desired goals is noteworthy. I am thankful to Ring for the many times he relinquished his own speaking time to allow me to address the retirees at annual BOE meetings. I will remember his kindness and generosity with gratitude and appreciation. Congratulations and farewell Dr. Ring.

Finally, when it comes to Brooke Bonomi, it’s impossible to adequately acknowledge and thank him for his unparalleled service to Rocky Point’s students and, indeed, this entire community. I don’t know what special star was shining down on Rocky Point when he arrived, but I salute the intelligent and insightful individual who approved his hiring 33 years ago! Mr. Bonomi truly lives the “social” in Social Studies.

Although my children were not among his students, I came to know this unique human being through my older son’s participation in “The Singing Santas,” a musical group Bonomi founded early on, which he modeled after a program he participated in while at Oneonta State University. This widely popular club with a large student enrollment performed community service by entertaining in nursing homes, hospitals and a local church soup kitchen during the holidays. Led on by Rocky Point’s ever-cheerful, boyish-looking “Christmas elf” with the mischievous grin, this band of students, from all backgrounds and with different interests, who may never have associated with one another, became a family united to help those who were in need of cheering up or were less fortunate then themselves. The musical merry-making culminated with an annual show at the high school, which starred the students, the faculty, support staff and some brave administrators. Bonomi, the “spirit of Christmas” personified, was the conductor, composer of holiday lyrics set to popular tunes, and skit-writer. He worked tirelessly on each production for the whole year preceding the event. The money collected at the shows benefited needy families in the community.  The group even recorded a CD of the “tweaked” holiday tunes a number of years ago and raised a large sum which was donated to Little Flower Children’s Services in Wading River.

As if directing the Singing Santas was not enough, the perpetually upbeat Bonomi started another program called BANN or Be A Nicer Neighbor, which also focused on teaching our young people about community service. Over the years, this group held senior citizens proms, fundraisers that benefited various charitable organizations and causes and were inspired by Bonomi’s example to treat one another with respect and kindness. More recently, he devoted an immeasurable amount of his “off” time to plan a very successful Wounded Warriors basketball game fundraiser with his BANN members. This event involved much of the student body, faculty, administrators, and support staff. The proceeds of this enormous endeavor were donated to Rocky Point’s VFW Post 6249 to help wounded war veterans.

It’s difficult to say good-bye or to imagine Rocky Point without Brooke Bonomi. His eternal optimism, joie de vivre and his genuine concern for his fellow man have set him apart as a Rocky Point Schools and community treasure. This well-loved teacher has truly modeled the Golden Rule for all those who have been fortunate enough to have existed in his orbit, even for a short while. Thank you and God bless you, Brooke, for sharing your wonderful gifts with us and for all the good works you have performed for our children and our community. Enjoy the retirement you so richly deserve.

Pat Sparks is a resident of Rocky Point.

Students got to interact with therapy dogs before the start of their exams. Photo from Andrew Harris

In the Comsewogue High School cafeteria, where the air would usually becomes tense with the anticipation of final exams at the end of the school year, signs were posted on empty chairs during regents week which read, “Come pet me… and chill.”

School Social Worker Taylor Zummo said that the dogs had an incredible impact on the students. Photo from Andrew Harris

Quickly those empty chairs filled up and lines started to form behind them. Sitting in the now filled chair was a student who would be taking their regents within the next few minutes. Opposite them was a therapy dog and it’s handler, both welcoming the student to relieve a little stress with a friendly canine.

“They have a calming effect on people,” said Bill Bodkin, a retired teacher and administrator at the high school. “The animals benefit just as much as the humans do. Medically, it lowers blood pressure and the pulse rate of the person petting them.”

Bodkin’s dog, Corey, was trained with the Smithtown-based nonprofit Guide Dog Foundation, and together they often visit hospitals, nursing homes, and schools.

The idea of bringing in dogs before the regents exams was welcomed by high school Principal Joseph Coniglione. The dogs were an instant hit, with students gravitated to the dogs and some stayed with them up until the instant they went to take their exams.

Several other therapy dogs were sent in from Dog Works in Holtsville, where they go through rigorous training to become certified.

“These dogs are very unique, and not all of them make it through the process.” Said Deb Feliziani, who works for Holbrook-based Dog Works and is the owner and trainer for the hounds Gabby, Bette and Comet, all who levelled their training to aid the high schoolers.

In addition to the therapy dogs, district teachers said students were taught meditation and breathing techniques to help lower stress and anxiety before testing.

“As students waited to take their regents exams, in a room that is typically filled with nervousness and fear, there was a lighthearted energy that took over as they interacted with the therapy dogs,” said Taylor Zummo, a high school social worker. “Between the smiles on their faces and the laughs of excitement, it was clear that these dogs had an incredible impact on the students. There is something quite powerful that happens when dogs are in a room, and it was apparent that the students could feel it too.”

Tom King, a special education teacher, has been taking his own certified therapy dog named Bailey, a Labradoodle, to class for years. King and Bailey walked around to students who had pre-testing jitters and were quickly surrounded by them all wanting to pet Bailey.

From left, retired teacher Bill Bodkin, Teacher Dave Hughes and Principal Joe Coniglione said the dogs lightened the mood for students taking the regents. Photo from Andrew Harris

Overall, the visits were a huge success, said Andrew Harris, a special needs teacher and advocate for therapy and service dogs who helped get the dogs to the high school.

“I saw many of my students light up when a dog comes to visit our class,” he said. “I especially see this for students with Autism and decided to make it a part of my curriculum. You would be amazed if you saw the level of excellence these students rise to when they know a dog is visiting.”

Harris added he has been training dogs for years, though he had taken advice from Feliziani to travel to Canada to find the “perfect dog.” This young hound named Ramsey has learned to alert people with medical emergencies and assist with walking up and down stairs. At only 11 months he can climb ladders, complete obstacle courses and assist people. At home, the dog acts a protector and house pet to him and his family.

“He has been in training since the day he was born and has taken rides on various forms of public transportation and socialized with people and other animals,” Harris said. “I think it helps me be a better teacher because you continually learn positive reinforcement.”

Teachers at the high school said they expect to utilize the dogs in the future in the school district.

Information provided by Andrew Harris

by -
0 467

Melissa Marchese proved herself in sports, was set to graduate June 28

Shoreham-Wading River senior forward Melissa Marchese battles in the paint Feb. 11. Photo by Bill Landon

A community that has become much too familiar to tragedy was left reeling June 14 as Melissa Marchese, 18, a Shoreham resident and senior at the high school passed from her injuries received in a car crash the day before.

Shoreham-Wading River senior Melissa Marchese During an April 22 Softball game. Photo by Bill Landon

Suffolk County police confirmed her death Saturday,  June 15.

Marchese’s father Charlie Marchese posted a lengthy eulogy on his Facebook page. He called his daughter “… brilliant, she was magnetic,” and said she fought long enough in order for doctors to donate her organs, something she had always wished to do.

“She would light up the room with her smile and make everybody burst with laughter,” Marchese’s father wrote. “Melissa was a remarkable athlete. Fierce, determined, and focused. Just try to slide into her at home plate or try to battle her for a rebound. She did not lose. She was a born leader in all facets of her life. Whether barking instructions on the softball field or leading her friends in a dance or a song, everyone would follow her. She did not lose.”

Marchese was in the backseat of a car turning left onto Route 25A from Miller Avenue June 13. The high school was having its senior honoring ceremony. Another vehicle, driven by Ridge resident Michael Troiano, 34, went through a red light and struck Marchese’s vehicle. The two other students in Marchese’s car, Evan Flannery, 17, and Caroline Tyburski, 18, both of Shoreham, were transported to St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson with non-life-threatening injuries. Marchese was airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital, where she died a day later.

The Shoreham-Wading River school district released statements Friday and Saturday.

Melissa Marchese battles Mount Sinai senior Gabby Sartori for a loose ball under the boards Jan. 22. Photo by Bill Landon

“We extend our deepest condolences to the individual’s family and friends, and we continue to keep all those involved and impacted by this tragedy in our thoughts during this very difficult time,” the district wrote on its website.

Marchese was well known in the district for her work on the basketball court and the softball field.

Adam Lievre, Marchese’s basketball coach, said he would watch Marchese move around the court and be awed at her tenacity. It was that tenacity, he said, that had her fighting death until the time they could donate her organs.

“She was willing to throw her body anywhere and everywhere to get every rebound,” he said. “I’ve never coached a kid who wanted rebounds so badly, and she went after every ball with this relentless effort. It was contagious when the other kids saw how hard she worked, was an example she led on the court.”

He remembered two cases of her caring personality. One was on the court where she saw eighth-grader GraceAnn Leonard get knocked over, and she “sprinted” over to help her up. The other was in the locker room after the team’s heartbreaking playoff 42-41 loss against Sayville Feb. 12. 

“She was sitting right in front of me in tears, so emotional about losing but so thankful, she said how thankful she was to be a part of the team and how great it was,” Lievre said.

Marchese was known as a standout softball player in SWR, having been recognized as All-League in the Scholar-Athlete Team in March and was committed to the University of Hartford for softball.

Once it became known of Marchese’s hospitalization, a GoFundMe page was started, and within a day raised nearly $20,000. By Tuesday, June 17, the site had raised over $60,000.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to Melissa and the Marchese family,” Joseph Dwyer, the GoFundMe organizer, wrote to the page. “Thank you all for your generous donations during this time of unthinkable sadness and utter despair. God Bless.”

The school district canceled senior finals June 14 and made mental health staff available. The district also invited students to the high school library Saturday for staff to support them.

Melissa Marchese. Photo from SWR School District

Shoreham has become well known for tragedies of this kind. In 2014 the community grieved for Tom Cutinella, who died due to a head injury on the football field. In 2018, the community wrapped hundreds of red ribbons on flagpoles to memorialize Andrew McMorris, who was killed by a drunk driver while out on a hike with his Boy Scout troop. 

The Andrew McMorris and Tom Cutinella memorial foundations both shared their condolences on their Facebook pages.

“No one should ever have to go through this,” a post to the Tom Cutinella Memorial Foundation Facebook page read.

Marchese’s wake will be held at Branch Funeral Home, located at 551 Route 25A in Miller Place, on June 20 from 7 to 9 p.m. and June 21 from 2 to 5 p.m. and at 7 to 9 p.m. Marchese’s funeral procession will leave the funeral home at approximately 9:30 a.m. on June 22. A Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. at St. Mark’s R.C. Church, located at 105 Randall Road in Shoreham.

This article has been updated to reflect the name of the eighth-grader who Marchese helped up.

Dr. Caroline Englehardt and Dr. Richard Rusto were elected to the Belle Terre village board.

Village of Belle Terre residents have spoken, electing a newcomer candidate over an incumbent during a village election June 18.

  • Incumbent candidate Dr. Richard Rusto retained his seat with 106 votes.
  • Newcomer candidate Dr. Caroline Englehardt won a seat with the most votes of all candidates at 108.
  • Incumbent candidate Judy Zaino received the least number of votes at 96.

In addition, there were 24 write-in candidates.

by -
0 298
From left, Kathianne Snaden, Margot Garant and Stan Loucks just after learning the election results Photo by Kyle Barr

The results are as follows:

Unity Party candidates

  • Margot Garant (Incumbent) 1519
  • Stan Loucks (Incumbent) 1387
  • Kathianne Snaden 1383

Residents First Party candidates

  • John Jay LaValle 1013
  • Thomas Meehan 1230
  • Tracey Stapleton 1009

Two separate restaurants and bars in Port Jeff told two different stories the night of June 18, election night in the village. In Tommy’s Place, where the Residents First Party candidates learned of results, the air buzzed with cool conversation throughout the room, offering condolences and thinking about next moves.

In Old Fields Restaurant, with the Unity Party candidates, the room exploded with noise once the results came through. Mayor Margot Garant stood up on a chair, her brow sheened in sweat from the packed bar area and addressed the crowd.

“I have chosen unity and community for the last 12 years, and I’m so proud that everyone who lives here, who comes and plays in our parks, who visits our restaurants, who comes and visits for a day is always welcome and always will be welcome in this village,” she said to cheers of the gathered crowd. “I am going to tell you right now, every store that’s vacant, let’s get it rented tomorrow.”

Mayoral challenger John Jay LaValle was considerate once the results came through, saying they ran their case on the issues.

“This was going to be a race of a referendum on Donald Trump or a referendum on the uptown and downtown of Port Jeff and unfortunately that was their game; we were focused on uptown and downtown,” he said.

He said he wishes the best for Garant, adding he hopes she focuses on uptown revitalization and starts working with business owners to get businesses back into downtown.

“Stan Loucks and Kathianne Snaden are real class acts, they ran a nice race and I really gained a good deal of respect for them,” he said. “At the end of the day we’re all residents and we want to see Port Jefferson succeed
and thrive.”

Incumbent trustee Loucks said the vote was a mandate to move forward with current plans.

“The village has spoken, I think the village is happy with the administration, and they came out today to support them,” he said. “They know we are on the right track, and I think in two to three years we will have proven it to them.”

Newcomer candidate Snaden was close to tears as she spoke to the crowd in Old Fields, saying she looks at Loucks as a father figure and Garant as a “wonder woman.”

“Thank you to everyone who believed in me and supported me” she said. “I plan to do what I said all along, and that is to be the voice of the families in the village.”

Trustee candidate Tracey Stapleton said she wishes the best for those elected, and that hopefully the village can come together after what was a divisive time for a few months.

Mayor Margot Garant addresses the crowd at Old Fields Restaurant the night of June 18. Photo by Kyle Barr

“I hope everyone can be a little together now,” she said. “Just work to get Port Jeff on a good path.”

Garant has been mayor of Port Jeff for close to a decade, and in that time has been head of the village through numerous hurdles, from Upper Port being declared with blight to the settlement with the Town of Brookhaven and the Long Island Power Authority over the Port Jefferson Power Station.

LaValle was councilperson and supervisor of the Town of Brookhaven from 1996 to 2005. Afterward he became Suffolk County Republican Party chairperson, advocating for Republican causes for over a decade before stepping down at the beginning of this year. 

The Port Jefferson Village Center bustled with activity June 18 as thousands braved the rain, streamed through the doors and huddled over election ballots.

This year’s mayoral race has been contentious, as camps of supporters for Garant and LaValle butted heads over a number of issues, including the blight in Upper Port, empty storefronts downtown and the tax assessment settlement between the Town of Brookhaven and the Long Island Power Authority over its Port Jefferson Power Station.

Garant said she was looking forward to another two years as village head.

“I’m elated I get to work two more years for the village,” she said. “Just want to thank the people who trusted me, I wish my opponents well, and we’re going to carry on.”

 

Troop, town and community all had a hand in the new memorial

The Boy Scouts of Troop 161 formed lines, and in each of their hands, they clutched a small red stone. Their faces were reflective and grieved, and when they walked, they did so silently, placing those rocks around the symbolic ribbon outside the troop’s meeting place at the Robert E. Reid, Sr. Recreation Center in Shoreham, all to honor one of their member who was killed last year.

Since the death of Andrew McMorris, a fellow in their troop who was killed by a drunk driver in the fall of last year, the community has rallied in support of the family after their loss. On that June 5 evening the red stones were inlaid with phrases written by the community. Some were stenciled with “fly high Andrew” while others read “fly high on an eagle.”

The final part of the Scout law says the young men should remain “reverent,” and as they paid homage to Andrew, the Scouts in his troop remained solemn throughout the entire ceremony.

Alisa McMorris, Andrew’s mother, was struck by how much the community and Boy Scout troop came out to support her family.

“A part of me died that day, and I didn’t think that I could stand again,” she said. “When the boys and the troop surrounded us, and the community surrounded us, we realized we had a support that would go to any lengths to help us take the next step forward.”

John McMorris, an assistant Scoutmaster in Troop 161 and father of Andrew, could barely hold back tears as he spoke to the crowd of gathered town officials and friends of the troop.

“It’s a beautiful place to do it where we hold our meetings every week,” he said. “Andrew loved Scouting, he loved his Scouting brothers.”

The new garden in honor of Andrew is located just outside the windows of the Shoreham community center, facing toward the playground. Members of the troop have been working on the project for months. In May, the troop spent hours upon hours on one of the hottest days in spring to help dig the ground for the project.

Since October the troop had spent months planning and then building the garden, starting with the red dogwood tree, which was donated by local Girl Scout Service Unit 69. Alisa McMorris is a Girl Scout troop leader, and her daughter, Arianna, is a member. 

“We thought, what a beautiful way to merge the two Scout worlds is to put a garden around that tree,” she said. 

In all, it has been a complete Scout effort. Joseph Pozgay, 16, who was named an Eagle Scout earlier this month, made it his Eagle Scout project to lay the bricks in front of the new garden. The idea came to him from a friend, Ryan Ledda, who used his Eagle Scout project to construct a memorial statue for Thomas Cutinella, who died in 2014. He said he remembered Andrew, the whole troop did, as a young man with great ambitions.

“I feel honored — I feel like I’ve achieved something,” Pozgay said.

Ken Wrigley, an assistant Scoutmaster and owner of Wading River-based Emerald Landscaping, helped to design the new garden. He said some of his distributors donated the plantings seen placed around the rock ribbon and red dogwood tree.

So much had been donated to the project that there were thousands of dollars left over. In the next Brookhaven town board meeting, officials voted to take a donation of $6,839 from the troop and use the funds to construct a pergola at the town-owned community center, near the troop-built garden.

“It’s commendable for Brookhaven that the Scouts have taken the center under their wing,” said Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point). “The fact that so much money was left over shows just how generous people have been with donations.”

Throughout the ceremony, Alisa McMorris kept raising her eyes to the sky. Above, the clouds had rolled in an overcast, threatening rain throughout the evening, but Alisa was watching and listening for something. That’s when they heard it, a plane overhead, likely a passenger jet.

To the McMorris family, it was a sign. Andrew had wanted to be a pilot, and the Shoreham-Wading River middle school student had flown in local youth pilot programs.

“It’s helping healing occur — it’s helping us move forward,” Alisa said.

by -
0 376
From left: Amanda Brosnan, Reid Biondo, David Rotunno, Kevin Wood, Connor Kaminska, Gavin Barrett. Photo by Kyle Barr

Four young men and one young woman can be seen by the meters in Port Jefferson with polo shirts emblazoned with Port Jefferson parking. Their job is to answer the question that’s on the lips of so many visitors and residents alike; “where do I park?”

Meters in Port Jefferson. File photo by Elana Glowatz

The first parking ambassador was introduced to the village last year, according to Kevin Wood, the village parking and mobility administrator.

“They bring that human touch to the operation of paying for a space,” Wood said. “Beyond that, they’re all Port Jefferson residents, so they know where everything is.”

All but one of the parking ambassadors are seniors at the Port Jefferson High School. Connor Kaminska, one of the village’s first parking ambassador, finished his first year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is back for the summer. Beyond fielding questions from confused visitors, Kaminska also uses his technical skills to fix the meter stalls he comes across

“I usually start off a shift with checking if they’re working,” he said. “If not then I usually fix them, take out the motherboards and catch boxes, just get them working… It’s nice being outside, helping people.”

The other four parking ambassadors include Port Jefferson High School seniors David Rotunno, Gavin Barrett, Reid Biondo and Amanda Brosnan. The young people work four to five days a week on four- to six-hour shifts, depending on how busy the village is at the time. They are paid $12 an hour, of which the money comes from the managed meter fund. During events like the Mini Maker Faire June 8, most of the ambassadors were out fielding questions about the meters.

Wood said, on a typical night, two ambassadors will be out for around four hours from 4 to 8 p.m. One is usually located on the west side of Main Street while the other focuses on the eastern end.

The parking administrator said the idea came from fielding many questions from visitors and residents while working on village meters.

“I found that 90 percent of questions are: how do I do this, what are the hours, does the machine give change, where is this restaurant, what time does this close, what time can I park here until,” he said. “The word ambassador is correct, Port Jeff ambassador.”

Brosnan saw an ad for the job on Facebook, and said she thought to herself, “Oh, I can walk around the village, help people and get paid for it.”

She added it’s especially helpful for when the village gets busy, and there’s hardly any spot to find within the entirety of Port Jeff. She usually suggests people find spots near the CVS or the Village Center in the back lot.

“Port Jeff is a tourist town, and people don’t know how to use it, even if there’s signs on the meters,” she said. “Sometimes the machine glitches, or just somebody isn’t sure what to do, so we’re there to help them with it.”

Biondo, a fellow high school senior, is also doing his first season as a parking ambassador. He finds he’s often acting as a facilitator for the parking meters, helping people understand how they can pay for their spot, where some machines don’t accept cash, and none give change. He also tries to tell people about the mobile app MobileNOW!.

“People do enjoy it, because it’s just one less hurdle for them to come and enjoy the village,” Biondo said.

“There’s no secret that there’s parking anxiety in Port Jeff.”

— Kevin Wood

Each of them has a consistent question they hear most often. Kaminska said he often hears about how one can add time to a spot and where certain restaurants are to give them “a lay of the land.”

Brosnan often gets asked where meters are, if meters apply directly to spots, or if they can be used for every spot in the village. Answer: the meters can interact with every parking spot.

Though it’s not necessarily an easy job. The ambassadors are always on their feet. With smart watches and Fitbits. Biondo said he has tracked more than 30,000 steps in a day, while the lone girl on the ambassador team said she had once tracked over six miles of walking distance in a shift.

All but Kaminska will be graduating by the end of June. Brosnan will be going to Salve Regina University in Rhode Island, Rotunno will be going to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Barrett will be going to Binghamton University in Upstate New York, and Biondo will be attending the University of Virginia.

Wood said their work has been invaluable so far this season.

“There’s no secret that there’s parking anxiety in Port Jeff,” Wood said. “These wonderful human beings just by being present calm that anxiety.”

More about parking can be found at https://portjeff.com/parking/

A post on a Gofundme page set up by Joseph Dwyer has confirmed Melissa Marchese, 18, of Shoreham died due to her injuries June 14.

“With a heavy heart, deep sorrow and tremendous regret, I write to inform you that Melissa Marchese has gone to be with the Lord,” Dwyer wrote. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to Melissa and the Marchese family. Thank you all for your generous donations during this time of unthinkable sadness and utter despair. God Bless.”

The Gofundme page raised nearly $20,000 from 294 people in six hours.

*Original story

A Shoreham teen was seriously injured in a crash at the corner of Route 25A and Miller Avenue the evening of June 13.

Suffolk County Police said Evan Flannery, of Shoreham, was driving a 2007 Hyundai Elantra southbound on Miller Avenue and was turning left into Route 25A when his car was struck by a 2006 Honda Accord, being driven westbound on Route 25A by Michael Troiano, of Ridge, at approximately 6:50 p.m.

A passenger in the Hyundai, Melissa Marchese, 18, of Shoreham, was airlifted via Suffolk County Police helicopter to Stony Brook University Hospital with serious injuries.  Flannery, 17, and another passenger in the Hyundai, Caroline Tyburski, 18, of Shoreham, were transported to St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson with non-life-threatening injuries. Troiano, 34, was transported to Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead with non-life-threatening injuries.

Marchese has been known as a standout softball player in SWR, having been recognized as All-League in the Scholar-Athlete Team in March and is committed to the University of Hartford for softball.

The Shoreham-Wading River Central School District said they have canceled all high school final exams for June 14 and released the following statement:

“Our hearts and thoughts are with the impacted students and their families. The district’s mental health team will be available in the high school library for student support today.”

A Gofundme for Marchese and her family can be found here.

The vehicles were impounded for safety checks. Anyone with information about this crash is asked by police to call the Seventh Squad at 631-852-8752.

Social

9,413FansLike
0FollowersFollow
1,153FollowersFollow
33SubscribersSubscribe