Authors Posts by Kevin Redding

Kevin Redding

Kevin Redding
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Members of Miller Place Fire Department, EMS volunteers and community members come together at Stop & Shop in Miller Place to raise donations for those in need this holiday season. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Local families in need have a group of Miller Place volunteers, generous strangers and a big red bus to be thankful for this holiday season.

Cold, windy weather did nothing to stop Miller Place Fire Department members from gathering outside Stop & Shop at 385 Route 25A for five hours last weekend. In fact, the dozen volunteer EMS members, engine company officers and firefighters were all smiles as they collected 800 pounds of nonperishable items from passing shoppers, whose contributions were packed into a fire department bus and dropped off to St. Louis de Montfort R.C. Church in Sound Beach the next morning.

Former Miller Place captain of EMS
Debi Rasweiler, on left, collects
donations. Photo by Kevin Redding

Canned food, condiments, paper towels and much more stock the shelves at the church’s food pantry for Miller Place, Sound Beach and Mount Sinai families struggling to make ends meet. The donations will help them have a proper Thanksgiving.

“The outpouring is always incredible — people here are just amazing,” said Debi Rasweiler, a former captain of EMS at the fire department and organizer of the 7th annual EMS Stuff-A-Bus Nov. 17, which ran from 3 to 8 p.m. “Last year we stuffed the bus from floor to ceiling, rear to front. It just grows every year.”

During the event, shoppers on their way into the supermarket were handed a list of items needed for the pantry — including pasta, dry cereal, canned vegetables, soaps and toothpaste — and asked to donate if possible. It didn’t take long before residents wheeled their carts over to the bus to chip in. Some dropped off one or two items while others outdid themselves, handing over full bags of groceries and cash.

“I just think we all have to give back,” said Shoreham resident Peggy Debus, who donated peanut butter, jelly and cereal. “When people stop giving back, the world gets very bad.”

John Barile from Mount Sinai, who handed over paper towels, said he takes any opportunity he can to help others who need it.

“If everybody gave something, we would never have any problems,” Barile said.

“If everybody gave something, we would never have any problems.”

John Barile

When asked what inspired her to donate multiple items, another shopper simply said, “It’s the right thing to do.”

Stephen Rasweiler, Debi’s husband and a lifelong volunteer firefighter, voiced his appreciation for the community as he held up a donated bag of yams and turkey stuffing.

“This is somebody’s Thanksgiving dinner just in one bag,” he said, beaming. “This time of year is very stressful, the economy’s tough for a lot of families and we know we’re helping a lot of people. It’s sad that this is needed but it’s been a great department and community effort.”

It was the Rasweiler’s daughter Jessica who initially brought Stuff-A-Bus to the community seven years ago after being involved in a similar event with her sorority at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven. When she came home from college, and joined the fire department as an EMT, Rasweiler was determined to adopt the donate-and-transport event.

She got local businesses to sponsor it and went door-to-door from Setauket to Wading River to spread the word. As a full-time nurse at St. Catherine of Siena in Smithtown, she was unable to be at this year’s event, but said over the phone that the event’s continued success makes her heart smile.

“I wanted to do more for the community,” she said. “I knew we could do something greater than just wait for the whistle to blow for any kind of call that we get at the fire department. I just can’t believe it and it’s amazing the community has just latched onto it. It’s a very special event.”

For Bobby Chmiel, 2nd Lieutenant of EMS, the Stuff-A-Bus is a highlight every year.

St. Louis de Montfort’s outreach coordinator Jane
Guido shows off her new inventory as a result of the
annual Stuff-A-Bus event. Photo by Kevin Redding

“It’s not just residents helping people, it’s helping people they might know,” he said. “They could be your friends or neighbors. The community in Miller Place and Sound Beach will unite around a common cause. When it’s one of our own that needs help, especially during the holiday season, we’re there.”

On Nov. 18, the big red bus delivered its boxes upon boxes of items to the church. The various foods were stacked into the church’s pantries and will be given out to families, many of whom the church takes care of year-round.

“It’s a blessing and I can’t thank them enough,” said Jane Guido, St. Louis de Montfort’s outreach coordinator. “The families are very appreciative because a lot of them wouldn’t’ be able to put that kind of spread on their table for a holiday. It’s just too costly. People are so generous — we get plenty of stuff that holds us through the year — without their help, our pantry would be bare.”

After all the boxes were brought inside, Debi Rasweiler announced that on top of the food, one resident who asked to be anonymous donated $1,400 worth of Visa gift cards.

“It was a single parent who had been needy for a long time,” Rasweiler said.

An emotional Guido hugged her.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you everybody,” Guido said.

Dilapidated auditorium seating in Elwood Middle School, that would be repaired or renovated if Proposition 1 is approved by residents Nov. 28. Photo by Kevin Redding

The Elwood school district opened its doors to residents last week for a night of building tours in anticipation of the Nov. 28 bond referendum vote to spend $38.2 million on infrastructure repairs and upgrades.

School administrators guided parents through the district’s four buildings Nov. 8 — Harley Avenue Primary School, James H. Boyd Intermediate School, Elwood Middle School and John H. Glenn High School — to provide firsthand glimpses of the proposed numerous critical repairs and renovations within each school. The projects are addressed in two propositions community members will be able to vote on Nov. 28.

The tours were considered effective by the small — yet invested — group of parents who walked through each school.

“You can tell me all you want that there are cracked tiles but seeing it actually brings it to life and makes you see the real needs here,” said Michael Ryan, whose daughter is a graduate of the district. “We have a responsibility to make sure students have an environment that’s conducive to education.”

Marianne Craven, an Elwood resident for 40 years, thought it was a good idea for the school to host the tour.

“We’ve had all sorts of bond issues over the years, but I think this is the first time we’ve ever had a tour,” Craven said. “Those that didn’t come lost the visual. A picture is not worth a thousand words, and actually seeing it makes all the difference.”

A damaged ceiling tile resulting from a roof leak in Elwood Middle School, that would be repaired or renovated if Proposition 1 is approved by residents Nov. 28. Photo by Kevin Redding

The first proposition of the bond totals $34.5 million and will cover major projects like the installation of new roofs on each school which currently leak and cause flooding whenever heavy rain occurs.

In observing the leaky ceilings throughout the middle and high school, Jill Mancini, a former district clerk at Elwood, said, “I moved here in 1975 and the roofs have been leaking since then. All of them.”

Also included under Proposition 1 are repairs to cracked sidewalks and curbing and the refurbishment of auditorium spaces and cafeterias, which need air conditioning as well as furniture replacements. In the middle and high school, the consumer science labs would be upgraded, along with the art rooms, locker rooms and a guidance suite.

“We need to bring them up to 21st century learning environments,” said Superintendent Kenneth Bossert, who led the tour of the middle school. “Some folks who visit our facilities feel like they’ve stepped back in time when they enter [some] classrooms and it’s just not the right environment to teach our students the new skill sets they need to be successful.”

Karen Tyll, the mother of an Elwood seventh-grader, said seeing all the infrastructure problems was eye opening.

“They haven’t done enough throughout the years to maintain the schools and replace the things that are required replacements,” Tyll said, pointing out the importance of stable roofs. “We’re reaching a point where everything is sort of coming to a head, and we need to make the schools better in terms of health and safety for the kids.”

Although she said it’s unfortunate the district needs such an expensive bond, Tyll hopes it will be worthwhile in the end.

“Some of the items are unnecessary because they’re more wants rather than needs,” said one mother on the tour who asked not to be named. “A roof is definitely needed, but the new guidance suite is a want. Our taxes are going to go up and they should’ve separated some of these.”

The superintendent said he felt the Nov. 8 tours were productive in helping residents understand the scope of the proposed bond. 

“It’s difficult to get a true sense of the needs of the facilities solely from the use of pictures and videos,” Bossert said. “I believe residents left with a greater understanding of the priorities the district has brought forward.”

United States Army Staff Sgt. Allen Pennington and Warrior Ranch Foundation Vice President Tony Simonetti spend time with Pennington’s horse Red. Photo from Warrior Ranch Foundation

When Marine Corps veteran StaceyAnn Castro first stepped into the round pen with a horse at Warrior Ranch Foundation, her guard was up.

Castro, who served in Operation Enduring Freedom from 2002 to 2004, and admittedly struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder, was face to face with a 1,400-pound Friesian horse named BlackJack during a July demonstration by the Mount Sinai and Islip-based nonprofit, which pairs military and first-responder veterans with rescue horses in need of rehabilitation and training.

Marine Corps veteran StaceyAnn Castro bonds with
Vet therapy: Mount Sinai’s Warrior Ranch helps heal
her horse BlackJack. Photo from Warrior Ranch
Foundation

The tough-as-nails veteran was attempting to engage BlackJack in basic ground exercises, but the horse was not budging. Its guard was up too.

“I soon realized it was because I was terrified of him,” Castro later said. “When you’re with these horses they feel everything you’re feeling, even the emotions you think you’re hiding from everybody else. You can’t hide them from a horse.”

Castro relaxed, and as she calmed down, so did BlackJack. The horse began to lick and chew — a reflex associated with the animal’s release of stress.

“By the end of the session, I wound up with a friend,” she said of BlackJack. “With the horses, you have someone you’re actually bonding with in your own private, silent language. It’s beautiful.”

Officially incorporated in June 2016, the Warrior Ranch Foundation has helped reduce the stress levels and PTSD symptoms of more than a dozen veterans still recuperating from a wide range of conflicts — from the Korean War to Vietnam War to the war in Afghanistan — by teaching them how to groom, feed and train troubled horses. And much like the veterans, the nine residential horses, mostly retired race and show animals that have been trained their whole lives to compete and perform in high-stakes settings, are learning to adapt to a new, more relaxed world.

Cathie Doherty spends time with horse Cody.
Photo from Warrior Ranch Foundation

“There’s a strong parallel between them and it’s amazing to see their emotional breakthroughs,” said Eileen Shanahan, the nonprofit’s founder and president. “While the race horses are trained to run, run, run, and as a result have emotional issues, the veterans are trained to go out there and do the best they can to protect and defend us. When they come back, they have to shut that off and that’s not so easy. We provide a safe haven for these humans and animals.”

Shanahan’s organization is the result of her lifelong love of country and horses. The Queens native, who shoots and produces television programs and commercials for a living, comes from a large military family with a father who served in the Marines, an uncle and brother in the Navy, nephews in the Army, as well as several first responders.

Although she mostly rode buses and subways growing up, Shanahan always admired horses from afar, seeing them as beautiful creatures.

When she got married and moved to East Quogue in the 1980s, she took up horseback riding and, 15 years ago, began adopting rescue horses and studying natural horsemanship — a variety of rapport-based horse training techniques.

United States Army Staff Sgt. Allen
Pennington with horse Red. Photo
from Warrior Ranch Foundation

For nearly a decade, she dreamt of providing this outlet for local veterans and finally launched it with the help of longtime friends and equestrians specialists. While the group currently works out of two private barns, the future plan is to turn Warrior Ranch into a national organization.

“We want to eventually help hundreds of veterans and horses because it really works,” Shanahan said, explaining that interactions like Castro’s is very common at the ranch. “A lot of times when they come here, the veterans have their arms crossed, but by the end of the day, they have ear-to-ear grins. A lot of them break down and cry and it’s so powerful to watch.”

Tony Simonetti, Warrior Ranch’s vice president and top horse trainer, has made a career of rehabilitating emotionally distraught horses and re-interacting them with their human counterparts, resolving more than 500 extremely difficult horse cases for people across the country. When asked his most memorable veteran-horse interaction within the organization, he talked about Army Staff Sergeant Allen Pennington, Warrior Ranch’s first soldier to go through the program, and Red, a 4-year-old, retired race thoroughbred.

“[Allen’s] this big, rough and tough guy, and when the horse connected with him, I just saw all the stress he was holding inside bubble right up through his chest and then he just couldn’t keep himself composed,” Simonetti said. “He broke down and turned around and hugged that horse like it was his battle buddy. And I told him, ‘don’t feel bad about that. That’s what you’re here for.’”

During a testimonial on the Warrior Ranch website, Navy veteran Cathie Doherty, who was diagnosed with PTSD and put on medication for a number of years, said she was grateful to have attended a women veteran’s retreat at the nonprofit.

United States Army Staff Sgt. Allen
Pennington with horse Red. Photo
from Warrior Ranch Foundation

“It was really an amazing experience,” Doherty said. “I think it touched me much deeper than I imagined it would. I appreciated working with the horses and that I had to make a connection with them. I feel I was present in the moment. I didn’t care about my phone, I didn’t care what was going on around me. It was a beautiful experience for me.”

Castro said companionship with a horse might be more beneficial than a human’s.

“When you’re a veteran and you’re having a bad day, you don’t want to tell anybody, you don’t want to talk about it — you want to forget about it,” she said. “But I also don’t want to be alone and, so, when you’re there with the horse, and that horse knows what you’re going through and feeling, he feels it too. And because you love the horse and you don’t want the horse to feel that way, you’re going to try and make yourself feel better. It’s awe-inspiring.”

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who served four years in the Army, visited the ranch in Mount Sinai with his family Oct. 7 and saw firsthand the value of the nonprofit.

“It doesn’t take more than a few minutes to see the positive effects that you’re having on these horses, and from these horses the veterans are getting love that they possibly have never experienced
before,” Zeldin said. “In a way, you’re directly coping with the symptoms of PTSD while also productively escaping the worst of it. It’s a great concept and I’d love to see Warrior Ranch grow into something a whole lot bigger than it already is.”

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, fifth from left, meets with members of the Warrior Ranch Foundation. Photo from Warrior Ranch Foundation

Classic car owners cruised into the parking lot at Brookhaven Town Hall last weekend to not only show off their collection of vintage hot rods, trucks and wacky automobiles, but their hearts, too.

At the town’s annual Charity Car and Motorcycle Show Nov. 12 — a partnership between the Brookhaven Youth Bureau and different classic car, truck and motorcycle clubs throughout Long Island — more than 300 vehicles of all shapes, makes and models were on display for residents in an effort to gather nonperishable food and unwrapped toy donations for families in need.

This year’s event raised 1,500 pounds of food, including canned soups, tuna and boxes of rice, which were transported by the town’s charity-based INTERFACE program to its Thanksgiving Food Drive, and will go directly to residents that need it most. By the end of the day, residents filled 25 big garbage bags with toys for children to open next month.

“This really helps allow people to have a very merry Christmas and a happy holiday,” said Sound Beach resident Dan Ryan, a member of the Long Island Chapter of the American Truck Historical Society, one of the event’s main groups that has helped collect donations since it first began about 12 years ago. “It’s just one day out of the year but it makes a big difference in people’s lives, especially kids. The crowds here are really caring people. They come out and give what they can.”

Maxine Kleedorfer, the event’s chairperson and a member of East End Olds Club, said of the day: “This is still so amazing to me. It’s Long Islanders giving to Long Islanders.”

Other organizations represented at the all-day free event were Long Island Moose Classic Car Club, the Long Island and New York City Oldsmobile Club and Long Island Street Rod Association, as well as independent car owners, who showcased everything from old Chevy Coupes to Lincoln Continentals to a 1981 Checker Taxi Cab.

Residents perusing the variety of wheels in the parking lot were treated to live music from local bands, free hot dogs and beverages, 50/50 raffle prizes and even a special visit from Santa Claus, who rolled up in an antique LaFrance Brockway Torpedo fire truck to meet with the kids and ask what they wanted for Christmas.

Adam Navarro, a vintage car collector from Centereach, said while he was happy to see so much generosity in the air that day, it didn’t surprise him all that much.

“One of the biggest things about car culture is that those involved are always giving back to the community,” Navarro said. “So you come out here, look at some great cars, sip hot chocolate, meet some friends and at the same time help out the community. You can’t get better than that.”

Joe Morgani from Mastic, who brought along his classic Corvette and several cans of soups and vegetables, called the event a win-win.

“The cars are amazing, we have the band and everything, and it all brings people together to help other people,” he said. “We need more charities like this. I love it.”

Sitting in front of a blue 1958 Chevy Bel Air was the car’s original owner, Lake Ronkonkoma’s Karl Krumsick. His wife Carol said he bought it when he got home from serving in the Korean War. The two went on their first date in the car and drove off in it after they got married.

“We come to this show every year because we love to donate to the needy,” Carol Krumsick said. “We brought a bunch of toys and canned goods. It’s wonderful here.”

Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco was honored for his impact surrounding gang violence and rehabilitation during Council For Unity’s annual Champions for Children Gala Nov. 9. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

In 2006, a year after he was elected Suffolk County sheriff, Vincent DeMarco took a huge risk. In an effort to reduce gang violence in the Riverhead correctional facility, DeMarco brought a seemingly ill-fated program into the jail where rival gang leaders and members — Bloods, Crips, MS-13, Latin Kings and Aryan Brotherhood — gather in a room to share stories, make peace and help one another escape a life of crime. In doing so, Riverhead became the first county jail in the nation to embrace Council for Unity, a nonprofit founded in Brooklyn in 1975 to keep gang activities out of schools and communities and replace a culture of despair with a culture of hope. The newly-appointed sheriff’s gamble quickly paid off.

Robert DeSena, Vincent DeMarco, Alex Bryan and Butch Langhorn were recognized for their work. Photo by Kevin Redding

In a matter of months, DeMarco and correctional facility members watched the entire jail system turn around, as inmates who came to the prison as enemies began to form friendships through their similar experiences. The men, many of whom are imprisoned for violent behavior and drug dealing, find careers after they’ve served their sentences thanks to job and education opportunities offered in the program.

Inmate population and the rate of recidivism at Riverhead are now at an all-time low and the jail serves as a model for other correctional facilities statewide. The Riverhead Police Department has since developed its own companion anti-gang program with the organization.

“DeMarco has changed the dynamic in that facility and has created hope for inmates who live without hope,” said Robert DeSena, president and founder of Council For Unity, who met with DeMarco and his staff to pitch the radical concept in February 2006. “He has a tremendous social conscience and his perception of incarcerated people is atypical. He saw they had the capacity to be reclaimed and he went with it.”

DeSena and others involved in the program, including ex-gang members, honored DeMarco for his significant impact surrounding these criminals’ rehabilitation during Council For Unity’s annual Champions for Children Gala at the Garden City Hotel Nov. 9.

“I had this smirk on my face as if to say to ‘this guy is nuts. You’re going to get Crips and everybody together Kumbaya-ing? That’s not happening here. But Sheriff DeMarco is somebody who’s willing to take a chance. And let me tell you, it was worth a chance. I love this man.”

— Butch Langhorn

The annual event aims to celebrate public figures on Long Island active in the reduction of gang violence in society. DeMarco, who has served as sheriff for 12 years and decided earlier this year he would not seek a fourth term, was on the short list of honorees alongside Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas and Council for Unity alumnus Dr. James Li.

He received a plaque referring to him as a visionary, reformer and humanitarian “for creating a climate of hope and possibility for the inmates in his charge.”

While introducing DeMarco to receive his honor, Butch Langhorn, assistant to the sheriff who oversees the Council For Unity sessions at the jail, recalled the first meeting he and DeMarco had with DeSena.

“While we were listening, I had this smirk on my face as if to say to ‘this guy is nuts,’” Langhorn said. “You’re going to get Crips and everybody together Kumbaya-ing? That’s not happening here. But Sheriff DeMarco is somebody who’s willing to take a chance. And let me tell you, it was worth a chance. I love this man.”

During his 2005 campaign, DeMarco advocated for more programs that aimed to work with inmates and provide opportunities to change their lives. This came in response to a New York State mandate at the time to build a new $300 million correctional facility in Suffolk as the county was pushing 1,800 to 2,000 inmates per day. He was determined to not only lower the population, but make sure the inmates were working toward a goal beyond bars.

“I thought, this is corrections and we’re supposed to correct their behavior,” DeMarco said at the podium. “The facility isn’t about warehousing people and just putting them back into the same situation they came from.”

Although he admitted being skeptical of the idea of intermingling gang members at first, fearing it would only lead to more violence, the sheriff said he left the meeting with DeSena fully on board.

Mario Bulluc, a former MS-13 gang member, went trough the Riverhead jail program and spoke during the gala. Photo by Kevin Redding

“He did this Jedi mind trick on me and I was spun around,” DeMarco said laughing. “I just kept thinking, ‘this could work, this could work.’ It was the right thing to do and we’ve come a long way. A couple people who went through the program are out now and they’re getting paychecks, they’re married. [The program] got them out of gang culture. That warms my heart and makes it all worthwhile for me. I know we’ve helped change people’s lives, so this is a big honor for me. You always seem to remember the first and last thing you did in a position and Bob was the first meeting I ever took and now there’s this. It’s a nice little cap off.”

Mario Bulluc, 22, who was an MS-13 leader when he was a student at Riverhead High School and now serves as an employee of the council, sought refuge in the program after countless close calls with death and time spent in the Riverhead jail. He now devotes his life to helping kids get out of gangs.

“Council For Unity saved my life — DeMarco and DeSena are the greatest men I’ve ever met,” said Bulluc, who joined the infamous gang when he was 14. “They try and get to the root of our problems and help us see we are the same people no matter our race, gang, or gang colors. If I can change, anybody can.”

Alex Bryant, a retired corrections officer at Riverhead and a Council For Unity advisor, said the council was put to the test in the correctional facility and has been proven to be life-changing. He pointed to DeMarco’s leadership as the reason for its success.

“I’ve been under several sheriffs in my 30-year tenure in the field,” Bryant said. “DeMarco is by far the best. He is progressive and eons ahead of most sheriffs across the state of New York.”

Kaileigh Blessing and some friends construct the frames for the bat houses. Photo from Kaileigh Blessing

She may not wear a cape or cowl, but 17-year-old Kaileigh Blessing is serving as a hero to the Village of Shoreham by bringing more environment-boosting bats to the area.

Blessing, a senior at Rocky Point High School and member of Venturing Crew 777, a co-ed youth development program of the Boy Scouts of America, has spent the last year designing, funding, building and installing seven bat houses throughout Shoreham.

Kaileigh Blessing presents her original idea for how to build the bat houses to The Shoreham Village Association as part of her Summit Award. Photo from Kaileigh Blessing

The houses are to be installed in parklands along Woodville Road and private properties. It is a project constructed in Blessing’s pursuit of her Summit Award — the Venturing Crew’s highest program-level award. She became involved in the project in October 2016 when members of The Shoreham Village Association launched a subcommittee to expand the number of bat houses hanging in public as a way to coax more of the nocturnal animals into the area.

While they once carried a reputation as fearsome creatures, the public perception of bats has changed drastically in recent years as they have been proven to greatly benefit the ecosystem of their surroundings by eating thousands of small insects per hour — including the ever-increasing population of disease-carrying mosquitoes.

Shoreham, like the rest of Long Island, has lost a majority of these more environmentally friendly bug eliminators due to an increased use of dangerous pesticides and the spread of white nose syndrome, a fungus that grows on and kills hibernating bats along the East Coast.

“Bat houses are needed everywhere,” said Laura Miller, a member of the association’s subcommittee and one of the recipients of Blessing’s bat houses. “The bat population in general has decreased drastically and it’s a real concern, agriculturally, especially for farmers. Bats are generally very beneficial and people don’t realize it because of the whole nature of what they think a bat is.”

Kaileigh Blessing and a few of her friends piece together the bat houses. Photo from Kaileigh Blessing

During last year’s October meeting, members of the subcommittee held a raffle drawing for the houses to be built and installed for two village residents and, in figuring out who should be the one to take on the project, the idea to involve a local Boy Scout troop and expand the number of houses came up. Through Venturing Advisor Tom Seda, Blessing was proposed as a fitting candidate as she wasn’t too interested in the more traditional routes of building a park bench or installing a garden for her final project.

“I wanted to build something that was a bit more impactful environmentally, so I gratefully took up that
offer,” Blessing said. “I’m so glad I went with this and I’m looking forward to coming back and hopefully hear from the women of the association that the bats have returned.”

The Venturer, who first joined the youth-powered organization when she was 14, dove into the project with “gusto,” according to subcommittee members. She raised funds for construction materials by recycling scrap metal and bottles and pledging for donations at various businesses like Home Depot and Benjamin Moore, where she received paint, stains, lumber, drills and screws. With the help of her dad and a group of friends, Blessing spent hours on weekends building the large, single-chamber habitats — each one large enough to house 20 to 50 brown bats — which contains a ventilation area for warm air to filter out and grooves in its back panels to act as grips when the bats fly and grab onto the house.

Kaileigh Blessing and a few of her friends help glue together the bat houses for her Summit Award project. Photo from Kaileigh Blessing

She also scouted locations for the houses in the village and sought out PMM Landscaping, a Middle Island-based group, to mount them on trees. She is currently designing a bat house information kiosk that she hopes will be installed at Major Hopkins Park in Shoreham.

“I really didn’t know anything about bats when I started this, but through research and everything, I just find it all really intriguing and interesting now,” she said.

Jean Jordan Sweet, chair of the subcommittee, commended Blessing for her tenacity throughout the strenuous project. Sweet said she met with the subcommittee several times throughout the year, made presentations, and had to wait on approvals from the village board of trustees and the Suffolk County Council of Boy Scouts every step of the way.

“She’s very impressive,” Sweet said. “She had to go through so much authorization and processes for this project, but she’s a real self-starter and took this very seriously.”

While her project, and Summit Award, still needs to be fully approved by the Scouts, which might take several months, the association will present a summary report and recognize Blessing’s efforts during an event Nov. 11.

Shoreham-Wading River High School. File photo by Kevin Redding

A new, broader homework policy drafted by the Shoreham-Wading River board of education opened up a dialogue last month between parents and administrators over the best approach to after school assignments throughout the district.

Varying consequences for students who don’t do their homework and an overabundance of assignments over school holidays were main topics of discussion during Shoreham’s Oct. 24 board meeting, in which community members weighed in on a planned revision to the district’s current policy.

In response to a curriculum survey sent out by the district over the summer, parents requested that its guidelines for homework be expanded. While the original policy is merely two sentences on the educational validity of homework, the new two-page proposal aims to better accommodate for individual students and incorporates recognized best practices in the development of assignments.

New homework guidelines could include stricter
penalties, less work on vacations. Stock photo

“The process has certainly put a lens on homework,” Superintendent Gerard Poole said. “Feedback from parents in the survey was a little mixed — the underlying theme was that homework is important but there should be consistencies across grade levels and considerations for home life. We tried to craft something that empowered the buildings to make practices come to life that make sense for students and families.” 

The newly drafted guidelines, titled Policy 8440, encourage teachers to consider students’ time constraints when assigning homework, which should be “appropriate to students’ age” and shouldn’t “take away too much time away from other home activities.”

“Homework should foster positive attitudes toward school and self, and communicate to students the idea that learning takes work at home as well as in school,” the draft policy states.

While it addresses that students should be accountable for all assignments, there are no strict consequences in place for when homework isn’t done, which prompted some parents to voice their concerns.

“I think it’s very important that we establish responsibility and have consequences that teachers themselves are able to have the flexibility to put on children,” said Jeannine Smith, a Shoreham parent with children in Wading River School and Miller Avenue School.

As an educator in an outside district, Smith supported the concept of taking recess away from students in the elementary and middle school who consistently don’t hand homework in.

“I think it’s very important that we establish responsibility and have consequences that teachers themselves are able to have the flexibility to put on children.”

— Jeannine Smith

“It’s the teacher’s job to make sure children are prepared in the future and if homework’s not important in the classroom, children get the message that there is no consequence,” she said.

Shoreham resident Erin Saunders-Morano agreed, saying she believes homework is ultimately the student’s responsibility and shouldn’t be seen as something that falls on the parents.

“As we get older, if you don’t do your job, there are consequences,” Morano said. “I think we should be raising the bar for our students, not lowering it. If students want recess, they should make sure they do their homework.”

But Alisa McMorris, a member of the district’s PTA council, protested the idea, saying students who are working hard all day deserve a break. She also pointed out that difficult and time-consuming projects should not be assigned over vacations.

“I can’t tell you how many times my kids have had projects due the day we get back from Christmas break and it makes me crazy,” McMorris said. “Our Christmas breaks now are doing these projects. Vacation is vacation.”

Michelle Gallucci, a Wading River resident and an English teacher at Smithtown High School East, commended the board for drafting a policy that gives teachers academic freedom based on the students they have in the classroom. She equated the importance of homework to sports practice.

“You can’t take a math class at 9 a.m. on a Monday and not do it again until 9 a.m. the next day,” she said. “You have to practice those skills and get better because your brain is a muscle. Just as students practice for hours after school to get ready for games, students also need intellectual practice.”

Fort Salonga resident Wayne Trumbull ran his first marathon in honor of his friend Paul Gugliuzzo who survived respiratory failure. Photo from Wayne Trumbull

To honor his close friend’s fight for life, a Fort Salonga resident took his mark in Staten Island Sunday morning for the run of his.

Wayne Trumbull was among the 50,000 participants in the TCS New York City Marathon Nov. 5, running the 26.2-mile race from Staten Island to Central Park to commemorate his friend Paul Gugliuzzo’s perseverance during a harrowing battle with lung failure last year. It was his first time running a marathon.

Trumbull, 50, ran as a member of the American Lung Association team and raised $11,000 for the organization leading up to the marathon. The funds raised will go toward research, advocacy and medical equipment for lung diseases.

Trumbull, a professional tax partner and part-time sports coach, completed the five-borough race with an unofficial time of four hours, 29 minutes, to the roar of thousands of people lining the streets. The loudest of cheers for him came from members of the Fort Salonga community, including Gugliuzzo, who gave Trumbull a high five as he passed by.

“It’s not easy for a casual runner like me to run 26 miles, but when the chips are down, I’m focusing on what Paul went through,” Trumbull said prior to the race. “He was on the brink of death and he bounced back. This is very motivating and emotional for me.”

Wayne Trumbull and his friend Paul Gugliuzzo. Photo from Wayne Trumbull

Gugliuzzo — a Fort Salonga resident, former construction manager and a friend of Trumbull’s since their sons joined the same Kings Park youth baseball team 10 years ago — was diagnosed with upper lobe emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in 2009.

His conditions progressively worsened, and in March 2016 he underwent a bilateral lung volume reduction surgery at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. His doctors initially advised it would keep him in the hospital for a week. Medical complications occurred, however, and the day after the surgery, Gugliuzzo went into respiratory failure. He was placed into a medically induced coma for five weeks. He spent 107 days in the surgical intensive care unit — during which time his blood was oxidized with an ECMO machine and he battled multiple bouts with pneumonia. He was released from the hospital in August 2016.

Throughout the lengthy ordeal, Trumbull spent every Friday night at his friend’s bedside offering Gugliuzzo’s wife, Patti, and family members a much-needed reprieve as they were there 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“Wayne supported us at a time when we needed it most,” Patti Gugliuzzo said. “Truly, if it weren’t for Wayne and our friends in Fort Salonga who rallied around us, I don’t know how we would’ve made it.”

It was during these nights Trumbull realized he had to do something significant for Gugliuzzo.

“At that point I didn’t know if it was going to be to honor his life or his battle — fortunately it ended up being his battle,” Trumbull said.

A casual runner who had previously only competed in Northport’s Great Cow Harbor 10K and other smaller races for charity, Trumbull began the process of fundraising for the American Lung Association. He learned that it was a sponsor for the New York City Marathon.

The marathon was never something I had on my bucket list, but I knew it was significant and something that took a lot of effort and commitment, and would be a fight in and of itself,” he said. “This is just what I consider being a good friend.”

As the 2016 American Lung Association’s team filled its limited spots by the time Trumbull pursued entry, he applied for this year’s team as soon as they took applications. He was part of a strict training program beginning this past summer and ran five days a week for four months in preparation.

Gugliuzzo, who said his lungs are better now than they’ve been in 15 years, is in the process of rehabilitating himself. He’s looking to Trumbull’s participation in the marathon as motivation to hop on the treadmill every once in awhile.

“If Wayne can do 26 miles, I can do two,” Gugliuzzo said. “Me inspiring him in turn inspires me back. It’s heartwarming what he’s done for me.”

He said his hope one day is to run in the Great Cow Harbor 10K alongside Trumbull.

Kelly and Donna and McCauley held the third annual Butterfly Breakfast for a Cure fundraiser at Applebee’s in Miller Place. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

A mother-daughter duo from Rocky Point raised thousands of dollars last weekend to help those with epidermolysis bullosa — a rare and painful skin disease that hits close to home.

Donna McCauley, who was born with the genetic condition that causes the skin to blister and tear at the slightest friction, and her daughter Kelly, a former Girl Scout, raised $4,000 during the 3rd Annual Butterfly Breakfast for a Cure fundraiser Nov. 4 at Applebee’s in Miller Place. More than 100 locals gathered at the restaurant to eat pancakes, take part in a Chinese auction with huge prizes for adults and kids and learn about “EB,” which is largely considered “the worst disease you’ve never heard of” and affects one in 20,000 births in the United States.

Donna McCauley auctioned off prizes to raise more funds. Photo by Kevin Redding

All proceeds are going toward Debra of America, a New York City-based nonprofit that provides assistance and support to families with children born with the disease through funding research for a cure and treatment initiatives.

As a teenager, Donna McCauley, whose parents were told she was going to die young from this “genetic anomaly,” made a conscious choice not to let EB — which turns run-of-the-mill activities like getting out of bed, taking clothes on and off and showering into daily struggles — define her life. Instead, she strived to be a role model for other “butterfly children,” a term given to young people with the disease, as their skin is said to be as fragile as a butterfly’s wings.

She became involved with Debra when she was 16, which opened her eyes to a community of others like her, and made sure to get her license, go to college and pursue jobs, vowing “not to be afraid to live” despite her condition.

“I can sit in the corner and rock and be sad, or I can get up and do what I need to do,” said McCauley, 49, who lives in constant pain and must wrap her wounds in bandages each day in order to prevent infections. She is currently in a clinical trial for a new treatment drug by Amicus Therapeutics that helps mend her wounds. “Things like this fundraiser give me hope that people become more aware, and more money is raised. Each day they are getting closer to finding a treatment and a cure.”

Although McCauley has been the face of the event since it started in 2015, the Rocky Point resident who referred to herself as a professional volunteer and remains a coordinator with local Girl Scout troops, pointed to her daughter as the real driving force behind the fundraiser.

“I can sit in the corner and rock and be sad, or I can get up and do what I need to do.”

— Donna McCauley

“One of the things that strikes me the most is that Kelly has a sense of empathy and compassion that I don’t think you can teach,” McCauley said. “I’m so proud of her initiative to make other people more aware of disabilities. She has always been the person who includes the one that isn’t included.”

Kelly McCauley, 19, a current student at Dominican College in Orangeburg, New York, started advocating for EB support as a sophomore at Rocky Point High School by selling bracelets decorated with butterflies to peers and administrators and ended up raising $500 for Debra. This prompted her to want to step things up a notch, and she soon went door to door to local businesses in search of a venue for her own bigger and better fundraiser.

McCauley’s daughter said growing up and witnessing her mom’s perseverance encouraged her to get involved in the first place.

“I saw just how strong she was and how much it took for her just to wake up every day,” she said. “She’s definitely the strongest woman I know. This disease is so much on a person. You wake up and you hurt no matter what. But she still gets up, she goes to church, she volunteers, she works as a religion teacher — she does all these things even though she’s always in some sort of pain.”

McCauley’s determination to live a normal life has served as a foundation for her younger brother, Bob Newfield, a Setauket resident who was also born with EB.

“It’s tough — what would take most people 15 minutes to get ready for work in the morning takes me an hour,” Newfield said. “But there are other things in life that are tough too, so you just have to deal with the cards you’re given. It’s such a rare disease and doesn’t get the funds it needs.”

Local residents, like Miller Place resident Joan Lowry, on right, attended the fundraiser. Photo by Kevin Redding

His wife, Marianne, explained how it’s been to observe the disease firsthand.

“His mind wants to go, go, go, but his body holds him back at times — but those with it are the strongest people I know,” she said. “They don’t really let anything get them down. Bob puts on a happy face every day even though his feet kill him; many days are hard.”

Residents that donated to the cause by purchasing raffle tickets ranged from those living with the disease to others who had never heard of it before.

Bonnie Harris, who grew up in Port Jefferson, said she and a majority of her family have the condition.

“The disease itself doesn’t get better when you get older, but you get better as you get older,” Harris said. “You’re not as clumsy when you’re falling and you’re able to take care of it better. My mom, who had it, always said, ‘You can do anything you want to do — you just have to work harder than everybody else.’”

Miller Place resident Joan Lowry heard of the fundraiser through St. Louis de Montfort R.C. Church in Sound Beach, a parish where McCauley is extremely active.

“There are too many people who fall in the cracks and need the help,” Lowry said, “and that’s the reason I’m here.”

If you wish to make a contribution, visit Debra.org/butterflybreakfast2017.

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A photo of Corporal Christopher Scherer of East Northport and some of his personal items on display in the Monuments Men exhibit.
Exhibit honors those who made the ultimate sacrifice

By Kevin Redding

For years, they were neglected. Passersby barely shot a second glance at the nearly 100 names of brave men and women from Northport and East Northport engraved on stone monuments on Main Street and in John Walsh Park — locals who lost their lives in service to their country in every conflict from the Civil War to the Iraq War.

But that all changed in recent months thanks to the efforts of Terry Reid and exhibit committee members of the Northport Historical Society.

Donated uniforms from the museum’s permanent collection, from left, World War II Army Air Force; Alan Salzman, Signal Corps, Vietnam War; and Peggy Zumbach, Navy Waves, World War II are in the exhibit.

“We don’t want people to just walk by these monuments anymore,” said Reid, curator of the historical society’s new and expansive Monuments Men exhibit, which opened Sept. 3. The exhibit showcases the stories behind these heroes with regiment and battle information, personal memorabilia, photographs, letters and mannequins draped in authentic uniforms and jackets — which Reid said is like “having our own troops standing guard.” World War II memorabilia includes a German hand grenade and a gas mask.

Items were pulled from military databases and museum records, while others were donated directly by family members of the fallen. “We wanted to put a face to every single name listed on each of those monuments so their memory would live on,” she said. “A lot of what we received must be priceless to these families but I think they knew the importance of this. Really, the whole gist of this exhibit for the veterans is: We won’t forget you.”

Reid, who was part of an exhibit put on by the historical society in 2015 marking the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, sought out any and all objects pertaining to the conflict at the time and began researching the names on the monuments. She was struck by photographs she found of soldiers and touched by their heartbreaking stories. It was then that she crafted the idea of shedding a light on all the local soldiers.

Once she got the green light from the historical society to helm the project, Reid reached out in search of anybody who had connections to the names, from members of the community on Facebook to the American Legion to Atria nursing home in East Northport. At the nursing home, she found and conducted a video interview with a Korean War veteran who detailed what he and his fellow troops went through during what’s been deemed “The Forgotten War,” which visitors can watch at a kiosk in front of the Korean War cabinet in the exhibit.

Multiple pieces of personal items belonging to Corporal Christopher Scherer, from East Northport who died in Iraq in 2007, is also highlighted, including the veteran’s lacrosse gloves from when he attended Northport High School, his Boy Scout lanyards, dog tags and even a photograph of his old bedroom — all provided by his family.

In mapping out a more personal exhibit, Reid also contacted Kevin O’Neill, a longtime friend of the museum and the co-owner of the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport. The popular venue was named in honor of O’Neill’s brother-in-law, an Iraq War veteran and East Northport native who died in 2006 at 45. Engeman’s medals and awards, as well as other pieces of memorabilia, were donated by his widow.

A photo of Stephen Scudder who fought in the Civil War on display in the exhibit

“It stirs up a lot of emotions when you walk through something like this,” O’Neill said of the exhibit. “It was 11 years ago that John was killed but it feels like yesterday. I think the historical society and Terry did a first-class, wonderful job with this exhibit. It’s very impressive, powerful and beautiful display. I encourage people to go and learn about these men and women.”

Steven King, the chairman of the Exhibits and Collection Committee at the historical society, said the public so far has responded extremely well to Monuments Men.

“We’ve been getting a lot of compliments because of the nature of the exhibit,” King said. “It’s kind of a difficult subject to take on, as it represents a lot of pain for families that have lost soldiers in recent years, but they’ve all come forward and helped us with the exhibit to make sure the War on Terror period is well-represented. Including the most recent heroes has special poignancy for many of the visitors who have spoken to us about their appreciation for this.”

The entire exhibit takes up half the museum and is made up of 10 fully stocked cabinets of items. While no women from the area have lost their lives according to the monuments, the exhibit highlights the history of their roles within the military throughout the years, including the Women’s Army Corps and Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, Reid said.

In conjunction with the exhibit, the society will host a special Veterans Weekend Trolley Tour on Nov. 12 (see below). In addition, a lecture by Ret. Col. Al Vitters, who served in Vietnam and was a powerful figure at the United States Military Academy Preparatory School in West Point, will be held on Sunday, Nov. 19 at 2 p.m. at the society’s headquarters. Vitters will reflect on his military career, which will cover when women were first admitted to the school in 1976. Admission is $5 per person, free for members.

“I just want people to stop and take a pause and really reflect and feel some gratitude for what these people do for us,” Reid said. “It’s important to the families that they are not forgotten and that their sacrifices stay in our hearts and minds. We all should be a little more thankful for our freedoms, as they come at a price, and we’re hoping this exhibit illustrates just how lucky we are.”

The Northport Historical Society, located at 215 Main Street in Northport, will present Monuments Men through May, 2018. Admission is free. Hours are Tuesday through Sunday from 1 to 4:30 p.m. For more information, call 631-757-9859 or visit www.northporthistorical.org.

Photos above by Heidi Sutton

Veterans Day Weekend Trolley Tour

All aboard! Have you ever noticed the trolley tracks that run through Northport? They’re all that is left of the trolley that ran from Woodbine Avenue to the Northport Railroad Station from 1902 until 1924.

On Sunday, Nov. 12, thanks to its sponsor Nolan & Taylor-Howe, the Northport Historical Society will run a trolley tour giving Long Islanders a chance to relive this important part of Northport’s past. Guided tours of the monuments in town honoring the Northport area fallen will be offered aboard a replica trolley generously provided by Mark of Elegance Limousine Service.

The tour, led by Northport Historical Society curator, Terry Reid, is a great family-friendly way to celebrate Veterans Day and learn about local history. Reid will share the stories of many of the brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country and who are currently also honored in the society’s new Monuments Men exhibit. Tours, which are approximately 45 minutes long, will depart from the Northport Historical Society at 215 Main Street at 1, 2 and 3 p.m.

Tickets are $20 for members, $25 for nonmembers, and $10 for veterans and children under 15. Refreshments will be served. To purchase tickets please visit www.northporthporthistorical.org/events or call 631-757-9859. Proceeds from the tour support the society’s mission to preserve and promote the history of Northport and its surrounding communities.

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