Authors Posts by Kevin Redding

Kevin Redding

Kevin Redding
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Coram resident raises donations in Miller Place to help sick children

Santa, played by Michael Carnes, hugs a child he delivered gifts to. Photo by KT Leung

Coram resident Ashley Leung put the drive in toy drive for the second year in a row.

Last year, Leung, 24, wanted to brighten up the holidays for kids who have cancer and other life-threatening illnesses in the community, so she collaborated with some local good Samaritans to create the Kids Need More Toy Drive to go above and beyond to make a difference in children’s lives.

Once all donated gifts were collected at the drop-off station at Corrective Chiropractic in Miller Place, they were loaded up in a fully decorated “holiday cheer bus” and brought directly to the door steps of kids and families in need by Santa — played by Leung’s uncle and local chiropractor Michael Carnes — and a group of volunteer “elves.”

A family shows off the new gifts Santa, played by Michael Carnes, delivered. Photo by KT Leung

Leung said it was important to her that the delivery was personal.

“We wanted to donate to the children in the area, but also be the ones to deliver those gifts because there’s a lot of different toy drives in New York and nationwide, but no one really knows where the toys go,” she said. “We wanted to document everything … so for every toy donated, we gave a picture to the donors showing them ‘this is where your donation went.’”

For the second annual Kids Need More toy drive, Leung, Santa and his elves headed back on the bus Dec. 18 for an even bigger and better night of giving.

Leung said this year a total of five buses were launched, as opposed to two last year —   two in Suffolk County, two in Nassau and one in New Jersey. The volunteer turnout also increased. The Suffolk buses, for instance, had a total of 40 parents, friends, family and even former cancer patients on board this year, compared to eight to 10 on each bus last year.

Hundreds of gifts were donated by members of the community —  everything from Disney Infinity games for PlayStation 3 to stuffed animals and hats. A blue and black mountain bike was donated anonymously and raffled off to a 15-year-old patient.

Young girls especially loved receiving Cancer Barbie. The hairless doll comes with different wigs they’re able to swap out and serves as an inspiration for those undergoing chemotherapy. The girls see a doll that looks like them and suddenly don’t feel different, Leung said.

Many of the kids went home from the hospital just to see Santa.

Santa spreads some holiday cheer throughout Suffolk County. Photo by KT Leung

“We made a really big difference,” she said. “I think the kids we visited this year truly appreciated us visiting them. We really kept the holiday spirit going; I think the kids we saw were honestly shocked.”

Leung’s charity venture spring boarded while she was attending St. Joseph’s College. A professor told her about Camp Adventure, a week-long sleepaway camp on Shelter Island for kids diagnosed with cancer, which remains Long Island’s only camp of its kind. She was excited to get involved and wanted to immediately.

The year she joined the summer program — which now serves the East Coast and tri-state area — as a camp counselor, the organization found itself without funding.

The American Cancer Society had been providing funds for the camp since 1990, but suddenly had to stop in 2013, so a dedicated group of Camp Adventure volunteers began Kids Need More to parent the camp and ensure its longevity.

Kids Need More Camp Adventure is completely free for all kids and siblings who want to attend and involves everything from a day camp, to peer mentoring programs and visits to children’s hospitals.

It even partners with a volunteer pilot organization called Patient AirLift Services that flies patients living in rural areas who need specialized treatment to centers and hospital appointments. For the last two years, PALS has flown kids who live outside of Long Island — like those in Ohio, New Jersey and even in Albany — to the camp for free.

When Leung was working in the Corrective Chiropractic office last year, she began talking to her uncle about wanting to do something to give back to the community, and a partnership with Kids Need More to donate to children in the area seemed like a no-brainer.

According to Melissa Firnes, the founder of Kids Need More, the event has “snowballed” and served 200 kids while making lots of stops.

“These kids love it,” Firnes said. “We show up to their house for caroling and things like that. It’s simple, but very nice.”

She said what matters most is that the organization isn’t asking families to leave their homes.

Local volunteers for the Kids Need More toy drive smile in front of one of the buses as it drops off gifts to the homes of local children. Photo by KT Leung

“We’re actually coming to them, and I think that matters a lot to them,” she said. “It’s hard for [the families] to get around when there’s somebody sick in the family. Kids come out to the bus and choose a gift from the volunteer elves.”

She said Leung is willing to do anything Kids Need More needs to be successful, which makes her stand out.

“[Leung] is really great at being the cheermeister for the kids and being all enthusiastic, but is also willing to do all the legwork and logistics that’s needed in putting together the toy drive,” Firnes said. “She’s been such a big part of the organization and has now brought her whole family into it, which is really special too.”

Carnes, who brings Santa to life for the kids, said it’s a wonderful feeling to be able to touch people’s hearts and directly impact their lives.

“Children really thought I was Santa when I came up and they would give me a hug and say ‘thank you Santa,’” Carnes said. “Some of these children don’t have much and some families barely have anything, so to bring joy to people is just amazing … it’s the spirit of the holidays.”

He said he believes we can all use more happiness in the world.

Jaime Pacheco, PALS outreach coordinator and cheer bus volunteer, said the toy drive prides itself on the fact that it’s not about the gift you’re getting, but the time spent with people and the emotional support they provide.

Leung said the toy drive continues to be the best day of her life.

“Just getting off that bus — and some of these kids don’t even know we’re coming — they see Santa at their front door, and they’re just completely shocked,” she said. ”I think that’s the best thing we can give them.”

Carol Hawat will continue to serve the Miller Place Fire District. File photo by Kevin Redding

Miller Place residents voted against change Dec. 13 when they took to the fire district and cast their vote in the commissioner race.

Carol Hawat, who has served in her position since 2001 on the board of fire commissioners, won her fourth five-year term with 242 votes against her challenger Guy Schneider, a lifelong firefighter in the community, who received 71 votes, according to Miller Place Fire District. This is the second time Hawat beat out Schneider, who ran against the incumbent in 2011. Schneider could not be reached for comment.

A full-time EMT supervisor at the Rocky Point Fire Department, Hawat has been an advocate for bringing more ambulatory services to the Miller Place community since she was first elected to the position.

Carol Hawat has been voted to serve Miller Place Fire District for a fourth consecutive five-year term. File photo from Carol Hawat

Her extensive background in the EMS field has been a much-needed skill set, with 60 percent of the district’s total calls requiring urgent medical care, whether for those involved in motor vehicle accidents or in-home injuries, among others.

Hawat said she hoped to continue serving as commissioner because she considers herself the voice for the medical portion of the community. She said providing people with good quality care has been a lifelong passion.

“I feel like I make a difference,” she said. “I was raised to not walk by somebody who needs help … [I] help whoever needs it. … When I go on calls to a person’s house, they’re at their worst, they’re in pain, they’re worried, they’re scared … and to be able to help them, provide a friendly face and comfort and get them through that and bring them treatment, is very rewarding.”

Under Hawat’s leadership, the district provides top-of-the-line medical equipment, such as blood-pressure monitors, and 24/7 advanced life-support care — lifesaving protocols that extend support for its patients until hospital medical treatment is available. She said she’s helped supply whatever has been needed in the district, from new ambulances to fire trucks.

Rocky Point District Manager Edwin Brooks, who has known Hawat for many years as EMT supervisor, said it’s clear she’s the right person for the position.

“She’s very conscientious, very dedicated to her job, she’s hardworking and she cares,” he said. “Obviously she won by almost a 3-1 margin, so she must be doing her job. She’s been commissioner for quite a while.”

Josh Hagermann, Miller Place department chief, said Hawat is good for the community.

“I think she’ll [continue to] do well at the job she was elected for, and she’ll be helpful to the community,” he said. “She’s a very likable person.”

Hawat holds numerous CPR seminars at local schools and community centers to provide more education and awareness on what to do in emergency situations, and moving forward, she aims to do something similar to help stop the frequency of heroin overdoses in the area.

“I’m looking to be able to do classes on my own and go out there and provide more awareness of the drugs, educate people on how to know if someone is involved and provide Narcan [an opiate antidote] training at schools,” she said. “We have Narcan in the ambulance already.”

Her new five-year term begins Jan. 1, and will run through Dec. 31, 2021.

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Doctors David Seligman, left, Jesse Chusid, center, and Jason Naidich, right, stand in front of one of the new machines at the center. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Residents of Smithtown and its surrounding neighborhoods now have easy access to quality radiologic care that eliminates the need for long and distressing hospital visits.

At Northwell Health Imaging at Smithtown, patients in need of a wide variety of diagnostic testing services including MRIs, low-dose CAT scans and ultrasounds are guaranteed the ease of a private practice with the expertise and equipment of an academic medical center.

The center, which took two years to build, provides 3D mammograms, bone density tests, digital X-rays and biopsies, all within a spa-inspired atmosphere that’s warm and comforting to its patients.

On Dec. 8, a ribbon cutting was held in the lobby of the $2.8 million facility — even though it officially opened to the public in early September. Northwell Health’s staff, local medical community members and dignitaries gathered to celebrate the center, which stands as the fourth imaging center in Suffolk County; the others are located in Huntington, Bay Shore and Islip.

“It’s convenient and far more patient-friendly and structured here … access is easier.”
—David Seligman

David Seligman, vice president of imaging services at Northwell Health, said radiology has become a much more community-based service and there isn’t much of a need anymore to go to the hospital for a brain scan, chest scan or mammogram. He said the quality of care at the center is just as good as it is in the best hospitals, but the experience for the patient is far better, especially in terms of scheduling and predictability.

“It’s convenient and far more patient-friendly and structured here … access is easier,” Seligman said at the ribbon cutting. “The environment obviously is intended to be spa-like; it’s quiet, inviting, private. We try to get patients in and out so they don’t have to waste an entire day coming in for a CT study [for instance]. The response to these community-based practices is far more positive in the general population.”

He said he’s excited because he knows patients who come to the center are going to have a high-quality and efficient experience.

Dr. Jesse Chusid, senior vice president of imaging services and a diagnostic radiologist said Northwell Health wanted to offer an alternative to the hassles associated with a hospital.

“When you go to a hospital, the parking isn’t very good, you have to walk through a giant building that’s complicated, signage is not always optimal and you’re in a place with a lot of sick patients,” Chusid said. “It’s not always a comfortable setting to be in when you’re a well person just going for a checkup, so I think you get to avoid all that by coming to an outpatient facility like this one. Everybody likes the way this facility is laid out; it’s comfortable for people. When you’re coming in for health care, it’s anxiety producing, everybody is always worried when they walk in the door so if you have an environment that’s warm and welcoming with people who can comfort then it makes the whole experience a lot easier and that’s what we have here.”

He said Northwell Health has Long Island’s largest group of fellowship-trained, subspecialized radiologists in its health system — upwards of 170, although only two will be at the center day to day, one more focused on general kinds of imaging and the other on women’s imaging and breast health.

The large group of radiologists across the system allows for focused expertise on specific problems patients might have. By interpreting and studying results in their specialized fields, the radiologists have proven to make more accurate diagnoses.

“The whole goal is to make it easy and convenient for patients to get the imaging they need and then route those images to somebody who’s uniquely trained to be able to give an expert interpretation.”
—Jesse Chusid

Even though not all the experts are in the building, if an imaging is done, it can be immediately shared with other radiologists in their network with the technology to which they have access.

“The whole goal is to make it easy and convenient for patients to get the imaging they need and then route those images to somebody who’s uniquely trained to be able to give an expert interpretation,” Chusid said.

He said the center invests a lot in newer technology and plans to keep doing so.

“The direction not just in radiology but in all of health care is toward telemedicine, and providing services remotely, which makes for more convenient access for patients and allows you to spread out subspecialized resources over a big network like this,” the senior vice president said. “By making a virtual network, you can get those images everywhere.”

The facility contains the sort of equipment found in major hospitals, like their CT scan, which is sleeker and less claustrophobic than most. While some scans have more depth and seem to encase anybody inside it, the one available at the center is much more open and patient-friendly.

Chusid said mammographers can take 3D images in breast cancer screenings to better detect early phases of cancer and get treatment started at a quicker pace.

The radiologists are also trained to perform minimally invasive surgical procedures. If a scan is performed and they notice something in the liver or thyroid gland, for example, they can do a biopsy with a needle and send that tissue to a pathologist to get a definitive answer on what it is.

Dr. Jason Naidich, chairman of the Radiology Department at Northwell Health, said having this high level of equipment in the local community is great for patients.

“It means they don’t have to travel to a big academic medical center to get this level of care,” Naidich said. “In radiology, the quality of the service you get is based largely on the equipment that is used. We also try to make it as convenient as possible for patients, so we have extended hours … evening hours, weekend hours. It’s important to make sure we’re accessible to patients who work during the day.”

Smithtown Supervisor Pat Vecchio presented the town's 2018 tentative operating budget this week. File photo by Susan Risoli

Smithtown is officially green, not with envy, but with energy efficiency.

According to Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R), The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority has designated Smithtown the first municipality on Long Island, and first town in all of New York State, to be a clean energy community.

Smithtown received the recognition after completing four of ten high-impact clean energy actions as part of New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) $16 million Clean Energy Communities program and competition. By being among the first two municipalities in the state to complete the challenge, the town, along with Ulster County, now qualifies for grants up to $250,000 toward clean energy improvement in their community.

“Being first means that, out of all New York towns, Smithtown is in the forefront of energy efficiency and environmental initiatives,” Vecchio said in a statement.

Cuomo launched the initiative in August of this year as a way to support local government leaders to enforce energy efficiency, reduce pollution, save energy costs, and create jobs in their communities.

“This initiative encourages alternatives that will save money and create new opportunities for municipalities, and is one more step toward building a cleaner and more sustainable New York,” Cuomo said in a statement.

The town has been contributing to the green cause for more than a decade and has done a lot to earn its newfound designation.

Smithtown has been nationally recognized for becoming the first municipality in New York State to institute a requirement to use refuse collection trucks who use compressed natural gas.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the 30 contractor-owned diesel refuse trucks collecting solid waste and recyclables from the town’s 116,000 residents were replaced by 22 compressed natural gas models in January 2007.

Their choosing of clean alternative fuel and hybrid vehicles — which include snow plows, shuttle buses, pickup trucks and cars — has greatly contributed to reduced vehicle exhaust emissions and reduced fuel costs.

In 2014, Smithtown continued its trendsetting by becoming one of the first in New York to adopt the Unified Solar Permit Process, a streamline solar permit form developed to make it much easier and cheaper for residents to install solar energy systems on their homes.

It was mandatory within the Clean Energy Communities program that at least two of the high-impact action items be done after Aug. 1. The town got to work fast by both replacing most of its streetlights with energy efficient LEDs — which helps reduce street light energy use by 65 percent, saves generating costs, and overall creates a better lit and more attractive community — and implementing additional training and inspections to make sure the building department had a good understanding of the NYS Energy Code.

With about 60 percent of New York’s total energy consumption coming from buildings, according to the NYSERDA website, “There is a significant opportunity for energy savings through improved Energy Code compliance.”

William White, director of the Smithtown Building Department, said two field inspections occurred Nov. 8 through a couple homes.

“They were very happy with how the houses were insulated,” White said in a phone interview. “They just made a couple points of improvement, but overall, the building department was in good shape with our knowledge of the state’s energy codes.”

Outside of the clean energy competition, Smithtown has also installed a 50kW solar energy system and 10kW wind turbine at the Municipal Services Facility in Kings Park and partnered with the state to advocate for the Long Island Green Homes Initiative, a not-for-profit launched in 2015 that helps set up homeowners with a professional energy audit at no cost.

Organizers of the program said they connect residents with NYSERDA “to generate savings, stimulate jobs, boost economic development and promote sustainability.”

According to Vecchio’s office, Smithtown already plans to use their $250,000 grant to install new alternative energy systems, two of which are currently in development: a solar electric system at the Planning Department on Redwood Lane and another solar electric system at the Devine Building on West Main Street.

By Kevin Redding

We took to the streets of the North Shore to find out what everyone’s favorite holiday movie was and why.

Bella Ayer
Bella Ayer

Bella Ayer, Setauket I watch a lot of the old ones like “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” and “Frosty the Snowman” and those types of movies. “The Year Without a Santa Claus” is one of my favorite Christmas movies because it’s such a classic and whoever made the movie put so much time and effort in animating it … it’s just so well put together and such a good story. Even though it was made like 30 or 40 years ago, I still loved it as a kid and still love it now.

Bill Herrmann
Bill Herrmann

Bill Herrmann, Port Jefferson I would definitely say “A Christmas Story.” I can’t get enough of it and I think the father makes the whole movie, how he hates the dogs next door and just all of his mannerisms. I love the narration by Jean Shephard too … it’s like an outsider looking in but also like a firsthand recap of what he went through. It’s one of those staples where you gotta expect it to be on 12 times in a row every year. I’d watch it with my family, by myself, or even trick someone into watching it with me.

Rebecca Unno
Rebecca Unno

Rebecca Zunno, Huntington I love “A Christmas Story” because it really reminds me of how my parents were raised, and I love watching it with them because they just laugh the whole way through and it’s one of my dad’s favorite films. I also like Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” because it has the best soundtrack, but “Elf” is definitely my favorite overall. I just love it because it’s funny and goofy and warm, and it kind of brings that sentimental teariness that we love as audience members. I think it’s important to have Christmas films that just make you feel like you’re a kid again. And I love Zooey Deschanel and I remember that was the first time I ever heard her sing [in the shower scene] and she has a beautiful voice. And Will Ferrell just cracks me up and he’s adorable in that. He’s just a big kid and it makes me laugh.

Vera Wilde
Vera Wilde

Vera Wilde, Port Jefferson Well, I love “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I always have to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” because it just makes it seem like Christmas to me and my family. I have to watch it every year, even more than once. It’s just the whole feeling of Christmas, family, generosity, a whole community coming together … it’s a wonderful movie.

 

Christina Urso and family
Christina Urso and family

Christina Urso, Port Jefferson I think our family’s favorite holiday movie is “A Christmas Story” because I think it just reminds everybody of their own little crazy family. We pull the DVD out and watch it every year. I’ve watched it since I was a kid and teenagers and it’s just something that’s been passed down and now our children like it. They were actually a little afraid of the bully [Skut Farkus] for the first few years and didn’t watch it for a while, so it took them a little time. It’s just a funny, silly movie but again I think it reminds everybody of their own family.

Scott Walsh
Scott Walsh

Scott Walsh, Hauppauge It would have to be “Die Hard.” It is a Christmas movie; it’s based around Christmas, he’s trying to go home to see his daughter, it’s a great movie. Yeah, “Die Hard” is the best Christmas movie of all time. Bruce Willis is in it and I love Bruce Willis and it’s a great action movie, has Christmas music in it … it’s a classic.

 

Amanda Damone and Jacob Ward
Amanda Damone and Jacob Ward

Amanda Damone, Sound Beach I watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” every year. I watch it twice [in early December and Christmas Eve] in full with my dad. Everyone in the family thinks it’s really boring and annoying, but I’m the only family member who watches it with him.

Jacob Ward, Port Jefferson I really like “The Polar Express.” I love Tom Hanks’ acting in all five of his roles in that movie and I loved it as a kid and seeing it on the big screen was really cool.

Nancy Sanks, Steven Guild, Joanna Guild, Coram

Joanna Guild, Steven Guild and Nancy Sanks
Joanna Guild, Steven Guild and Nancy Sanks

 

Joanna Guild: I like “The Holiday” a lot and remember seeing it when it came out. I like the mellow romantic ones.

Nancy Sanks: “While You Were Sleeping” [with Sandra Bullock and Bill Pullman] is one of my favorite ones, because I have three daughters and we started watching those because it puts you in the Christmas mood and it’s friendly and it’s light romance and cozy “hot chocolate” kind of movie. And I’ve always liked “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” with Chevy Chase and all the lights.

Steven Guild: “Elf” is a classic.

PHOTOS BY KEVIN REDDING

Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe's Board of Directors President Jane Alcorn helps American Physical Society President Sam Aronson unveil the historic site plaque while American Physical Society chair member Paul Halpern looks on. Photo by Kevin Redding

The Tesla Science Center At Wardenclyffe, a lab of the former inventor Nikola Tesla, is the only one left of its kind, so it’s no surprise it’s historic.

To recognize this, a large crowd of local dignitaries and community members gathered in Shoreham Dec. 11 to witness the site be designated as a national historic physics site by the American Physical Society.

Back in 2013 a local not-for-profit known then as Friends of Science East Inc. raised over $1 million to purchase the property – Nikola Tesla’s last standing laboratory he conducted research in – when it was on the brink of being forgotten with the hopes of preserving its history. The site has since turned it into a hub for science education, “inspiring the Tesla’s of tomorrow.”

And while there’s still plenty of work to be done before the Science and Technology Center and Museum opens, the APS’s plaque presentation ceremony proved appreciation for Tesla is alive and well – due in large part to the determination of those in Shoreham to keep the legacy of the Serbian-born scientist and inventor of alternating current electricity and neon lighting energized.

“We wanted to have a place where children could build upon their science education, enhance what they learn in school, and have an opportunity to explore and develop a curiosity of how the world works.”

–Jane Alcorn

Members of the APS, the largest professional committee of physics in the U.S. that has deemed just 40 sites worthy of designation since 2004, presented the black stone plaque to Board of Directors President Jane Alcorn and Director Marc Alessi, because of the site’s commitment to raising awareness of Tesla and physics to Long Island and across the world.

Paul Halpern, a chair member with the society, said the site is of great value and interest in terms of history and science.

“There’s a lot of [renewed] interest in Tesla now, and we’re hoping this will help spur on the Tesla Science Center project to build a museum here,” Halpern said.

Speakers took to the podium in front of the historic brick building where Tesla built his laboratory in 1901 with the help of renowned architect Stanford White.

Unfortunately, his funders had given up on the project a few years later and a tower he was using to send wireless power across the world was demolished in 1917, leaving his grand vision to go unexplored.

But, as the plaque reads in gold lettering, “while long-distance wireless power transmission remains a dream, worldwide wireless communication was achieved within a century.”

Alcorn, who has been an especially instrumental force in saving the site, said she and the rest of the volunteers at the center are humbled to be listed among the other notable institutions and people who’ve received the prestigious recognition in the past.

“We work to educate the public about Tesla and his work,” Alcorn said. “We also work to educate the public about the importance of science education for children … so when we set out to create this place, we wanted to have a place where children could build upon their science education, enhance what they learn in school, and have an opportunity to explore and develop a curiosity of how the world works.”

Tescla Science Center at Wardenclyffe Director Marc Alessi speaks during the national historic site designation ceremony. Photo by Kevin Redding
Tescla Science Center at Wardenclyffe Director Marc Alessi speaks during the national historic site designation ceremony. Photo by Kevin Redding

In the future, the 16-acre campus plans to include a children’s playground, an entrepreneurial lab, an exhibit space and a gathering space for community events and programs.

Alessi said he and the center raised upwards of $1.37 million in 2012 in collaboration with internet cartoonist Matt Inman through an internet fundraising campaign that had the support of over 33,000 people in 108 countries. They obtained the property from the Agfa Corporation officially in May 2013.

“For quite some time, [Tesla] was almost forgotten,” Alessi said. “If it wasn’t for the work of many of the people here in this community and across the country we would have lost this location, historic lab and beautiful building behind us. With all of that hard work we’ve been able to secure the property and pay testament to the history of this property and Tesla’s legacy here by establishing the museum and science center.”

Alessi said the site belongs to the public and the center wants to open as soon as possible and will continue to fundraise. Just that day, he said he was informed somebody in attendance of the ceremony who wished to remain anonymous donated $5,000.

He said the center hopes to have two buildings up by early 2018 and intends to eventually have something to the scale of the Liberty Science Center in New Jersey or the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.

Just before the official register was signed to seal the designation, Alessi called Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said the science center being developed is desperately needed in a nation that needs to focus more on science and fact.

“We are standing here – long after Tesla’s death in 1944, long after his emigration to this country in 1884 – to remind people that the power of ideas doesn’t die with the person who thought those ideas,” Romaine said. “We envision this to be one our best institutes.”

PSEG employees volunteered time to help clean up the grounds of the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe in Shoreham Dec. 10. Photo by Kevin Redding

Long Island PSEG employee Meredith Lewis wanted to help clean up the grounds of the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe in Shoreham, so she organized volunteer efforts to do just that.

The cleanup was part of PSEG’s Community Partnership Program, which provides sponsorship to any employees passionate about contributing within their community.

PSEG volunteers rake leaves at the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe in Shoreham Dec. 10. Photo by Kevin Redding
PSEG volunteers rake leaves at the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe in Shoreham Dec. 10. Photo by Kevin Redding

As a Shoreham resident, Lewis said she wanted to help make Wardenclyffe – which has become something of an eyesore the past few decades – a place the community can go to and be proud of, especially the area that will become the center’s welcome site.

The location where Serbian-born inventor Nikola Tesla’s last remaining laboratory in the world stands was designated as a world historic site the following day, so timing couldn’t have been more perfect for Lewis and her merry band of helpers – made up of about 25 people between those from PSEG and the Tesla Science Center.

“It feels really great that people want to take time out of their personal schedules and give back to the community,” Lewis said. “We want a nice place for people to go and honor Tesla. It’s very exciting to have somebody who has such a historical significance be in our community and to be able to clean up the site, which really was a dumb beforehand, and make it what it is today. It’s nice and helps the community.”

Her volunteers rakes leaves, trimmed low brush and shrubs, cleared out vines attached to the fence that separates the grounds and the road, and got the area ready for planned irrigation in the spring.

PSEG volunteers rake leaves at the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe in Shoreham Dec. 10. Photo by Kevin Redding
PSEG volunteers rake leaves at the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe in Shoreham Dec. 10. Photo by Kevin Redding

Even her kids Brayden, 7, and Brooke, 5, were taking part.

Karl Sidenius, a longtime volunteer for the center, said he got involved in the effort because he was sick of seeing what had become of the property.

“I knew this had been Tesla’s lab and to drive by here every day or so and see the mess really disturbed me,” he said. “If we can get this cleaned up today, it would be a big help in maintaining the property.”

Gene Genova, vice president of the Tesla Science Center, said the help was great. Ever since the property was bought in 2013, he said, hundreds of volunteers come out to the site and help clean up.

He said there are big plans to turn the abandoned house and building on the property into a visitor’s center and a community events center, respectively.

“When we get volunteers who are passionate about helping us,” Genova said, “it furthers our cause to make things happen faster.”

 

Bikers rev up holiday cheer for children at Wading River campus

Santa Claus swapped his signature red hat for a black helmet and led hundreds of bikers from Babylon Town Hall to Wading River Dec. 4 to kickstart the holiday season for children and young adults in need.

For the past 30 years, the staff members and young residents at Little Flower Children and Family Services of New York have welcomed the Long Island Harley Owners Group to their Wading River campus for what has become Long Island’s oldest toy run.

The group bands together with other motorcycle clubs across Long Island to deliver gifts to the children of the not-for-profit charity organization. Little Flower, founded in 1929, provides programs and services to children, families and adults with behavioral and developmental disabilities living in the area, and offers residential services and compassionate alternatives to state-run institutions.

“I’m very thankful,” said Russell, 15, of Syosset. “They come out and they use their time, and play with us and do different things with us on their own time when they could be sitting at home.”

There are approximately 100 students between the ages 10 and 21 living on the Little Flower campus in cottage-style homes. Most of them are there primarily for educational purposes. The students are special education children with a variety of challenges who are referred to the organization by local school districts.

They struggle with mental, developmental and behavioral problems, but because the student body at Little Flower is relatively small, there’s more of a hands-on approach to catering to their individual needs.

“I’m very thankful. They come out and they use their time, and play with us and do different things with us on their own time…”

—Russell

Corinne Hammons, CEO of Little Flower, said the organization strives to help and embrace the kids as they are. She said often students come from tough circumstances and have challenges that can’t be helped at home or in local schools. She said she’s very proud to partner with the Harley group and have its longstanding support.

“We don’t take this partnership for granted at all; every year they could choose any charity and they keep choosing us, and we’re very grateful,” Hammons said. “The idea of them coming to us wanting to give is very meaningful for the kids, who sure look forward to it each year.”

While the Harley Owners Group is involved with several charities throughout the year — including veteran fundraisers — members of the group consider this particular event the one they look forward to most all year. It’s also the only event that non-Harley-Davidson owners can join.

Bob Brinka, director of the Long Island Harley Owners Group, said what keeps the group coming back year after year are the smiles on the children’s faces.

“Doing this for kids that don’t have a lot is really important to us … this is the one that’s most dear to our hearts,” Brinka said. “We look forward to making people’s lives a lot nicer and giving the kids something they don’t have. Because we have, we can give.”

He said this year the group had 276 registered motorcycles for the ride plus another 30 that joined them along their route.

Those at Little Flower watched in glee as bikers arrived in traditional fashion to the campus. The parade of Christmas-decorated bikes roared down a long driveway, each one equipped with a pile of gifts all donated by members. They brought everything from giant stuffed teddy bears to skateboards and remote control cars.

Maureen Fox, vice president of external relations for Little Flower, said for the kids, the event is all about the “spectacle” of seeing the bikers arrive.

“Doing this for kids that don’t have a lot is really important to us … this is the one that’s most dear to our hearts”

—Bob Brinka

The event went inside to the gym on campus, where children were excited to hop on stage and meet with Santa, played by Harley Owners Group member Nick Klopsis, and choose from the big pile of gifts. Chili and drinks were available, as well as holiday-themed entertainment. Some members joined children on stage to perform impromptu choir bell renditions of Christmas songs.

Thom Kister, a 12-year Harley Owners Group member, pointed out a beaming girl carrying a teddy bear off the stage and said he bought the gift three months prior to the event.

“It’s all about the kids and seeing their faces on the stage,” Kister said. “And when we do the precession, coming up, just having everybody out there waving really fills you up and makes you feel good. This is so different from everything else we do because it’s open to all the biking community. We love it and we love doing it.”

Chris Evel, a member of 30 years, echoed Kister’s sentiment.

“Nobody helps the community like the bikers,” he said. “Whatever [the kids] need, that’s what we’re here for. It could be anywhere on Long Island — we’ll be there to help.”

According to Fox, before the bikers hop back on their motorcycles and hit the road, some of them deliver gifts directly to the developmentally disabled residents on campus who are unable to get to the gym.

Alex, 16, of Bellmore, said not just the event, but the entire month of December is special for him and the rest of the children at Little Flower.

“It’s a nice thing that [the Harley Owners Group] does because it’s all volunteer … they didn’t have to come here,” he said. “This month is probably the best month for everybody here because we had the Christmas tree lighting a few days ago, and then next week we have a party, so all the kids are happy that we’re doing this.”

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Smithtown decked the halls this past Sunday, Dec. 4 as the Smithtown Rotary Club hosted a tree lighting at the Smithtown Library.

Janet Emily Demarest will reprise her role as Mrs. Dilber, Ebenezer Scrooge’s long-suffering housekeeper, at this year’s Dickens Festival in Port Jefferson. Photo from Janet E. Demarest

By Kevin Redding

Janet Emily Demarest of Huntington has dedicated most of her adulthood to inspiring people through the combination of history and storytelling. A popular lecturer, Demarest has appeared on stage, at universities, museums and libraries across Long Island to teach about storytelling and perform historical theatrical works she’s written.

Most people on the North Shore, however, know her best as Mrs. Dilber, the energetic host of “Scrooge: The Inside Story,” the wildly popular audience participation show that has become a staple at the Port Jefferson Charles Dickens Festival, which returns to the village this weekend.

I recently had the opportunity to speak to Demarest about the show, the importance of performing for people, and what made her want to don a mop cap and become Mrs. Dilber.

What is ‘Scrooge: The Inside Story’ about?

Mrs. Dilber, the character that I’m playing, is actually mentioned in Charles Dickens’ book, “A Christmas Carol.” She is Scrooge’s housekeeper. The way that I’ve kind of reimagined the story is that Mrs. Dilber knows all of the little crazier things that actually went on. What [the show] really does is it allows me as a performer to be able to have an audience participation telling of “A Christmas Carol” utilizing adults as the major characters … by not so much giving them lines, but by giving them situations to react to, and then have the audience react to them. It’s kind of “commedia dell’arte” (improvised performance based on scenarios) but certainly not as fancy as all that.

I’m basically the facilitator. I tell the story but I select nine people from the audience to play Scrooge, Bob Cratchit, the ghosts, Tiny Tim and so on. These are all people that are just randomly selected from the audience. Just after years and years of doing theater, I have a pretty good sense of who’s going to be able to sit still on stage and who looks the part. So many people that I do choose wind up really warming up to it and it winds up being a great show.

I’ll get a Scrooge out of nowhere and he’ll go and sit with a little top hat, and anytime that I’ll say “let’s hear it for Scrooge!” everybody gives him the raspberries. It’s a sillier kind of version but we do stay very close to the story. It’s a little bit improvisation, it’s a little bit of theatrical and visual comedy, and above all, it’s a means of everyone having fun together.

How did the show come about?

For many years I have worked as the historic storyteller at Old Bethpage Village Restoration and I’ve performed at the Long Island Fair. One of my colleagues over there, Pat Darienzo who is a magician, had expressed to me “Oh you need to be at the Dickens Festival!” because he had been performing there for a number of years himself [as The Great Wizard of the North]. So he gave me the contact information, put me in touch with the woman at the time who was doing the coordination, and we spoke and she booked me for the one event and the rest, darling, as they say, is history. I have been playing Mrs. Dilber … I think this is going to be my fifth year.

So you wrote the show and serve as the only professional actor?

Absolutely. Well, I wrote it based on Dickens of course. (Speaking in an upscale London accent) “As Mrs. Dilber, you know, that gentleman down the block, you know, I told him that story and he wrote it all down and then sold it for millions, the little Dickens!”

What made you want to have your own spin on this story?

Oh I love “A Christmas Carol.” I love every iteration … I love every single movie; I love the Broadway show; I love the book! It’s just such a beautiful story about getting outside yourself and being able to see how our littlest actions really affect other people, so it’s a story that really speaks to me. And I love the fact that it doesn’t matter if you celebrate Christmas or not. It doesn’t matter because being the kind of person that thinks about other people is universal. That’s what’s really appealing to me.

What is the most rewarding part about playing Mrs. Dilber and performing for people?

Something happened a year or two ago, and I will never forget it and it will always mean a lot to me. I selected somebody for the show, and after the show the gentleman came to me and said, “I had the best time and I didn’t even wanna come!” And I looked at him and I was like, “Oh, who wouldn’t wanna come to this?!” And he said, “No you don’t understand … I just lost my wife to cancer a few months ago. I didn’t want to come; I didn’t want to celebrate Christmas. My friends insisted that I come, and I don’t know what made you hone in on me in the audience, but I think it must’ve been my wife trying to tell you that I needed this.”

So to be able to give somebody back a sense of the joy of the simplest things of Christmas … that’s what it’s all about. It’s so important to take that time to be with your family, and take that time to be silly.

What do you do when you’re not Mrs. Dilber?

I’ve taught marketing and managing courses, mostly at Nassau Community College and also at New York Institute of Technology, and occasionally in other places as well … like Hofstra.

This past year I’ve been doing a lot of college lecturing for lifelong learners. I have worked for Molloy College, LIU Post — they’ve got an award-winning lecture series up there called The Hutton House Lectures and I’ve been fortunate to lecture for them. I’ve been focused on Long Island history and the historical background of certain things that we know and love as a college lecturer.

Two years ago, I published my first book. It’s called “Tales from the General Store: The Legends of Long Island.” It deals with all of those little legends on Long Island that you’ve heard of, like the Smithtown Bull or Mile-a-Minute Murphy or Goody Garlick and the very first witch trial on Long Island, which took place 30 years before Salem.

On Nov. 1 of this year, I came out with my second book called “A Merry, Very Victorian Christmas!: Trivia, Tales and Traditions from 19th Century America.” From gathering more and more information over the past couple years, I’ve realized that it’s so much fun trying to put history and Christmas together and make it interesting for people.

Have you always been interested in performing?

Whether it was a classroom or I was playing Tevye’s wife in “Fiddler on the Roof,” there was always an audience there. I graduated with an MBA in Organizational Behavior, which is an offshoot of management that I never really utilized as a career because I immediately had my kids and I really wanted to spend time with them.

My oldest son’s second-grade teacher was a spectacular woman; she knew more about human nature ­— adults and children alike — more than anyone I ever met. And so she encouraged me: “You’ve got this theatrical background, let’s try to make a safety video for the children.”

So I started writing for children and writing shows, putting on shows, and in the meantime I had started doing some local theater for Plaza Theatrical, that used to do all these tours all over Long Island and the tri-state area. I would be touring with them and teaching and raising the kids and all that. As I got a little bit older and I started writing some historically based shows, I started my relationship with Old Bethpage Village. I went over there to borrow a costume and next thing I know they said, “We could really use a storyteller.”

Where do you get your costume?

I make my costume out of rags and riches, of course! It’s just a mop cap and whatever funky looking blouse I can find that looks period. And then I add some flowers and some aprons. I’ve got big, bulky, hobnail boot-looking things … like a housekeeper from the early 1800s. I’m channeling Carol Burnett!

What makes the Dickens Festival so special? Why should people go?

People should go to the Dickens Festival because it gives families an opportunity to have a fun experience together. When you go there and see things a little bit more historically based, it gives families the opportunity to open up a dialogue about traditions, like “what I did as a child …”

Grandpa’s not necessarily walking through the five miles of snow, but he may say, “Well this is how I did it …” And then the grandkids say, “Ooh, let’s do it the way Grandpa did it!” It seems to expand the Christmas culture as it is for families, so the younger people understand why things were done the way they were in the past … so it opens up a dialogue about what’s considered an established culture for Christmas.

Performances of “Scrooge: The Inside Story” by Mrs. Dilber will be held during Port Jefferson’s Charles Dickens Festival on Saturday, Dec. 3, at noon and 1:30 p.m. and on Sunday, Dec. 4., at noon in the Sail Loft Room, third floor, of the Port Jefferson Village Center, at 101A E. Broadway. This show is free to the public. For more information, please call 631-802-2160.

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