Authors Posts by Kevin Redding

Kevin Redding

Kevin Redding

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.

Parents listen to learn ways to discuss depression and suicide prevention with their kids during a seminar at Shoreham Wading River High School Nov. 30. Photo by Kevin Redding

“We need to change the way we think about mental health and teen depression .. .and we can start in our homes by keeping an open and honest communication and letting our kids know that it’s okay to say that they’re not okay.”

Ann Morrison, Long Island director for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, addresses parents in the Shoreham Wading River school district during a seminar Nov. 30. Photo by Kevin Redding
Ann Morrison, Long Island director for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, addresses parents in the Shoreham Wading River school district during a seminar Nov. 30. Photo by Kevin Redding

That’s what Ann Morrison, Long Island director for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, told an audience of parents at a seminar at Shoreham-Wading River High School Nov. 30, to help identify warning signs and risk factors for suicide in teens, understand the role of treatment in reducing risk and open a dialogue with their children about the topic.

The school district was impacted by two separate incidents of suicide in October and November. Both were high school freshmen. The school’s administration has been doing all it can to raise awareness and education for both students and parents alike ever since.

The AFSP gives different versions of the seminar throughout the country. Morrison’s presentation spoke specifically to parents. Those in attendance said it was much needed.

“It’s important with all the things that have been going on here,” Thomas McClintock said. “I know they wanted to address it with the children, but it’s good for the parents too, because a lot of us are in the dark on this type of thing. It’s not something you expect or anticipate in your own child.”

Morrison explained suicide has become the second leading cause of death among youth between the ages 10 and 24 in the U.S. after accidental injuries and yet, she said, “we aren’t really talking about it.”

“That’s where a lot of the issue is,” Morrison said. “We need to be more comfortable talking about one of the leading causes of death and why this is happening and how we can prevent it. This isn’t meant to frighten anybody, but to let you know the scope of the problem.”

According to the National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to monitor health risk behaviors that contribute to causes of death for teens, 17 percent of high school students reported having seriously considered attempting suicide in the previous year — 13.6 percent reported having made a plan for a suicide attempt in the previous year, and eight percent reported having attempted suicide one or more times in the last year.

“We need to be more comfortable talking about one of the leading causes of death and why this is happening and how we can prevent it. This isn’t meant to frighten anybody, but to let you know the scope of the problem.”

— Ann Morrison

Morrison said suicide is a mental health issue and marginally preventable.
The thought comes about when multiple factors come together, so it’s not related to just one cause, but underlying risk signals to look out for in teens are out-of-character bouts of depression, anxiety, aggression and agitation.

She said parents must act if they notice drastic changes in their children’s behavior, which might include withdrawal from activities they normally enjoy, isolation from friends or social media, changes in sleep patterns and appetite, unexplained rage, or giving away their prized possessions — something that commonly happens when someone is preparing to commit suicide.

“It can be very easy sometimes to mistake mental health symptoms for typical adolescent behaviors,” she said.

Also listen for statements like “I should go kill myself,” “I have no reason to live” and “everybody would be better off without me.”

Morrison stressed to the parents the key to helping prevent suicide among teens is to have a strong and supportive home, where it’s okay to reach out for help.

“You have to be a role model and let them know that in your home, it’s okay for open communication no matter what it is that they want to talk about,” she said. “We need to not be afraid to reach out and ask them if they’re okay. … Make sure you talk to them in private, [and] not at the dinner table, in front of siblings or handled very nonchalantly. Listen to their story, get them comfortable to talk to you, express care and concern. Don’t dismiss their feelings. What we think is a small problem to them might be a bigger problem in their mind.”

Debra Caputo, counselor at the Long Island Crisis Center, addresses parents in the Shoreham Wading River school district during a seminar Nov. 30. Photo by Kevin Redding
Debra Caputo, counselor at the Long Island Crisis Center, addresses parents in the Shoreham Wading River school district during a seminar Nov. 30. Photo by Kevin Redding

Debra Caputo, who works as a counselor at the Long Island Crisis Center, echoed the importance of listening. As someone who answers crisis calls on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, she said just simply listening to someone wrestling with mental health issues is helpful to them.

“When people call, we’re basically just listening and validating their feelings,” she said. “What they’re feeling is real. If we listen non-judgmentally and understand what they’re going through, it can make a world of difference. We want to reassure them they’re not alone and help is available.”

Morrison said that if there’s a true feeling that a child may be at risk or having suicidal thoughts, it’s okay to directly ask them if they are.

“It’s a scary question to ask or think about asking, but we know that when we ask, it opens that conversation,” Morrison said. “And should a child actually have those thoughts, in most cases, they’re going to feel comfortable telling you. Thank them for having the courage to talk to you and contact a mental health professional for an evaluation. Take it seriously. Don’t wait to act. Be calm. Listen to them.”

If you or your child is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The hotline is available 24 hours a day.

For more information about the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and their services, visit

You can watch “More Than Sad,” a film presented by the AFSP that dramatizes four situations of high school depression, at

Stony Brook Univeristy surgeon James Vosswinkel, left, is recognized prior to the Dec. 5 New York Jets game at Metlife Stadium. Photo from Melissa Weir

A lifelong New York Jets fan and Stony Brook University Hospital surgeon had the chance to take the field with the team.

The Suffolk County Police Department showed its gratitude to SBU Hospital Chief Trauma Surgeon Dr. James Vosswinkel at a surprise press conference at the hospital Nov. 29, with a little help from the Jets.

Vosswinkel, a Jets fan who saved the lives of two SCPD officers critically injured in the line of duty, said he was “completely overwhelmed” to learn that he and 20 members of his staff were to be honored at the Jets’ Annual First Responder Appreciation Night at Metlife Stadium before the game Monday, Dec. 5.

“I don’t think either one of us would be standing here today as full capacity police officers if it wasn’t for the doctor and his care.”

— Nicholas Guerrero

SCPD Commissioner Tim Sini and Military & First Responder Liaison for the team, Steve Castleton, along with members of the police department and staff from the hospital, were present to announce the news to the trauma surgeon.

Alongside members of police and fire departments from across the tri-state area including the SCPD, NYPD and FDNY, Vosswinkel served as honorary team captain and helped with the coin toss before the Jets squared off against the Indianapolis Colts on “Monday Night Football.” Unfortunately the Jets were defeated by a 41-10 final score.

Vosswinkel said the honor is as much about the efforts of the hospital as it is about him.

“I may be the guy that’s most visible right now, but this is not about me,” Vosswinkel said. “This is about Stony Brook. Stony Brook cares. It excels in so many areas. It’s a true team here that truly cares about their patients. They put the extra time in; we go out to the community to try to prevent trauma. Everybody deserves credit here. We’re very happy when our patients do well.”

L. Reuven Pasternak, chief executive officer at the hospital, said at the press conference trauma is the leading cause of death for all Americans before age 45 and, in terms of trauma care, every second counts.

Vosswinkel leads the hospital’s trauma program, which is the only Regional Level 1 trauma center for Suffolk County, according to the New York State Department of Health. The center has been recognized as the top-ranked center in the care of pedestrian trauma and has some of the highest survival rates anywhere in the nation and state.

The two SCPD officers are on their feet again thanks to the emergency surgery done by Vosswinkel. Mark Collins and Nicholas Guerrero made sure their surgeon was invited to the event as they wanted to do something special as a thanks for giving them a second chance at life.

“I don’t think either one of us would be standing here today as full capacity police officers if it wasn’t for the doctor and his care,” Guerrero said.

Collins said he and Guerrero are thankful for each day they wake up.

Guerrero, a four-year veteran of the SCPD, was under Vosswinkel’s care for weeks in a medically induced coma after suffering a critical head injury when a hit-and-run driver in Huntington struck him in September 2014.

According to Vosswinkel at the time of the officer’s discharge from the hospital, Guerrero had “only a one in three chances of surviving.” Collins, a member of SCPD’s gang unit and a 12-year veteran, was rushed to the hospital in March 2015 after he was shot in the neck and hip while pursuing a suspect in Huntington. He was discharged only four days after the shooting occurred.

If it wasn’t for the immediate action of Vosswinkel and his team, the injuries could have been fatal.

Nicholas Guerrero, left, and Mark Collins, right, honor James Vosswinkel, who performed life-saving surgery on each of the police officers, at a surprise press conference Nov. 29. Photo by Kevin Redding
Nicholas Guerrero, left, and Mark Collins, right, honor James Vosswinkel, who performed life-saving surgery on each of the police officers, at a surprise press conference Nov. 29. Photo by Kevin Redding

According to Sini, the partnership between the SCPD and SBU Hospital is integral to the law enforcement mission. He said the department relies on the hospital in the wake of unfortunate circumstances, and many officers wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for “the man sitting to my left,” referring to Vosswinkel.

“We call him Voss and he’s part of our family,” Sini said. “You’ve saved families from extreme tragedy; you’ve saved this department from extreme tragedy; and you’ve allowed two officers to continue to serve the department. We can’t thank you enough for that. What we can do is do our best to express our gratitude. But from the bottom of my heart, on behalf of the SCPD and on behalf of Suffolk County, thank you very much.”

Castleton was introduced to make the big announcement, which Sini referred to as a small token of appreciation.

Castleton said when the announcement was being planned, he heard some “crazy” stories about Vosswinkel, like he often wears a Jets shirt under his scrubs and even repainted his office in the team’s colors. He spoke on behalf of the Jets organization and said it was extremely important to recognize medical staff.

“A lot of people forget that doctors and nurses are first responders … it’s not just policemen, EMTs, and paramedics,” Castleton said.

According to Castleton, the Jets players were insistent that members of the surgeon’s staff join them in running out of the stadium tunnel before the start of the game.


The pile of donations from this year’s Kevin’s Holiday Angels Toy Drive. Photo by Kevin Redding

The spirit of giving was in full effect inside Phil’s Restaurant in Wading River Nov. 29, as toys of all shapes and sizes piled up, ready to be delivered to children in need.

The large crowd of family, friends and community members gathered at the Cheers-esque sports bar to donate toys to the Kevin Williams Foundation’s 11th annual “Kevin’s Holiday Angels” Toy Drive.

Mike and Patti Williams started the foundation in 2002 as a reaction to the passing of their 24-year-old son Kevin, who worked as a bonds salesman for Sandler O’Neill in Manhattan and was on the 104th floor of Tower Two when tragedy struck on Sept. 11, 2001. He was supposed to be married 10 weeks later. Patti Williams said that Kevin was “such a generous person” and always made others happy.

Mike Williams, his daughter Kelly and wife Patti host a toy drive in memory of son and brother Kevin. Photo by Kevin Redding
Mike Williams, his daughter Kelly and wife Patti host a toy drive in memory of son and brother Kevin. Photo by Kevin Redding

“He was the kind of person that, when you walked into the room, he would give you this smile that made you feel like the most important person,” she said.

Kevin’s childhood friend Brian Baumeister thinks that he would’ve loved how many lives this foundation has touched.

“He was just super big-hearted … such a genuine guy,” Baumeister said. “He always had your back. And he was such an unbelievable athlete.”

Because of their son’s love for sports, the Williams devoted their organization to sending children, who couldn’t afford it otherwise, to sports camps or register them to play on teams in the area as a way to “do something with his love.” Five years in, they received a call from Long Island Youth Mentoring, one of the many organizations they worked alongside, which asked them to help a local family that had recently been evicted from their home. The Williams took care of them and made sure the family had a holiday that year. It wasn’t long before they started helping other local families in similar situations.

This led the Williams’ to start the toy drive, which targets the wishes and needs of children in the area — some of which range from video game consoles to clothes to even simpler needs. Patti Williams said one family had children asking for towels to sleep on because they didn’t have beds. This year, 28 families were on the list and the pile of donations at the restaurant grew taller by the minute.

“You can’t just stay in that dark place. You have to decide — and it’s not easy — what to do to make life better for others. Then that becomes your focus and really helps you through the grieving process.”

—Patti Williams

“Our community has been there for us since the beginning … we are just so blessed,” Patti Williams said. “When you’ve had such a tragic loss in your life, you have to make a decision. You can’t just stay in that dark place. You have to decide — and it’s not easy — what to do to make life better for others. Then that becomes your focus and really helps you through the grieving process.”

Mike Williams said he couldn’t believe how many people showed up to the toy drive this year, especially on a dreary, wet evening. When you surround yourself with loving people, he said, that’s what happens.

“We’re reaching out and trying to help people,” he said. “We wake up in the morning and say ‘All right, how can we turn this into something good?’”

On Christmas Eve, he recalls showing up to the residence of a family in dire straits. In one room, there was a metal bunk bed for the kids, similar to what would be seen in a military confine. The floor was covered in clothes and was nearly impossible to walk on. They asked the mother what she was planning on doing for Christmas dinner, and when she said nothing, the Williams’ assured her the family would have a proper dinner.

When they returned the next day, Mike Williams said he was in shock.

“The beds were made like West Point cadets made them,” he said. “There wasn’t anything on the floors. The woman looked 30 years younger, and I remembering thinking ‘look at the transition we made with just one little family by caring. They were thrown away, and thought nobody cared.’”

Wayne and Patty Fellrath volunteer their time to help deliver the toys. Photo by Kevin Redding
Wayne and Patty Fellrath volunteer their time to help deliver the toys. Photo by Kevin Redding

It’s Patti Williams’ hope that the families they’ve helped get back on track, get out of their own dark places and “pay it forward” to others in need.

She said while she and her husband are the orchestrators of the toy drive, there’s a huge community effort that goes into the donations, and wrapping and delivering them.

The Wading River Fire Department donates the community room to serve as gift-wrapping space for the 60 to 70 volunteer wrappers, and Wayne Fellrath, a retired New York City firefighter, grows out his white beard and delivers toys dressed as Santa, with his wife Patty dressing as an elf.

The Fellraths said it’s heartwarming they can bring joy to children who aren’t well enough to leave their homes and see Santa.

“Patti [Williams] called me up and asked ‘Did you get your flu shot this year?’” Wayne Fellrath recalled. “I said ‘Yeah, what’s wrong?’ She said the doctor told her in order to have a visit from Santa, everybody had to have a flu shot. And I was never happier in my life to have gotten a flu shot.”

Among the large pile of donated goods children in need can look forward to is a 150-piece art set, basketballs, bedding, an XBox One and a Power Rangers toy set. On the morning of Dec. 17, the pile will be brought to the firehouse to be wrapped and shipped out.

Current fire district leader is seeking fourth five-year term

Guy Schneider will be taking on Carol Hawat for her commissioner position of the Miller Place Fire District for the second time. Photo by Kevin Redding

The heat is on at the Miller Place Fire District this month, as retired firefighter Guy Schneider challenges incumbent Carol Hawat in an upcoming commissioner vote.

Hawat, recognized in April as EMT of the year by Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), has held her position as one of five on the Board of Fire Commissioners since 2001. As her third five-year term comes to a close, she said she hopes to continue serving as commissioner and bring to the job her experience as a full-time EMT supervisor at Rocky Point Fire Department — a perspective that’s proven to be especially beneficial in Miller Place as 60 percent of the emergency calls to the fire district require medical care. Motor vehicle accidents and home injuries make up most of the calls to which volunteers respond.

Having been born and raised on Long Island in a family of police officers, Hawat said that helping people and working for the community has always been part of her life.

In 2008, she helped initiate an Advanced Life Support program in the community, which has provided people with a set of life-saving protocols that extends support until a victim receives full medical treatment at a hospital. Hawat feels she’s made a difference by bringing EMS to the table at the district and takes pride in the fact that the budget has been handled well and taxes haven’t been raised in years.

Guy Schneider. Photo by Kevin Redding
Guy Schneider. Photo by Kevin Redding

“I just love what I do … I want to continue providing quality care and safety to the people of Miller Place,” Hawat said. “This is where my children were raised and grew up. I have strong ties here and I like helping others. I feel like I have a purpose … giving back to the community. It’s what I was raised to do.”

She also stressed her urgency to put a stop to the rise in heroin overdoses on the North Shore. She said while Narcan, the opiate antidote used to treat overdoses, is supplied in the ambulances, she hopes to provide more awareness and training to schools in the future.

Schneider has been in fire and rescue service for more than four decades, and at 64 years old he’s still responding and volunteering every day. He volunteered for 12 years as a firefighter at the Babylon Village Fire Department starting in 1970, served as a hull maintenance technician in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War between 1971 and 1975, and was at the Holtsville Fire Department briefly before working at FDNY Firehouse Engine 60 and Ladder 17 between 1984 and 2004.

He said he sustained some disabling breathing problems in the aftermath of the World Trade Center collapse on Sept. 11, 2001, and so he decided to slow down and move to Miller Place from Sound Beach. He’s been a volunteer at the Miller Place Fire Department ever since, mostly as “chauffeur,” driving the fire apparatus and getting the volunteers where they need to be.

He said what pulls him out of bed — sometimes at 3 a.m. to a call — is that he wants to help people.

“I’m still on the first engine to a fire,” Schneider said. “I’ve been to just about every fire in Miller Place since I’ve been here. Always first too. That’s me.”

Schneider ran against and lost to Hawat in 2011 but said he’s running for commissioner this year because “it’s time for a change.” He believes strict term limits should be implemented to commissioners because after a while complacency has a tendency to kick in.

Carol Hawat. Photo from Carol Hawat
Carol Hawat. Photo from Carol Hawat

“I want to try to get in there and spice things up,” Schneider said. “Right now we’re working with 27-year-old pumpers, which should’ve been taken out of service a long time ago. It’s gotten to the point where [the current commissioners] are holding on to all the old stuff, because they’ve been around for 15 or 20 years. We need someone with a little more finesse, to try to get in there and work things out.”

He said he has great respect for Hawat and considers her a great EMT but wants to be more active within the district.

“I love Carol, she’s great to work with, but it’s time to move on,” Schneider said.

Hawat said that she doesn’t understand why Schneider has run against her twice when there were two open spots on the five-person board in the previous five years for which he didn’t run.

“I feel like I’m more qualified because of my experience in what I do in the fire department and I’d like to continue doing that … it’s a service for the community,” Hawat said. “I know there’s equipment he feels the firemen aren’t getting and things like that, but it’s not true.”

Josh Hagermann, Miller Place department chief, had good things to say about each candidate.

“I think [Carol] has done a very good job … she’s fair, helpful and has made sure the community is getting the best care,” Hagermann said. “And Guy is very active and he’s a very reliable apparatus driver for us. He’s got a very good firefighting background as well. So, we have two good candidates running for one position.”

Community members can cast their votes Dec. 13 from 4 to 9 p.m. at the Miller Place firehouse, located at 12 Miller Place Road.

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Members of Mather Hospital’s leadership team break ground on a new ambulatory surgery center in Port Jefferson Station Nov. 22. Photo by Kevin Redding

With construction officially underway in a secluded lot on Route 112, North Shore residents are one step closer to an efficient and cost-effective surgery center that will provide in-and-out care to its patients while eliminating many of the hassles associated with visits to the hospital.

On Nov. 22, staff from John T. Mather Memorial Hospital and 19 community surgeons stood on the site in hard hats and broke ground on what will be the freestanding Port Jefferson Ambulatory Surgery Center in Port Jefferson Station. The outpatient facility will feature six operating rooms equipped to handle procedures in orthopedics, ophthalmology, pain management, general surgery, neurosurgery and otolaryngology. The project, which cost approximately $12 million and has been in the planning stages for about five years, will be far less expensive to run than a hospital, which means cost savings for patients and the health care system overall. It will also open up more space at Mather for patients that require a more complex procedure and a lengthier hospital stay.

“…at the surgery center, you seem to be able to get in and out more efficiently and that saves you personal time, saves money, and saves cancellations. It just makes the overall patient experience so much better.”

— Michael Fracchia

Those involved in the project said they hoped for the facility’s doors to officially open in the summer of 2017. For now, though, they’re just pleased things are finally moving forward.

“As we’ve been saying — at long last,” Kenneth Roberts, chief executive officer of Mather Hospital, said during the groundbreaking. “We’ve been working on this project for a long time now, so we’re very happy to see it finally getting pushed forward.”

During an indoor celebration after the groundbreaking ceremony, Mather’s Director of Orthopedic Surgery Michael Fracchia said he was excited about what the center will mean for the community.

“People love these types of facilities because they can get in-and-out service and it’s truly less intrusive on their lives,” Fracchia said. “If you have something done in a hospital, it’s always an all-day event, no matter what it is. But at the surgery center, you seem to be able to get in and out more efficiently and that saves you personal time, saves money, and saves cancellations. It just makes the overall patient experience so much better.”

Fracchia said the facility will be able to run more efficiently because it won’t need the sort of complex technologies often found in hospitals. A patient might need an intensive care unit or an MRI or CT scan, he said, and while these are wonderful technologies, they’re also expensive and require maintenance. By eliminating these systems, the surgical centers can treat more patients at a quicker pace.

“We want to provide more care,” said Brian McGinley, orthopedic surgeon and president of the project. “We can potentially do more while maintaining our inpatient surgery at Mather. The community will have access here, rather than having to go to Nassau County or into the city.”

McGinley said that while planning the project, the team interviewed many companies that specialize in developing ambulatory service centers around the country. They found a fitting partner in Pinnacle III, a company based in Colorado that has successfully facilitated the opening of comparable facilities nationwide. This will be the first Pinnacle III facility in New York State.

In a press release, Robert Carrera, the CEO/president of Pinnacle III, said the company is excited to partner with and assist the local physicians as well as Mather Hospital in bringing high quality and cost-effective services to the Port Jefferson area.

The doctors all agreed on the project’s mission: to provide cost-effective quality health care to as many people on the North Shore as possible.

“You come in here, you drive in, you get taken care of and you don’t have to go through all the hoops that you would at a hospital,” Port Jefferson-based general surgeon Nicholas Craig said. “The doctors have all been in the community for a long time. We not only work here, we live here, so you get taken care of by people who care about their community … and when you care about your community, you care about the people in your community, and that’s what this is all about.”

Lisa Egry and her son Shaun meet his second companion dog, a yellow lab/golden retriever mix named Honey, last year. Photo from Canine Companions for Independence

A Setauket woman is doing her part to provide a best friend for someone in need in the form of a black lab/golden retriever puppy named Yucca II.

Since late July, Michele Galasso, 50, has been a volunteer puppy raiser for Canine Companions for Independence — a national nonprofit organization that matches highly trained assistance dogs to children and adults with disabilities at no cost to the recipients. And she couldn’t be happier.

“It’s wonderful and life affirming,” said Galasso. “I know the power and the beauty and the love that dogs bring to people — it’s an inspiring thing. It feels so good that I can help make that happen for a person.”

Ever since Yucca II turned 8 weeks old, it’s been Galasso’s job to take her into her home, raise her, teach her basic commands and socialization skills, and expose her to any and all types of surroundings by the time she leaves after 18 months of standard training.

From there, Galasso will return her puppy to CCI’s regional headquarters in Medford, where another six months of more advanced training will take place.

Ultimately, if Yucca II passes a rigorous evaluation process based on her different strengths, she can be matched with a person who might need her — a wounded veteran or an abused child, for instance.

CCI’s standards for the dogs are exceedingly high, with only about four out of 10 making it through the program, and so the puppy raisers are considered the backbones of the organization.

By the time they are fully trained, the dogs know more than 40 commands and be able to perform helpful tasks such as turn lights on and off, open and close doors, pick up dropped items and even help their human get dressed, according to John Bentzinger, CCI’s public relations coordinator.

“If you’re someone who wants to have some degree of independence … on command, these dogs can pick up an item as small as a dime and put it in your lap for you,” he said in a phone interview. “The more puppies being raised, the more people we can serve.”

Galasso said she was inspired to get involved with CCI when she met fellow dog lover Caryl Swain, who had been a longtime CCI puppy raiser. It was Swain who encouraged Galasso to attend a puppy training class at CCI, as well as a graduation ceremony in which diplomas were given out and leashes were ceremoniously handed over from the puppy raiser to the dog’s permanent recipient.

It was this ceremony that sealed the deal for Galasso.

“When I saw the individuals with their families receive their new service dogs, I knew that this was the service endeavor I have been searching for,” she said.

After a thorough interview process, including a rundown of all of her new responsibilities as a puppy raiser, like taking care of vet bills and food, and a long waiting period, CCI eventually told her to come pick up her puppy on July 29.

Galasso said that raising Yucca II is a lot of work but extremely rewarding. Yucca II is well mannered and loves working on her one-word commands, she said. Galasso puts a special yellow cape on Yucca II as she is permitted to go to many public areas that family pets aren’t allowed to, and visits the nearby senior center once a week.

To help the puppy adjust to a wide variety of surfaces, Galasso walks her indoors, outdoors, on the grass, in the street, as well as busy areas like Stony Brook Village. She’s also training her not to eat off the floor, in case the person she’ll assist were to drop their medication.

Galasso said that Yucca II loves people, especially children. On Halloween, she said Yucca II even sat in the middle of the stairs, which face a storm door with see-through glass only at the top of it, so she could look out and see the kids as they came up in their costumes.

“Sometimes I think, ‘Oh, I hope she gets placed with a child,’ because she really loves them.”

Last year in Mount Sinai, a young man named Shaun Egry — who suffers from cerebral palsy — was matched with an assistance dog from CCI. His mother Lisa said that they’ve been involved with CCI since 2004 and received their first dog in 2007 when Shaun was just 10 years old, confined to a wheelchair and in need of a friend.

She said the dogs have not only helped him physically, but emotionally too.

“He went from not speaking in public and being kind of embarrassed and ashamed to being very outgoing, and now he talks so much that he just doesn’t stop anymore,” said Lisa Egry. “It’s just a big confidence builder, and gave him what he needs to not feel so self-conscious of his disability.”

As a puppy raiser, Galasso knows that the toughest part of the job will be returning Yucca II back to headquarters, which she’ll have to do in February 2018. But it’s been stressed by CCI that a majority of the dogs are deemed unsuitable to be matched with anybody and, in that case, are then offered back to the puppy raisers as pets. Of course Galasso would be thrilled to bring Yucca II in permanently, she said, but she has faith that the puppy has what it takes to make it.

“My hope is that she succeeds through all her training and becomes an assistance dog,” said Galasso. “She’s a very special pup: She has a very sweet, easygoing temperament, she’s highly motivated to learn and she’s in excellent health. I just feel very strongly about the good that she can do for someone.”

Miller Place Superintendent Marianne Cartisano presents Mia with an award as Kim Ledda and Debra White look on. Photo by Kevin Redding

Nine-year-old Mia Carvajal may be a new student at Laddie A. Decker Sound Beach School, but she’s already making a name for herself in the community. The caring fourth-grader who moved to Miller Place from Queens this year is one of just nine winners in the recent Suffolk County Marathon Essay Contest. Hosted by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D), the contest encouraged “the future of the county” to address what they feel is important to society. More than 100 essays from across the county were submitted for review in October. For her hard work, Carvajal was recognized by the Miller Place district’s board of education at a meeting last week.

All students involved in the contest were separated by grades (K-2, 3-5, 6-8) and could choose from three different essay topics: veterans appreciation, living a healthy lifestyle and engaging in community activities. Mia — who won in her grade — wrote passionately about what residents can do to raise money for their community and give to those in need.

“Mia did an excellent, beautiful job,” said Kim Ledda, her fourth-grade teacher. “Her essay was wonderful and we’re just so proud of her.”

Ledda and assistant principal Debra White stood by as Mia accepted a certificate from Superintendent Marianne Cartisano and shook hands with each member of the board. Mia was visibly shy and quiet but smiling radiantly the whole time.

“I was really happy when Mrs. White told me that I won,” she said. When asked by a board member if she likes to write at home, she said that she keeps a journal.

“Mia is clearly committed to being involved in her community, helping to make it a better place to live for all residents.”

—Steve Bellone

Mia’s father Francisco was in attendance and said the family’s very proud of her.

“She’s always been very involved in school, always does her homework, and is extremely school-oriented,” he said.

It’s also clear that Mia is extremely community oriented and possesses a great deal of generosity when it comes to others.

In her essay, she encouraged residents in the community to follow in her family’s footsteps and donate clothes, shoes and toys to churches and centers that help the poor. As Thanksgiving approaches, Mia wrote that it’s important to donate cans of food to provide for others in need. As she put it in her essay: “By providing cans of food you may be saving someone’s life.”

She also recommends setting up a lemonade stand in front of a house as a way to raise money for a good cause.

“Lemonade stands are not just there to give you a refreshing drink,” she wrote.

She even offered a piece of advice to get as many people interested in donating as possible.

“I know that many people don’t like plain lemonade,” she writes, “so I think you should make a whole bunch of flavors so more people will come and enjoy your drink and donate.” Ledda said that at the end of the Suffolk County Marathon that took place in Patchogue Oct. 30, all the essay contest winners — including Mia ­— were invited up on a bandstand stage to be greeted and recognized by representatives from Suffolk County.

“I think that all the recognition she’s gotten from this will be worth more than any monetary gift,” Ledda said. “It’s pretty special to be recognized the way that she has been.”

In an email, Bellone had some words of pride for Mia.

“Mia is clearly committed to being involved in her community, helping to make it a better place to live for all residents,” Bellone said. “Thanks to the 100 or more young residents like Mia who participated in this contest, we can see that the future of Suffolk County is in good hands.”

Spectators browse through Suffolk County Community College's new photo gallery at the Eastern Campis in Riverhead. Photo by Kevin Redding

Suffolk County Community College in Riverhead held an opening reception last week for its annual Eastern Campus Student Art Exhibit, a show that takes place every fall in the Lyceum Gallery of the Montaukett Learning Resource Center on the Eastern Campus.

Centereach’s Sarah Mullen with her photo, top left, that was featured in the gallery. Photo by Kevin Redding
Centereach’s Sarah Mullen with her photo, top left, that was featured in the gallery. Photo by Kevin Redding

The salon-style show serves to highlight exceptional work created by students in the college’s applied arts programs. This year’s exhibit contains over 60 works that will be displayed in a variety of media and sizes, all of which have been done for classes on campus within the last two years.

Students majoring in photography, graphic design, computer art and interior design were able to submit up to three pieces of their choosing and have the opportunity to leave their often-isolated creative spaces and gauge a reaction of their work from the public..

Ralph Masullo, professor of photographic imagery, said that the gallery has proven to be incredibly valuable for the artists in many ways.

“When you’re an artist and put your work out, you’re basically putting yourself out,” Masullo said. “For students who tend to be very timid about that, it’s their first experience to be exposing themselves as an artist. It’s a good experience for them. Just standing around and listening to comments from strangers is very helpful.”

Sarah Mullen, 22, of Centereach, said that this was her first art exhibit on a college-level, even though she’ll be graduating from SCCC this year with a photography major.

Mullen submitted two photos that will eventually be part of a travel photography book she’s been working on this semester as a special project that highlights lesser-known locations on Long Island. One was taken at Avalon Park in Stony Brook and the other at Prosser Pines in Middle Island. The photo titled “Nature’s Tranquility” of stone steps ascending deeper and deeper into a beautiful forest is so mesmerizing that it became the official image for the reception, appearing on all promotional fliers.

Photos in Suffolk County Community College’s new gallery are observed. Photo by Kevin Redding
Photos in Suffolk County Community College’s new gallery are observed. Photo by Kevin Redding

“It’s nice to have the exposure here,” Mullen said. “Usually, as an artist, all you’d have besides a gallery is the internet, and it’s cool for someone to come physically see your work on the wall. When it’s on the computer, you can still edit it, you can still change things. Once it’s on the wall, that’s it.”

One of the most striking photos in the gallery came from Kiera Pipe, 19, of Miller Place. Taken at Peconic River Herb Farm in Riverhead, the photo captures a sundress hung up on a line in between two shutters on the top floor of a rustic and worn-down barn. One observer said it was haunting and looked almost ghost-like.

Pipe, who’s a photographic imagery major, said that she likes to see whether or not her work means something to someone else or provokes an emotion of any kind. Constructive criticism, she said, makes her a better artist.

“I’m really new to submitting my work into events like this,” Pipe said. “It’s really interesting to watch other people look at my images, while I’m kind of trying to figure out what they’re thinking. I think it’s really awesome … it’s a good feeling.”

Kiera Pipe, of Miller Place, had her photo hung up in Suffolk County Community College’s new gallery. Photo from SCCC
Kiera Pipe, of Miller Place, had her photo hung up in Suffolk County Community College’s new gallery. Photo from SCCC

Growing up on the North Shore, she naturally gravitated toward photography, with a specific focus on landscapes.

“I like all the components that go into it,” she said. “Your eye travels in so many different directions when you’re looking at a landscape. [Growing up] on the water, everything always looks so different. It’s the same place and everything, but the shores and the sky changes so much … it always becomes a different photo.” 

The exhibit is open through Dec. 14 in the Lyceum Gallery, located at 121 Speonk Riverhead Road on the Eastern Campus in Riverhead. Gallery hours are Monday through Thursday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The gallery is closed on Sundays and holidays (gallery closed from Nov. 24 to 27).

Last year's performance of 'The Nutracker.' Photo courtesy of Harbor Ballet Theatre.

By Kevin Redding

Toy soldiers, angels, sword-wielding mice and a sugar plum fairy are back in town to spread the magic of Christmas to audiences young and old.

For more than two decades, the North Shore community has looked to Port Jefferson’s Harbor Ballet Theatre to officially kick off the holiday season each year with its dazzling production of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker.”Coming up on its 25th anniversary production, the not-for-profit dance company gears up to deliver another unforgettable spectacle. John Worrell, executive artistic director of the show, said that the calibre of their production has helped it become a holiday tradition among the community.

“The dancing, the dancers, the choreography and the sets are incredible,” said Worrell. “Just the way that we tell the story is very understandable and very easy for everyone to follow. It really sets the tone for Port Jefferson and Setauket and Stony Brook and Miller Place because everybody gravitates to get that holiday feeling.”

Harbor Ballet Theatre was founded in 1991 by Worrell and his wife Amy Tyler as an open company to give dancers of all ages the opportunity to be part of professionally staged ballet productions. Worrell said it was also created to allow anybody from anywhere to come and audition, which is why there are so many new faces on a year-to-year basis as well as longtime dancers.

Last year's performance of 'The Nutracker.' Photo courtesy of Harbor Ballet Theatre.
A scene from last year’s performance of ‘The Nutracker.’ Photo courtesy of Harbor Ballet Theatre.

This production will feature about 70 performers, a majority of them between the ages 6 and 25. Auditions were held in the second week of September and the first rehearsal took place on the first weekend of October, giving way to 10 to 12 strenuous yet worthwhile rehearsals before the final show. Some of the senior dancers in the show even committed six to seven days a week for at least two hours a day to rehearsal.

“That whole debate whether dance is a sport … they [dancers] train like athletes,” said Worrell. “They work drills everyday. To be able to get to the level they want to be and be able to do their solos in the second act and lift each other up, they have to work their butts off.”

Richard Liebert and Rebecca Stafford, seniors from Earl L. Vandermuellen High School, are among some of the more experienced dancers in the production. Liebert, who plays the Mouse King, said there are a lot of physical challenges.

“There are times [in the show] where I have to lift a girl over my head and turn her,” said Liebert. “It could be a bit intimidating … but it’s worthwhile. I love doing it.”

“We’re with our friends, so we’re having fun,” said Stafford, who plays Harlequin.

Worrell said that at the start of production, he and Amy watched the DVD from the previous year’s show and figured out what, if anything, they wanted to change. The most common changes year-to-year have to do with solos, which depend on the dancers in the show, what their strengths are, and what they feel most comfortable doing.

Worrell said that there are plans to add a new element this year but wants to keep it a surprise and “make sure that it works first.”“We try to add something new every year, every two years … just to keep it fresh, so the audience will find it fun to watch,” he said.

Join Harbor Ballet Theatre in celebrating its 25th anniversary of “The Nutcracker” and prepare to be swept away by the extravagant sets, rich costumes, passionate acting and dancing and Tchaikovsky’s masterful music.

Performances of “The Nutcracker” will be held on Friday, Dec. 2, at 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 3, at 3 and 8 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 4, at 3 p.m. at Earl L. Vandermuellen High School, 350 Old Post Road, Port Jefferson. All seats are $25 in advance, cash or check only. For more information, please call 631-331-3149.