Authors Posts by Rita J. Egan

Rita J. Egan

Rita J. Egan

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Demolition of the eastern section of the Setauket Fire Department headquarters. Photo by Rita J. Egan

By Rita J. Egan

The headquarters of the Setauket Fire Department continues to transition into a rescue center for the 21st century with its construction project dubbed by the department as “new era.”

David Sterne, district manager, said a new apparatus bay on Old Town Road is now completed and ready to use. The structure connected to the original firehouse on Route 25A can fit modern day trucks, something the 1930s building couldn’t do. The closed cabs of current fire trucks make them much wider than emergency vehicles used in earlier decades. Trucks will also now exit and enter on the Old Town Road side instead of Route 25A. Sterne said the new entranceway has a bigger driveway apron, which provides safer entering and exiting than the old entrance.

“It is a good example of how things can be accomplished when we are all willing to work together.”

— David Sterne

After waiting nearly a decade for a bond approval, a $14.9 million bond was approved in April 2014, and renovations began on the Main Street firehouse June 4, 2016. Sterne said the approval of the bond in 2014 was due to a collaboration of the fire district, fire department, community members and the Three Village Civic Association discussing the needs of both the district and its residents.

“It was a community effort to get this passed,” Sterne said. “It is a good example of how things can be accomplished when we are all willing to work together.”

Robert Reuter, president of the Frank Melville Memorial Foundation, was part of a community advisory committee that included Stony Brook architect John Cunniffe and the late civic leader Bob de Zafra. Reuter said the planning for the new firehouse was “an excellent example of the value in involving the public.” He credited Sterne’s organized process and the cooperation of H2M architectural firm and the fire commissioners for making the committee members input meaningful.

Reuter said the committee advocated for reuse of the existing firehouse on Route 25A, the continuation of brick as the primary building material and landscaping the southeast corner, which will include trees and other plantings.

“It will be good to see that work take shape now that the firehouse is operating with a new garage and work is underway on the original building,” Reuter said.

The apparatus bay also includes a bail-out window for volunteers to practice mandated drills with life rescue ropes. The structure has a break room and a gear room that is separate from the apparatus bay, making it safer for firefighters to dress for a fire. Sterne said previously volunteers would put on their gear in the bay, which posed potential hazards with trucks in the vicinity.

“I think everyone understands the importance of building for the future in a responsible manner.”

— David Sterne

South of the building a spillover parking lot will be available for when a large number of volunteers respond to an emergency, attend a meeting or community members use the facilities.

When the new bay was completed, work began on the 25A side. Sterne said the facade of the western portion of the Main Street building, the original 1935 structure, will remain the same, and there will be bunkrooms for both male and female firefighters. The eastern section of the old building will be replaced with a two-story structure that includes offices, meeting and training rooms.

With the future in mind, Sterne said the construction fits the needs of the fire district while being environmentally friendly. Solar panels will be used for hot water, a white high-efficiency roof is included in the apparatus bay, and there will a high-efficiency cooling system.

“I think everyone understands the importance of building for the future in a responsible manner,” Sterne said. “We felt that it is important to have an efficient building … efficient in the sense of being environmentally responsible, as well as a more cost-effective, fiscally efficient building to operate. Building a building that will be kinder to the environment for years to come and costs less tax dollars to operate was imperative to us … the whole community.”

Sterne said the goal is for the firehouse to be completed by November 2018, and the fire district plans to commemorate the completion of the project with a ribbon cutting ceremony and community celebration.

Residents and nonresidents of Old Field attend the Feb. 13 public village meeting to express their concerns over the proposed installation of a cell tower in Kaltenborn Commons, which borders homes in Setauket.

By Rita J. Egan

Residents of the Village of Old Field are asking the mayor and trustees, “Can you hear me now?”

The Keeper’s Cottage was filled to capacity Feb. 13 with residents and bordering neighbors expressing concerns over the proposed installation of a cellphone tower at Kaltenborn Commons, a small park located at the intersection of Old Field Road and Quaker Path and surrounded by homes. This is the second time both residents and nonresidents had the opportunity to speak and ask questions about the tower; the first opportunity being at a Jan. 9 public meeting.

A board vote to approve signing a lease with telecommunications tower site developer Elite Towers was not held during the meeting. Mayor Michael Levine said with the upcoming March 20 village elections, two new trustees would be starting in April, and the board agreed the new members should weigh in on the decision.

Former board member John Von Lintig, who lives directly across from the park, presented a petition signed by 100 residents who are against the installation of the cell tower.

“The opposition of the cellphone tower, or pole as you call it, is primarily based on aesthetic reasons, which tie very closely to the impact on real estate immediately in the vicinity of the tower,” Von Lintig said.

“The opposition of the cellphone tower, or pole as you call it, is primarily based on aesthetic reasons, which tie very closely to the impact on real estate immediately in the vicinity of the tower.”

— John Von Lintig

He cited the National Institute for Science, Law & Public Policy’s survey of 1,000 respondents on the impact of cell towers and antennas on real estate properties. He said according to the survey, 94 percent responded that cellphone towers or antennas in a neighborhood would impact their interest in a property and the price they would pay. Von Lintig said 79 percent answering the survey said under no circumstances would they buy a home within a few blocks from a tower or antenna. He said the decline of real estate prices can be anywhere between 2 and 20 percent.

John Damianos said when the land was granted to the village by Hans V. Kaltenborn in 1950 it was meant to be used for recreational purposes. He said the addition of the pole would turn it into a commercial facility.

“When I moved here there were many naturalists and environmentalists,” Damianos said. “A lot of people talked about Flax Pond and other places. They were strongly in favor of preserving natural spaces, open spaces, including this one.”

Jeff Schnee, who recently attended a board of trustees work session to discuss the technologic alternatives to a tower, said a better solution would be using distributed antenna systems. He said there is one in front of Ward Melville High School, and it consists of a 14- to 15-foot microwave antenna and a controlling box.

“[The phone companies] can put that in our neighborhood about every 20 poles in the areas that need it and that’s not intrusive,” Schnee said. “You don’t have to look at it, it doesn’t put out much power.”

Schnee asked if a cellphone tower was necessary with 5G technology, which uses millimeter waves and not microwaves, on the horizon. He said the technology uses receivers and transmitters, which would be every cellphone, Wi-Fi-enabled car and cable box. He said an area such as Old Field, where people buy the latest technology, would be perfect for 5G, and it’s possible it might be available in 2020.

Deputy Mayor Stephen Shybunko said after further research the board found that 5G would not replace 4G entirely as 5G does not penetrate walls and windows and therefore would not work well for voice transmission. Schnee said he believes more research needs to be done and said the debate on the potential of 5G could lead to the formation of a committee of residents who could research the topic before a decision is made about the tower.

Residents and nonresidents of Old Field attend the Feb. 13 public village meeting to express their concerns over the proposed installation of a cellphone tower in Kaltenborn Commons.

Physicist Oleg Gang said a committee would be ideal to also research potential health risks. The scientist handed out a sheet with a list of studies regarding the effects of cell towers on health. Gang showed a meter he used recently when near a comparable tower in Belle Terre. He said the measurements of radio frequency power near the tower — 100 feet to 0.3 mile — indicate RF radiation levels a few times higher than holding a cellphone to one’s ear 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Board members said they would be open to a committee comprised of Old Field residents. Levine reiterated what was covered at the last board meeting, that the lighthouse is not an option for the Village of Old Field to install a cellphone tower as the U.S. Coast Guard has not given approval. Also, if the village decides not to install a pole, there is still a chance that Stony Brook University will do so on its Sunwood Estate property as the university has filed a request for proposals to install a cellphone tower. If this occurs, the village would not have a say as to where the university installs it on the property and would not generate any revenue from the SBU pole.

Many residents in attendance said they would rather not have better cellphone service, or any service at all, if it negatively affects them and their neighbors in Setauket.

“I would rather pay higher taxes than shaft my neighbors down the road a mile and a half,” one resident said.

After the meeting, Von Lintig said he was optimistic and believed it makes sense to involve new board members in the process.

“As a former village trustee knowing most of the current members well, I believe they will take these concerns under serious consideration and do the right thing to preserve the bucolic nature of our village,” Von Lintig said.

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The Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Educational and Cultural Center hosted an event to usher in the Year of the Dog Feb. 11 with performances honoring the traditions and rituals observed around the world during Chinese New Year.

The event began with a Lion Dance, which is believed to bring good luck and fortune, and a martial arts demonstration by Authentic Shaolin Kung Fu. The day featured Manhattan Taiko blending ancient Japanese drums with modern movement and traditional dances by the Long Island Chinese Dance Group and Vivian Ye. Vocalists Terry Zhang and Jojo also sang Chinese songs.

Chinese New Year begins Feb. 16.

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Children enjoy last year’s Take Your Child to the Library Day at Emma S. Clark Memorial Library. Photo from Emma S. Clark Memorial Library

For the third consecutive year, Emma S. Clark Memorial Library is participating in an international movement to raise awareness for libraries. On Thursday, Feb. 22, from 2 to 4 p.m., the library will be celebrating Take Your Child to the Library Day.

According to the American Library Association, there are more public libraries than Starbucks in the United States. The event highlights how libraries are vital to the community as sources of education, entertainment and enrichment. It encourages parents to take full advantage of their local library and pass along that knowledge to their young ones.

At Emma Clark, the day’s festivities include carnival games, face painting, temporary tattoos, balloon sculpting, crafts and more. It also will have everything else that the library offers on a daily basis: books, audio books, computers, tablets, movies, music, toys, puzzles, and so much more. Last year close to 350 people took part in the celebration in Setauket.

Additionally, in keeping with the festivities of the special day, each new library card sign-up on Feb. 22 will be entered in a raffle. You’re never too young for a library card. Parents can get a card for their child as soon as they are born and immediately start enjoying the library’s resources, such as the Time for Baby program.

There is no need to register for the event and all families are welcome. Meet up with friends — or make new ones — and share your love of libraries with the future generation.

For more information, email, call 631-941-4080 ext. 123 or visit

The Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, is located at 120 Main St., Setauket.

Developer decides not to proceed with low-nitrogen septic systems for Stony Brook Square shopping center

Construction will soon begin on the Stony Brook Square shopping center, rendering above. Photo from the Stony Brook Square website

By Rita J. Egan

After three years of planning and changes, things are gearing up for the Stony Brook Square shopping center, which will be located near the Long Island Rail Road Station in Stony Brook on Route 25A. However, local environmentalists and legislators are disappointed the developer will not be installing low-nitrogen septic systems.

While the developer, Parviz Farahzad, a former scientist with Brookhaven National Laboratory, was encouraged by Brookhaven Town and the Suffolk County Department of Health Services to install a low-nitrogen septic system, and said he originally hoped to, he has now opted to use a traditional waste system.

“It’s in the area that if you flush the toilet there, under two years that water ends up in the harbor loaded with nitrogen.”

— George Hoffman

In a letter dated Jan. 4, 2017, to Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), SCDHS Commissioner James Tomarken said the Stony Brook Square property was proposed to be served by public water and on-site sewage, and advanced wastewater treatment was not required under the current Suffolk County Sanitary Code. However, he wrote that the systems were encouraged by the county for both new development and retrofits to existing development.

“Although nitrogen reduction from advanced wastewater treatment is not required for this project, Suffolk County would be committed to working with the town and the applicant in reviewing the potential use of alternative, advanced wastewater treatment technology,” Tomarken wrote.

George Hoffman, co-founder of the Setauket  Harbor Task Force and vice president of the Three Village Civic Association, said he and other environmentalists were disappointed to hear Farahzad was not installing the low-nitrogen systems. Hoffman calls the septic systems the “wave of the future” and said he believes most commercial properties will install them in the next year or so.

“Everybody at some point, when it comes time to redevelopment, they should be putting in low-nitrogen systems,” he said. “It’s crazy to put in the old system that we know really doesn’t work and could cause problems.”

Hoffman said the shopping center site, which is a mile from Stony Brook Harbor, is within the watershed of the waterway.

“It’s in the area that if you flush the toilet there, under two years that water ends up in the harbor loaded with nitrogen,” Hoffman said. “It really is a missed opportunity. He knows our concerns. He can be a real leader here in the community. I think people would think very highly that he was doing the right thing.”

The land parcel was recently fenced off to prepare for construction. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), who spearheaded community visioning meetings for Route 25A, said the town encourages project applicants to follow environmentally friendly practices when possible.

“In this case, both the town planning board and the 25A Citizens Advisory Commission strongly encouraged the applicant to utilize a low-nitrogen septic system,” Cartright said. “As of earlier last year, it was the town’s understanding that the applicant would be applying for the low-nitrogen system. This recent development is very disappointing and a missed opportunity to benefit our environment.”

According to the SCDHS website, three systems have been approved for commercial properties that process between 1,000 and 15,000 gallons of water per day. According to Tomarken’s letter to Romaine, the calculation for the proposed density flow of the shopping center was 1,800 gpd.

County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) said Farahzad met with SCHDS staff members who were eager to assist him, and other Suffolk County developers have used the systems.

“As the county health department works to update county requirements for on-site wastewater treatment, this project could have led the way and shown our community that our drinking and surface waters are a priority to protect,” Hahn said.

Farahzad said he was hesitant to use technology that he feels is fairly new, and he said he feared if it failed it could let off obnoxious odors in an area surrounded by homes.

“If you want true elimination [of nitrogen] — basically what we want for it not to get into the groundwater — you have to have a sewer system.”

— Parviz Farahzad

The developer said such systems only reduce a percentage of nitrogen, and he believes sewers are more appropriate for commercial use. If a sewer district was established in the area, he said he would immediately connect the shopping center to it.

“If you want true elimination [of nitrogen] — basically what we want for it not to get into the groundwater — you have to have a sewer system,” Farahzad said.

Development of the shopping center was approved at the March 6, 2017, Town of Brookhaven Planning Board meeting. Farahzad agreed to add more trees to the final site than originally planned and will require tenants to use signage that consists of wood-base signs with gooseneck lighting, among other concessions after receiving community feedback. He said originally there were plans to add a clock tower; however, residents at a town board meeting objected to permitting a 60-foot height to raise a clock tower in the middle building at the rear of the center.

“It’s going to be something that is good for the community, good for the university, good for The Stony Brook School,” Farahzad said. “These are the people that are going to basically need it.”

In December, the vacant nursery that stood on the land designated for revisioning was demolished, and the parcel is currently fenced off and ready for construction once the weather warms up. Farahzad said it will take a year before the shopping center is completed, and owners of a bank, restaurants, a neighborhood pharmacy and a coffeehouse have already shown interest in leasing.

Search begins for a new swim and diving coach at university, SBU says unrelated to abuse allegations

Stony Brook University women’s swimming and diving team’s head coach faces allegations of mental and emotional abuse. Photo from Stony Brook University

Stony Brook University’s athletics department is in search of a new women’s swimming and diving coaching staff, as the former head coach faces allegations of mental and emotional abuse made by former members of the team.

After a five-year hiatus due to renovations of the school’s pool, the Division 1 team returned to competition in 2017 with two-time Jamaican Olympian Janelle Atkinson as head coach. In a Jan. 26 article on the website, a list of allegations of emotional and mental abuse at the hands of Atkinson was attributed to former team member Arianna Rodriguez. According to the site, the allegations were corroborated by at least one other teammate, even though no other swimmer was named in the article, and shortly after posting, multiple members of the Fairfield University swim team, which Atkinson coached in the past, reached out to the website saying they had similar experiences with the coach.

Tess Stepakoff, a former team member and managing editor of SBU’s student newspaper, The Statesman, published an editorial Jan. 28 on the paper’s website
alleging emotional and mental abuse while a team member.

She said despite the initial excitement of the team’s return, as the 2017 season drew to a close, the roster dropped from 13 swimmers to six. In Stepakoff’s editorial she wrote that it was a dream for her to join the Division 1 swim team, but her experience soon turned into a nightmare when she said Atkinson broke the team members’ trust and spirits.

“We were told that we were weak, that we were not enough, and we were not trying,” Stepakoff wrote. “We were cursed at and screamed at during every practice for months. As our physical and mental health declined, we were told to get over it.”

In the editorial, Stepakoff said if a team member missed practice for injuries or illnesses there was the potential of losing their spot on the swimming and diving team. She said the teammates and their families filed complaints, made phone calls and had meetings with the athletics department to discuss the alleged abuses.

According to the Stony Brook Athletics website, compliance with NCAA, America East Conference and university rules and regulations is a part of its mission. As a member of the NCAA, SBU is responsible for the actions of its coaches, student-athletes, faculty and staff, alumni and friends of the program.

Atkinson and assistant coach Jordan Bowen are no longer listed on the SBU athletics website as part of the coaching staff. No allegations have been made against Bowen.

Lauren Sheprow, a spokeswoman for the university, said SBU could not comment on the allegations as it does not discuss personnel issues but confirmed the athletics department is looking for new coaches.

“Athletics decided to make a change in the leadership of the swimming and diving program and will initiate a national search to identify a new coach to lead and grow the program,” she said in an email.

In her editorial, Stepakoff said that Atkinson’s past employers, Fairfield University and University of Connecticut athletics departments, did not provide reasons as to why the coach’s contracts were not renewed.

“These colleges were able to get away without any bad press, but now Stony Brook does not have that option because we, past and present Stony Brook swimmers, decided to fight back publicly,” Stepakoff wrote.

Atkinson, Rodriguez, Stepakoff and other members of the team did not return messages for comments.

The Ward Melville High School Parent Teacher Student Association announced that its annual Senior Prom Fashion Show was a great success that will enable the organization to award more scholarships at the end of the school year than last year. The fundraiser was held Jan. 25 at the Watermill in Smithtown, where nearly 300 guests enjoyed the fashion show and basket raffles.

The fashion show featured 195 seniors from the high school who volunteered to model prom fashions loaned to them for the evening by Merrily Couture and Torontos Tuxedos, both of Mount Sinai. The girls had their hair styled by various local salons — Richard Salon of Smithtown, Tapestry Salon of Mount Sinai and Centereach, Symmetry Salon of Stony Brook, Sivana Salon of St. James and Finale Salon of Setauket.

During the evening, members of the WMHS Chamber Orchestra provided an eclectic mix of music. Seniors Ben Gitelson and Megan Kuhnel were the emcees for the evening. All monies raised at this event will go directly to PTSA Senior Scholarships. Last year, the PTSA was able to give out 44 scholarships to graduating seniors. This year they earned enough to award an unprecedented 73 scholarships. Scholarships will be presented by the PTSA at Senior Awards Night in June.

Maryland aster

By Rita J. Egan

Diane Bouchier hopes to plant the love of botanical art in the hearts of Emma S. Clark Memorial Library patrons. The library, located in Setauket, will host an exhibit of Bouchier’s drawings, Native Plants of Long Island, through the month of February.

Diane Bouchier

The Stony Brook resident said she has been artistic since she was a child, but her career path took a slightly different direction. For nearly 40 years, she was a professor at Stony Brook University where she taught sociology of art. While artistic activities fed into her academic work “in a very positive way,” over time she felt a need to hone her skills. 

“I was always supposed to be artistic as a kid, but then I went into the social sciences,” said Bouchier in a recent interview. “I guess I was a child of the ’60s, and I thought it was important to understand what was going on. I don’t regret that choice, but along the way, in fact, when [my husband and I] moved to our house in Wading River I started a garden, I realized I could not draw the flowers to the level I wanted to draw them. I said to myself, ‘Wait a minute, you’re supposed to be artistic, why isn’t this turning out?’”

Her frustration in drawing flowers inspired Bouchier to take courses at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx where she obtained her certification in its botanical arts and illustration program.

It was during her time studying botanical art that she met one of her mentors, Ann-Marie Evans, a teacher at NYBG. Bouchier said it was Evans who encouraged her to start the American Society of Botanical Artists, an interactive community dedicated to preserving the tradition and encouraging excellence in the contemporary practice of botanical art.

The artist has exhibited extensively, including having her work on view at the 8th International Exhibition of Botanical Art at Carnegie Mellon University’s Hunt Institute in Pittsburgh and the Long Island Museum’s juried exhibition, Animal Kingdom: From Tame to Wild.

Bouchier, who lists 17th-century French artist Nicolas Robert among her favorites, said when she retired two years ago, art became a full-time pursuit. She calls her most recent work her retirement project.

“They say that when you retire you need a project, so I needed something,” the artist said. “So, what do I really care about, and the answer was ecology and art. And what am I trained in? I was trained in botanical and natural history illustration, so I put the two together.”

For the last few months Bouchier’s drawings were in a traveling exhibit displayed at various locations in Suffolk County including the Smithtown Library, North Shore Public Library and Sweetbriar Nature Center. While those exhibits included 20 of her 16- by 20-inch pieces, the Emma Clark Library exhibit, which is the last stop in the tour, will consist of only 10 drawings.

Bouchier said she decided to select those that pointed toward warmer weather for the Setauket location since she feels that come February many are tired of the winter.

New England aster

The artist said many of her drawings depict specimens she obtained from the Long Island Native Plant Initiative, an organization that encourages people to plant native plants that support birds, bees and butterflies, while her garden inspired her for others.

“In the course of drawing the plants and learning about them, I started planting them in my garden,” she said. “It’s a small garden but I’m very pleased that some of the drawings exhibited are from plants from my own garden, and that’s a special pleasure.”

Bouchier said for most of her artwork she prefers using colored pencils on Stonehenge paper, which she said is soft and smooth. She also works in pastels and egg tempera, a medium that has egg yolks in the paint that leaves a brilliant surface.

The artist said it can take a week to 10 days to complete a drawing when she uses colored pencils. She said one morning she’ll do the basic drawing and then another day the undercoat. “It’s very calming,” she said. “If you want to de-stress you should do this.”

Bouchier encourages people of all ages to learn how to draw, and she shares her knowledge by teaching classes at Gallery North in Setauket. In April she will head up a course on the fundamentals of botanical art techniques on Sundays, April 8, 15, 22 and 29. Call 631-751-2676 for times and cost.

“There are very few self-taught artists in the field because whether you’re drawing animals or plants, it’s important that it be accurate at a certain level,” Bouchier said. “You can still be expressive — these things are not opposites — but you don’t want to get the basic structure of the plant or animal wrong.”

When it comes to the artist’s classes, Judith Levy, director of Gallery North, said Bouchier’s classes are informative and relaxing and students leave feeling successful when the workshops are over.

“She’s very focused, she’s very organized, and she gives them a process of how to look at things or how to do a particular technique or use whatever the material is,” said Levy in a recent phone interview. “Sometimes it’s pencils; sometimes it’s colored pencils, it depends on what medium. She is very, very good, and her classes are popular.”

Bouchier also shares her love of creativity with her husband, WSHU radio personality and essayist David Bouchier. The artist said her husband asks her for feedback when it comes to his radio scripts, and she also reads and edits his book manuscripts. In turn, she tests out her ideas for drawings and paintings on him. In 2002, her husband released “The Cats and the Water Bottles,” a book of his essays of life in France, which includes line drawings by his wife.

The artist, who lists her drawing “American Holly and Winterberry” among her favorites, said she hopes the exhibit will inspire library patrons.

“It’s to encourage people to recognize the subtle beauty of our native plants and to perhaps consider planting them in their own gardens,” she said.

Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, 120 Main St., Setauket will present Native Plants of Long Island by Diane Bouchier through Feb. 28. For more information, call 631-941-4080 or visit

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Rebecca Holt and Lucia Buscemi, above, hope to raise $30,000 to build a school in Malawi and travel to the country in the summer. Photo by Lucia Buscemi

By Rita J. Egan

Two Ward Melville High School juniors are asking the Three Village community to join them in achieving their goal to build a school in the African country Malawi.

Last summer, Lucia Buscemi and Rebecca Holt, of Setauket, brainstormed ideas for a fundraiser they could spearhead. They researched the nonprofit buildOn, which helps students raise funds to build schools in impoverished countries, and the pair liked the idea of helping children in need have access to education.

“What got me most excited is that I know that education is the best way to eradicate poverty,” Holt said.

Buscemi agreed and said she believes providing children with an education can be better than donating food.

“It’s not giving someone a handout,” Buscemi said. “It’s giving somebody a lifetime supply of education, and of food practically.”

When it came time to choose a country, the teenagers solicited the help of Lucas Turner, one of buildOn’s community engagement managers. After talking to Turner, Buscemi and Holt decided Malawi was the country with the greatest need.

It’s not about a bunch of kids going down there to build a school to get community service hours. They’re making sure that it’s something sustainable and will last for generations to come.

— Lucia Buscemi

Buscemi and Holt’s goal is to raise $30,000 to fund the building of the school. Turner said if a student wants to travel to Malawi where he or she will stay with a host family and help build the school, he or she must fund their own travel. The girls said they are hoping to make the trip as well, which would take place during summer vacation.

“Rebecca and I are both very excited to learn about the culture there,” Buscemi said, adding they have only traveled within the United States and Europe. “We are anticipating a culture shock when we get there because it’s going to be so unlike every single place we’ve been to.”

Buscemi said buildOn requires help from residents to build the structure, many of whom will eventually attend the school.

“When the school opens, [villagers] are not looking at it and saying, ‘Oh, these foreigners came and gave us this school,’” Turner said. “They look at that, and they say, ‘We built that with buildOn and this is something we can be very proud of.’”

Turner said while students visit a country to help for seven to 10 days, it can take the villagers 15 to 20 weeks to complete construction.

“It’s not about a bunch of kids going down there to build a school to get community service hours,” Buscemi said. “They’re making sure that it’s something sustainable and will last for generations to come.”

Friends since they were in seventh grade at P.J. Gelinas Junior High School, Holt said this is the first time she will be heading up a fundraiser, while Buscemi has been involved with philanthropic efforts since she was in elementary school. For the past three years, she has organized an annual 30-hour famine fundraiser at Caroline Church of Brookhaven, where young adults fast for 30 hours while performing everyday tasks to simulate how it feels for the undernourished.

The pair is using social media and email to spread the word about their buildOn project and are currently planning a soup cook-off fundraiser for March 18 at The Bates House in Setauket. The high school juniors said so far their fundraising has been a valuable learning experience, and they hope to apply those lessons toward future pursuits. Buscemi said she is considering taking a gap year after she graduates from high school to work with refugees in Athens, Greece.

For now, the two are focused on their present pursuit, and said every single person who contributes to the cause, no matter how much they donate, will be making a difference.

“It doesn’t take two girls to build a school,” Holt said. “It takes a community and that’s why we need to work with Three Village in order to build this school. It takes a village to build a school. We need to pool as many resources as we have in this community in order to accomplish our goal.”

Holt and Buscemi have already raised $1,086 toward their $30,000 goal. For more information on how to donate or about the March 18 soup cook-off at The Bates House, 1 Bates Road, Setauket, visit or email

#MeToo social media movement founder Tarana Burke answers questions during a public forum at Stony Brook University. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Long Island men and women are prepared to keep the #MeToo conversation going in their communities after an appearance by the movement’s founder, Tarana Burke, at Stony Brook University Jan. 28.

More than 500 people filled the Sidney Gelber Auditorium in the Student Activities Center for #MeToo … #LIToo, a Q&A with Burke led by three young women of i-tri girls, a free program working to raise the self-esteem of middle school-aged girls on the Island’s East End by training them for a triathlon. Abby Roden, Noely Martinez and Maria Chavez posed questions to Burke that covered a range of topics, from how she felt when the #MeToo movement gained momentum, to empowering survivors of sexual abuse and harassment, to showing empathy when a someone shares his or her story.

Burke, a survivor of sexual violence, said it can be difficult to talk about sexual assaults or harassment because he or she feels isolated.

“The idea behind #MeToo being an exchange of empathy is that if you tell me this thing that is already difficult to say, one of the hardest things in your life, and my first response is, ‘Me too,’ that draws you in,” she said. “Regardless of what else is discussed, we have an automatic connection now.”

Giving advice for those who may not be able to say “me too” when a survivor shares a story, Burke said the best thing to do is ask what he or she needs. If the person says nothing, don’t keep asking.

After the #MeToo movement went viral Burke felt crippled. She said she stopped reading comments on her social media posts, even though most responses were thoughtful.

“I had people telling me I was too ugly to get raped, sexually harassed,” Burke said, adding that she is thick-skinned, and didn’t let the comments get to her. “‘You look like a man.’ Just awful, awful things.”

The movement also affects the LGBTQ community — something Burke said is personal for her, as her daughter identifies as queer and gender nonconforming. She said many young people in the LGBTQ community deal with sexual abuse, and it’s important they tell their stories, too.

“Survivors of sexual violence, we’re not victims,” Burke said. “That’s why we call ourselves survivors. We have solutions, we have answers and we have the experience.”

Attendees said the forum was uplifting and meaningful.

“It was very empowering and definitely brought the community together,” said Cassandra Gonzalez, a graduate student at LIU Post. “It just brings awareness to the #MeToo movement.”

Retired teacher Terry Kalb, of Wading River, said Burke is skilled at connecting others through experiences, calling the forum “beyond inspiring.”

“I liked the fact that there was such emphasis on the intersectionality of this issue,” Kalb said. “I think it’s very important that the vast majority of the people who are marginalized with domestic violence issues, sexual harassment issues and sexual violence issues — all people — are afforded a voice. This just can’t be about celebrity issues; it has to be about people who are often powerless to be able to respond. That they be the focus, because that’s where the most damage is done.”

Updated Feb. 1 to add additional quotes from Tarana Burke.