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TBR News Media covers everything happening on the North Shore of Suffolk County from Cold Spring Harbor to Wading River.

At center, Rebecca Sanin, president and CEO of the Health & Welfare Council of Long Island, speaks about WIC changes Jan. 10. Photo by David Luces

By David Luces

Suffolk County officials are working to partner with food pantries and nonprofits to help ensure low-income women and children keep access to basic food and health care in the months ahead as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children undergoes a major change in the months ahead. 

The county offices of the WIC program are closed Jan.14 for a week to upgrade to a debit card-based system, making the transition away from paper checks to electronic benefit transfer cards in accordance with New York State law. 

The facilities will reopen Jan. 22 in limited capacity only to allow time for employee training and EBT card distribution to clients. 

“WIC sites are not only providers, they also serve as powerful community centers.”

— Rebecca Sanin

Suffolk officials expect the WIC program to be back up and running in April, but many are concerned that its recipients should have ready access to food and health care during
the transition.

The officials viewed the new EBT system changes as necessary to modernize and streamline the program for its more than 12,000 Suffolk recipients.  

“I can’t think of no greater priority than making sure babies and children in their youngest years are well fed and never face nutritional insecurities,” Rebecca Sanin, president and CEO of Health & Welfare Council of Long Island, said during a Jan. 10 press conference. 

The council, Hauppauge-based Long Island Cares and Island Harvest of Bethpage have compiled a listing of food pantries in close proximity to WIC offices for families in need during the closure at www.hwcli.com/wic-closings. 

WIC provides more than food for low-income families, it also offers basic health care for children under age 5 including height, weight, blood tests and iron levels. The program provides women and children with access to nutritional counseling, breastfeeding support and peer counseling. 

“WIC sites are not only providers, they also serve as powerful community centers,” Sanin said. “Food security leads to lower infant mortality rates and safer pregnancies.” 

 Paule Pachter, president and CEO of nonprofit Long Island Cares, said he recognizes there are challenges ahead. 

“If the public doesn’t provide the food to the pantries, we don’t have them.”

— Paule Pachter

“When you are trying to provide food for mothers and babies, you are talking about some of the most expensive food on the market,” Patcher said. “Formula, baby food, diapers, specialized food — this stuff is not readily available at the local food pantries.” 

Many individuals rely on LI Cares and Island Harvest for these products. 

“If the public doesn’t provide the food to the pantries, we don’t have them,” he said. “We’ve been preparing for this day for quite some time.”

As part of the preparations for the months ahead, LI Cares has made sure that mothers can have access to these vital products at their satellite locations in Freeport, Lindenhurst and Huntington Station. 

The Hauppauge nonprofit also created mobile outreach units to go into the community to make residents aware of the ongoing closure and changes to the EBT system. They will be visiting Centereach, Bay Shore, Bohemia, Brentwood, Patchogue, Riverhead and Southampton.  

Sanin said WIC agencies have worked very hard to get in contact with clients to pick up  their checks in advance. 

In addition, part of the new system will include the launch of a new smartphone app, WIC2Go, that will let clients track their benefits, find vendors and items. 

“The new system will be much easier for clients,” Sanin said.

The second Harborfield Estates house to be raffled off in a housing lottery by the Town of Huntington. Photo from the Town of Huntington

By David Luces

More than 800 first-time homeowners will have a second chance at landing a contract to purchase an affordable home in Greenlawn.

After a successful housing lottery for Harborfield Estates last September, the Town of Huntington has begun accepting applications Jan. 15 from those interested in purchasing a second single-family home in the development.

‘Once again, a very lucky individual or family will have the opportunity to purchase a beautiful new home at an affordable price.’

—Leah Jefferson

First-time home buyers can file paperwork through Feb. 15 to place their names in the housing lottery for the four-bedroom, 2½-bathroom house priced at $350,125. The Greenlawn housing complex is a collection of 47 single-family homes on half-acre plots ordinarily starting at $800,000 each, according to the development’s website. A lottery will be held March 5 to choose at random an individual or family who will be
offered the opportunity to purchase the property.

“Once again, a very lucky individual or family will have the opportunity to purchase a beautiful new home at an affordable price,” Leah Jefferson, director of the Huntington Community Development Agency, oversees the town’s Affordable Housing Program said in a press release. “Homeownership is the American dream, and the Community Development Agency is looking forward to assisting someone with making that dream a reality.”

Lauren Lembo, Huntington’s spokeswoman, said the town had approximately 100 people who immediately signed up when the application process opened at midnight Jan. 15. The town received more than 800 applications for the first lottery house last summer.

“All of the people who signed up for the first lottery in September were notified, as they would have to sign up again for this one,” Lembo said. “We also notified past applicants and with the new income requirements, more people qualify.”

In order to qualify, those interested must be first-time homebuyers whom U.S. Housing and Urban Development defines as a person who has never owned a home, has not owned a home in the last three years or is a displaced homemaker. The purchaser must also provide documentation that their total income — including the salary of all adults age 18 and older, overtime, bonuses, pensions, Social Security, tips, etc. — does not exceed 80 percent of the area’s average median income of $98,050 for a single individual, increasing to $140,500 for a family of four, in accordance with federal guidelines set by HUD.

“All of the people who signed up for the first lottery in September were notified, as they would have to sign up again for this one.”

— Lauren Lembo

Lembo said all applicants must be able to secure a mortgage on their own. In addition to mortgage payments, the town has estimated potential owners will pay $9,700 annually in real estate taxes and $460 in homeowner association fees, which will be billed twice a year.

The two-story house constructed by developer Island Estate Homes will be a little more than 2,800 square feet and move-in ready by the fall 2019, according to Lembo. Priority will be given to applicants who are current residents or employed by a business located in the Town of Huntington, and nonresidents who can show they have relatives living in the Town of Huntington. Applicants who do not meet the criteria are welcome to enter the town’s affordable housing lottery as second priority.

Lembo said they have a computer set up in the CDA office at Town Hall and staff to assist if someone has trouble filling out the online application.

Anyone with questions regarding the application guidelines should contact the Huntington CDA at 631-351-2884.

PHONECEPTION!

Daria Martorana snapped this artistic photo at Cedar Beach in her hometown of Mount Sinai in December. She writes, “It’s ‘phoneception!’ I took a photo of my iPhone X’s camera screen with my Sony A6000. Sunsets are among my favorite photos to capture because they produce stunning shots with little need for much effort or planning. Although I do enjoy manipulating photos in Lightroom, there’s something to say about a winter sunset with the bright pink and orange tones that only requires a bit of exposure and detailing.”

One of the best parts of our job is providing an outlet for readers to express their beliefs and passions on the Letters to the Editor page. Knowing what is on the minds of community members is always valuable to us and to the rest of our readers. This is a platform for releasing passions.

That’s why we’re hoping a few readers who called us last week will take pen to paper — or fingers to keyboard — and write us a letter. After the Jan. 10 editorial criticizing the extended government shutdown over a proposed wall on the U.S. and Mexican border, we received a few calls from readers who were unhappy with our opinion. Some went as far as to say they would no longer read our papers. Even though they want to end their relationships with us, we appreciate their calls. We wish they would have taken the time to write a Letter to the Editor, because that’s one of the purposes of the page — for a reader to let the newspaper staff and readers know that they don’t agree with an editorial or even an article.

We encourage and appreciate letters from all our readers no matter where they stand, even when it comes to politics. Also, we would love to see more letters from those who voted for and support President Donald Trump (R) as well as those who don’t. We want readers to tell us what they like and don’t like about the president — we appreciate hearing from all sides. We think our readers do too.

Speaking of Trump and national issues, many have asked why they don’t see more letters about local topics. When we receive them, we gladly publish them. We would love to hear more about what our readership thinks of political decisions on the town and village levels as well as our local elected officials. 

These letters to the editor can create much-needed conversations, but a few readers have commented there’s too much back and forth between some individuals in some of our papers. We always do our best to give people an equal opportunity to respond to each other, but some of that back and forth would stop if we received more letters about a wider variety of topics.

So, if you’re reading this editorial right now, don’t be shy. We accept letters with opinions about local, state, national and international issues. Whatever is on your mind, we want to hear from you. Take action. Keep in mind that letters are edited for length, libel, style and good taste — the letters page is not a place for foul language or personal battles. Letters should be no longer than 400 words, and we don’t publish anonymous letters. All submissions must include an address and phone number for confirmation.

On a side note, here at TBR News Media we go by “The Associated Press Stylebook” to edit our articles, letters and editorials. One reader pointed out in last week’s edition we didn’t refer to Trump as president. But we did. In the first reference we wrote “President Donald Trump (R),” but following AP style, on subsequent references used only his last name. 

We hope this editorial gets you to write or email, leading to more diverse and productive conversations in the future —  waiting to hear from you at rita@tbrnewsmedia.com (Village Times Herald/Times of Middle Country), kyle@tbrnewsmedia.com (Port Times Record/Village Beacon Record), sara@tbrnewsmedia.com (Times of Huntington and Northport, Times of Smithtown). 

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Bright orange flames and heavy smoke billowing up from a shuttered Commack motel on Saturday morning alarmed motorists and nearby residents who were unaware it was part of a preplanned fire training drill.

Commack Fire Department burned down the former Courtesy Inn, located at 1126 Jericho Turnpike, Jan. 12 with the property owner’s permission as the culmination of a two-week long intensive training exercise, Commissioner Pat Fazio said. The site needed to be cleared to make way for an approved 94-apartment complex for seniors age 55 and older. The location is being developed by TDG Commack, LLC.

Residents dialed 911 and called local officials in a panic over the blaze, saying they were not
given any notification.

It was a huge fire and a huge mess.’

— Mark Stevens

“The community is incensed over it as they weren’t informed and there was a huge amount of smoke blowing over their houses,” Mark Stevens, of East Northport, said. “It was a huge fire and a huge mess.”

Stevens, who took photos of the blaze from a distance, said the distraction of the flames, along with heavy smoke, caused traffic to back up along Jericho Turnpike.

The fire department did not publish any notification to residents, according to the commissioner, because the event was well planned and controlled.

“It was a controlled burn at all times,” Fazio said. “No one was ever in danger. There was no danger to anyone’s home.”

The commissioner said fire department  officials spoke with the property owners after the motel closed in November 2018 about razing the blighted building for training purposes. The property and vacated building, which he said has been blighted by drug issues and overdoses, offered its firefighters a unique learning experience.

“Training like this is priceless,” Fazio said. “Often with fire education, we don’t get a lot of working fires.”

He said the fire department utilized each of the 50 hotel rooms to set up a wide variety of different training scenarios. Over two weeks, volunteers learned forced entry training on locked doors to get into a fire, how to safely breech walls to get to a fire or trapped individual, and observe how fires reacted in different environments.

During the week prior to the fire, Fazio said various state and federal agencies utilized the structure as well to train their personnel. Neighboring fire departments including Nesconset, Smithtown and St. James were on hand to participate in the Jan. 12 large-scale fire drill.

“This is the biggest live training we’ve ever had,” he said. “No one was at risk, we did it with no injuries. It was a total success.”

Training like this is priceless. Often with fire education, we don’t get a lot of working fires.’

— Pat Fazio

The commissioner said he was under the impression the Town of Smithtown was notifying residents through its website and computer systems. Nicole Garguilo, the town’s spokeswoman, said the town had no advanced notification but the fire department was not required to do so.

“They’ve never been asked to notify us before,” Garguilo said. “Usually their controlled burns are done in buildings further away from the community. This was a building surrounded by a residential neighborhood.”

The town’s Department of Public Safety sent an alert out via Twitter and its mobile app at 10:44 a.m., after the burn had started.

“We have reached out to their communications contact and asked if they would notify us in advanced of controlled burns in the future,” Garguilo said.

Fazio said the fire department also did not publish notification for fear of people attempting to come onto the site, resulting in a live audience that could potentially get injured.

“I apologize people are so upset,” he said. “It was invaluable training that we’re not offered that much.”

Former newspaper adviser Edward Wendell, center, is pictured with MCPL director Sophia Serlis-McPhillips and Comsewogue Public Library director Debbie Engelhardt.

By Karina Gerry

Middle Country Public Library librarians Stephanie Vecchio and Carol Gray look through issues of The Quadrangle from the 1970s. Photo from MCPL

A retired Newfield High School teacher’s forgotten files turned out to be a treasure for Middle Country Public Library.

Edward Wendol donated original issues of The Quadrangle to the library last month in hopes of preserving a unique piece of history. The Quadrangle, the Newfield High School paper, was supervised by Wendol during 1970-76. Wendol kept the papers all these years in a file in his attic, where he admits he forgot about them until he stumbled upon them one day.

“With the popularity of items being digitized today, I thought this would be the perfect item to be digitized at the Middle Country Public Library [in the district] where I worked,” Wendol said. “I thought it would be the most appropriate place to bring them.”

During his 27 years with the school district, Wendol worked as an English teacher and volunteered to serve as the adviser to The Quadrangle after having a positive experience at his own high school newspaper.

“I had students that were with me their entire high school career,” Wendol remembered fondly. “I think several of them may have even ventured into the journalism aspect.”

Wendol, who has served as a trustee on the Comsewogue Public Library board since 1972, Debbie Engelhardt, director of the Comsewogue library, and Sophia Serlis-McPhillips, director of MCPL, met in December at the Middle Country library so Wendol could hand over his original editions of the paper.

Copies of Newfield High School’s The Quadrangle, above, were donated to Middle Country Public Library in December by Edward Wendol.

“I thought it was absolutely incredible that Mr. Wendol kept all those papers from way back when,” Serlis-McPhillips said. “To have the foresight to do that and the fact that he wanted to give them to the library, I just thought was tremendous that he cared enough about working at Newfield and working at Middle Country school district.”

While the library’s website has a digitized photo collection of the old pictures they’ve received in recent years, this is the first time, in Serlis-McPhillips time at the library at least, that they have been given any type of periodical or newspaper.

“We’re just in the process of cataloging them and putting them on our website so that anyone can share them,” Serlis-McPhillips said. “You know it’s interesting to go back and look at the ads and the events that they were doing, and it kind of gives you a picture of history.”

With his donation, Wendol’s biggest hope is that past students are able to see their work.

“The reason why I brought it to Middle Country where the school district is located is to see if there are students who still live in the school district,” Wendol said. “If they have access to the public library and are willing to say, ‘Hey, let’s see what you have regarding my old high school newspaper at my old high school that I attended.’”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone delivers his State of the County address May 24 at Newfield High School in Selden. Photo by Alex Petroski

By David Luces

Suffolk County has been working toward reducing inmate populations through programs to give people who have been incarcerated a new lease on life.

On Jan. 2 county officials announced the completion of the Suffolk Fresh Start program which has helped assist more than 100 formerly incarcerated individuals find employment after their release.

Over the past two years, after receiving a $489,901 grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, the county’s Department of Labor has administered Suffolk’s Fresh Start program with the county’s Sheriff’s Office and Eastern Suffolk BOCES. Its main goal was to try and provide employable skills and vocational training to incarcerated individuals.

‘Having gainful employment is one of the factors that can reduce recidivism.’

— Errol Toulon

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said in a press release the county has created a successful criminal justice model to reduce recidivism and protect taxpayers.

“This program is giving people a second chance to become productive members of society, strengthening families and saving Suffolk taxpayers millions,” he said.

More than 350 individuals were enrolled in the Fresh Start program where they were given resources and training to address any possible barriers to employment. They were also registered with the county’s One-Stop Employment Center in Hauppauge.

The employment center supplies job-seeking individuals with the tools necessary for a self-directed or staff-assisted job search. There they can receive help with creating or editing résumés, navigate the internet for potential jobs and be interviewed by prospective employers on-site.

“The program has changed people’s lives,” said county spokesperson Derek Poppe.

Since 1999, New York State’s prison population has declined by 35 percent, according to a report from the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision released Jan. 1. The report said since 2011, the state has eliminated 5,500 prison beds and closed a total of 13 correctional facilities. The number of male inmates in maximum security prisons has been reduced from 24,151 in 2009 to 20,173 in 2019.

Suffolk has two jail facilities. One is the Riverhead facility which was intended to hold 529 inmates in maximum security cells and 240 in medium security cells, according to a 2008 county report. The facilities in Yaphank included a minimum-security jail that had cell space for 504 inmates, and a DWI Alternative facility for 54 inmates.

Since 2010 the county’s jail population has decreased drastically. Newsday’s data on Long Island’s jail population shows a fall from 1,609 in 2010 to 1,157 in 2016. The decrease has been mostly in inmates at the Riverhead facility.

Poppe said Bellone was against the construction of a new jail facility, and programs like Fresh Start work to keep inmates from committing further crimes.

“Many of these individuals were able to find work in the construction, manufacture and telemarketing field,” Bellone’s spokesperson said.

Even though the grant from the Department of the Labor expired in December 2018, Poppe said there are plans in place to continue the programs through internal county funds and possibly funds from the federal government.

‘This program is giving people a second chance to become productive members of society, strengthening families and saving Suffolk taxpayers millions.’

— Steve Bellone

The number of people in Suffolk’s jails is strained by a lack of corrections officers in both Riverhead and Yaphank. County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. (D) told TBR News Media in July 2018 the county was dealing with a large amount of corrections officer vacancies, saying at the time there were 76 positions left unfilled with 30 new officers being added as early as August that same year.

The sheriff said in a press release that Fresh Start gives county inmates opportunity and hope following incarceration.

“Having gainful employment is one of the factors that can reduce recidivism, and we are fortunate to have Department of Labor staff working with us to improve outcomes for those transitioning from jail to our communities,” Toulon said.

By repurposing existing internal funds Poppe said the county plans on having Department of Labor staffers work in conjunction with the correctional facilities in future, adding, “We want to continue to run this
successful program.”

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Maggie Webber, 14, of Lake Grove, is crowned the 2018 Mid-Atlantic Regional Champion in Irish dancing. Photo by Debbie Lynch-Webber

By Karina Gerry

Lake Grove resident Maggie Webber has once again left her mark at the Irish dance regional championship.

The 14-year-old Centereach High School freshman was crowned the 2018 Mid-Atlantic Regional Champion in Irish dancing in the girls under-14 category, previously taking home the title in 2017 as well. The two-time champion is no stranger to the competition, having attended regionals every year since she was 5 years old.

My ultimate goal is just to continue to love dance and to enjoy performing, and to just have fun everywhere I go and with the people I’m with while at class or competitions.”

— Maggie Webber

“It’s definitely nerve racking at times,” Maggie said. “[Especially] right before you go on stage, because you want to make sure you remember all of the things you’ve practiced. But when you get on stage it’s really exciting to just perform and have a good time.”

Regionals, which are held every year in Philadelphia in November, saw Maggie score a perfect 500, with each judge granting her performance a score of 100. While the award is always appreciated, it’s not the main goal for her.

“My ultimate goal is just to continue to love dance and to enjoy performing, and to just have fun everywhere I go and with the people I’m with while at class or competitions,” she said.

In the Webber household, Irish dance is a family tradition. Maggie’s mom, Debbie Lynch-Webber, owns Mulvihill-Lynch School of Irish Dance in Lake Ronkonkoma and has herself been dancing since the age of 7, when her mother, an immigrant from Ireland, signed her up for classes. In the years since, she has passed her love for the sport onto her daughter.

“My daughter just lives and breathes for it,” Lynch-Webber said. “She loves it, so it was never my push or anything — she just absolutely had such a passion for it from when she was 3.”

Someone competing at Maggie’s elite level has to train seven days a week. When she’s not practicing at the studio, she’s doing cross training at Parisi Speed School at World Gym in Setauket.

“As a dancer it is still extremely important to train and work on power strength and speed,” said Ryan Whitley, Parisi program director. “As an Irish step dancer, Maggie needs to have excellent body coordination, balance and speed. While we might not be actually dancing in classes here, she is still becoming a better dancer and athlete with everything she does in class.”

‘Dance is definitely one of the most important parts of my life.’

— Maggie Webber

Despite her busy schedule, Maggie has made sure to make time for other things, like hanging with her friends and playing on the Centereach varsity field hockey team, but nothing has replaced her love for dance.

“Dance is definitely one of the most important parts of my life,” Maggie said. “It’s always been with me ever since I was born, so I can’t imagine my life without it.”

Down the road, Maggie hopes to follow in the footsteps of her mom and receive her teaching certificate. In terms of the near future, she hopes to continue to dance her best and maintain a similar placement as the year before. With the World Irish Dancing Championships coming up in April, she would like to come in near last year’s fifth-place finish.

“Each year that I dance, whether the placement shows it or not, I do feel I mature and I improve as a dancer and as a competitor,” Maggie said.

By Bill Landon

Harborfields boys basketball team took an early lead and never looked back besting Rocky Point, 65-45, at the Tornadoes’ home  Jan. 10.

Harborfields senior forward Mike McDermott had the hot hand for the Tornadoes netting seven field goals and a pair of free throws to lead his team in scoring with 16 points. Tornadoes senior forward Joey Mitchell followed with a field goal, a pair of treys and 5 points from the line for 13 points while guard Jordan Robinson banked 10 points.

Rocky Point junior John Henry Dyroff led scoring for the Eagles with a pair of field goals, a triple and swished 7 from the charity stripe netting a total of 14 points.  Eagles junior Gavin DaVanzo sank 3 field goals and 2 triples to put up 12 points.

Both teams retake the court Jan. 15 with the Tornadoes traveling to take on West Babylon and the Eagles at home against Half Hollow Hills West. Both games tip-off at 5:45 p.m.

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The Town of Smithtown's Whisper the Bull statue as decorated for the 2017 holiday season shows the Happy Hanukkah sign that was destroyed. Photo from Corey Geske

By David Luces

Smithtown’s iconic Whisper the Bull, a 5-foot-tall statue located at the intersection of Route 25 and Route 25A in Smithtown, narrowly avoided damage in a single-car accident Dec. 24.

On Christmas Eve, a driver veered off road near the intersection into the green space, colliding into the base wall. The unidentified driver was transported to the hospital with critical injuries, according to town officials. 

The retaining wall around Whisper the Bull statue was damaged, lower left, in a Dec. 24 car accident. Photo from Corey Geske

The bronze statue avoided any major damage and the base wall and the area around the monument sustained minor damage, according to Smithtown spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo.

“Thankfully there was no damage to the statue or its base,” Garguilo said. “The concrete around the landscape wall, a Christmas sign as well as a wooden menorah were the only things damaged.”

The iconic statue was recently ruled eligible for landmark status on the New York State and National Register of Historic Places run by New York State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. The monument commemorates the legend of the town’s origins that claims founder Richard Smythe rode a bull to establish the town’s boundaries.

Smithtown resident Corey Geske appealed to Smithtown town officials in December to sign off on a formal application for the registry as the official owners of the monument.

Geske said she was relieved to hear the statue and the surrounding area avoided serious damage, though suggested it would good to keep an eye on it and to get experts to look at it.

“The base [of the statue] seems to have been saved,” Geske said. “The brick landscape wall surrounding the statue looks to have kept it from any damage.”

There were already plans in place to repair the base of the statue prior to the accident, according to Garguilo. These repairs included fixing a visible crack along “Smithtown” in the inscription and can be seen running from front to back of the platform as well as additional landscaping.

This is part of the legacy of the community and the town. It would be a shame if it was lost for future generations.”

— Corey Geske

Garguilo said after the incident the town will try to speed up the planned renovations to the statue’s base.

Since 2017, Geske has been working on a three-part plan for the revitalization of downtown Smithtown, which includes preservation of the statue as part of a proposed historic corridor.

One of the criteria the state park’s department will consider when evaluating the monument for placement on the state Register of Historic Places includes its “artistic value” and current condition, according to the state’s website. Repairing the crack in the statue’s base will not have any impact on Whisper’s eligibility, according to Garguilo, but any damage to the statue itself could have negatively affected its ability to qualify for landmark status.

“This is part of the legacy of the community and the town,” Geske said. “It would be a shame if it was lost for future generations.”

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