Community

Alex Bertolini and Michael Locissano star in SPAC’s Disney’s ‘Beauty and the Beast JR’.
A tale as old as time opens at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts

By Heidi Sutton

The French fairy tale, “Beauty and the Beast,” was written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve in 1740 and then revised and popularized by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont in 1756. Translated into many different languages over the years, it has become a tale as old as time. Most children, however, are familiar with the Disney film versions — the 1991 award-winning animated musical and the live-action musical starring Emma Watson released earlier this year.

Now the beloved fairy tale comes to life on the grand stage of the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts as Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast JR” and does not disappoint.

Gaston (Zak Ketcham) and his admirers

Expecting a shortened version of the story to appease the young children in the audience, many who came dressed as Belle, imagine my surprise and certainly others in the theater when the curtain goes up last Saturday afternoon and for the next 2 hours and 20 minutes, the audience is transported to a small provincial town in France in what feels like a full-blown Broadway production with an amazing set, incredible costumes, wonderful singing, stupendous dancing and terrific acting — all followed by a well-deserved standing ovation.

If that isn’t enough, you’ll get to experience all the wonderful songs by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman again including “Belle,” “Gaston,” “Be Our Guest,” “The Mob Song,” and everyone’s favorite, “Beauty and the Beast” sung by Mrs. Potts.

The classic story of love and sacrifice, a girl by the name of Belle searches to find her place among the townspeople in her village, all while dodging the advances of a self-loving brute named Gaston. When her father is taken prisoner by a monstrous beast in an enchanted castle, Belle chooses to take his place. The Beast is really a young selfish prince who is cursed to live forever as a hideous creature unless he can learn to love and in return find someone who will love him before all the petals on an enchanted rose wither. But time is running out. If the Beast does not learn his lesson soon, he and his staff will be doomed for all eternity. Will Belle be the one to break the spell?

Jordan Hue skillfully directs a cast of 33 talented teens, who all seem to be having the time of their life. Alex Bertolini is perfectly cast as the beautiful Belle. With her sweet voice and mannerisms, she instantly steals the audience’s hearts. Michael Locissano gives a magnificent performance as the Beast, switching effortlessly from losing his temper to a sad and broken man. Zak Ketcham takes the juicy role of the arrogant Gaston, pompadour and all, and runs with it; and Kyle Westgate-Addessi, as Gaston’s dim-witted sidekick, Lefou, is equally impressive.

Lumiere (Luke Ferrari) and Babette (Brooke Miranda)

Although the entire supporting cast is superb, special mention should be made of the castle staff (humans who have been magically transformed into household objects under the curse) — the enchanted candelabra Lumiere (Luke Ferrari), Cogsworth the talking clock (Logan O’Leary), Mrs. Potts the teapot (Aubrey Alvino), Babette the feather duster (Brooke Miranda) and Mme. De La Grand Bouche the wardrobe (Nikki Sponaugle). And last, but certainly not least, the sweet and adorable teacup Chip (played by Raquel Sciacca during last Saturday’s performance).

Costumes by Ronald Green III are rich and colorful and look as if they stepped straight out of the Disney film, especially during “Be Our Guest,” where the stage is consumed with dancing flatware, napkins, plates and a floor rug. The Beast’s costume has both the royal appearance of a prince and the ragged edges of a cursed monster, and Belle’s dinner gown in signature yellow is breathtaking. However, without giving too much away, it is the castle staff costumes that take it over the top. M.E. Jung’s choreography, highlighted during the musical numbers “Gaston” and “Be Our Guest,” pulls it all together brilliantly.

Light-up roses may be purchased before the show and children can meet Belle and the Prince in the lobby after the show for photos. Costumes are encouraged and booster seats are available.

The main cast of Disney’s ‘Beauty and the Beast JR’

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown will present Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast JR” through Oct. 29. All seats are $15. To order, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

All photos by Courtney Braun

New policy sets cap on accrual of daily fees while seized boats are in storage

'Kayaks at Bay' by Holly Gordon

By Alex Petroski

In a seemingly ongoing effort to solidify policies regarding the storage of kayaks in Port Jefferson Village, the board of trustees voted to approve additional code changes during an Oct. 16 meeting.

The latest code change will set a minimum opening bid for kayaks and other small vessels previously seized by the village for being left on racks at village beaches past the posted required date for removal to be auctioned off. Each year, residents interested in storage space for their boats enter a lottery, and those selected are permitted to use village racks for the season. Signage near the racks warns owners they need to be removed by Nov. 1, though the village typically allows a several week grace period before it starts seizing abandoned vessels and moving them into storage.

The village still has several unclaimed boats left on racks from the 2016 season, which will be auctioned off Nov. 9. Adherent to the new policy, the minimum bid for any vessel will be $75, or $1 per day in storage plus a $25 fee — whichever total is less. So for example, a vessel in village storage for 10 days would have a minimum opening bid of $35 at auction. Any vessel kept for more than 50 days would have a minimum opening bid of $75.

Signs detailing the Village’s kayak policy are visible year round. File photo by Alex Petroski

“The whole goal is to get this thing rolling,” Village Mayor Margot Garant said during the meeting. The goal behind the connected village policies is to incentivize owners of seized boats to retrieve them from storage while also deincentivizing rack users from leaving them through the winter.

The $1 per day in storage policy makes it less expensive for owners to retrieve abandoned boats then if they were to pay the fines, though they assume the risk of competing with other bidders. The new policy would eliminate the current $10 fee per day for storing abandoned vessels.

Art Worthington, a village resident for more than a decade, is a boat owner who stands to benefit financially from the policy change, though on principal, he said he’s not satisfied with the new rules.

Worthington said during a phone interview, and a village spokesperson confirmed by email, that he stored a 14-foot Sunfish sailboat on village property at the Crystal Brook Hollow Road beach during the 2016 season without a permit, and went to retrieve it for the winter in December 2016, about a month after the posted date warning of possible removal. He said at the time he asked the village by phone if they had seized his boat, and based on his description the spokesperson said it was not in storage. In Sept. 2017, Worthington was granted permission to inspect the storage area, and found that his boat was in fact in the village’s possession. Worthington has since been instructed to bid on his vessel to get it back at auction.

“I’d pay $75 for it, sure, but the bottom line is they’re dead wrong,” he said. “They deprived me of the use of it for a season. They should be giving the people their boats back.”

Worthington said he believes his boat should be returned to him free of charge, and hasn’t decided yet if he will bid on it.

Members of the public can view the vessels up for auction Oct. 27 from 10 to 11 a.m. at East Beach to consider participating in the Nov. 9 auction.

Melinda Murray, on left, and Karen Acompora, on right, who are the founders of Copiague-based Heart Screen New York, gave Shoreham-Wading River Girl Scout Jordan McClintock, at center, a $400,000 grant to help with her Gold Award project. Photo by Kevin Redding

A Shoreham-Wading River senior showed a lot of heart this past weekend by making sure her fellow students and community members got theirs checked out.

Jordan McClintock, a 17-year-old Girl Scout, saw the culmination of a two-year Gold Award project Saturday, Oct. 14, as Albert G. Prodell Middle School’s gymnasium became a mini medical center fully staffed with cardiologists, physicians and nurse practitioners from hospitals across the state, bringing with them life-saving equipment. The medical professionals provided more than 400 registrants — between the ages 12 and 25 — with free, all-day heart screenings in an effort to raise awareness about sudden cardiac arrest, the leading cause of death in young athletes.

A volunteer shows a girl how to use an AED machine. Photo by Kevin Redding

With help from a $400,000 grant by Copiague-based Heart Screen New York, McClintock’s event allowed students from Shoreham-Wading River and beyond to get thorough cardiovascular screenings, which included an electrocardiogram test, a blood pressure reading and final consultation with medical professionals. Pediatric cardiologists were available in case further testing was needed and students were given hands-only CPR and automatic external defibrillator training after their exams.

As heart screenings are not generally covered by health insurance, the event also made it possible for parents to evaluate a crucial component of their children’s health without spending up to $1,000 per exam.

“This is amazing,” said Maureen MacDowell, whose son, a cross country runner at the school, was screened Saturday. “It’s a huge deal that the girl who organized this did so. It’s definitely worth having.”

Marlene Baumeister, the mother of a football player, said other school districts should use the event as a model for their own heart screenings.

Tony Zajac, a Shoreham-Wading River parent and coach, called the program excellent.

“It’s very educational for these kids and more in-depth than I thought,” Zajac said. “It gives them feedback on their own heart health while teaching them how to potentially save somebody else’s life.”

Sudden cardiac arrests claim the lives of more than 2,000 people under 25 in the country every year, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, and yet they are not included in most routine physical exams or pre-participation sports physicals. One out of 100 students that attend a heart screening will discover an underlying heart condition.

“If I can save one life with early detection, my work for the past two years will have been all worth it.”

—Jordan McClintock

“If I can save one life with early detection, my work for the past two years will have been all worth it,” said McClintock, an aspiring pediatrician. “I’m really hoping it initiates some conversations among my peers and their families.”

The Girl Scout developed her project as a freshman after she got her own heart screening done at St. Francis Hospital in Roslyn, which was offered in partnership with Heart Screen New York, based on her family’s history of cardiac problems.

It was through the procedure, which she referred to as “painless” and “relieving,” that McClintock began her years-long correspondence with Karen Acompora, the co-founder of Heart Screen New York.

Acompora lost her 14-year-old son to a sudden cardiac arrest during a high school lacrosse game in 2000 after a ball struck his chest between heartbeats. She and Melinda Murray, a Queens-based mother whose son collapsed on a basketball court and died from an undetected heart condition, formed Heart Screen New York together as a way to detect heart trouble in local youths and prevent as many deaths as possible.

Heart Screen New York hosts only two screenings per year due to the expenses and resources needed for each one.

“I thought it was an amazing program and would be great if I could bring it to Shoreham,” McClintock said. “Out here we’ve never really had anything like this that’s free and promotes cardiovascular health in student-athletes and the community in general. I was very inspired by Karen’s story.”

McClintock’s perseverance paid off, literally, early last year when Heart Screen New York representatives informed her Shoreham-Wading River would be the site of their October 2017 screening.

A young boy is shown how to perform CPR. Photo by Kevin Redding

“I think the screening is certainly opening a lot of eyes in the Shoreham community and Jordan’s done such a nice job of advertising and promoting the event,” Acompora said. A founder of another group called the Louis J. Acompora Memorial Foundation, in memory of her son, the Northport mother hopes heart screenings will eventually become a mandatory part of physicals. In fact, she and Murray have been pushing legislation for years to make electrocardiograms part of student-athlete’s preparticipation screening process.

“There’s a lack of knowledge on the part of individuals who feel it’s too costly to do heart screenings, but how do you put a price tag on life?” said Murray, whose 17-year-old son Dominic died in 2009, exactly three years after his father died from a massive heart attack. “We’re really proud of Jordan. It’s having a great impact at the school and is really spreading the awareness of the importance of heart screenings.”

Among the volunteers at the event was Shoreham senior and baseball player Jack Crowley, who, two years ago, at 15 years old, was declared medically dead after a line drive hit him in the chest. Crowley’s heart stopped and he was unable to breathe. He was brought back to life from the shock of an automatic external defibrillator — which Heart Screen New York had pushed to make available in as many locations as possible.

“They’re the reason I’m here,” Crowley said. “Get a heart screening. It’s so much better than learning the hard way that you have an issue.”

Senior volleyball player Lindsay Deegan said of the screening: “This is something I never would’ve thought of doing this before, so it’s cool to know what’s going on.”

McClintock is expected to receive her Gold Award during a ceremony in Spring 2018.

“Girl Scouts pledge to help people at all times, and Jordan’s stellar work truly exemplifies that promise,” said Yvonne Grant, President and CEO for Girl Scouts of Suffolk County. “Jordan’s Gold Award project is an inspiring and extraordinary way to bring awareness.”

Much of the Port Jefferson Station community, and all of the Comsewogue Public Library’s past director’s were on hand Saturday for a day of celebration to commemorate the facility’s golden anniversary.

As part of the event, the library’s community room was dedicated to its first director, Richard Lusak, who served in that position from 1966 to 2002. In its 50-year history, the Comsewogue Public Library has had just three directors. The 50th anniversary celebration Oct. 14 also featured games, a bounce house, farm animals, crafts, giveaways, snacks, face-painting, balloon animals, music, a historical society photo gallery and tour and a new gallery exhibit.

“The program says ‘celebrating our past, present and future,’ so that’s what we’re doing all in one day, with the community,” the third, and current Director Debra Engelhardt said during the event. “We thought of it as a community thank you for the ongoing support that we’ve had since day one, across all three administrations.”

Engelhardt’s predecessor, Brandon Pantorno, who served at the helm of the library from 2003 through 2012 and is a Port Jefferson Station native, is a lifetime member of what they each referred to as the library family, as they all worked in several different capacities in the library’s hierarchy before becoming director.

“I remember when Blockbuster video came into the neighborhood right on Route 112 in Port Jefferson Station and people would say ‘videos, they’re going to be the end to libraries,’” he said. “Well, libraries started circulating videos in addition to books, in addition to library coordinated programs, and guess what? Blockbuster video is no longer here, but Comsewogue library and other libraries — the library world — is still stronger than ever. We have evolved; we have very cleverly metamorphosed into different things for so many people.”

Lusak was brought on to lead the library in its infancy in 1966 by its board of trustees at the time. During the summer of 1966, the Comsewogue School District board of education petitioned the community in 1966 to schedule a vote, in which five trustees would be elected and establish a budget of about $68,000. In November 1966, Lusak was hired, and the library’s original grounds were established in a portable classroom at the southern end of Terryville Road, which still exists today. By November 1967, the community overwhelmingly voted in support of funding the building of a 16,000-square-foot facility at 170 Terryville Road, where the library remains today, though it has grown exponentially over the years.

Lusak said he was honored and humbled to have the community meeting room dedicated in his honor.

“I think the community decides whether or not we did a good job,” he said. “I can say this: the community has always been supportive of the library. The board of trustees here has always been dedicated to this institution — totally dedicated.”

The library’s first director tried to sum up what his time at the community institution meant to him.

“The people just love this library for the community, and I take a tremendous amount of pride in being associated with that,” said Lusak, who is still a resident of Port Jefferson. “It made my life a pleasure.”

Lusak’s wife Rosalie also attended the ceremony to celebrate her husband’s lifelong work.

“It was never a job to him, it was just his passion,” she said. “It’s very, very moving that something would be dedicated to him and I’m glad he got to see it.”

The Cumsewogue Historical Society was on hand during the event to share stories of the library’s history. Historical society Vice President Joan Nickeson said the very first library card issued in 1967 was to Thomas E. Terry, the grandson of Edward Terry, who was one of the Terry brothers who founded Terryville.

Stony Brook resident Rocco Pesola has been reported missing after leaving a family member's house in St. James Oct. 15. Photo from Suffolk County Police Department
UPDATE: Rocco Pesola has been found unharmed
The original Silver Alert issued for Rocco Pesola:
The Suffolk County Police Department has issued a Silver Alert for a missing Stony Brook man who suffers from dementia.
Rocco Pesola, 89, of 39 Knolls Drive, was last seen leaving a family member’s home in St. James to return to his residence Oct. 15 at approximately 1 p.m. Pesola is white, 5 feet, 9 inches tall, approximately 180 pounds with brown eyes, an olive complexion and white hair. He was driving a 2015 Nissan Rogue with New York license plate BVY 6910. He was wearing a blue vest over a flannel shirt with khaki pants and sneakers.
Detectives are asking anyone with information on Pesola’s location to call 911 or the sixth squad at 631-854-8652.
 

The area east of Comsewogue High School and south of Route 112 will be protected under new legislation. Image from Google Maps

A Suffolk County legislator is looking to protect Port Jefferson Station and Terryville’s groundwater, and if her plan reaches completion, it will also preserve a massive chunk of green space.

The county passed a bill sponsored by 5th District Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) Oct. 3 that allows Suffolk to begin seeking appraisals from landowners of 62 separate properties within the Terryville Greenbelt, an approximately 75-acre plot of land, of which about 40 acres has already been preserved by Town of Brookhaven through open space land acquisitions.

The town is allowed by law to acquire open space based upon environmental sensitivity. Hahn’s bill allows for the appraisal of about 17 acres of the remaining unprotected land within the parcel, designated as a special groundwater protection area, located south of Route 112 and adjacent to the rear of Comsewogue High School. The bill requires signing by County Executive Steve Bellone (D) before it becomes law; then further legislation will be required to complete the purchases.

“For the past 50 years the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville community has worked to offset its rapid growth with safeguards of its quality of life and environment,” Hahn said in a statement. She also serves as the chairwoman of the Legislature’s Environment, Planning and Agriculture Committee. “Protecting these parcels, located within a special groundwater protection area in perpetuity highlights the continued commitment of Suffolk County to being a partner in this careful balance that ensures not only the local environment but also our resident’s quality of life.”

The plan has been in the works since 2003, when Terryville resident and preservation proponent Louis Antoniello began advocating for the protection of the greenbelt. After years with minimal action, in 2010, with support from former Brookhaven Supervisor Mark Lesko (D) and former Councilman Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld (D-East Setauket), Brookhaven purchased 16 parcels of open space within the Terryville Greenbelt for $648,000.

“The dream of creating a greenbelt around Comsewogue High School started back in 2003 — we never gave up on the dream and now the dream is going to become a reality,” Antoniello said in a statement. “The preservation of the property helps to protect our drinking water; creates an ecosystem for the many species of animals that make the greenbelt their home and it creates a living biology classroom for the children in the Comsewogue school district.”

Antoniello, who thanked Hahn and Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) for their efforts in advancing the legislation during a phone interview, said the preservation of the land is important because it filters more than a million gallons of water per year that then proceeds into an aquifer, which holds much of the area’s drinking water. Antoniello also served as chairman of the Land Use, Parks and Open Space Committee for a 2008 Port Jefferson Station/Terryville hamlet study done in cooperation with the town.

According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, nearly all of Long Island’s drinking water comes from underground aquifers.

Charles McAteer, chairman of the Setauket to Port Jefferson Station Greenway Trail and also advocate for the preservation of open space, spoke in favor of Hahn’s bill.

“It is good to see more acres set aside to remain as Long Island woods for future generations to enjoy,” he said in an email. “This will allow the treed land to filter down rainwater to our Long Island aquifer system. It is a win-win for all of us in the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville hamlet.”

Students take samples from Nissequogue River to analyze. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Hundreds of students from Smithtown to Northport got wet and dirty as they looked at what lurks beneath the surface of the Nissequogue River.

More than 400 students from 11 schools participated in “A Day in the Life” of the Nissequogue River Oct. 6, performing hands-on citizens scientific research and exploring the waterway’s health and ecosystem. The event was coordinated by Brookhaven National Laboratory, Central Pine Barrens Commission, Suffolk County Water Authority and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Northport High School students analyze soil taken from the bottom of Nissequogue River. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

“’A Day in the Life’ helps students develop an appreciation for and knowledge of Long Island’s ecosystems and collect useful scientific data,” program coordinator Melissa Parrott said. “It connects students to their natural world to become stewards of water quality and Long Island’s diverse ecosystems.”

More than 50 students from Northport High School chemically analyzed the water conditions, marked tidal flow, and tracked aquatic species found near the headwaters of the Nissequogue in Caleb Smith State Park Preserve in Smithtown. Teens were excited to find and record various species of tadpoles and fish found using seine net, a fishing net that hangs vertically and is weighted to drag along the riverbed.

“It’s an outdoor educational setting that puts forth a tangible opportunity for students to experience science firsthand,” David Storch, chairman of science and technology education at Northport High School, said. “Here they learn how to sample, how to classify, how to organize, and how to develop experimental procedures in an open, inquiry-based environment. It’s the best education we can hope for.”

Kimberly Collins, co-director of the science research program at Northport High School, taught students how to use Oreo cookies and honey to bait ants for Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s Barcode Long Island. The project invites students to capture invertebrates, learn how to extract the insects’ DNA then have it sequenced to document and map diversity of different species.

Children from Harbor Country Day School examine a water sample. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Further down river, Harbor Country Day School students explored the riverbed at Landing Avenue Park in Smithtown. Science teacher Kevin Hughes said the day was one of discovery for his fourth- to eighth-grade students.

“It’s all about letting them see and experience the Nissequogue River,” Hughes said. “At first, they’ll be a little hesitant to get their hands dirty, but by the end you’ll see they are completely engrossed and rolling around in it.”

The middle schoolers worked with Eric Young, program director at Sweetbriar Nature Center in Smithtown, to analyze water samples. All the data collected will be used in the classroom to teach students about topics such as salinity and water pollution. Then, it will be sent to BNL as part of a citizens’ research project, measuring the river’s health and water ecosystems.

Smithtown East seniors Aaron Min and Shrey Thaker have participated in this annual scientific study of the Nissequogue River at Short Beach in Smithtown for last three years. Carrying cameras around their necks, they photographed and documented their classmates findings.

“We see a lot of changes from year to year, from different types of animals and critters we get to see, or wildlife and plants,” Thaker said. “It’s really interesting to see how it changes over time and see what stays consistent over time as well. It’s also exciting to see our peers really get into it.”

Maria Zeitlin, a science research and college chemistry teacher at Smithtown High School East, divided students into four groups to test water oxygenation levels, document aquatic life forms, measure air temperature and wind speed, and compile an extensive physical description of wildlife and plants in the area.

Smithtown High School East students take a water and soil sample at Short Beach. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

The collected data will be brought back to the classroom and compared against previous years.

In this way, Zeitlin said the hands-on study of Nissequogue River serves as a lesson in live data collection. Students must learn to repeat procedures multiple times and use various scientific instruments to support their findings.

“Troubleshooting data collection is vital as a scientist that they can take into any area,” she said. “Data has to be reliable. So when someone says there’s climate change, someone can’t turn around and say it’s not true.”

The Smithtown East teacher highlighted that while scientific research can be conducted anywhere, there’s a second life lesson she hopes that her students and all others will take away  from their studies of the Nissequogue River.

“This site is their backyard; they live here,” Zeitlin said. “Instead of just coming to the beach, from this point forward they will never see the beach the same again. It’s not just a recreational site, but its teeming with life and science.”

Kenyer Natural Bakery will return to the event this year.

Save the date! The Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with Dan’s Papers, will host its 10th annual The Taste @ Port Jefferson at the Village Center, 101-A E. Broadway, Port Jefferson overlooking the Harborfront Park and harbor on Saturday, Oct. 21 from 6 to 8 p.m.

In celebrating this landmark anniversary, the chamber has reached out to the greater Port Jefferson restaurant community and will highlight over 30 restaurants and purveyors offering top-quality food tastings and desserts as well as samples of premium liquors, wines and beers. The event, for ages 21 and over, has been changed to a night venue, which creates new energy and features musical entertainment by the rock band New Life Crisis. In addition to the usual indoor setting, the event will spill outside under a 50- by 100-foot tent.

Try some delicious crepes from Crazy Crepe Café.

Participating food purveyors will include Amazing Olive, Bagel Express-Setauket, Bliss, Chick-fil-A at Port Jefferson, Crazy Crepe Café–Mount Sinai, Crazy Fish Bar & Gill, Curry Club, Danfords Wave Seafood Kitchen, Don Quijote, Dos Mexi Cuban Cantina, Kenyer Natural Bakery, Flying Pig Café, Land & Sea Seafood & Restaurant, Messina Market & Catering, Penntora Lao-Thai Catering, Port Jeff Lobster House, Slurp Ramen, Spiros Restaurant & Lounge, St. Charles Hospital, The Meadow Club and Tuscany of Miller Place.

Dessert samplings from A Cake in Time, East Main & Main, Kilwins of Port Jefferson and LaBonne Boulangerie Bakery will be offered along with beverage tastings from Starbucks, Port Jeff Brewing Company and Manhattan Beer.

Presenting sponsor this year will be New York Cancer & Blood Specialists, and chamber partner St. Charles Hospital will be highlighted as a silver sponsor. Other sponsors include BNB Bank, Farrell Storage and O’Brien Group, LLC, and the media sponsor is Dan’s Papers.

Tickets, which may be purchased online at www.tasteatportjeff.com, are $65 per person for general admission starting at 7 p.m. and $95 for VIP guests at 6 p.m., which includes early access by one hour, a special VIP lounge with tables and chairs, premium pours and desserts, VIP gift bag and special entertainment. For further details, call 631-473-1414.

Photos by Nicole Geddes

Mount Sinai teacher Virginia Armstrong hands a netbook to a Maasai girl. Photo from Virginia Armstrong

One former Mount Sinai educator is proving what a world of difference we can make if we share the wealth.

For the past four years, Virginia Armstrong, an English teacher for 28 years, has helped the district in partnering with the Maasai Good Salvage Outreach Organization to raise donations for communities in Kenya. After retiring with a love of teaching and for students, Armstrong first climbed 19,341-foot Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania before deciding to teach in Africa. That’s when she met Chief Joseph Ole Tipanko, the leader of more than 5,000 Maasai tribal members who reside in Kenya and Tanzania. The organization builds schools for needy and vulnerable children, especially girls forced into early child marriage or who become victims to female genital cutting.

Armstrong invited Chief Joseph to Mount Sinai Middle School to give a presentation, and students and staff presented him with donations.

“We share our lifestyle and culture of the Maasai people,” Chief Joseph said of the assembly. “We got a good welcome and reception, and receiving their help is a very good feeling. It’s teamwork. They’re all able to bring us together and help my community.”

Maasai children gather around their new technology. Photo from Virginia Armstrong

Small donations of clothing eventually grew to include sneakers and 40 laptops in 2015. Armstrong’s son Matthew, now carrying on the family’s teaching tradition at Mount Sinai, helped set up the clothing drive as part of Athletes Helping Athletes, and director of information technology Ken Jockers proposed the repurposing of the laptops.

“We were impressed with their presentation and viewed them as a worthy candidate for donation,” Jockers said. “We are happy to see that the Maasai can make some use of them.”

This year, the school handed over a batch of 140 eight-year-old netbooks that were deemed obsolete by the district.

“It opens up the world to them,” Virginia Armstrong said. “They come into the world with no electricity or internet and for them to have access now is a fabulous thing.”

Mount Sinai Superintendent Gordon Brosdal takes great satisfaction in the partnership between the schools.

“Knowing they’re going to schools to educate young children and young women — to raise them up — means a lot,” he said of the computers. “They’re such kind, gentle people and extremely grateful, but I don’t know if this would be possible without Virginia Armstrong. She still has all this energy and excitement. It’s amazing what she does with this group and she makes the Mount Sinai community proud. It’s hard to think she’s even retired because she’s totally dedicated to these people.”

The high schools for the Maasai people in Kenya were  recently wired for electricity, according to Armstrong, who is also the organization’s New York representative, booking Maasai members to come to schools, libraries and churches, where they speak about their culture and sell handmade jewelry and other African-made merchandise. Chief Joseph said the schools have also been trying to make use of green power, so some of the schools are installing solar panels to generate electricity to charge the laptops.

Mount Sinai district members donate clothes to the Maasai, including Chief
Joseph Ole Tipanko. Photo from Virginia Armstrong

Chief Joseph said the clothing and sneakers have meant a lot to his people, especially because most of the women don’t have shoes, but also said the computer donations have opened their eyes to how other people live, and they’ve also become a major teaching opportunity.

“It is new technology to us,” he said. “It enables teachers to access information, to do research. It helps them to keep records and it gives the students an opportunity to learn to use technology. They’re also learning how to type.”

Chief Joseph said personal donations given to his organization go toward feeding the children, or providing school lunches.

“It goes a long way changing their lifestyle,” he said.

The well wishes and support though, especially from the Mount Sinai school district, are unparalleled.

“It allows us to exist,” he said. “We look to continue this relationship for the betterment of our communities and share what’s happening on the other side of the world. It helps our students connect, and it shows people out there are thinking about them, love them and care.”

To find out more about Chief Joseph’s Maasai tribe, visit www.magsaoutreach.org. To find out more about the Maasai’s ties to Suffolk County or to donate, visit www.leavingfootprints.org.

Northport High School has replaced its wood bleachers, pictured above at a prior homecoming celebration. File photo

By Kevin Redding

The Northport-East Northport Tigers’ challenges this football season have given them a whole new perspective on why there’s no place like home.

On Saturday, Oct. 14, Northport-East Northport’s varsity football team will celebrate homecoming by stepping onto their own field for the first time this season after a recent announcement that the district has completed its thorough and long-proposed bleacher repairs.

The process of replacing the football field’s deteriorated wooden bleachers with new metal bleachers officially began in late August and ended Monday, Oct. 9. This was a period of frustration and uncertainty for many parents and players within the district as it forced the Northport Tigers to go to other fields for the first two home games of the 2017 season.

The team’s first home game in September was moved to Elwood-John H. Glenn High School. Their Oct. 1 game was relocated to Half Hollow Hills High School East’s field.

Northport High School. File photo

The new structures passed inspection with Texas-based LandTech Inc. at the helm of construction. Total cost for the project was more than $1 million, which came from the district’s general fund as well as state aid, according to school officials.   

“We’re going to be back on course for homecoming Saturday,” Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer said.

A former football player himself, Banzer claimed the stadium had the same wooden bleachers when he was there in the early 1980s. The upgraded bleachers are far less dangerous and were built in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“I’m excited to have everybody see the work but, most importantly, to be at home,” he said. “It’s always a very fun time.”

Banzer and the school board initially approved the bleacher repairs in the 2015-16 budget, along with a variety of infrastructure projects throughout the district. But the construction couldn’t move forward on it right away as it faced a lengthy state approvals process.

The first opportunity the school district could seize to begin repairs was in late spring of this year prior to
graduation ceremonies. Banzer said he didn’t want to risk the job not being done in time for a large event. By the time the district hired LandTech to build the bleachers, the construction company was booked for most of the summer and couldn’t begin the project until a couple weeks into August.

School officials projected the bleachers would be finished by the team’s second home game, but as that proved to be overambitious, the community grew increasingly anxious that the job wouldn’t be done in time for homecoming. Some residents made sure their voices were heard.

“It’s a disgraceful, embarrassing, hurtful situation that in my opinion could’ve been avoided,” Mike Gozelski, president of the Northport Football Booster Club, said during the Sept. 28 board of education meeting. “We’re halfway through the season and the athletes, marching band, cheerleaders and the community have yet to set foot on our home field. It’s heartbreaking for most of us. Part of our anger comes from the fact that work on the bleachers didn’t start until August with football season starting in September. It’s negligent.”

Gozelski, a former Tiger, said for many seniors on the team, including his son, this season is the last chance they had to show their school pride in the stadium.

A previous Northport running back rushes across the football field. File photo by Bill Landon

“These kids practice for two hours a day and work hard 12 months a year to be able to play on this field,” he said. “You have to understand how disappointing this is for them.”

Banzer responded, explaining the school’s side of the situation to Gozelski, as well as about a dozen parents and football players in uniform in the room.

“I know it’s disappointing,” the superintendent said. “But we also wanted to make sure we provided the best product going forward. We just want the job to be done right.”

At the end of the exchange, the board said it was hopeful the bleachers would be ready to go for the district’s pep rally Oct. 13 and Oct. 14 homecoming.

Gozelski said he received the good news from the school’s athletic department on Monday morning.

“Now we’re going to be out there and opening up a brand new, refurbished Tigers stadium,” Gozelski said. “The players get to play, the band gets to play, the cheerleaders get to cheer and the community gets to see a good football game … and hopefully a victory.”

Gina Macchia-Gerdvil, a mother of two students on the team and a member of the Booster Club, was equally upset over the situation, believing the district should have replaced the bleachers after the football
season was over. She said up until Monday’s announcement, nobody was certain if homecoming would take place at home.

“I’m excited for all the kids,” Macchia-Gerdvil said. “My boys are in their second year on varsity and they haven’t had a chance yet to step into their stadium and see the big crowd and all the festivities.”

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