Community

Members vote against Heatherwood retirement community

The owner of the Heatherwood golf course wants to build 200 units of retirement housing at the site. Photo by Andrea Moore Paldy

Civic members took a stand Tuesday night against a housing community proposed to be built on the Heatherwood golf course, voting to send a letter of opposition to Brookhaven Town.

The Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association’s executive board will draft and submit the letter, which carries no legal weight but serves to share the community’s views on a project for consideration.

The official civic vote caps a months-long discussion on the project at the Heatherwood Golf Club, at Arrowhead Lane and Nesconset Highway in Terryville.

Doug Partrick, an owner of both the course and multifamily housing developer Heatherwood Communities, wants to build 200 rental units for people 55 and older, a mixture of town houses, ranches and apartments.

When Partrick gave a presentation on the project at a May civic meeting, he said the retirement housing would be built on 25 acres at the golf course, leaving the remaining 45 acres as open space. The 18-hole golf course currently at the site would be reduced to a nine-hole course that would surround the homes.

The course is zoned A Residence 5, which allows for one housing unit on every 5 acres. Partrick would need a zone change to planned retirement community zoning to proceed with the development.

As they did at previous civic meetings, members spoke against the proposal on Tuesday night, citing quality of life concerns such as traffic congestion.

Civic President Ed Garboski reported that a traffic study of the area found that retirement housing would have little impact on traffic, though some residents scoffed at that notion.

One man who lives near the golf course talked about how busy the adjacent roads are already and said the housing community would make things worse.

And member Don Zaros took issue with the fact that the homes would be rentals, saying people who rent instead of own — whom he called “transients” — do not care about the community as much.

Partrick, who was not at Tuesday’s meeting, said previously that if the housing development does not move forward he might close the club. He said he would think about whether he would be “better off consistently losing money on the golf course or … just shutting the golf course down, leaving it dormant.”

While some residents have been concerned about having a large abandoned property in town that could possibly attract vandalism or homeless people, others were not worried. While one man said on Tuesday that having retirement housing is “better than a blighted, abandoned piece of property” in the neighborhood, another countered that vacant and blighted are not the same thing, and having a large grassy parcel would be better for Long Island’s groundwater than a housing community.

The group voted overwhelmingly to send a letter of opposition to the town, in keeping with an unofficial vote at last month’s meeting that produced the same result.

Civic group does not vote ‘fore’ or against proposal

The Heatherwood Golf Club. File photo by Andrea Moore Paldy

Dozens of community members turned out to a special meeting of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association last Wednesday night, Aug. 27, to oppose a proposed retirement housing project at the Heatherwood golf course.

The owners of Heatherwood Golf Club, located at Arrowhead Lane and Nesconset Highway in Terryville, are looking to build 200 rental units at the site — made up of townhouses, ranches and apartments — for residents 55 and older.

Doug Partrick, an owner of the course and multifamily housing developer Heatherwood Communities, was not at the meeting, but according to a presentation he gave on the project at a May civic meeting, the housing would be built on 25 of the golf course’s 70 acres, leaving 45 acres as open space.

The homes would be surrounded by a nine-hole golf course, down from the 18 holes currently on the site.

Residents at Wednesday’s meeting said they are concerned about the project’s impacts on traffic and quality of life. They were also wary of overdevelopment.

“It takes me 20 minutes to get home and I travel 1.8 miles,” Patricia Higgins, who lives close to the golf course, said in an interview afterward. “I could walk faster.”

Civic President Ed Garboski told the crowd that the golf course would shut down at the end of the season, regardless of whether the housing project is approved.

Partrick had said in May that if the development did not move forward, he would think about whether he is “better off consistently losing money on the golf course or … just shutting the golf course down, leaving it dormant” and paying taxes on the land.

“If he wants to walk, let him walk,” Lou Antoniello, who is the civic treasurer but was speaking just as a Terryville resident, said in an interview. “Have a nice day and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

Residents hope they can stop the project from moving forward.

“I am so glad I came to know what’s going on and it’s disappointing,” Port Jefferson Station resident Nancy Farrell said in an interview.

Garboski said during the meeting that results of a traffic study performed on the area found that the proposed Heatherwood project would not have a big impact on traffic.

But residents argued that 200 rented units would bring at least 200 new cars, and said they don’t understand how that wouldn’t affect traffic.

Joe Cannone, a Port Jefferson Station resident, said after the meeting that he isn’t against development at the golf course, but “the golf course should either stay a golf course or develop for what it’s zoned for.”

The course is zoned A Residence 5, which allows one housing unit for every 5 acres.

The civic is expected to vote on whether it supports the project at its next meeting on Sept. 23.

Whatever the group decides, it will have the backing of a neighbor — Shawn Nuzzo, president of the Civic Association of the Setaukets and Stony Brook, attended last Wednesday’s meeting because part of the golf course lies in the Three Village school district, and he assured the crowd that his civic will take the same stand as whatever the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association decides.

The Heatherwood Golf Club. File photo by Andrea Moore Paldy

The Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association will hold a special meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 27, to discuss the proposed housing development for the Heatherwood Golf Club in Terryville.

Doug Partrick, an owner of multifamily housing developer Heatherwood Communities, has proposed a 200-unit retirement community for the golf club, which is at Arrowhead Lane and Nesconset Highway.

Developer Doug Partrick talks about his proposed development for the Heatherwood Golf Club at a recent civic meeting. File photo by Andrea Moore Paldy
Developer Doug Partrick talks about his proposed development for the Heatherwood Golf Club at a recent civic meeting. File photo by Andrea Moore Paldy

His plans for the property include turning the 18-hole golf course into a nine-hole one that would surround two-bedroom rentals — a mixture of ranches, townhouses and apartments. On the 70-acre property, he has said, 45 acres would remain open space.

At a previous civic meeting, residents shared their concerns about an increase in traffic the housing community could bring, as well as drainage and sewage issues. According to representatives at that May meeting, drainage would be handled by constructing ponds and the homes would be linked to a county sewage treatment facility.

The civic association did not take a formal position on the matter at that meeting, but an informal vote showed that most of the people present were against the proposal.

It would require extra approval from the town, as the property is zoned A Residence 5, which allows one housing unit for every 5 acres. This proposal would be more dense, with the 200 units on 25 acres.

The community is invited to discuss the development at the civic’s meeting at the Comsewogue Public Library, from 7 to 9 pm.

Plan calls for homes for older folks at Terryville course

The Heatherwood Golf Club. Photo by Andrea Moore Paldy

Word that a retirement community is being proposed for Heatherwood Golf Club in Terryville brought residents out in full force to last Wednesday evening’s Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association meeting, where they raised concerns about density, increased traffic, storm drainage and sewage.

Doug Partrick, an owner of multifamily housing developer Heatherwood Communities, was at the meeting to present the plan for a 200-unit housing complex on the 70-acre property at Arrowhead Lane and Nesconset Highway.

His family has owned Heatherwood Golf Club since the 1960s but it “is no longer viable as a standalone,” he said. With fewer people golfing, the company — which also owns Pine Hills golf course in Manorville — “no longer can carry the golf course as it is without consideration for development.”

Partrick, architect Steven Hanson and engineer Michael Marinis propose to turn the 18-hole course into one with nine holes that would wrap around two-bedroom rental homes. The residences would be a combination of ranches, townhouses and first- and second-floor flats.

Of the golf course’s 70 acres, homes would be built on 25 acres and 45 acres would remain open space, Partrick said.

Hanson said the new homes would offer direct access to the course, which would act as a buffer between the development and the surrounding community, but that the course would remain open to the public.

Developer Doug Partrick talks about his proposed development for the Heatherwood Golf Club at a recent civic meeting. File photo by Andrea Moore Paldy
Developer Doug Partrick talks about his proposed development for the Heatherwood Golf Club at a recent civic meeting. File photo by Andrea Moore Paldy

Of particular concern to residents at the meeting was the fact that development on the golf course could violate the 2008 Comsewogue Hamlet Comprehensive Plan, a study and land-use plan for the area. According to Lou Antoniello, the civic association’s treasurer and chairperson for that hamlet study, the large majority of Port Jefferson Station and Terryville had already been built up at the time of the study, and surveys indicated that residents did not want the few remaining open spaces to be developed.

The study laid out the type of development locals wanted to see, and was geared toward preserving the area’s open space and history while creating a balance of living, shopping and cultural areas, Antoniello said. He sees that balance in jeopardy, as there are several senior housing communities already built or proposed.

MaryAnn Johnston, president of the Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organization, an umbrella group of about 30 civic groups, said it would be a “waste and abuse of residents’ time and energy” if local development did not follow the guidelines of the study.

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), who attended the civic meeting, said in a written statement that the study was “a reflection of the community’s vision” and that she continues “to support the desires of these residents” in her role on the town board.

Residents at the meeting also said they were concerned that the new project could exacerbate traffic problems on the already congested Nesconset Highway and asked about storm drainage and sewage from the property.

Heatherwood representatives said they have yet to conduct a traffic study, but have plans to handle drainage through the construction of ponds, and the 200 housing units would be hooked up to a county-owned sewage treatment plant.

Winning support from residents is only one of the difficulties facing the developer — overcoming zoning hurdles could be another. The property is currently zoned as A Residence 5, which allows one housing unit per 5 acres.

Asked what he would do if the development does not move forward, Partrick said he’d have to ask himself if he would be “better off consistently losing money on the golf course or … just shutting the golf course down, leaving it dormant” and paying taxes on the land.

Civic association leaders said they needed more information on the Heatherwood proposal before deciding whether to support it. However, an informal vote showed that most of those who attended the meeting opposed the development as it was presented.

Cartright advised residents to “listen and reflect on each of these individual proposals to determine what is in the best interest of the community and in line with their vision.”

Harbormaster Peter Koutrakos observes the water from his patrol boat. File photo by Elana Glowatz

The Port Jefferson Harbor Complex is just that — a complex cluster of waterways that needs diligent eyes watching over it.

Those eyes belong to Brookhaven Town Harbormaster Peter Koutrakos and the others in his department, who are all working to keep the water safe this boating season.

The harbor complex includes Port Jefferson Harbor at its center, where Koutrakos is based, as well as Setauket Harbor and the adjacent Little Bay; Pirate’s Cove; Conscience Bay and the Narrows that lead into it; and a small section of water immediately outside Port Jefferson Harbor on the Long Island Sound that is bookended by Old Field Point to the west and Belle Terre’s Mount Misery to the east. Between these sections, the complex has more than 2,000 acres of surface water, and that area sees thousands of boats every season.

Peter O’Leary, the town’s commissioner of public safety, said between moorings and slips in the area, there are more than 1,200 spaces for boats, and that doesn’t include the ones just passing through.

On any given summer weekend, “the place is bedlam,” O’Leary said. “It creates quite a bit of traffic.”

With heavy traffic comes risk.

For Koutrakos, who has been harbormaster for 14 years and has jurisdiction in all town waters, it was the attack on the USS Cole in 2000 — an al-Qaida suicide attack in Yemen in which a small vessel next to the U.S. Navy ship was blown up, killing 17 Americans — that made him realize boats could be used as weapons.

Things also changed after the 9/11 terrorist attack. Officials became aware of the harbor’s vulnerability, as possible targets for terrorists include power plants, oil terminals and ferries — and Port Jefferson Harbor has all of them. Long Island has also been a concern in national security discussions because it is close to New York City and at the same time is remote: Ferries would be the only way off the island if an emergency event were to shut down transportation into the city.

The view of Port Jefferson Harbor from the harbormaster's patrol boat. File photo by Elana Glowatz
The view of Port Jefferson Harbor from the harbormaster’s patrol boat. File photo by Elana Glowatz

To keep the complex safe, the harbormaster works on a number of security exercises. One program, Operation Shield, involves coordinating with other agencies to randomly check foreign vessels for travel documents.

Though Operation Shield only runs on certain days, Koutrakos said he regularly does checks on his own. If the vessels do not have the proper documentation, he calls in customs officers to board and search them.

Another exercise he occasionally works on is search and rescue training with the U.S. Coast Guard, which helps prepare for an emergency situation, for instance if the ferry were to sink due to a mechanical problem or a bomb.

Koutrakos explained that the exercise group determines how to respond to an incident and who would take command of the scene. In the case of the ferry, officers also talk to the captain to learn how he would respond under certain circumstances and discuss a strategy for saving as many lives as possible, “before something really happens.”

The harbormaster also meets every few months with a Long Island security committee whose members range from the local to the federal level.

To boost security all over, O’Leary said, the town is working to install security cameras on its properties, and Port Jefferson is slated to receive some of that surveillance.

However, one of O’Leary’s concerns in protecting town waters is linked to the economy. He said budget cuts have meant cutbacks on seasonal employees, so there are fewer bay constables on both shores and they are working a shorter season. There are also fewer workers to pump out waste from the boats so it is not discharged into the water.

On Koutrakos’ end, he has an assistant harbormaster year-round and two seasonal harbormasters during the summer.

Most summer days, Koutrakos spends his time patrolling the waters and helping people who call him for assistance.

‘The place is bedlam. … It creates quite a bit of traffic.’
— Peter O’Leary

Born and raised in Port Jefferson, Koutrakos has a name people might recognize — his family owned the Elk Hotel and Restaurant on Main Street before it went out of business. He wife, Carol, works for the Port Jefferson ferry.

He has been around long enough to see security at the harbor change over the years. Before 9/11, if someone were to leave a bag at the ferry terminal, an employee would grab it and ask if anyone had left it behind. Now there are security protocols in place to handle such a situation. Before, there weren’t any restrictions on taking photos or video of the harbor. Now officials keep an eye out for people capturing the ferry terminal or other sensitive areas.

One thing that hasn’t changed is Koutrakos’ “only gripe with the job” — he isn’t permitted to carry a sidearm while he is on duty, though he is licensed to carry.

Other marine law enforcement agents carry a sidearm, including those from the Coast Guard, the Suffolk County Police Department’s Marine Bureau and the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

The harbormaster said he never knows what situation he will find himself in and “should we get put into a lethal force situation, the fact of the matter is we have no way of defending ourselves or the public.”

Despite this sticking point, another thing that hasn’t changed is Koutrakos’ playful personality and his passion for all things marine.

He has said he enjoys his job because he gets to be on the water and he gets to help people: “At the end of the day, tired or not, it makes you feel better.”

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A World War I cannon usually resides at the memorial park in Port Jefferson, above, but is now at the local American Legion post awaiting repairs. Photo by Elana Glowatz

A cannon that saw World War I battlefields in Europe and retired to a grassy home on Port Jefferson Harbor has gone on a brief vacation, after a local veterans group took it away for repairs.

American Legion Wilson Ritch Post 432 in Port Jefferson Station maintains the war memorial at the small Brookhaven Town-owned park between Route 25A and the harbor, across from Port Jefferson Village Hall.

According to Bob Elfers, commander of the post, the memorial’s cannon is at the Legion because “the wheels are totally shot” and it needs welding work and a fresh coat of paint.

The wheels have wooden spokes and rims, with a metal hub and reinforcements.

“The wood just totally disintegrated over the years,” Elfers said. Exposure also caused rusting on the body of the cannon.

Elfers said his group is having someone repair the wheels and weld the rusted parts, and the cannon will be sanded and painted.

The cannon, which is American Legion property, is a German WWI weapon, though Elfers said he does not know its exact history or when the post acquired it, and said no one at the post is old enough to be able to speak to that.

A World War I cannon usually resides at the memorial park in Port Jefferson but is now at the local American Legion post awaiting repairs, above. Photo by Rich Acritelli
A World War I cannon usually resides at the memorial park in Port Jefferson but is now at the local American Legion post awaiting repairs, above. Photo by Rich Acritelli

According to Rich Acritelli, a Legion member as well as a military history expert and social studies teacher, the cannon was built by industrial company Friedrich Krupp AG in Essen, Germany, which is in the northwestern part of that country, close to the Netherlands.

The company built armaments as well as naval ships during that period, particularly U-boats.

Acritelli said the cannon was not a heavy artillery weapon and it could have been used in two different ways: either mounted on wheels to assist the German infantry or mounted on a ship for the navy.

Because it was used during World War I, the cannon is roughly a century old.

It is likely that an American soldier took the cannon home with him, a common practice at the time, Acritelli said. It is also likely that soldier was serving on the Western Front, because that was where most of the U.S. military went during WWI.

Aside from the cannon, the memorial park in Port Jefferson contains flags and stones that pay tribute to those who served in wars throughout the nation’s history, as well as a central WWI stone monument.

That WWI monument has a story of its own: It was unveiled on Memorial Day in 1922 and was originally located on East Main Street, on the grass in front of the former First Baptist Church of Port Jefferson.

Elfers said he is hoping the cannon will return to the park in May, in time for Memorial Day.

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Sgt. Bradford comes home to cheers and a hug from his family. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Sgt. Robert Bradford came home to a sea of red, white and blue last Friday afternoon, as local members of motorcycle charity Patriot Guard Riders lined Brookhaven Boulevard in Port Jefferson Station outside his home to welcome him and thank him for his service to the United States.

Sgt. Bradford comes home to cheers. Photo by Elana Glowatz
Sgt. Bradford comes home to cheers. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Bradford, 24, was returning after seven months in Afghanistan on his first deployment with the U.S. Army.

Terryville Fire Department trucks draped an American flag over Route 112 and set off sirens as the minivan Bradford rode in made its way down the street and turned onto his block. The roughly 15 members of the Patriot Guard Riders raised their own flags and stood at attention as the van entered the driveway of the Bradford family’s home.

When the soldier stepped out of the car, the guard erupted in cheers and claps and shouted, “Thank you for your service.”

Bradford showed his appreciation for the gesture, going up to each member to shake hands and share a hug.

“I appreciate all you guys,” he told the guard, before sharing a group hug with his family in the middle of the road.

His mother, Pat, said the Port Authority police escorted the family to the gate at LaGuardia Airport to meet the sergeant, and there was an announcement on the loudspeaker for everyone who wanted to greet him. The people “came in droves from everywhere,” she said.

When she saw her son again, “My heart was beating.” Asked to describe what it was like, the mother said, “Every good word in the book.”

Sgt. Bradford comes home to cheers. Photo by Elana Glowatz
Sgt. Bradford comes home to cheers. Photo by Elana Glowatz

She turned to Pete Jepson, an East Moriches resident leading the guard, and said, “I have my son home.”

According to Jepson, the welcoming group was made up of volunteers, some of whom are veterans. Local members of the national nonprofit Patriot Guard Riders attend similar homecoming events as well as funerals for fallen military members, first responders and veterans.

“We love doing it. It’s an honor for us to do it,” Jepson said.

Bradford, who is with the 338th Military Intelligence Battalion based in Shoreham, said everyone from his squad came back, which is good because “I wasn’t going to leave without all of them.”

He said, “It’s very exciting, overwhelming and weird” to be home. “It’s a whole different lifestyle.”

There’s not as much to worry about at home, he explained, adding with a laugh that the air is fresher on Long Island.

One thing that’s already different is that while he was overseas, he carried his rifle with him everywhere, including to the bathroom, to “chow” and to sleep. When he was on the plane to LaGuardia, he said, he fell asleep and when he woke up, someone’s phone rang and it sounded like “the alarm for incoming,” and he jumped and didn’t have his gun.

Bradford, who first enlisted in 2008 and re-enlisted on Veterans Day, said he is proud to serve his country.

“It’s nothing special that I did.”

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The Russian Orthodox Monastery of the Holy Cross on Main Street. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

By Mallika Mitra

A Boy Scout at Ward Melville High School has completed an Eagle service project that beautifies and benefits the Russian Orthodox Monastery of the Holy Cross on Main Street in East Setauket. Justin Russo, 15, got a gazebo donated by John T. Mather Memorial Hospital installed at the church.

Justin said he was on his way home from searching for possible projects when he decided to see if the church could find something for him to work on. Father John, a priest at the Brotherhood of the Holy Cross, explained to Justin that the church used to baptize under a tree that was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, and that they were looking for a gazebo for baptisms.

The 10th-grade Boy Scout of Troop 117 began searching for a gazebo for the church.

When he called Gera Gardens in Mount Sinai, he was told that they had sold a gazebo to the hospital and that the hospital was now getting rid of it. With the help of his father, the assistant Scoutmaster of the troop who knew a Mather Hospital board member, Justin was able to get the gazebo donated to the church.

They hired East Setauket-based Hurricane Tree Experts Inc. to remove the stump of the tree that had been there since the tree was destroyed during Hurricane Sandy and a local roofing company to restore the gazebo’s roofing.

Justin was able to raise money by collecting donations from friends and family.

“Thankfully I had a lot of support,” he said.

He worked after school and on the weekends doing paperwork and completing business transactions for the service project, with the help of his father.

At the end of November, the Boy Scout organized younger members of his troop to help put in and power wash the gazebo, and put in new banisters and railings, which were destroyed when they got the gazebo from Mather Hospital.

“To teach, you’ve got to be a good leader,” Justin said about organizing the younger Scouts to help him with his project, and added that working with the younger boys was a great experience.

The original plan was to stain the gazebo as well, but they ended up not doing so because “The people at the church said it was perfect the way it was,” Justin said.

Now that the project is completed, Justin, who has been a Boy Scout for about six years, still keeps in touch with Father John at the Brotherhood of the Holy Cross. He said that because he still has some funds left over from the project, he will be able to help Father John with future projects related to the gazebo, if they come up.

The Boy Scout still has a few tasks to finish before he officially becomes an Eagle Scout, but his service project is now complete.

“It was a really good experience,” he said. “I’ve never been involved in anything like it.”

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Betty Bezas celebrated her birthday on Christmas

Betty Bezas photo by Mallika Mitra

By Mallika Mitra

In her 101 years of life, Betty Bezas has seen a lot of the world. Bezas, who just celebrated her birthday on Christmas Day, was born on Dec. 25, 1912, in Greece, where she lived until she was 15 years old.

After her father died in a fire when she was only 1 month old, Bezas lived with her mother, grandmother and uncle.

On Oct. 20, 1929, she had an arranged marriage to Zachary Bezas in Salonika, a city in northern Greece. After honeymooning in Paris, the couple moved to the United States, where Bezas knew no one but her husband’s family.

On Oct. 28, 1930, Bezas gave birth to her first of three daughters. Her daughters Catherine Krusos, Irene Usher and Loretta Janelis currently live in Huntington, Setauket and South Carolina, respectively.

With five grandchildren, 10 great-grandchildren and twin great-great-grandchildren expected any day now, Bezas is excited to have five generations in the family.

When she first came to the United States, Bezas lived in Brooklyn where her husband worked in a bank until he lost his job during the Great Depression. The couple then moved to Dix Hills, where Bezas worked as an assistant district manager in food services at the Half Hollow Hills school district for 25 years, and her husband ran a chicken farm. His business of selling eggs and chickens lasted until the beginning of World War II, when he went to work at Republic Aviation in Farmingdale, an aircraft manufacturing company that is now Republic Airport.

When her husband died of leukemia, Bezas moved to North Babylon and now lives at Sunrise Senior Living in East Setauket.

Bezas loves to travel and has done quite a bit of it, including trips to Italy, France, Spain and Canada.

“You see all different cultures. You learn a lot,” Bezas said. “People who live in every country have something to offer.”

In her spare time, Bezas likes to crochet and knit. For much of her life she has made hats and blankets for premature babies, which she donates to hospitals, and blankets for senior citizens.

Bezas celebrated her 101st birthday with fellow Sunrise residents and friends from the Greek Orthodox Church of the Assumption in Port Jefferson, where she is a member. She has also been a member of Saint Paraskevi Greek Orthodox Shrine Church in Greenlawn for more than 50 years.

Of the Sunrise staff members who organized her birthday party with decorations, good food and many friends — “They went out of their way,” Bezas said.

By Mallika Mitra

Three eighth-grade girls in the Huntington school district have made a difference this holiday season by raising money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Suffolk County.

Maggie Giles, Erica Vazquez, and Gaia D’Anna, who attend J. Taylor Finley Middle School, have spent the past several weeks selling holiday cards at the school. The girls raised more than $1,000, which has been sent to Make-A-Wish, an organization that grants the wishes of children diagnosed with life-threatening medical conditions.

Finley PTA President Julie LaBella said Vazquez was watching a television show a little over a year ago in which a Make-A-Wish child had her wish granted, according to a school press release. The story inspired her to start this fundraiser with her two friends. This is the second year the girls have sold the holiday cards, which exhibit original work by Patrick Giles, Maggie Giles’s father.

Finley students Gaia D’Anna, Maggie Giles and Erica Vazquez. Photo from Jim Hoops
Finley students Gaia D’Anna, Maggie Giles and Erica Vazquez. Photo from Jim Hoops

Last year, the girls raised $350. This year the girls’ original goal was $700, but they surpassed that and made more than $1,000, LaBella said.

“They are an amazing group of girls,” LaBella said in the press release. “It’s so refreshing to see young kids put so much effort into such a wonderful cause.”

The girls have received help from their parents, Finley Middle School Principal John Amato and Sharon Holly, a family and consumer science teacher at the school.

According to LaBella, the cards that the girls have been selling are popular with kids, teachers and parents. The eighth-graders sold so many cards that a second printing was required.

Jim Polansky, the Huntington school district superintendent, bought a package of cards from the girls.

“When listening to Gaia, Maggie and Erica describe their efforts, their caring, compassion, and selflessness simply jumped off the page,” Polansky said in a phone interview. “It was easy to discern how much they wish to make a difference. I was beyond pleased to purchase a package of cards and help contribute to their initiative, which was to do what they could to brighten the lives of others through the Make-A-Wish Foundation.”

Jim Hoops, the Huntington school district public information coordinator, said he believes the girls plan to make this fundraiser an annual event during the holiday season.

“This is an account of three incredible young people who are destined to make a difference,” Polansky said in a statement. “It is refreshing and energizing to speak with them about the initiative, to learn how much it means to them, and how readily they will place the needs of others before their own.”

The Make-A-Wish Foundation relies on donations from fundraisers, such as the one Maggie, Erica and Gaia hosted, to grant wishes and change lives.

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