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Dance students go through a routine together at the Huntington YMCA studio. Photo by Talia Amorosano

By Talia Amorosano

Walking into the dance studio at the Huntington YMCA feels like walking into a family gathering full of distant relatives you’ve never met before. But the vibe is one of comfort and inclusion, especially if you’ve got a penchant for impromptu group renditions of Taylor Swift songs.

Dance students go through a routine together at the Huntington YMCA studio. Photo by Talia Amorosano
Dance students go through a routine together at the Huntington YMCA studio. Photo by Talia Amorosano

The friendly atmosphere inside the studio is natural, according to dance instructor Pam Christy-Allen, after students, teachers and parents have worked together for as long as they have.

“I have the same kids every year, so I build relationships with them,” Christy-Allen said in a recent interview. “As their sweet sixteens have come we’ve been invited to them and they include you like their family. It’s very rewarding.”

Last month, the YMCA’s dance program turned two decades old, a milestone that staff there celebrated. But there’s no resting on laurels — program leaders say they plan to stay on their toes.

In a recent visit to the program, students showed appreciation for their instructors. Thirteen-year-old hip hop, acro and ballet student Samantha Sluka began taking YMCA dance classes at age 3 and said that Debbie Smith, her ballet teacher, has kept her interested in dancing through the years. Sluka said YMCA classes have improved her self-confidence in addition to technical dance skills, and that in the future she “would love to dance on Broadway”.

Mary Dejana, a 17-year-old tap and jazz student, said that she likes lyrical and contemporary dance styles best because they help her express her feelings. She said that the YMCA program has taught her teamwork.

“Under the tutelage of my ballet, modern and pointe teacher Jo-Ann Hertzman and with the many opportunities the YMCA provided, I have come to understand not only more about dance but more about myself and the world around me,” wrote former student Mariah Anton in a letter to the staff at the YMCA. With plans to continue dancing at University of North Carolina School of the Arts, Anton wrote that her “experiences at the YMCA have directed [her] to invest back into others through teaching, encouraging, and opening the world to the next generation in the same way that the YMCA invested in [her].”

Students practice using the bar at the YMCA studio. Photo by Talia Amorosano
Students practice using the bar at the YMCA studio. Photo by Talia Amorosano

Citing the Huntington YMCA as a “second home … during [her] childhood and early adulthood,” former student Melanie Carminati, now physical therapist and Pilates instructor in East Northport, called the dance program “a safe haven for artistic growth and creativity” in a written statement. She attributed the environment to the guidance of Edie Cafiero, cultural arts director.

Cafiero stressed the importance of allowing dancers to express their creativity from a young age. “We start with 3-year-olds,” he said. “We make it fun while still using terminology and introducing steps. We let them explore themselves at that age.” She said that classes become more serious as students age and advance, but that they have the option to either hone in on certain dance styles or further expand their horizons and learn new styles.

Among some of the less conventional dance classes offered at the YMCA are Irish step, hip hop, acro, lyrical, contemporary, modern and adult ballet.

When asked what factors have contributed most significantly to the success of the Huntington YMCA dance program, Cafiero pointed to the variety of classes offered and the welcome-all attitude of the staff.

She said she walked into a famous ballet school at age 15 “and they told me I was over the hill before seeing me dance. I never wanted a kid to feel like that. We don’t turn anyone away. If they have the passion to dance we want to nurture it.”

Anyone interested in the Huntington YMCA cultural and performing arts program is invited to contact Cafiero at 631-421-4242, ext. 132.

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The deck of the Martha E. Wallace, taken by John M. Brown. Photo from the Port Jefferson Village archive
Spectators fill the dock to watch the Martha E. Wallace launch, taken by John M. Brown. Photo from the Port Jefferson Village archive
Spectators fill the dock to watch the Martha E. Wallace launch, taken by John M. Brown. Photo from the Port Jefferson Village archive

It was the largest wooden sailing vessel ever built in Port Jefferson, during the village’s shipyard heyday.

The Martha E. Wallace was built at the Mather & Wood Shipyard in 1902 and topped off at more than 200 feet long and 1,108 tons, according to a history of prominent residents interred at Port Jefferson’s Cedar Hill Cemetery written by cemetery historian George Moraitis.

John Titus Mather — the very same whose name is memorialized on a Port Jefferson hospital, and one in a long line of shipbuilders — and Owen E. Wood had started the shipyard around 1879. Located on the harbor, near the current ferry terminal site, they quickly got to work building the first ship for the Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Steamboat Company, Nonowantuc, a wooden-hulled steam ferry, and later the original Park City ferry before designing the Martha E. Wallace.

The Martha E. Wallace is docked at Steamboat Landing. Photo from the Port Jefferson Village archive
The Martha E. Wallace is docked at Steamboat Landing. Photo from the Port Jefferson Village archive

The schooner Martha E. Wallace launched on Aug. 2, 1902. According to “Images of America: Port Jefferson,” written by local library staffers Robert Maggio and Earlene O’Hare, it was “the last of the great schooners built in Port Jefferson,” with four masts and 16 sails. Those sails were made at the Wilson Sail Loft, another village business situated at the harbor.

About 2,000 people witnessed the ship’s launch, Maggio and O’Hare wrote, but the majesty was short-lived — the vessel was destroyed eight years later when she ran aground off the coast of North Carolina.

The Martha E. Wallace, under construction, sits at the Mather and Wood Shipyard with the Ida C. Southard, which is getting repairs. Photo from the Port Jefferson Village archive
The Martha E. Wallace, under construction, sits at the Mather and Wood Shipyard with the Ida C. Southard, which is getting repairs. Photo from the Port Jefferson Village archive

That incident was early one morning in late December 1910, and records show the Martha E. Wallace got stranded near Cape Lookout in the Southern Outer Banks, while carrying cargo on a trip between Georgia and New York. The small crew was rescued as the schooner was rapidly taking on water.

The Martha E. Wallace was one of several dozens of vessels the Mather family had a hand in building. A half-hull model of the ship is on display — along with other ship models and shipbuilding tools — at the historical society’s Mather Museum on Prospect Street in downtown Port Jefferson, based at a former Mather family home.

Panda the cat is looking for a loving home. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Panda, a black and white domestic short hair, has spent most of his life at Save-A-Pet Animal Rescue and Adoption Center in Port Jefferson Station. Every day this 4-year-old male lounges about his space in the shelter and waits for someone to walk in and adopt him.

Panda had lived in the shelter since December 2012. Save-A-Pet worker Susan Manolakis said Panda was adopted in the past but was returned for an undisclosed reason.

Since then Panda has been patiently waiting to find a permanent place to call home beyond the shelter. The only thing stopping people from adopting this calm and friendly cat is that he has tested positive for feline HIV/AIDS, otherwise known as FIV.

Save-A-Pet Executive Director Lynne Schoepfer said it’s possible he contracted the disease from his mother.

The disease cannot be passed from cats to humans. Panda can also be around other cats as long as they don’t bite, fight aggressively or mate.

Although Panda may catch or have more difficulty recovering from a cold, he is a healthy cat who will live a long life with the right diet and living conditions. Panda doesn’t show any symptoms of FIV, but the shelter recommends that cats like Panda avoid going outside and remain indoors to stay healthy.

Panda is neutered, has tested negative for feline leukemia, and is up-to-date with his vaccinations. Won’t you open your heart and home to this calm and friendly sweetheart? Save-A-Pet is waiving his adoption fee to help him find a family.

Save-A-Pet is located at 608 Route 112, Port Jefferson Station. For more information, call 631-473-6333 or visit www.saveapetli.net.

Concrete slabs sit in the open lot on Main Street in Smithtown. Photo by Phil Corso

A vacant lot that used to be home to a lumberyard, across the street from Town Hall in Smithtown, is in the Town Board’s crosshairs.

A recent waiver request from the applicant in charge of the 102 W. Main Street property set off a somewhat heated debate at Town Hall, when Smithtown Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R) called out VEA 181st Realty Corp. for what he referred to as a lack of good faith in bettering the space. In the application, developer Salvatore DiCarlo requested the gigantic pile of concrete slabs at the site be ground on the premises in a move that Smithtown Planning Director David Flynn said could reduce truck traffic in the area.

At a work session earlier this month, Flynn told the board that DiCarlo needed to remove the concrete slabs from the property in order to grind them down and install a roughly 5-foot mound of vegetation in its place, as the property moves forward into development. Flynn said there was likely more material than necessary for future building on the property, thus making it difficult for the developer to have to truck materials back and forth between the property and an off-site location.

“Reducing truck traffic is in the public good,” Flynn said, while discussing the waiver request with the Town Board. “The applicant already agreed to abide to conditions beyond what the town code requires. He’s volunteering to slightly more stringent requirements as it is.”

Vecchio, however, was not impressed by the suggestion, and contended that the request to grind concrete on-site was nothing more than an attempt to save money.

“When is he going to build? What is his endeavor here?” Vecchio said. “When does he show some good faith?”

Vecchio said he would not vote in favor of a waiver request for DiCarlo, and instead said it was time for him “to put the pedal to the metal.”

DiCarlo could not be reached for comment.

Flynn said the applicant had received approval to build three-story apartments at the site, with retail space on the ground floors. He also said he was unaware of any specific target date in terms of construction at the property.

DiCarlo, who Flynn said took on the property about 10 years ago, was granted a special exception back in 2013 that allowed him to build apartments on the site, but he has yet to file an updated site plan for construction. The town approved a site plan for demolition in July 2014 and two vacant buildings on the site have been razed over the last several months.

Town Councilman Bob Creighton (R) said the applicant has been trying to build on the site for years, but has encountered countless obstacles preventing him from doing so on the town level. Vecchio, however, fired back that the town’s hands were clean when it came to the inactivity at the spot.

“He hasn’t done anything in good faith,” he said. “I find it horrible. I think that’s a no-no.”

The discussion was tabled upon request from Councilman Tom McCarthy (R) pending a meeting with the property owner, with Creighton ending the debate by calling on his fellow board members to give DiCarlo a chance.

Red ribbons are one way North Shore residents are remembering the fatal crash victims. Photo from Smithtown Historical Society

One week has passed, but no amount of time can ever truly heal the wounds endured by the greater North Shore community since four of its own were killed in a horrific limousine crash.

Anyone driving through the streets of Smithtown and its surrounding communities this week could notice the red ribbons wrapped around trees in memory of Smithtown’s Brittney Schulman, 23, and Lauren Baruch, 24, as well as Stephanie Belli, 23, of Kings Park, and Amy Grabina, 23, of Commack. The four girls were killed when Steven Romeo, 55, T-boned their limousine with his pickup truck in Cutchogue last Saturday, injuring Romeo, along with limo driver Carlos Pino, 58, of Bethpage, Joelle Dimonte, 25, of Elwood, Melissa Angela Crai, 23, of Scarsdale, Alicia Arundel, 24, of Setauket, and Olga Lipets, 24, of Brooklyn.

After the crash, Romeo was arraigned at Eastern Long Island Hospital and charged with driving while intoxicated. He was initially ordered held in lieu of $500,000 cash bail, or $1 million bond, but that bail was reduced to $50,000 cash or $100,000 bond last Thursday, according to Suffolk County District Attorney Tom Spota. At a press conference on Friday, Spota said Romeo had recorded a blood alcohol content of .066 percent when he was tested roughly one hour after the crash. The DWI charge, however, was not dropped despite his BAC coming in below the legal limit of .08, Spota said. No additional charges were filed against Romeo as the investigation continued.

Romeo’s court date, which was originally set for last week, was adjourned to Sept. 18.

The past week saw the funerals of all four of the victims, while those injured were released from hospital care by the middle of this week. The North Shore community planned to take one of its first steps toward closure on Wednesday night at Smithtown High School West, where residents, elected officials and members of Mothers Against Drunk Driving were scheduled to meet. The event was borne out of a Facebook page titled “Candlelight Vigil for Our Girls,” which was put into action in the days following the tragedy. By Wednesday, the page had collected more than 6,000 names to its roster and countless photos of mourning and support for the victims’ families.

Marianne Howard, executive director with the Smithtown Historical Society, was one of the several Smithtown residents to tie red ribbons around trees in front of the society’s property. She said various businesses throughout town, including Towers Flowers of Nesconset and James Cress Florist of Smithtown, helped donate the ribbons to the cause.

“We mourn the loss of four beautiful souls who were taken too early from our community,” she said. “We send our deepest condolences to their families and friends. May they rest in peace.”

Chabad at Stony Brook also signed onto the cause of finding good in a tragic situation, launching its own Facebook event page, “responding to dark, with light,” in memory of the four girls and challenging residents to commit 400 random acts of goodness and kindness in their honor.

Chaya Klein Grossbaum of Chabad at Stony Brook said once the goal was reached, the group would print a book detailing each singular act.

Annual Asharoken swim to benefit Alzheimer's disease research raises more than $6,000

By Talia Amorosano

On Tuesday morning, more than 20 kayakers and swimmers gathered for the 12th Annual Distant Memories Swim, an event created and organized by Bryan Proctor, a Harborfields physical education teacher, to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. Participants traveled two nautical miles from Asharoken Beach in Northport to Knollwood Beach in Huntington and were cheered on by family members and supporters who waited and watched the event from shore. This year’s event has raised more than $6,000 for the Alzheimer’s Disease Resource Center so far, and over the course of its existence, has raised over $100,000. Organizers hope that the money will eventually help researchers find a cure for this increasingly prevalent disease.

Stony Brook University international students at a potluck supper hosted by the Colatosti family of Setauket. Photo from Susan Colatosti

Soon, hundreds of international students will be arriving at Stony Brook University to begin their academic careers in search of advanced degrees. For most, it will be their first time in the United States. They have no family or friends here, and are in a completely foreign and unfamiliar environment.

The Host Family Program, a community-based organization now in its fourth decade, provides a newly arrived international student with the friendship of a local American family.

It is run by volunteers, with the cooperation of the university, and has been directed by Rhona Goldman since 1974. It is not a home-stay program; students live on or near campus. Host families invite students to share a meal, some sightseeing, or a favorite activity.

Both students and host families can have the enriching experience of a cultural exchange and gain perspective about the world. A host family may be a retired couple, a family group, or a single individual. The only prerequisite is the desire to make an international student feel comfortable in a new setting.

Students are arriving on campus in late August for the start of the fall semester and are looking forward to meeting an American family. The university will host a reception for the students and the host families to meet each other before the semester begins.

There is always a shortage of local volunteers to host all the students who sign up for the program.
If you would like to find out more about the program, email Rhona Goldman at: sbuhostfamilies@gmail.com.

The Terryville Fire Department’s annual carnival put smiles on people’s faces last week, with fast rides, fun games, energetic music and delicious food.

Sinai ‘The Mountain’ Megibow is going to step into the ring for charity. Photo from Jen Vaglica

This charity packs a punch.

In this corner, Commack native Sinai “The Mountain” Megibow, 41, is one of 20 determined volunteers who will be boxing for charity this Nov. 23 for the 12th annual Long Island Fight for Charity. The mission is to raise money for local charities by putting volunteers from around the Island in the ring for head-to-head fights in front of spectators who buy tickets for the event.

Megibow, who lives in Commack with his wife and three daughters, said he is eager to contribute to the greater community of Long Island.

He is a founding partner of Radius Investigations, a specialized private investigative and security-consulting firm in Melville. He is also a member of the Nassau County Bar Association and a member of the Long Island Chapter of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners.

“I have very much wanted to get involved in something fun for the community,” Megibow said in a phone interview, adding that he felt this was the perfect event.

Every boxer is required to raise $5,000 for multiple charities including the Long Island Community Chest, The Genesis School and the National Foundation for Human Potential. But if they raise more than the minimum, contestants can send half of the excess funding to a charity of their choice.

Megibow said he has his eyes set on the Michael Magro Foundation if he is able to raise more than $5,000. The foundation focuses on bettering the lives of children with cancer as well as other chronic pediatric illnesses.

A scene from a previous Long Island Fight for Charity event. Photo from Long Island Fight for Charity
A scene from a previous Long Island Fight for Charity event. Photo from Long Island Fight for Charity

“I am far from an expert in boxing,” he said. “I’m much more an enthusiast. But I do very much enjoy training in martial arts, and I have done a little bit of kickboxing as well.”

In fact, Megibow said he is more anxious about raising the amount of funds he needs than he is for the actual fight.

“[My wife is] more nervous about raising the money as well, but I’ve got a pretty big support group,” Megibow said.

Each person who buys a ticket for the event also has to choose one fighter to support. For this fight, Megibow said he hopes he can garner some sponsors from larger clients and pair that with help from his family and friends.

Each boxer is also required to undergo a certain amount of training before they can step into the ring. Trained boxers volunteer their time to help get each contestant into fighting shape, according to Megibow.

Although he doesn’t have any strategies yet aside from training as much as possible, once it’s determined who he will fight against, he said he’ll start to think more about how to approach his opponent. For example, if his opponent is taller than him, he’ll focus on low strikes.

As for Megibow’s fight name, The Mountain, it’s a direct reference to his first name, Sinai — after Mount Sinai, the mountain that he was named after.

“This is a great organization — as much money as possible goes straight to the charities they’re involved with, and I’m excited about it,” he said. “I think the fight itself is going to be fun.”

Although the fight is going to be on a little too late for Megibow’s kids, he said he’s hoping to set them up with the pay-per-view channel that will be airing the fight, so that “they can watch their dad get beat up,” Megibow said.

Sigma Psi Omega members make healthy snacks for children. Photo from Pleshette Shelton

Giving back and making a difference in the community is what the women in the Sigma Psi Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha have strived for since June 23, 1990. But the quest to serve the community did not start with the chapter.

According to Alpha Kappa Alpha Inc., Howard University student Ethel Hedgeman founded AKA, the first African American sorority, on Jan. 15, 1908, in Washington D.C. Her goal was to unite like-minded women to help give back to those in need. One hundred years later, her efforts still drive members like Pleshette Shelton, the current president of the Sigma Psi Omega chapter in Bay Shore in Suffolk County.

“We went from doing 20 programs a year, to last year we did, I want to say 45,” Shelton said in a recent interview.

Shelton’s chapter was charted by 26 African American women in Hauppauge. Now, the local chapter doubled to include around 50 members. Although the women in the chapter are Suffolk County residents, this graduate chapter welcomes all AKA members regardless of which university they attended as undergraduate members.

Second Vice President Trina Gerrard, joined the sorority as a sophomore at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Md, before moving to Long Island and joining the local chapter. For Gerrard, a full-time social worker, what attracted her to the undergraduate sorority was not just the ladylike mannerisms of the members but also the services they did for their community.

Last month, the Sigma Psi Omega chapter celebrated its 25th year the day after providing its services on June 13 at the Tri Community Youth Agency in Huntington. They conducted a seminar for youths and their families regarding financial literacy and historically black colleges and nutrition, according to TRI CYA Director Debbie Rimler.

“Our center serves youth 5 to 21 years old,” Rimler said. “Most of them are at or below the poverty line. It’s great for these families to have this type of information available for them.”

For Sigma Psi Omega, the quest is to find those in need and help educate, feed and provide activities for them to learn, grow and enjoy. According to Shelton, some of these youths do not receive a hot meal during the weekends or holidays since some pantries do not serve on those days.

“I started to cry,” Shelton said when she learned these kids only have microwavable food when the pantries are not in service. “I waste so much food myself that here are families living in shelters and they’re hungry.”

It was one of many eye-opening experiences for Shelton.

“The question isn’t, ‘Why would you serve?’ It’s, ‘Why wouldn’t you want to?’” Shelton said.

Before providing its service, the chapter meets with Dorothy Buckhanan Wilson, the sorority’s international president. Wilson organizes the programs and identifies target communities before the chapter uncovers the communities that are most in need.

Their programs are not limited to financial literacy or historically black colleges. The chapter also organizes blood drives, arranges craft days where children can make pieces of artwork like paper mache flowers for Mother’s Day, provides information on going green, helps single mothers living in shelters and finds employment or career opportunities for the individuals they help among other services.

For the communities to which the chapter frequently provides its services, the women try to “piggy-back” off of what they taught the children on their previous visit while maintaining a light-hearted fun learning environment.

“You want to make sure you’re keeping it light because these kids are already going through a lot,” Shelton said.

Funding for these programs does not come from donations but out of pocket. Sigma Psi Omega chapter members are required to contribute some of their own money to gather appropriate supplies for each program they organize.

According to Gerrard, there is a high demand for the chapter’s services that “people are just waiting because they don’t have direction. They don’t know where to reach out to,” Gerrard said. As a result, some individuals respond within a week of the chapter reaching out to them.

On many occasions, the communities this chapter serves are not aware of information available on the importance of going green or managing finances. The sorority does not just give back by providing the programs, but they are also teachers to those who do not have access to various resources.

But like any other group, working with members of the chapter is not always easy.

“It’s a sisterhood. It’s a lifetime commitment so you get a lot of fulfillment,” Garrard said. “Sometimes you get frustrated … but you find the strength from each sister.”

The chapter has retreats where members can resolve tension and discuss and strategize plans for a program or community in need.

“Each community is different,” Shelton said. “Going in and finding what that need is and being able to help them succeed … even if it’s one life.”

Going forward, both Shelton and Gerrard want to continue their efforts and continue their founder’s purpose by helping communities that require their services.

“I think that it was phenomenal to have an organization that is still around for that long and it’s still growing strong,” Gerrard said. “It makes us know that whatever we are doing, we’re doing it for a cause and it’s … making our founders proud to continue their legacy.”

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