Features

Suffolk County 6th Precinct police officer Jon-Erik Negron and Bryce Pappalardo, whom he helped save after the family gave birth to the not-breathing baby in their kitchen. Photo from SCPD

Mount Sinai teacher Mike Pappalardo felt such a special bond with officer Jon-Erik Negron, who helped save his newborn son Bryce after being born in the family’s kitchen last August, that he named him Bryce’s godfather.

“He’s been there for Bryce since his first breath,” Pappalardo said. “He’s just so genuine and asked us to keep in touch with him, to let him know how Bryce is doing. It made us think, ‘You know what? We want him in his life.’”

Suffolk County police officer Jon-Erik Negron and the Pappalardo family at baby Bryce’s christening, where Negron was named the baby’s godfather. Photo from SCPD

The Mount Sinai Middle School special education teacher and coach first met the 6th Precinct offer Aug. 22 when he responded to his home after his wife Jane went into labor in the family’s home. Bryce was delivered by his father, but was not breathing, and the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck. Even after Mike Pappalardo removed the cord, the newborn still hadn’t taken a breath. Officer Negron used a plastic syringe from the family’s kitchen to clear fluid from Bryce’s airway, and the baby began breathing.

“We have always had a connection,” said Negron, who speaks weekly with the family. “I’m just happy to play a role and I’m happy to always be there and always help because I know Bryce is going to grow up to do great things.”

The Pappalardo family said asking Negron to be the godfather was a no-brainer.

“Before even asking him to be the godfather, we felt like he already was,” Pappalardo said. “It was an easy choice. We were just hoping it would be ok with him and when we asked him, he said he was blown away and would be honored, but we were honored he agreed. We consider Jon-Erik family now.”

The officer was bestowed the honor during Bryce’s christening June 23 at Infant Jesus Roman Catholic Church in Port Jefferson.

“I don’t know if Bryce would be here if it wasn’t for his quick thinking and knowledge,” Pappalardo said of Negron. “He’s emotionally connected to Bryce and he truly cares about him and what happens in his life. Jon-Erik and Bryce have a special connection that will last a lifetime.”

“This superseded anything I imagined on having an impact as a police officer.”

— Jon-Erik Negron

Several months ago, the Pappalardos publicly thanked Officer Negron as well as 6th Precinct officer Ferdinando Crasa, fire rescue and emergency service dispatcher Steve Platz and SCPD public safety dispatcher Jonathan Eck, for their efforts during the delivery.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said congratulations to Negron are in order.

“I am truly thankful for all first responders out there like officer Negron, and it warms my heart to see their tireless work appreciated in this sincere act of gratitude,” he said.

Suffolk Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart also commended Negron for his heroic effort.

“Bryce is lucky to have Officer Negron is in his life as a wonderful role model,” she said. “We are so grateful that baby Bryce is healthy and thriving due in part to our first responders.”

Negron has been a Suffolk County police officer for four-and-a-half years. He said playing a role in a baby delivery never crossed his mind when he thought of becoming a police officer.

“This superseded anything I imagined on having an impact as a police officer,” he said. “This is probably the most meaningful thing that will happen to me on this job and it exceeded all expectations.”

By Kyle Barr

There are 1.3 million active military personnel stationed all around the world according to the U.S. Department of Defense, and while Janet Godfrey and her nonprofit Operation Veronica know they can’t reach all of them, they’ve sure tried to.

The Rocky Point-based organization has worked to ship thousands of boxes filled with food, toiletries, utensils and more to thousands of U.S. servicemen and servicewomen stationed overseas since 2005. Even after all this time Godfrey said she is still amazed just how appreciative the men and women in uniform are after receiving their packages.

“More important than the contents of the box is that the soldiers know people they never met got together and intentionally spent their time, money and effort to send this package to them.”

— Janet Godfrey

“More important than the contents of the box is that the soldiers know people they never met got together and intentionally spent their time, money and effort to send this package to them,” Godfrey said.
“We’re told by the people who receive it that it’s like getting a message from the American people.”

Close to 20 women volunteers have met nearly every Friday at St. Anthony’s Church in Rocky Point since the group’s inception, and over its 13-year lifespan, have helped ship over 70,000 items. The boxes have been sent to soldiers in nine different countries as well as several naval ships stationed all over the world.

If volunteers are not busy packing boxes, they are working a sewing machine making neck coolers for the spring months and polar fleece sweaters for winter. Other women are hunkered down creating survival bracelets made from 550 paracord, the same cordage that airborne infantry used making World War II parachutes. Soldiers can find the bracelets useful in the field for making tourniquets or restraints, for storing equipment or to do something as simple as lacing their shoes.

“This kind of thing is very spiritually rewarding,” Rocky Point volunteer Judi Miranda said. “I’ve always done volunteer work, but there is something very special about what we’re doing.”

The boxes the group ships are filled with essentials, but the volunteers often add other items at soldiers’ requests. This could be anything from glue traps to deal with vermin problems to flip-flops to aid in walking around without fear of getting dust in their boots.

“I’ve always done volunteer work, but there is something very special about what we’re doing.”

— Judi Miranda

“Everybody wants to do something to support our troops, but they just don’t know what to do,” Godfrey said. “We’re an outlet in that regard.”

It’s not cheap to send so many boxes overseas. Using a medium-sized flat-rate United States Postal Service box costs $18 to ship. If the group wishes to send a more irregular-sized box it may cost closer to $30 or $40. The volunteers rely on donations from the local community as well as the support from the American Legion Post 1880, the American Legion Women’s Auxiliary at the Leisure Glen Homeowners Association in Ridge, Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 and the Richard and Mary Morrison Foundation based in Port Jefferson.

“We’re relying on every little penny,” said Irene Stellato, a volunteer from Rocky Point.

Even with the amount of time and money that goes into the work, Godfrey said she sees what Operation Veronica is able to do as a good that goes beyond politics. The name for the group comes from the story of
St. Veronica, who in the Bible is said to have used her veil to wipe the face of Jesus as he carried his cross to the mound. 

“She couldn’t take him off the walk, she couldn’t change his fate, but she gave him a momentary relief from physical discomfort, and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Godfrey said. “We can’t change their fates, we can’t change their lives, we can’t bring them home as much as we want to, but we can cool them off when they’re hot, we can warm them up when they’re cold, we can give them something to eat when they’re hungry, so we do what we can.”

To learn more about Operation Veronica visit www.operationveronica.org.

This post was updated July 6 to correct the amount of total items Operation Veronica has shipped to service members.

Smithtown Guide Dog Foundation puppies get used to different smells, like various plants, at Suffolk County’s Association for Habilitation and Residential Care sensory garden in Shoreham June 13. Photo by Amanda Perelli

By Amanda Perelli

Guide Dog Foundation puppies were tested for their obedience at Suffolk County’s Association for Habilitation and Residential Care sensory garden in Shoreham June 13.

Dogs aged 4-to-11 months were invited to the garden, designed to stimulate children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, to acclimate the animals to a place they may soon be visiting with new owners.

Smithtown Guide Dog Foundation puppies get used to different sounds, like drums, at Suffolk County’s Association for Habilitation and Residential Care sensory garden in Shoreham June 13. Photo by Amanda Perelli

Human guests of the garden can test their hearing by playing one of the giant instruments or smell the vertical hanging herbs like basil and mint.

The Smithtown-based nonprofit’s nine four-legged members did the same, as they became familiar with strange sounds, textures and smells and walked over pavers, asphalt, rocks, dirt, grass and puddles in the garden’s splash pad.

“We are here today to be able to give back to the community — to give our puppy raisers the opportunity to have their dogs experience all these different sights, sounds, smells and distractions,” said Jordan Biscardi, a puppy adviser in charge of the volunteer dog raisers who guided the event.

He tested each puppy on how well it could remain seated between its raiser’s legs under a table, seamlessly walk past another dog and react to its raiser with a “paw” shake.

“When you go out in the real world with a guide dog, they are going to come across everything,” Biscardi said, adding the owners raise the dogs from 8 weeks to between 1 and 2 years old.

This is the sensory garden’s second season, and the first time hosting the Smithtown-based Guide Dog Foundation.

A trainer walks her dog around Suffolk County’s Association for Habilitation and Residential Care sensory garden in Shoreham June 13. Photo by Amanda Perelli

“It’s designed for the purpose of stimulating the senses,” said Leeana Costa, director of development of the nonprofit AHRC Suffolk. “We have some residential services here that we have for the individuals that we support, and this space is designed to be available to them and to their families — anyone in the community — and that way it is an integrated space, which is something that’s important to AHRC Suffolk.”

Residents of the campus Monica Marie Antonawich, Chrissy Koppel and Pam Siems enjoyed watching the
puppies, learning about the Guide Dog Foundation and later getting the chance to interact with them. They said they are big animal lovers and as members of AHRC Suffolk’s self-advocacy group, recently collected food, blankets and beds for the animals at the Smithtown Animal Shelter.

“I thought it was wonderful, I really did,” Siems said of the event. “I’ve had dogs all my life and I would love to take one home — I love them. We wanted to help the animals this year. We collected dog bones and some things for the cats, too, and we want to continue doing this for the summer.”

Inviting the Guide Dog Foundation felt like a natural tie-in, Costa said. It was an educational, interactive and engaging experience for everyone.

“We serve a different population of individuals with disabilities,” she said. “We thought that this would be a nice partnership between both organizations, so that we could build awareness for the great work that each organization is doing — and everybody loves puppies. It was a successful and productive partnership for all.”

Front row, from left, MaryAnn Kessler, Ann Debkowski, Marcie Norwood and Marilyn Shanahan (standing); back row, from left, Marie Reese and Marilyn Petriccone with a finished dress and dolls.

By Victoria Espinoza

For four women in East Northport, using their free time to help others feels “sew” good.

Three years ago Agatha Piropato, Leslie Latchford, Karen Bennis and Sue Perillo discovered Dress a Girl Around the World, a campaign organized by nonprofit organization Hope 4 Women International that brings a new dress to girls in need throughout the world. The dresses these women work on have gone as far as Africa to countries including Malawi and Ghana.

Volunteers work on creating dresses for girls in need.

As all four are avid sewers, they saw this campaign as a worthwhile use of their skills and got to work. They would meet at someone’s house or the local library, but soon Perillo said the women wanted to make a bigger impact than what their four hands were producing.

“One of our friends said the Columbiettes are always looking for some activity to do together that doesn’t cost them anything,” Perillo said in a phone interview. “So, we decided to do a sewing night at the hall and they loved it and immediately asked when we could do it again.”

Since then East Northport members of the  Fr. Thomas A. Judge Columbiettes have been meeting as frequently as once a mmonth at the local Knights of Columbus hall and, along with volunteers, have produced over 200 dresses so far. 

“This just got bigger and bigger,” Perillo said. “We’re all about keeping it going now. We’re constantly adding new people, and we get about 20 women each time.”

Each dress comes outfitted with a small doll in the pocket.

The four women create kits before each meeting that have instructions on how to construct the dress, as well as instructions to create a small doll that goes in one of the front pockets of every dress.

Participants at the hall meetings range in all ages. And for the younger volunteers, there is no requirement to know how to use a sewing machine or be an experienced seamstress. Instead, they help iron, cut fabric and learn simple stitches.

“It’s fun for everybody,” Latchford said in a phone interview.

Perillo said someone put a notice on the Knights of Columbus bulletin for fabric and trim and “low and behold tons and tons and pounds and pounds came in.”

Latchford said the rising popularity of the monthly events has surprised her. “Not at all did I expect it to grow this much,” she said in a phone interview. “It just kind of evolved. We started having meetings at the hall and they just took to it. I don’t know how we got to where we are but we’re making a lot of dresses for girls all over the world.”

Karen Sheehan and Susan Heard work on a dress together.

Not only are the women trying to put a clean dress on as many girls’ backs as possible, they are also trying to ensure them a safer life. Perillo said each dress comes with a purple tag on it that bears the organization’s name. She said the idea is intended to dissuade predators from attacking young girls because the tag symbolizes the girl is being monitored and taken care of by an organization.

Both women agreed that seeing a young girl wearing their dress for the first time was an unforgettable experience.

“To see her happy in the dress, it’s so rewarding,” Latchford said.

Perillo echoed the sentiments, holding back tears as she reflected on the first time she saw a young girl in her dress.

“I cried when I first saw a girl in my dress,” she said. “I was speechless because you think how far the dress had traveled. Someone had to walk the barrels [that the dresses are shipped in] four to five miles up and down rivers. It’s incredible, the journey. To see her so happy in the dress, it’s everything.”

Perillo said the group is currently trying to expand to create clothing for young boys as well, testing short designs and instructions. And Latchford said she hopes in the future some of these clothes can go to young girls right here in the United States who are in need of a clean dress, saying sometimes you forget your own when you’re focusing on other parts of the world.

Perillo said a lot of the help with transporting the dresses from Long Island to the other side of the world comes from Carrie Davis, chapter coordinator for Long Island Quilts for Kids, a nonprofit organization that makes quilts for sick children staying in hospitals. Davis has contacts that help ensure the dresses made get exactly where they need to go.

“The women who made this journey to deliver our love made dresses are strangers and will never be known to any of us,” Davis said in a statement. “Their kindness and perseverance will enable our dresses to arrive in a village 5,400 miles away that cannot be found on a map. It is truly our privilege to be able to do this work and we are very grateful for those along the way who have helped to make this all happen.”

The Columbiettes are always looking for more volunteer dressmakers. No experience is necessary and it’s open to all. For more information, please contact Sue Perillo at 631-754-8606 or Agatha Piropato at 631-499-7138.

All photos from Sue Perillo

 

Testing qualifies student for USA Mathematical Olympiad

Shoreham-Wading River senior Keyi Chen scored a 94.5 out of 150 points. Photo from Keyi Chen

If Shoreham-Wading River High School senior Keyi Chen wasn’t in class, he could have screamed in triumph.

Chen had taken the American Mathematical 12 math exam — one of the most prestigious and extensive national high school math exams — back in March. One text from his father told him he would move onto the next phase of the exam circuit, the American Invitational Mathematics Examination.

“When my dad texted me that I made it, I just screamed in my seat, inaudibly though,” Chen said. “Finally, in senior year, I was able to make it to the AIME.”

Shoreham-Wading River senior Keyi Chen. Photo from Shoreham-Wading River school district

Mathematical Association of America-produced AMC 12 is a nationally recognized, 25-question exam that covers all high school level math excluding calculus. Chen scored a 94.5 out of 150 points, which was within the top 5 percent of students who took the test. He has been taking other AMC tests for several years, but in March he was able to take the AIME. The tests lead all the way to the International Mathematical Olympiad.

“It was really exciting,” Chen’s father Hucheng Chen said. “We knew he had the capacity and capability, but we were still excited to learn that he had qualified.”

Keyi Chen’s math teachers were also proud of their student’s multiple math accomplishments.

“In addition to being very bright, Keyi works diligently to increase his understanding and awareness of mathematical content,” Shoreham-Wading River High School math teacher Ellen Fraser said via email. “He often comes outside of class to ask questions on material that is beyond the curriculum. He has also been practicing with released questions from past exams to prepare for the AMC.”

Chen was taught math starting at 2 years old, according to his father, who said his son was interested from a young age.

“Ever since I was little I always enjoyed numbers,” Chen said. “Starting in kindergarten I was able to do the basic math functions — addition, subtraction, multiplication and division — which you learn in second grade.”

“Ever since I was little I always enjoyed numbers.”

— Keyi Chen

His affinity for math grew, and in middle school, he was introduced to multiple math competitions. His parents helped organize his participation in these competitions.

“We tried to present as many opportunities to him as we could with math competitions in middle school,” Chen’s father said. “We had to organize them on our behalf because usually the school doesn’t do that.”

The senior said he enjoys the way that math, when distilled, starts to connect with the forces that hold the world together.

“I’ve enjoyed how you can boil down numbers — math and physics all intertwine with each other,” Chen said.

He hasn’t yet confirmed his scores with his teacher to see if he qualifies for the olympiad yet, but Chen plans to attend Johns Hopkins University and major in physics after graduation. He plans to get a doctorate
and become a college-level professor in physics and mathematics.

“I’m really interested in being a professor,” Chen said. “I like the idea of being able to apply this critical thinking and mathematical problem-solving and hopefully spread it to other young people who have the same sort of mentality.”

Janet Leatherwood demonstrates wheel throwing to guests at last Saturday's Open House
Ceramics studio and gallery find new home at Flowerfield

By Kyle Barr

As the potter’s wheel spins, ceramic artist Patrick Dooley plays his fingers along the side of the spinning clay like a harpist does a harp’s strings. The clay forms lips and edges. A thumb pressed clean in the center develops a hole and the lump of clay is slowly turned into an object, something tangible.

“You can turn clay into anything you want,“ Dooley said as his hands grow thick with the wet-brown of the clay. “There’s something about that tactile feel, being in control of that clay, turning it into something, something artistic, something functional. It’s creative.”

The nonprofit Brick Clay Studio & Gallery has finally opened in St. James. The new location at 2 Flowerfield joins others of its kind including The Atelier art studio and The Shard Art Shoppe. After two years of working to get it started, members are ecstatic to see their collective art education center and gallery finally become a reality. 

Patrick Dooley works on a clay piece.

“I feel the universe is on our side, I think we’re destined to be here,” gushed physical therapist and ceramic enthusiast Estrellita Ammirati during last weekend’s Open House as a huge smile stretched across her face. “If you saw what this place looked like 37 days ago … we had nothing, pretty much nothing.”

Many of the artists at The Brick Studio were artists who worked in the basement of Stony Brook University’s Union building, willing to teach community members and students who found their way into their space. In 2015 SBU declared it would be removing The Craft Center from the basement in preparation for the building’s renovations. 

“We were kicked out when the Union closed,” said member and ceramicist Astrid Wimmer.“There were 20 of us who wanted to go on and we had no place to go. So we formed this cooperative. We’re very excited and we worked very hard.”

Laura Peters gets ready to create.

Spearheaded by Miller Place High School art teacher Julia Vogelle and ceramicist Justine Moody, the group wanted to create their own space to practice their art and commune with each other. They set up a Kickstarter campaign in 2017 that had 123 people pledge over $18,000 to the project. The artists caught a break when they learned that Dowling College would be closing and they were able to acquire the ceramic department’s equipment including motorized pottery wheels, kilns and pugmill relatively cheap.

The original plan was to locate the studio in Rocky Point in a brick building near the Rocky Point Farmers Market at the corner of Prince and Broadway, but the group was unable to land the deal. 

“Rocky Point needed to be revitalized and Broadway was really suffering. They wanted something like this in town. A cultural center, not-for-profit, it was going to be bringing art into the community, and the community into art, and we really wanted that,” Vogelle said. “But we really couldn’t buy anything, and they were looking for someone to buy.”

Cat mugs by Russell Pulick for sale at the Open House last Saturday.

When the group settled on the space in St. James, they had originally walked into a barren warehouse-type room. The ceiling’s electric wires were hanging loose from the ceiling, the floor was bare, the concrete was unpainted and there was no counter space or shelving. It took several weeks of volunteer work to bring the space into a livable condition.

“The members are just amazing with their efforts. They’re workhorses, they’re worker bees,” Vogelle said. 

It’s hard to understate how important having a space to practice is to the artists at the brick studio. Stony Brook University Professor Janet Leatherwood had practiced as a child on a pottery wheel at home, some 30 years before she picked it up again when she found The Craft Center at the university. 

“I have a studio at home, so I could still make stuff, but it was such a community, such energy and so much input from other people,” Leatherwood shook her head. “It wasn’t the same.”

Russell Pulick describes his artistic process to visitors.

Longtime studio and production potter Russell Pulick was tasked with fixing many of the machines that were purchased from Dowling, and he said places like this are necessary for the community it provides.

“I have technical knowledge of these machines, and of glazing. Somebody else could probably do it, but it would be a learning process,” Pulick said. “I have most of this equipment at home, but this place is about the people, dedicated people, people who love clay, who love creating.” 

The Brick Clay Studio & Gallery is located at 2 Flowerfield, Suites 57 and 60, in St. James. The studio offers a variety of classes including Portraits in Clay and Wheel Throwing as well as eight-week workshops in advanced wheel throwing, summer camp for children and internships. 

Drop by this Friday, April 13, from 7 to 9:30 p.m. for the studio’s  first Clay Try-Day, a great opportunity to see if working with clay is something you would like to pursue. $30 per person. Preregistration is strongly recommended although walk-ins are welcome. For more information, call 631-250-9530 or visit www.thebrickstudio.org.

All photos by Kyle Barr

Ben Model at the historic Wonder Morton Theatre Pipe Organ at The Landmark Loew’s Jersey Theatre in 2014. Photo by Steve Friedman

By Kevin Redding

As a film production major at New York University in 1982, Ben Model sat in a film history class and watched a series of silent movies with his peers. The early 16mm prints had no sound tracks backing them and Model felt the disinterest of his classmates.

“It really bothered me that these movies were bombing in front of film students every week,” said Model, 55, who grew up enchanted by three things: silent movies, the art of filmmaking and music, having started piano lessons when he was 5. “So I figured, I don’t really know what I’m doing, but it’s got to be better than nothing.”

Photo by Larry Smith
Ben Model at the Library of Congress Packard Preservation Campus Theater. Photo by Larry Smith

So he approached his professor and offered to play piano during the screenings to liven the experience for the audience — an idea the professor loved. From then on, until he graduated two years later, Model (pronounced Moe-del) served as the maestro for two to three film screenings per week in the basic cinema history class as well as a film historian’s class — providing the music for many of the earliest movies ever made, from Auguste and Louis Lumière’s 50-second-long actuality films depicting military events and everyday scenes to Thomas Edison’s studio films to the works of pioneer filmmakers D.W. Griffith and Sergei Eisenstein.

Through his new gig, he met and befriended renowned silent film accompanist Lee Erwin, who was an organist in theaters during the 1920s and was, at the time, playing the giant Wurlitzer organ at Carnegie Hall Cinema in Manhattan, one of the few repertory theaters back then. Erwin served as Model’s mentor, someone whose brain the young college student often picked, learning what works, what doesn’t, what to do, what not to do.

While Model only started doing this to engage his peers in early films, he wound up turning it into a career spanning more than 30 years. He currently serves as one of the leading silent film accompanists and most well-respected silent film historians, traveling around the world in a wide variety of venues presenting silent films and providing unforgettable live scores for hundreds of them.

Ben Model at the Egyptian Theatre, Boise Idaho. Photo by Paul Collins

Model has been a resident silent film accompanist at the Museum of Modern Art since 1984; the Library of Congress’ Packard Campus Theatre since 2009; the Silent Film Days in Tromsø portion of the Tromsø International Film Festival in Norway, home to Verdensteatret, Norway’s oldest cinema in use, dating back to 1916, for 12 years; the historic Egyptian Theatre in Boise, Idaho, where he performs scores with a full orchestra; recently played in theaters in Connecticut, Maryland and Ohio and frequently performs at museums and schools; will be playing at the Turner Classic Movies film festival next month; and, since 2006, can be seen locally at Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington once a month during the theater’s Anything But Silent program.

Model is also a lecturer, film programmer and visiting professor of film studies at Wesleyan  University in Connecticut, as well as the creator of New York City’s Silent Clowns Film Series, launched in 1997 as the premiere, regularly scheduled showcase for silent film comedy, from Buster Keaton to Laurel & Hardy. 

“There’s something so immersive about the experience of silent films, especially when you see it with live music,” Model said. “It’s ironic that because of what’s missing from the film, you’re actually much more involved and engaged, because the imagination is filling in everything: the sound, the colors, pieces of the story, the gags. You’re assembling them in your head, in a group setting. You can get lost in it; you feel like you’re almost part of what’s going on — it’s like a trance.”

A trance, he said, he’s long been in. “When I started doing this, I realized that throughout my life, anything surrounding silent film kind of just worked out for me,” he said.

It all started with Charlie Chaplin. While some little kids were obsessed with dinosaurs and others with trains and trucks, young Model gravitated toward The Tramp, consuming all his films he could find and reading biographies and film books on his craft. That paved the way for Chaplin’s contemporaries like Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd.

When he was 12, Model, who grew up in Larchmont in Westchester County, received a book called “The Silent Clowns” written by Walter Kerr, a New York Times theater critic in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s and silent film fanatic himself, which became something of a sacred text to the young boy. Because Kerr lived close by, and had amassed a huge collection of these movies he wrote about, Model’s parents encouraged him to reach out to the author.

“So I wrote him a letter telling him I was interested in seeing more silent films,” Model said, explaining that, in the mid-70s, he had to wait for them to show up on television and there was a lot of movies he read about that he just couldn’t find. “Walter Kerr called me four days later. Over the next 15 to 20 years, a few times a year, I’d go over and he’d say, ‘So, what do you want to see?’ So I grew up going to the guy who literally wrote the book on silent film comedy.”

Model said in terms of his performances, he’s primarily an improviser — relying on his background as a silent film devourer and improv comedian in college to let things come to him naturally, he said, like musicians do in jazz. But if he hasn’t seen the film before, he’ll watch it in advance to take note of different story and action beats in order to stay ahead of the movie and provide certain underscores when needed.

“Ben is creating a virtual time machine of the original movie-going experience and transporting our audiences to another era,” said Raj Tawney, director of publicity and promotions for Cinema Arts Centre, adding that audiences during Anything But Silent nights are always fully engrossed: laughing, shrieking and hooting and hollering. “There’s an undeniable respect for Ben’s choice of film, his vast historical knowledge, and the commitment to giving the best performance to each film. He’s a rock star in his own right.”

Model said he loves performing at Cinema Arts Centre because of its monthly embrace of these old films.“You’d be hard-pressed to find a suburban art cinema that thinks silent movies are worth showing,” Model said. “At Cinema Arts Centre, they recognize that sound is only part of the film landscape.”

He encourages people of all ages to come and experience a silent film. He recalled the impact a screening of Keaton’s 1928 film “Steamboat Bill, Jr.” from 10 years ago had on an 8-year-old girl, whose father later told Model that the film, its presentation and her experience that night was the subject of her college essay.

“Everyone involved with these films is dead, but even one from 100 years ago is just as entertaining as it was when it was first released,” Model said. “Silents are able to make the trip across several decades sometimes better than sound movies. It’s just so rewarding to be able to help these films live again, and build the next audience for them.”

A child takes Infant Swimming Resource steps during a lesson to prevent drowning. Photo from Kristine McCarren

For 10 minutes a day, five days a week, Kristine McCarren prevents tragedies.

As founder of the Long Island branch of Infant Swimming Resource (ISR) — a “self-rescuing” program that originated in Florida in 1966 — McCarren of Mount Sinai teaches children between 6 months and 6 years of age how to hold their breath underwater, wriggle onto their backs and float on the surface until help arrives in the event that they fall in water unsupervised. Since it began, she said, the technique has proven to be successful in saving more than 800 children from drowning — the leading cause of accidental death for children under the age of 4 in the United States.

Kristine McCarren. Photo from Kristine McCarres

“People worry about their children in car seats and preventing accidents there, but I don’t think they even think about how big of a problem drowning is,” said McCarren, who since 2013 has provided lessons, at ISR Seal Team Survival Swimming Inc. in Port Jefferson Station and Courtyard by Marriott in Ronkonkoma. She currently has 15 students of varying ages, who each go through a six-week program.

McCarren said unlike typical swim lessons, it’s best to teach the technique every day in small increments so the children are able to retain it.

“This program is about making swimming second nature,” she said. “If a child can learn how to crawl or walk, it’s the same thing — it’s a motor skill just like that. The repetition gets it into their muscle memory, so as soon as they hit the water, they know to flip back and float.”

McCarren said parents are encouraged to stay on the sidelines and not interfere as their child is learning, as hard as that might be initially. The children are tested in both winter and summer clothes, as most would be fully clothed in a drowning situation.

“Kristine is absolutely amazing and it’s insane what she’s able to do with them,” said Sarah Walters, who two years ago traveled every day from Babylon to Port Jefferson Station with her three children. “I know that’s absurd, but at the same token I don’t have to worry anymore. It’s the best investment I’ve ever made. We were at a party once and my daughter, [who was 2 at the time], fell into the pool. There were adults all over the place, but I didn’t have to panic. She just got herself to the surface and to the side. That peace of mind is worth every penny and hour spent driving.”

“After five weeks of the intense training and a little bit of tears, she can now save herself.”

— Nicole Delfino

McCarren got involved in early 2013 after seeing a picture of her then-18-month-old niece swimming underwater in Florida, where the program had been extremely popular for decades. A physical therapist at the time, with a doctorate from Stony Brook University, the lifelong lover of water quickly decided to travel down to Florida to get certified as an ISR instructor. She went through an intensive, eight-week training program that, on top of in-water, hands-on training, included education in physiology, anatomy and child psychology.

Melissa Larsen, who brought her 14-month-old son to McCarren for lessons in 2016, became so inspired by her and the program that she became an ISR instructor herself, training in New Jersey. She currently teaches ISR in Hauppauge and Garden City.

“Seeing what [McCarren] did with my own son was incredible,” Larsen said. “She has patience and she’s thoughtful in what she’s doing. We have a pool in our backyard, and even if we didn’t, I think it was a necessary skill for him to have.”

The program has been especially essential and therapeutic for those in the area who have suffered water-related tragedies like Nicole Delfino, a Centereach mother whose 15-month-old daughter Kyleigh died after falling into a pool at a family party Aug. 15, 2016. Delfino said Kyleigh was in a crowded living room while she was helping her 5-year-old daughter Liliana in the bathroom. Kyleigh found her way outside and into the pool.

A child floats to the surface during fully-clothed drown-prevention training. Photo from Kristine McCarren

“Kyleigh was bright,” Delfino said. “She had her whole life ahead of her, and it was taken away in an instant.”

Only a few months after Kyleigh’s passing, Delfino enrolled Liliana in the program to make sure something like what happened to Kyleigh never happened again. Her 6-month-old daughter will begin ISR lessons in a few weeks.

“After five weeks of the intense training and a little bit of tears, she can now save herself,” she said Liliana. “It means everything to me, and she’s phenomenal in the program. If my daughter [Kyleigh] would’ve taken ISR lessons, she could have fallen into the pool, gained her composure and floated on her back until she was able to literally swim to the side of the pool.”

She said she encourages any parent to enroll their child in the program.

“I would highly suggest it to anyone, because at the end of the day, who is responsible to save them are themselves,” Delfino said. “All the layers of protection — you should have a gate around your pool and you should have an alarm — can fail, and if they do, you and only you can save yourself.”

McCarren and Delfino are in the process of starting a nonprofit in Kyleigh’s name to provide ISR scholarships to children whose siblings have drowned. For more information on the ISR program, visit ww.isrnewyork.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ISRSealSchoolLI.

Humbled, dedicated leader immediately credits students and staff

Mount Sinai's 18-year athletic director Scott Reh hugs former girls lacrosse star Sydney Pirreca following a championship win. Photo from Scott Reh

Don’t ask Scott Reh to talk about it, but he’s been named athletic director of the year by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association.

As the news spread throughout Mount Sinai school district, and when boys track and field coach Bill Dwyer and his team stopped in the middle of the hallway to clap for Reh, he simply turned around and said, “Thanks to you and your team — you helped me earn this honor.”

“Here we are recognizing him, and right away he turns it around on us,” Dwyer said, laughing. “It made him feel good, and the kids recognize he earned the distinction, but that’s just the kind of guy he is.”

Mount Sinai athletic director Scott Reh with girls lacrosse head coach Al Bertolone. Photo from Scott Reh

Reh, a natural deflector when it comes to taking any credit for the continued strength of the Mount Sinai program since he was named athletic director in 2000, added another notch to his belt, having previously been inducted into the Rocky Point, Adelphi University and Suffolk County sports halls of fame.

“It was very humbling,” said Reh, who graduated from Rocky Point in 1985 and Adelphi in 1989, and was an All-American lacrosse player at both schools. “I’m very appreciative that my peers voted for me for this award. It’s a great honor.”

Reh is the first full-time athletic director in Mount Sinai’s history, also overseeing health, nursing, security and grounds.

On his first day at school, Reh held a meeting with instructors, including head football coach Vinnie Ammirato, who has been with the program since 1996. Ammirato said Reh’s words and actions immediately struck him.

“That first day I knew we had someone in place who understood the value of athletics, and would be willing to help us however he could,” Ammirato said. “His passion for athletics and his desire to see us succeed is what impressed me the most.”

To get the Mount Sinai facilities up to snuff, Reh advocated for the gyms and weight rooms to get a face-lift and also worked to add several sports teams, like lacrosse.

“We’ve been very, very successful over the years — we’ve had national, state and county championships,” Reh said. “All of our teams are very competitive because of the time they and the coaches put in.”

The athletic director is known for putting in his own time. He’s the vice president of the Rocky Point board of education for starters, and even when visiting his twin sons to watch their lacrosse games at University at Albany, he’ll book a hotel just to crash for a few hours before hitting the road to make it back to school in time.

“Sports have always been in my life, but my goal isn’t about winning or losing, it’s about giving kids the best opportunity to succeed.”

— Scott Reh

“We tell him to take a few hours, come late, but he never listens,” said board of education member Peter Van Middelem. “He’s a professional. He cares about every student, athlete or not, and we’re fortunate to have him. He’s on top of everything.”

Van Middelem, who first met Reh in 2008 and joined the board in 2014, has seen the Rocky Point resident’s care and concern firsthand, saying it even goes beyond athletics. When he traveled with the girls lacrosse team up to the state championship game, to see his daughters Meaghan and Emma play, the athletic director ensured the hotel was booked and there were restaurant options from which to choose. After the girls won, Reh was making phone calls to the fire department and had signs made on the fly to give the Mustangs a proper welcome home. His efforts even extend past his own teams. When there was a case of bedbugs at a hotel his and other students were staying at during a state tournament, he called to get new arrangements made, also aiding West Islip in the switchover, whose athletic director wasn’t present.

Mount Sinai Booster Club president Diane Tabile has also seen the athletic director go above and beyond in generosity with his time. She said she has seen him popping in and out of games, whether late after school or on weekends. This past Saturday, he was upstate watching the wrestling squad take home the first
Division II state title.

High school principal Rob Grable, who was a varsity football assistant and middle school baseball coach when Reh was first hired, said the athletic director has been in everyone’s shoes along the way. Reh was an All-County player who was named MVP during a state championship soccer game his senior season. That year he was presented with the Ray Enners Award, given to the best lacrosse player in Suffolk County, and he finished that year with the most points in state history. He went on to become a lacrosse and soccer coach at New Hyde Park and was an assistant for Stony Brook University’s men’s lacrosse team.

Scott Reh, a longtime Rocky Point resident, is all vice president of the Rocky Point school board. Photo from Scott Reh

“He knows what programs need, he knows how to take programs to the next level and he’s always got the kids in the back of his mind when making his decisions, so you can’t go wrong with that,” Grable said. “But the biggest thing about Scott is he’s all about the kids, and everyone knows that. I don’t think anyone is omnipresent but if there is anyone that’s close to that it’s him.”

Reh’s office is known for always being open, and students and staff are frequently seen cycling through. His coaches not only consider him a mentor but also a close friend.

“I’ve taught and coached at multiple schools and Scott raises the bar high, he’s the best of the best,” said head girls lacrosse coach Al Bertolone, who has been teaching lacrosse at Mount Sinai since 2008. “When you work for somebody like that you will always go above and beyond for him, because that’s what he does for you. He’s a great, great leader, a community guy, he’s selfless and he keeps everyone in constant communication. He’s really created a tradition of excellence.”

The reason Reh doesn’t take the credit is because for him, it’s about recognition for the programs and kids, not his own. His father, George Reh, was a 30-year physical education teacher and head track and field coach at Newfield. The Mount Sinai athletic director said he learned from his dad’s example.

“Sports have always been in my life, but my goal isn’t about winning or losing, it’s about giving kids the best opportunity to succeed,” Scott Reh said. “I love seeing them grow into young men and women who are mature, responsible and dedicated. You learn a lot about a student through athletics, and I think life’s lessons are taught through athletics, so I love being a part of that.”

Crews looking for Nikola Tesla’s famed "death ray" come up empty

Crews working with Discovery Channel dig under the Rocky Point Fire Department in Shoreham in search of underground tunnels. Photo from Discovery Channel

After detecting something under the surface of the Rocky Point Fire Department in Shoreham using ground-penetrating radar, a duo of explorers asked permission to dig a 16-foot-deep hole on the property.

It was October 2017 and segments of a new Discovery Channel program “Tesla’s Death Ray: A Murder Declassified” were being filmed at the fire station, located just five minutes away from Wardenclyffe —
Nikola Tesla’s last standing laboratory.

With the go-ahead granted by Rocky Point Fire District Secretary Edwin Brooks, and then the rest of the district’s board, an excavation crew dug out the hole in hopes of finding the remnants of tunnels Tesla was rumored to have built under the grounds of his laboratory that connected to surrounding areas in the early 1900s.

Filming and research was also conducted on the property of the Tesla Science Center
at Wardenclyffe, but digging there was prohibited due to contamination on the site from previous tenants.

Hosts Rob Nelson and Stefan Burns of Science Channel’s Secrets of the Underground look over some findings. Photo from Science Channel

“We were definitely interested in what’s going on, and if there were some tunnels here, we’d like to know about it,” said Brooks, who was also interviewed for the show.

The multi-episode docuseries, which premiered Jan. 2 with new episodes every Tuesday,  follows military investigator Jack Murphy and Tesla historian Cameron Prince on their quest to decode some of the mysteries and urban myths surrounding the Serbian-American inventor. The two aim to track down Tesla’s innovations and research that may have gone missing from his safe after he died in a hotel room in 1943 — including a supposed formula for a particle beam, or “death ray.” Murphy and Prince theorize that designing the fatal weapon could have caused someone to murder Tesla.

“I think that’s really far-fetched, and I don’t believe that’s the case — it’s all very speculative,” said Tesla Science Center President Jane Alcorn, who, along with other board members, allowed the crew to shoot on their premises last September. “But it’s been an interesting experience.”

Alcorn said the site receives many requests a year from film and television companies, as well as documentarians from all over. In addition to Discovery Channel’s show, the Science Channel also recently shot and aired a two-part episode for its “Secrets of the Underground” show with the subtitle “Tesla’s
Final Secrets,” which similarly tested the ground beneath the laboratory in search of clues for the death ray invention.

Before filming began, Alcorn said both companies had to fill out an application, which the Tesla Science Center board reviewed to ensure its shows met their requirements for science-based content. As the programs featured testing on the grounds using magnetometers and ground-penetrating radars, they were allowed to proceed.

“We can’t control what they do with their footage or what they find, but since they’re using this equipment, if they were to find anything, it was important that it is based on science and data,” Alcorn said. “Both shows were very cooperative and we had no problem with them. We had them on-site for a couple days — they would come in the morning, do their filming and testing, and then they would leave. They were also all excellent in terms of hiring good companies, with bonafide technicians that look for voids in the ground as a means to discover whether or not there’s something underground — not just for film projects but mining companies, too.”

Permission was asked of the Rocky Point Fire Department to dig for potential underground tunnels relating to Nikola Tesla’s Wardenclyffe lab. Photo by Kevin Redding

As for Alcorn’s verdict of the shows themselves: Neither program led to any concrete discoveries, she noted, and both had the air of reality shows with repetitive material and cliffhangers before commercial breaks, which  she “wasn’t crazy about.” But she said she and other board members are grateful that expensive testing was conducted and paid for by an outside company as they themselves had long been curious about what, if anything, was under the site’s surface. Now there’s a body of data that the board can examine if it wishes, she said.

“It was an opportunity for us to save some money and get some information,” Alcorn said.

Response to the shows has been mixed among residents. Some were happy to see Shoreham and its famous scientist represented, while others dismissed the shows as sensationalized and inaccurate.

“It’s great for people to learn who [Tesla] is and bring some knowledge of Wardenclyffe to the public so we can have it turned into a proper museum and erase some of the eyesore that is there,” Wading River resident Erich Kielburger said in a closed Shoreham-Wading River community group page on Facebook.

Amanda Celikors said her 7-year-old son watched the Discovery Channel show and was fascinated by it.

“He’s learned so much about Tesla and his impact on science,” she said. “We joked that the tunnels could lead to our house. I think it’s great.”

But Rob Firriolo was less than impressed.

“Typical reality TV trash,” he wrote on the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe Facebook page. “Contrived and melodramatic, with annoying camera work and even more annoying music trying to gin up tension where there obviously is none. … We will get hours of fluff, hype and speculation with a payoff at the end as rewarding as Geraldo [Rivera] in Al Capone’s vault.”

Shoreham resident Nick Renna said in an interview he watched the Science Channel program, and enjoyed it as it shed some light on the historical value of the Wardenclyffe property.

“I thought it was really cool to see our own neighborhood on television,” Renna said. “Exposure is huge for that property. When most people hear Tesla, they think about the car, but in reality, without him, there would be no electricity, remote controls, radio waves — the guy was a historymaker. And that property is an incredible asset that we’re able to call home, to some degree.”

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