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District’s teachers association partnered with groups to get books for community

Middle Country Central School District Board of Education President Karen Lessler and Middle Country Teachers Association President Nadia Resnikoff of Dawnwood Middle School were the driving forces behind this year’s book distribution. Photo from Middle Country school district

The Middle Country Central School District Teachers Association’s free book fair for the community was a huge success.

Hundreds of students, families and members of the community searched through and took home donated books. Attendees lined up around the corner to take advantage of the program meant to give the gift of reading back to the community.

 Hundreds of students, families and members of the community lined up to look through more than 15,000 books donated by the Middle Country Teachers Association. Photo from Middle Country school district
Hundreds of students, families and members of the community lined up to look through more than 15,000 books donated by the Middle Country Teachers Association. Photo from Middle Country school district

“We are proud of our teachers for the work they do with our students inside the classroom, but also the work they do with them and the rest of the community outside of the classroom,” Middle Country Superintendent of Schools Roberta Gerold said. “The Middle Country Teachers Association is setting a positive example for our students — giving them the gift of reading and teaching them the importance of giving back.”

The teachers of the district aimed to give back to their community in a way that spread the spirit of reading and critical thinking. Through a partnership with New York State United Teachers, First Book and the American Federation of Teachers, the Middle Country Teachers Association was able to collect more than 15,000 books to distribute to community members.

“We were excited for the opportunity to give books to a population of people that might otherwise not be able to buy their own during this holiday season,” Dawnwood Middle School teacher Nadia Resnikoff said. “As a member of the Middle Country Teachers Association, we are always looking for new ways to foster education throughout our community and we were proud to be able to give back in this way this year.”

For more information about academic programs available at the Middle Country school district and a calendar of events, please visit www.mccsd.net. To learn more about the student experience and news from the district, also visit www.mymiddlecountryschools.net.

Miller Place Superintendent Marianne Cartisano presents Mia with an award as Kim Ledda and Debra White look on. Photo by Kevin Redding

Nine-year-old Mia Carvajal may be a new student at Laddie A. Decker Sound Beach School, but she’s already making a name for herself in the community. The caring fourth-grader who moved to Miller Place from Queens this year is one of just nine winners in the recent Suffolk County Marathon Essay Contest. Hosted by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D), the contest encouraged “the future of the county” to address what they feel is important to society. More than 100 essays from across the county were submitted for review in October. For her hard work, Carvajal was recognized by the Miller Place district’s board of education at a meeting last week.

All students involved in the contest were separated by grades (K-2, 3-5, 6-8) and could choose from three different essay topics: veterans appreciation, living a healthy lifestyle and engaging in community activities. Mia — who won in her grade — wrote passionately about what residents can do to raise money for their community and give to those in need.

“Mia did an excellent, beautiful job,” said Kim Ledda, her fourth-grade teacher. “Her essay was wonderful and we’re just so proud of her.”

Ledda and assistant principal Debra White stood by as Mia accepted a certificate from Superintendent Marianne Cartisano and shook hands with each member of the board. Mia was visibly shy and quiet but smiling radiantly the whole time.

“I was really happy when Mrs. White told me that I won,” she said. When asked by a board member if she likes to write at home, she said that she keeps a journal.

“Mia is clearly committed to being involved in her community, helping to make it a better place to live for all residents.”

—Steve Bellone

Mia’s father Francisco was in attendance and said the family’s very proud of her.

“She’s always been very involved in school, always does her homework, and is extremely school-oriented,” he said.

It’s also clear that Mia is extremely community oriented and possesses a great deal of generosity when it comes to others.

In her essay, she encouraged residents in the community to follow in her family’s footsteps and donate clothes, shoes and toys to churches and centers that help the poor. As Thanksgiving approaches, Mia wrote that it’s important to donate cans of food to provide for others in need. As she put it in her essay: “By providing cans of food you may be saving someone’s life.”

She also recommends setting up a lemonade stand in front of a house as a way to raise money for a good cause.

“Lemonade stands are not just there to give you a refreshing drink,” she wrote.

She even offered a piece of advice to get as many people interested in donating as possible.

“I know that many people don’t like plain lemonade,” she writes, “so I think you should make a whole bunch of flavors so more people will come and enjoy your drink and donate.” Ledda said that at the end of the Suffolk County Marathon that took place in Patchogue Oct. 30, all the essay contest winners — including Mia ­— were invited up on a bandstand stage to be greeted and recognized by representatives from Suffolk County.

“I think that all the recognition she’s gotten from this will be worth more than any monetary gift,” Ledda said. “It’s pretty special to be recognized the way that she has been.”

In an email, Bellone had some words of pride for Mia.

“Mia is clearly committed to being involved in her community, helping to make it a better place to live for all residents,” Bellone said. “Thanks to the 100 or more young residents like Mia who participated in this contest, we can see that the future of Suffolk County is in good hands.”

Spectators browse through Suffolk County Community College's new photo gallery at the Eastern Campis in Riverhead. Photo by Kevin Redding

Suffolk County Community College in Riverhead held an opening reception last week for its annual Eastern Campus Student Art Exhibit, a show that takes place every fall in the Lyceum Gallery of the Montaukett Learning Resource Center on the Eastern Campus.

Centereach’s Sarah Mullen with her photo, top left, that was featured in the gallery. Photo by Kevin Redding
Centereach’s Sarah Mullen with her photo, top left, that was featured in the gallery. Photo by Kevin Redding

The salon-style show serves to highlight exceptional work created by students in the college’s applied arts programs. This year’s exhibit contains over 60 works that will be displayed in a variety of media and sizes, all of which have been done for classes on campus within the last two years.

Students majoring in photography, graphic design, computer art and interior design were able to submit up to three pieces of their choosing and have the opportunity to leave their often-isolated creative spaces and gauge a reaction of their work from the public..

Ralph Masullo, professor of photographic imagery, said that the gallery has proven to be incredibly valuable for the artists in many ways.

“When you’re an artist and put your work out, you’re basically putting yourself out,” Masullo said. “For students who tend to be very timid about that, it’s their first experience to be exposing themselves as an artist. It’s a good experience for them. Just standing around and listening to comments from strangers is very helpful.”

Sarah Mullen, 22, of Centereach, said that this was her first art exhibit on a college-level, even though she’ll be graduating from SCCC this year with a photography major.

Mullen submitted two photos that will eventually be part of a travel photography book she’s been working on this semester as a special project that highlights lesser-known locations on Long Island. One was taken at Avalon Park in Stony Brook and the other at Prosser Pines in Middle Island. The photo titled “Nature’s Tranquility” of stone steps ascending deeper and deeper into a beautiful forest is so mesmerizing that it became the official image for the reception, appearing on all promotional fliers.

Photos in Suffolk County Community College’s new gallery are observed. Photo by Kevin Redding
Photos in Suffolk County Community College’s new gallery are observed. Photo by Kevin Redding

“It’s nice to have the exposure here,” Mullen said. “Usually, as an artist, all you’d have besides a gallery is the internet, and it’s cool for someone to come physically see your work on the wall. When it’s on the computer, you can still edit it, you can still change things. Once it’s on the wall, that’s it.”

One of the most striking photos in the gallery came from Kiera Pipe, 19, of Miller Place. Taken at Peconic River Herb Farm in Riverhead, the photo captures a sundress hung up on a line in between two shutters on the top floor of a rustic and worn-down barn. One observer said it was haunting and looked almost ghost-like.

Pipe, who’s a photographic imagery major, said that she likes to see whether or not her work means something to someone else or provokes an emotion of any kind. Constructive criticism, she said, makes her a better artist.

“I’m really new to submitting my work into events like this,” Pipe said. “It’s really interesting to watch other people look at my images, while I’m kind of trying to figure out what they’re thinking. I think it’s really awesome … it’s a good feeling.”

Kiera Pipe, of Miller Place, had her photo hung up in Suffolk County Community College’s new gallery. Photo from SCCC
Kiera Pipe, of Miller Place, had her photo hung up in Suffolk County Community College’s new gallery. Photo from SCCC

Growing up on the North Shore, she naturally gravitated toward photography, with a specific focus on landscapes.

“I like all the components that go into it,” she said. “Your eye travels in so many different directions when you’re looking at a landscape. [Growing up] on the water, everything always looks so different. It’s the same place and everything, but the shores and the sky changes so much … it always becomes a different photo.” 

The exhibit is open through Dec. 14 in the Lyceum Gallery, located at 121 Speonk Riverhead Road on the Eastern Campus in Riverhead. Gallery hours are Monday through Thursday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The gallery is closed on Sundays and holidays (gallery closed from Nov. 24 to 27).

Ru Jurow was able to afford this new home with the help of a grant from Community Housing Innovations. Photo from Douglas Elliman

By Guy Santostefano

For most, homeownership is a dream, and for many, it’s also a big challenge.

For some Long Islanders, owning a home seems financially out of reach, but that’s where Community Housing Innovations can help.

The cost of living continues to rise, while home and apartment rental costs make saving to buy a home nearly impossible. Lenders are now requiring larger down payments for many homebuyers — so a buyer seeking to land a modest $250,000 home on Long Island may need $25,000 cash up front, plus another $10,000 in closing costs. Saving $35,000 is not an easy task. But for those who qualify, help is available.

Community Housing Innovations is a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-sponsored agency that assists first-time buyers in meeting the challenges of homeownership. From homebuyer education classes to credit counseling, and down payment and closing cost assistance, the company’s staff have the ability, and most importantly, the financial resources to help buyers realize their dream.

Grants earmarked for closing costs and down payments have averaged $25,000. Other programs offered through the nonprofit, in conjunction with the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York, help a novice buyer arrange special savings accounts geared toward meeting down payment requirements.

“Being able to buy a home allows my children and I to have a sense of permanency and security.”

—Ru Jurow

Andrea Haughton, the director for home ownership at Community Housing innovations, reports that since 1997, 31 homes on Long Island have been purchased through the program, which has bases in Patchogue, Hempstead and White Plains.

For Ru Jurow, a graphic designer living in Farmingville, this program was critical.

A single mom, Jurow has been paying nearly $2,000 a month in rent and utilities for a small home in the Sachem school district.

“I wanted to stay in the same school district, as I have two teen children, both honors students,” she said. “And after 10 years in the same rental, we really needed more space and privacy for the kids.”

Jurow found a charming three bedroom, two bath home one mile from her current rental, and did a search on Google for grant programs for new homebuyers, coming across Community Housing Innovations’ website. She saw she met the requirements, and applied, receiving a $25,000 grant, which she said, must be split with 51 percent going toward renovations and upgrades, and 49 percent going toward closing and other costs.

“Being able to buy a home allows my children and I to have a sense of permanency and security,” Jurow said. “With the purchase of our own home, we can feel pride.”

According to Haughton, the grant is recorded on the home’s title as a second position lien for ten years. This encourages the owner to stay in the house and thus avoid paying penalties. Eligibility guidelines and other key information can be found on the organization’s website, www.chigrants.org, or by visiting their Patchogue offices.

“All three of us are incredibly excited,” Jurow said of her family beginning its new journey. “My daughter has been planning how she will get to decorate her own room and can’t wait to have big sleepover parties with her friends in the finished basement. My son is looking forward to having a work-out room in the basement and I am a huge baker and cannot wait to get into that kitchen and cook up a storm.”

Stony Brook University women’s soccer team drafted 4-year-old Rylie Laber. Photo from Stony Brook University

Kevin Redding

On July 4, 1939, New York Yankees legend Lou Gehrig stood before 60,000 fans at Yankee Stadium and confirmed his diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and closed his statements by saying: “I might have had a tough break — but I have an awful lot to live for.”

This sort of display of courage and determination in the face of great affliction is now being echoed by a 4-year-old girl named Rylie Laber, a student at Middle Country’s Bicycle Path Pre-K/Kindergarten Center, who loves to play soccer and takes great joy in learning new things in the classroom.

Those who know her best describe her as energetic, loving, happy, competitive and sassy, with a great laugh. Her spirited personality serves as the ultimate remedy for the rare genetic disorder she’s suffered from since she was 6 months old.

Stony Brook University women's soccer head coach Brendan Faherty places a cap on Rylie’s head after she was drafted. Photo from Stony Brook University
Stony Brook University women’s soccer head coach Brendan Faherty places a cap on Rylie’s head after she was drafted. Photo from Stony Brook University

Called Shwachman Diamond Syndrome, the disorder causes bone marrow failure, pancreatic insufficiency, malabsorption of food and vitamins, and growth difficulties. For most of her life, Rylie’s day-to-day schedule has consisted of countless doctor and hospital appointments, infections, taking medications with every meal, bruising easily, mouth sores, and a lot of dehydration due to fevers. Even two hours of mindless fun at Chuck-E-Cheese when she was only 2 years old led to a miserable three months of being sick with a chronic cold and fever.

But since late August, when she was taken under the wing of SUNY Stony Brook’s women’s soccer team through the Team Impact program, she’s turned over a new leaf and has something to consistently look forward to. In turn, her involvement as an honorary team member has made life better for her family, and the team itself has been impacted greatly by her fun-loving presence.

Rylie’s grandmother Mary Balint, who has full custody, which she shares with Rylie’s father, said that even with her illnesses, Rylie’s always been very cheerful and happy, and that’s only increased tenfold since joining the team.

“She is pushing forward and she absolutely loves her team,” Balint said. “Just last month she had asthmatic bronchitis and every day she was like ‘I’m not letting this stop me. I’m going to practice. I’m going to be with my team, I’m going to do what I have to do,’ so she’s definitely fighting through whatever she needs to fight through to stay with this. She’ll do anything for them. It’s just made her so much stronger.”

Because of how rare Rylie’s illness is, every other year she and Balint journey to Camp Sunshine — which provides retreat and support for kids with life-threatening illnesses and their families in Maine — for a medical conference. This is where Balint first heard about Team Impact, the organization that drafts kids to become members of local college athletic teams.

Initially, as Balint was looking into the program and submitting Rylie’s application, she was told that they generally didn’t start kids until they were 5, but that was until they learned that she had a special interest in soccer — which she’d been playing since she was 3.

Rylie Laber stretches with the Stony Brook University women’s soccer team. Photo from Mary Balint
Rylie Laber stretches with the Stony Brook University women’s soccer team. Photo from Mary Balint

That’s when the organization touched base with Brendan Faherty, Stony Brook’s new head coach of the women’s soccer team, who, along with the student athletes, took to her immediately. Rylie joins the Seawolves in the weight room, goes to practice and games, stretches with them on the sidelines, and kicks the ball. As Balint says, everything they do, she does. According to Faherty, it didn’t take long for Rylie to be herself among her new friends and teammates.

“In the beginning, she was a little bit shy,” he said, “but that lasted about five minutes. She’s super outgoing. She just wants to talk to everybody — goes from one player to the next — and she’s got a great attitude, and really cares about everybody in the program. … We try to spend as much time as we can with her. We went to one of her soccer games and she’s actually really good. She’s super aggressive on the field and she scores a lot of goals and just seems to really love soccer.”

In terms of Rylie’s impact on the students on the team, Stony Brook senior and teammate Lindsay Hutchinson said that Rylie was with them for almost the entire season, and every day the Seawolves spent with her was guaranteed to be a good day. The Stony Brook team even improved upon its record this season with Rylie by their side.

“She just kind of puts everybody in a good mood,” Hutchinson said. “Personally, it gives me a greater appreciation of life, because Rylie just walks around like the happiest child in the world, even though she has a lot of things going on — probably more than we realize. She clung to us right away. Every time she comes to see us, whether it’s at practice or a game, she’ll run right out on the field and give us all hugs.”

For Balint, it was always important that Rylie be kept in the loop as to what was happening with her medically, rather than try to mask it, and said that she knows a lot more about her illness than a 4 year old should. At school, she stays on top of all the medication she needs to take and makes sure that she’s using her own crayon box, to avoid coming in contact with others’ germs, and even a small cold could wipe her out for three weeks straight. Being on the team is Rylie’s incentive to keep herself in tip-top shape, especially since she’s going to be part of the team again next year.

“Sometimes, I sort of use it as a bargaining chip,” Balint said. “If she won’t do something that she has to do, I’ll say to her ‘you think your team would like that?’”

In fact, the team has such an effect on her that she’s even developed a variety of superstitions once it’s game time.

“She has to wear the strings out of her shorts,” Balint said, “and she’s gotta wear her red jersey to school and white jersey to the game. Right before every single game, she runs to the coach with a package of Scooby Doo fruit snacks and he has to eat them. It’s been her little superstitious tradition now.”

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner, left, and Supervisor Ed Romaine, right, present proclamations to Ann Becker, Lori Baldassare, Fred Drewes and Deirdre Dubato. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The Mount Sinai Civic Association isn’t just a local organization — it’s an institution that has become part of the community’s fabric for the last 100 years.

On Oct. 6 at Willow Creek Golf & Country Club, the civic association celebrated its anniversary with its board, community members and local politicians.

Heritage Trust secretary Thomas Carbone speaks during the dinner. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Heritage Trust secretary Thomas Carbone speaks during the dinner. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“It’s an amazing milestone,” Mount Sinai Civic Association President Ann Becker said. “We’re impressed with how dedicated people have been, always stepping up in Mount Sinai. It’s been a concerted effort. We’ve had strong leadership. It’s a community that pulls together when there are problems and tries to resolve those issues.”

Incorporated Oct. 5, 1916, as an outgrowth of the Mount Sinai Taxpayers Association, its initial objective was to construct better roads, improve the conditions of Mount Sinai Harbor and adopt means to protect against fires.

“Over 100 years, some of those principles remain,” Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said. “The civic works hard to protect this community, to ensure that the zoning, the look of this community stays as a majority of the people in this community wants it to. They work hard to protect the harbor, the environment, and they do a tremendous job.”

Over its history, the civic association has worked tirelessly on quality of life issues for the residents of Mount Sinai and Brookhaven Town. It worked to protect the area’s coastal environment, establish community parks and preserves and maintain a balanced level of development — including recreational facilities, privately owned housing, residential opportunities for seniors and support for schools. A completely volunteer-based organization, the civic has always depended on local residents to step forward and actively work toward improving the community, protecting the environment and protesting against overdevelopment.

With Becker now at the helm, the civic association continues to strive to better the community, and Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) said Becker is perfect for the job.

“Ann and her civic board are wonderful advocates for the tiny little hamlet of Mount Sinai,” she said, adding that her husband, John Sandusky, was born and raised in the area. “People like Ann, and others in this community, keep a watchful eye, are paying attention and have the best goals for Mount Sinai — to maintain its quaint look and charm.”

“Change never ends, nor does the desire to keep the place you call home special. I think the small things are the real success.”

— Lori Baldassare

During the 1960s and ’70s, the major civic issues included working to successfully stop the dredging of Mount Sinai Harbor, which was accomplished in the late 1960s, followed by the planning and management of Cedar Beach.

With a grant received from New York State with the help of Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), 355 trees were planted along Route 25A the same year to beautify the community.

“The work that they do in the community and the difference that they make in the quality of life in Mount Sinai; the civic sets an example for all other communities,” Englebright said. “This is a shining beacon of civic activism and accomplishment. The association has continuity, initiative and history. I go to other hamlets in my district and I tell them to visit Mount Sinai and its park to see what a hamlet and a community can do when it comes together.”

The grant was also used to help purchase the nearly one-acre property that is known as Heritage Park. Preventing the sale of “The Wedge” to developers who planned to construct a Home Depot was also made possible with the help of Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), who persuaded the owner to donate the balance of the property.

In the 1990s, the civic started many of the community activities still supported through the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Heritage Trust Inc., though many have since expanded.

Honored at the anniversary ceremony were Lori Baldassare, Fred Drewes and Deirdre Dubato, who were and are all still involved in Heritage Trust and Heritage Park.

Baldassare, eight-year president of the Heritage Trust, is a founding director who has also been a civic member for decades.

The centennial cake. Photo by Desirée Keegan
The centennial cake. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“I do not think that anyone thinks that they are signing on for 20 years or more, it just happens one small project at a time,” she said. “Change never ends, nor does the desire to keep the place you call home special. I think the small things are the real success — planting trees along 25A, placing welcome signs, constructing an ambulance building to serve the community, start a Christmas Tree lighting event, influencing the aesthetics and naming for the Heritage Diner, and so much more. There is always just one more thing to do and I am so proud to live in a place that has a real sense of community.”

For Drewes, who landscaped Heritage Park, which Baldassare referred to as a community treasure, the evening turned out different than he’d envisioned.

“I thought the evening would focus on recognizing and celebrating 100 years of community work of the Mount Sinai Civic Association,” he said. “I felt thankful and honored to be recognized as part of the history of the civic association’s efforts to develop into a hamlet we could be proud to live in.”

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said the hamlet needs to keep up the good work, making sure that the residents protect each other and address the worries and concerns of the community.

“We have to keep up the inspiration,” she said. “There’s so much more that we can do, but what’s most important it that we take care of what we have.”

The Philip Groia Memorial Global Studies Collection on display at the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library. Photo from Emma S. Clark Memorial Library

By Susan Risoli

A teacher can change lives. With a $50,000 bequest to Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, former teacher Philip Groia funded a permanent global studies collection. Those who remember Groia, who died in 2014 at age 73, will appreciate the fact that his gift will enrich lives for years to come.

Groia taught social studies and global studies to ninth-graders at Paul J. Gelinas Junior High School and was advisor to the student government. He was “an internationalist,” agreed retired fellow teachers and friends John Deus and Judy Albano in a recent interview. He had an abiding curiosity about people and their lives, they said.

Groia never married and had no children, but he thought of his students as his kids and “they adored him,” said Deus. “He was a ‘kids first’ kind of teacher.”

Albano said relating with his students was one of Groia’s strengths, “[He was] ‘Mr. Cool.’ He was very relaxed with the kids, very easy with them.”

Former student Amy Cohas remembered being taken aback on the first day of social studies class, when she found her teacher sitting in the back of the classroom instead of in the customary spot up front. For Groia, it was just another way to connect with kids.

“He was really unusual,” Cohas said in a phone interview. “He had a lot of authority, but he was low-key and funny and affectionate.”

Former Three Village teacher Philip Groia funded a Global Studies collection at the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library. Photo from Tony Calleja.
Former Three Village teacher Philip Groia funded a Global Studies collection at the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library. Photo from Tony Calleja

Groia called his tests “practical everyday applications,” Cohas recalled, and he delivered them verbally to encourage students to think about the material.

His own worldwide travels were often part of class discussions.

“He was trying to expose us to a wider world,” Cohas said. “It raised our expectations as to what teachers could be.”

The bond between students and their teacher was especially strong, Cohas said, the day some kids baked Groia a birthday cake and brought it to school.

“I remember he looked up as he was slicing the cake and said, ‘I don’t want this to go to your heads, but I really love you guys,’” she recalled.

Groia sent his students to Emma Clark to work on their school assignments, and did his own research there too. He had a special interest in early rhythm and blues music, especially the street corner groups that filled 1950s and ‘60s New York City with their vocal harmonies.

His book on the topic, “They All Sang on the Corner,” is part of the library’s holdings. Still, said library director Ted Gutmann, it came as a surprise that Groia’s will provided for Emma Clark.

“I think I did a little bit of a double take, when I saw the figure of $50,000,” Gutmann said. Though Groia’s gift is the first bequest to Emma Clark in Gutmann’s tenure as director, there have been other benefactors in the library’s 125-year history, he said.

The Philip Groia Memorial Global Studies Collection was started last year and includes 100 items on current events and cultures throughout the world.

“Right now it’s basically books,” Gutmann said. “But there are really no strings attached to the gift.” Eventually it may include DVDs or other media.

Gutmann said having a well-curated global studies collection available for all is important to keep people informed, “Especially because so much of what’s happening now is, people group together with their own political beliefs and they don’t listen to what the other side is saying,” he said.

Emma Clark is a natural home for learning about people, their cultures and their governments, Gutmann continued, because “a library is one of the few places these days, it seems, where you can still come and get information without a bias.”

Tony Calleja was a friend.

“He came from a strict household,” Calleja said of his friend. “They expected him to be something different than what he felt. But he was his own man and went through life his own way.”

Renée, Glen and Zachary Cote at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Rockt Point Post 6249 ninth annual gold outing on Sept. 26. Photo by Desirée Keegan

By Desirée Keegan

The Cote family is overwhelmed.

After Glen, a Gulf War veteran, and Renée found out that they would be receiving a new home for veterans in Miller Place, they got a phone call that some of the proceeds from Joe Cognitore’s VFW Fischer/Hewins Post 6249 ninth annual Veterans of Foreign Wars Rocky Point Post 6249 annual golf outing at Willow Creek Golf & Country Club in Mount Sinai, on Sept. 26, will go toward their new home.

“People keep asking us about the process with the house,” Renée Cote said. “I’m still trying to absorb everything — and then we get a call about this — there’s so much love here and to be on the receiving end of that, it’s a blessing.”

The Cote family will be receiving a home built for returning veterans and their families, on Helme Avenue in Miller Place. Photo by Glen Cote
The Cote family will be receiving a home built for returning veterans and their families, on Helme Avenue in Miller Place. Photo by Glen Cote

The Cotes have been through several hardships, from Renée Cote being diagnosed with a rare and painful metabolic disorder called acute intermittent porphyria, which requires expensive biweekly treatments that she has undergone for 14 years at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital, to her 7-year-old son Zachary being diagnosed with Grade 4 medulloblastoma, brain cancer, in 2014.

Most recently, the family was told they were being kicked out of their home because the landlord had let the rental fall into foreclosure.

“It’s awesome to see this much love for somebody from out of town like myself, that they don’t know, it’s incredible,” Glen Cote, who’s from Texas, said. “Everyone is so supportive and friendly.”

The family recently met with Cognitore, Rocky Point’s post commander, for the first time when Landmark Property owner and developer Mark Baisch chose the family to receive the 11th home for returning veterans. The two are still looking for a family for the 12th home.

“It’s a good feeling, especially given their circumstances,” Cognitore said of helping the family. “We’ve been doing things over the phone, and it helped me in the hospital. I felt very good. It was a big relief to know that we’re helping this family out.”

The Cotes said they’ve begun meeting their new neighbors and community members and they’re excited to make the move. Their previous rental home was in Sound Beach,

“They are the nicest people,” Renée Cote said. “I like the fact that — because, we kind of stalked the house — they came out and they were saying hello to us, they’ve been in the community for 30 to 40 years, they were very welcoming and we’re excited. I’m excited to have little BBQs with them and stuff like that.”

“When Mark [Baisch] heard about Zachary Cote’s situation, he came to the rescue, and talk about superheroes, [Mark Baisch and Joe Cognitore] are our local superheroes.”

— Sarah Anker

At the golf outing, where more than 160 golfers hit the course to help support veterans, Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) came out to meet the family and commend Cognitore and Baisch for all of their work helping local veterans.

“They are literally warriors to those that need help,” Anker said. “They get out there, they understand the struggles and they’re there to help, and that’s what’s so important. When Mark heard about Zachary Cote’s situation, he came to the rescue, and talk about superheroes, they are our local superheroes.”

LaValle was glad to seewho have helped him remain in the Miller Place school district, which was most important to his family.

“It all comes together very, very nicely,” he said. “We can’t do enough for our veterans to say thank you, and this is one of many ways that we can appreciate their service that they have made to our country.”

Renée Cote said she is also teaching her son to give back, and said she feels thank you will never be enough.

“I could sit there and write a million thank you cards, and to me, it would not be enough for what they’re doing,” she said. “And I don’t even think they realize what they’re doing. To first serve our country, and then to give back — and I mean give back in a huge way — it’s good to be surrounded by people like that. They’re angels walking the Earth.”

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Some of the scarier masks at Ronjo Magic & Costumes in Port Jefferson Station. Photo by Dave Paone

By Dave Paone

Port Jefferson Station is able to make a claim no other place on Long Island can: It’s home to the last brick-and-mortar magic store in all of Nassau and Suffolk County. Ronjo Magic & Costumes on Route 112 is the last of its breed, yet doesn’t look as if it’ll be performing a disappearing act anytime soon.

The 2,000 square-foot store is stocked with magic trick pieces, novelty items, costumes and a room for performances. The costume articles include wigs, masks and an extensive line of hats that hang from the ceiling. The novelty section is small, but contains the usual gags, like exploding cigarettes, hand buzzers, itching powder and the obligatory rubber chickens.

Last month, Hope Galasso, of Bellport, discovered Ronjo through a Google search and brought her 15-year-old nephew Zack Galasso to the store to purchase a Chinese coin trick for $7.

While Halloween is the bread-and-butter season for costume sales, it’s not the only time they’re in demand. Last year, 19-year-old Suffolk County Community College student Christine Day came into the store with her brother and a friend. The trio was preparing to attend Comic Con, a convention for comics, graphic novels, anime, video games, toys and movies, in New York City. Her brother was dressing as Jack Skellington from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, and her friend was dressing as Beetlejuice. The three of them needed makeup.

Ron Diamond of Ronjo Magic & Costumes, Long Island’s last-surviving magic store. Photo by Dave Paone
Ron Diamond of Ronjo Magic & Costumes, Long Island’s last-surviving magic store. Photo by Dave Paone

Owner Ron Diamond provided them with just what they needed. “We looked great,” Day said.

She also said Diamond was “really helpful” and “inviting,” so when he offered her a part-time job at the store, she took it. Currently she handles data entry, shipment of online orders, and works the counter for costumes and makeup.

Diamond’s lifelong interest in magic began in 1966 when his mother bought him a magic kit called Box-o-Magic for $3 at Billy Blake’s department store in Setauket. Then 8 years old, Diamond said the box contained just a handful of tricks, but enough to get him started.

Diamond continued to learn tricks, but with no magic store nearby, he resorted to learning new illusions from library books, and by age 12, even started to handcraft his own tricks with the help of a classmate.

Diamond got the itch to perform.

So at 13, he recruited a girl named Joanne from down the block to play the part of his onstage assistant. He wanted to give Joanne top billing, and name the act Joron, but his sister, Deborah, said he should call it Ronjo, so he did.

Ronjo’s first public performances were free for local charities in Suffolk. Since the two performers were only in eighth grade, his mother had to drive them to wherever they were performing.

Eventually, the charity work led to paying gigs. Their first was at a birthday party for a 6-year-old, where they made $6. Diamond kept $4, and paid Joanne $2.

A year later, Diamond became more polished and added new tricks to the act, and with it, the price of a show jumped to $35. The clients from the first job called to book him again, but when he told them the new rate, they hung up.

At 15, he thought he could make additional money by giving lessons and selling magic tricks in a retail setting. He talked one of the merchants at the Old Town Village indoor flea market in Setauket into letting him rent space in his booth, where he set up a 2 feet by 4 feet showcase with 12 tricks for sale.

Some of the “sexy” Halloween costumes available at Ronjo Magic & Costume shop in Port Jefferson Station. Photo by Dave Paone
Some of the “sexy” Halloween costumes available at Ronjo Magic & Costume shop in Port Jefferson Station. Photo by Dave Paone

The retail locations kept changing, and with each move, got bigger. Diamond added more showcases with more tricks for sale, and eventually landed his own 13 feet by 100 feet store at the Arcade Shopping Center in Port Jefferson Station at 16 years old. He stayed there for 14 years.

As the years went on, Diamond became a professional magician, but Joanne was no longer in the act, because her father wanted her to get a “real job.” By 1982, he had a crew working for him, including, at times, a driver, a stagehand and other performers including a sword swallower, belly dancer and disc jockey.

On occasion, customers in his store would ask for wigs, makeup and costumes. Since he never says no to a customer, he’d get whatever items they were looking for.

In 1991, Diamond hired Pete Albertson, who was one of his students, to manage the store. He’s been there for 25 years. Diamond purchased his current location in 2000. When Magic Shop in Hicksville closed three years ago, Ronjo became the last surviving magic store on Long Island.

The storefront acquired a little slice of cyberspace and joined the internet in 2003. The website saw tremendous growth over a five-year period, which peaked in 2008, almost to the point where physical store was no longer needed. But all that changed when more and more retailers began selling online, and cyber sales dropped considerably. Now, there are “more websites than customers,” he said.

On the magic side, Ronjo’s customers range from the loyal to the new. Mike Maimone of Port Jefferson Station has been purchasing tricks from Ronjo since he was 12. He’s now 48. He owns nearly 350 decks of cards — each for a different illusion — plus 250 other items for tricks. More than half of them were purchased at Ronjo.

The uncertainty of operating a shop that sells exclusively what amount to non-essential items looms over Diamond and his business, but for now, Long Island’s only magic store is still here.

“Everything here is a luxury,” he said.

Ingrid Herland, second from left, sits surrounded by family: from left, son Warren, daughter Martha and son-in-law Don Richtberg. Photo by Donna Newman

By Desirée Keegan & Donna Newman

Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) joined with the Mount Sinai Senior Citizens Club to recognize centenarian Beatrice Caravella at her 100th birthday bash on Sept. 6.

Born Beatrice Mercatante on Sept. 9, 1916, in Brooklyn to parents who emigrated from Sicily, she met her husband Fred while attending church, and together they had two children, Marilyn and Richard.

Beatrice and Fred Caravella were instrumental in spearheading a Pentecostal Church in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. They lived in Richmond Hill and Franklin Square before retiring to Miller Place. She was widowed in 1985, after 41 years of marriage.

Caravella is an avid reader and in retirement happily volunteered her time and service in hospitals, nursing homes and churches to help those less fortunate than herself.

Today she has four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. She still lives in her own home and celebrated her milestone birthday with her family and friends.

Beatrice Caravella, center, celebrates her 100th birthday with Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine, Councilwoman Jane Bonner and other family and friends. Photo from Town of Brookhaven
Beatrice Caravella, center, celebrates her 100th birthday with Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine, Councilwoman Jane Bonner and other family and friends. Photo from Town of Brookhaven

The Mount Sinai Senior Citizen Club celebrated Caravella’s centennial birthday with coffee and cake at the Rose Caracappa Senior Center in Mount Sinai. Romaine and Bonner presented her with a proclamation declaring Sept. 9, 2016, as Beatrice Caravella day in the Town of Brookhaven.

Out in Setauket, the Energizer bunny has got nothing on Ingrid Herland.

She celebrated her 106th birthday Sept. 18 with a whole weekend of partying. She shared birthday cake with her friends at Sunrise of East Setauket on Saturday and planned to spend Sunday with family at her daughter’s home.

Herland is an inspirational example of the power of positive thinking. A poetry lover, she recites verse from memory, some that she has written herself and some favorite poems — with a little Shakespeare thrown in for good measure.

Ingrid attended New York University, and said biology was her favorite subject. She left before graduation to marry and raise a family. She has three children: Warren and twins, born on Washington’s Birthday, George and Martha; five grandchildren and one great-grandchild she is looking forward to meeting at Christmastime.

Asked if she could share the secret for long life, she replied, “I never thought about it at all. I took it one year at a time. I went with the flow.” And that’s the secret. Son-in-law Don Richtberg said, “She is the most accepting person I have ever known. She seems to find the good in everyone — and everything.” And the best way to handle getting old? “You just have to be a good sport about it,” she said.

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