Headlines

Kiddie Academy hosts second annual Hop-A-Thon to raise money for the Lukemia and Lymphona Society

On Feb. 17, kids between the ages 5 and 12 turned the music up and busted a move for good reason: they helped to raise $575 for those with leukemia and those working to find a cure.

For the second year in a row, Kiddie Academy Educational Child Care in Wading River sponsored a fun-filled and awareness-driven Hop-a-thon for the Long Island chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the largest voluntary health organization dedicated to funding research, finding cures and providing treatment access for blood cancer patients.

Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Campaign Specialist Alexa Landro speaks to kids at Kiddie Academy of Wading River. Photo by Kevin Redding

As part of the organization’s Student Series, which aims to involve young people in the fight against cancer through service learning and character education programs, the event is a dance celebration for kids who, along with their parents, contributed money to the important cause. As leukemia affects more children than any other cancer, the program lets kids help kids while having fun.

But before the academy’s school age kids took to the lobby to hop and bop to songs like Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off,” they sat down for a brief presentation about what they donated money towards, engaging in true-or-false questionnaires about blood cancers and learning about the “honored heroes” on Long Island — students from local school districts who have beaten cancer.

“Thanks to each and every one of you helping to raise money, kids like these are 100 percent better today and happy and healthy,” Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Campaign Specialist Alexa Landro told the energetic kids. “You’re dancing for them and I can’t thank you enough.”

Kiddie Academy of Wading River students danced during its second annual Hop-A-Thon Feb. 17 to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Socoety. Photo by Kevin Redding

Samantha Wooley, a Kiddie Academy staff member, said the Hop-A-Thon is a reflection of the values of compassion and community contribution the students work on every month.

“In dancing, and just having fun, they’re working as a team and doing this all together,” Wooley said. “It’s broken up into different ages and levels, some of them are more shy while others are outgoing, and we’re just mixing them all together to have one big dance off.”

Kiddie Academy of Wading River reached out to the society last year to participate in the program to support one of its students who had been diagnosed with leukemia, and is currently in remission.

Christina St. Nicholas, the director of Kiddie Academy of Wading River, said in a press statement that the Hop-A-Thon was “exactly in line with our curriculum” and the child care’s “strong emphasis on character education.”

“[It’s] an exciting program that will engage our preschoolers and school-age children to help others in a fun, educational way,” St. Nicholas said. “Joining in this program to fight leukemia is one of the many ways we strive to model the values of community, compassion and cooperation each and every day.”

Kiddie Academy of Wading River staff member Michele Boccia, on left, and Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Campaign Specialist Alexa Landro, on right, talk to students about the lives they’re helping save. Photo by Kevin Redding

Nearly all 35 students in the school-age department of Kiddie Academy participated, with each classroom collecting bags of loose change. The childcare center also reached out to parents, who had the option to pay through a website or submit a check. Donations ranged from $25 to $75.

Kristin Lievre, a mother of two Kiddie Academy students from Wading River, said it’s important that the kids learn at an early age to give back to the community.

“I think it’s good to see there are ways we can help people through things like this,” she said. “This makes them feel good about what they can do for others.”

Sophia, 10, one of the star dancers of the day, echoed Lievre.

“It feels good because we can raise money for the people who are sick so they can get better,” she said, “and don’t have to deal with the sickness anymore.”

Stephen Ruth Jr. reached a plea deal for tampering with red light cameras, which will place him on probation for a year in lieu of prison time. Photo from Stephen Ruth Jr.

The merry adventures of Suffolk County’s “Red Light Robin Hood” continued last week as the Centereach resident who took matters into his own hands by tampering with red light cameras across county intersections struck a plea deal with prosecutors. The agreement reached will place him on interim probation for one year in lieu of any prison time.

Stephen Ruth Jr., who has been crusading against the county’s red light camera program since 2015 in an effort to “take the power back” by exposing what he considers government corruption and helping save Suffolk resident’s lives — for which he’s been called a domestic hero on social media — pleaded guilty in Riverhead Feb. 8 to a felony charge of criminal mischief.

Red light cameras along Route 25A, which is where some of the cameras were located that Stephen Ruth Jr. tampered with. File photo by Elana Glowatz

Since the county first installed red light cameras at busy intersections in 2010, which snap flashing photos of cars that run a red light or don’t come to a complete stop before turning right on red, they’ve been widely opposed across the county.

Ruth, who’s become the boastful face of the opposition — as evidenced by his smiley mug shot after first tampering with the devices in 2015 —has consistently called for the program’s repeal before the Suffolk County Legislature. He said the cameras and shortened yellow lights, “shortened to cause red light running for a profit,” are responsible for fatalities and accidents on the roads, have been illegally constructed without an engineer signing off on them, and are nothing more than a Suffolk County “money grab.”

“I was willing to go to jail from the beginning because I’m sticking up on behalf of those people who don’t have a voice anymore,” Ruth said. “These cameras are completely illegal and the [county] is not allowed to collect any money off them whatsoever … I knew this was going on and made my own news.”

Under the plea deal, Attorney David Raimondo said if Ruth successfully completes his probation, the felony plea will be dropped to a misdemeanor.

Stephen Ruth Jr.’s mug shot. File photo from SCPD

The 44-year-old real estate salesman may also have to pay up to $85,000 in restitution for all the cameras and equipment he’d left inoperable — a charge that will be challenged during a restitution hearing in April. Raimondo said he and his client will fight because “we believe that the entire red light camera system program is illegal and every single ticket issued from day one is a nullity.”

In the wake of the court ruling, Raimondo acknowledged that it was a good plea.

“This is something the county has to atone for and will atone for in civil litigation … it is not Stephen’s or his family’s cross to bear,” Raimondo said. “Why should Stephen sacrifice his personal freedom for what I think is nothing more than enterprise corruption?”

As Ruth has always worn his criminal tampering and obstruction of governmental administration as a badge of honor — even proudly demonstrating on his YouTube channel how he uses a painter’s extension rod to reach high-positioned red light cameras to turn its lens away from the road — Raimondo applauded his client for always taking responsibility for what he’s done.

“While I absolutely don’t condone or approve of any form of violence or destruction of property, I admire Stephen’s willingness to bring attention to the public the failures in the engineering behind the camera and how it’s affecting the taxpayers as a penalty and tax,” he said. “I [especially] admire that Stephen brought to the public’s attention the fact that the yellow light times have been shortened by the engineers because unfortunately people have been seriously injured and perhaps killed as a result.”

Red light camera. File photo

Ruth, in calling for a full investigation into the camera program to prove it’s an illegal operation, also wants to spotlight that the county continues to delete videos of any and all accidents that take place at intersections.

James Emanuel, a retired Suffolk County police officer, has dedicated himself to researching and testifying against the program, and is one of Ruth’s avid supporters.

“I’ve spoken to a lot of police officers who privately are a big fan of what he did,” Emanuel said. “You get to the point where you have to push back against the system; you just don’t have a choice. The guy saw a danger and his attitude was, ‘I’m gonna push back.’ He turned himself in every single time and he didn’t have to do that.”

In regards to Ruth’s plea deal, he said the county wants to prevent the program from being put on trial.

“There are thousands of infuriated people,” he said. “How would they find a jury of 12 people that wouldn’t find Stephen not guilty?”

Suffolk County Leg. Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) said she understands Ruth’s strong feelings and acknowledges that red light cameras, although useful in some intersections, are overused and costly.

“I think what Ruth thought he was doing was making a statement, and he clearly did make a statement,” she said. “But you have to stay within the parameters of the law to make a statement that’s not going to get you in big trouble.”

Frederick Staria III and Jason Kinlaw. Photos from SCPD

Suffolk County Police have arrested two Selden men in connection with multiple robberies that occurred earlier this week.

Following an investigation by Sixth Squad detectives, Frederick Staria III and Jason Kinlaw were arrested in connection with three robberies and an attempted robbery. Staria entered businesses, threatened the use of a weapon and demanded cash. He fled with an undisclosed amount of money. In one incident, the employee did not comply and Staria fled without proceeds. During two of the crimes, Kinlaw drove Staria to the locations.

The following businesses were robbed:

  • Gorgeous Salon, located at 1232 Middle Country Road in Selden, Feb. 12
  • QuickChek, located at 2686 Middle Country Road in Lake Grove, Feb. 13
  • Pizza Hut, located at 534-1 William Floyd Parkway in Shirley, Feb. 13

The attempted robbery occurred at:

  • Milk and Things, located at 815 Middle Country Road in Selden Feb. 13

Staria, 35, was charged with three counts of third-degree robbery, third-degree attempted robbery and four warrants. Kinlaw, 24, was charged with third-degree robbery and third-degree attempted robbery. They were held overnight at the Sixth Precinct for arraignment Feb. 14 at First District Court in Central Islip.

Committee created to start the process of creating family-oriented motorsports park

Suffolk County Legislator Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory discusses Long Islanders' desire for a drag strip in Suffolk County. Photo from Legislator Gregory's office

Suffolk County is putting the pedal to the metal in an effort to build a drag strip for its need-for-speed residents.

A large crowd of more than 100 drag racing enthusiasts filled the auditorium at the Suffolk County Legislature Feb. 7 and cheered on as Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) announced the formation of an ad hoc committee, consisting of a bipartisan group of legislators, representatives from the Department of Planning and the Suffolk County Supervisors’ Association, and members from the racing community, to start the process of bringing a family-oriented motorsports park to the county.

Long Islanders who wish to see a drag strip in Suffolk County created a Facebook page “L.I. Needs a Dragstrip.” Image from Facebook

“Long Island has thousands of families who are passionate about racing as a sport, and providing a legal outlet for drag racing could bring tremendous benefits to Suffolk County,” Gregory said during the press conference.

The ad-hoc committee was suggested by Suffolk County Legislator Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) after representatives from the “L.I. Needs a Dragstrip” advocacy group charged into the legislature auditorium in December to protest a resolution on the board’s agenda.

The board had been considering a bill for a master plan in Yaphank, but the racing community argued against accepting the master plan, claiming that the property would be better used as a drag strip. The group had been looking at some areas included in the master plan for a potential site to build on. Even though the Yaphank property wound up not being anywhere near large enough for what they were proposing, the passionate group had the board’s interest.

“I was really inspired by the passion of all those that came to the Legislature and we’re going to do all we can to try and make it a reality,” Cilmi said in a phone interview.

In terms of the crowd at both gatherings, Cilmi said, “it’s worth pointing out that in the room were young children, lots of women and lots of guys … it was a large group of very enthusiastic people and it’s not every day that you fill an auditorium with people all interested in one issue.”

The Suffolk legislators on the committee —Gregory, Cilmi, Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue), and Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) — will explore potential locations in Suffolk for the drag strip, which is projected to occupy between 100 and 200 acres, as well as the economic boom a full-fledged drag strip could bring to the struggling county.

“Long Island has thousands of families who are passionate about racing as a sport, and providing a legal outlet for drag racing could bring tremendous benefits to Suffolk County.”

—DuWayne Gregory

Gregory said the committee hopes the drag strip will deter the illegal and dangerous street racing that’s been known to take place in areas like Wyandanch. Another task is to make sure the local community and neighboring towns are behind the project and understand their quality of life will not be disrupted by it.

In building the drag strip, the committee anticipates growth in the local racing-related industry, like shops that paint the racing cars and work on engines, and job creation in those fields. There will also be food concessions within the arena, and spectators who could potentially come out and spend money at surrounding restaurants and hotels.

Gregory said any large venue has the potential to attract thousands of people and effectively increase the county’s sales tax, which has been flat for the last few years — “Long Island is losing money in sales tax as residents and tourists flock to nearby states, including New Jersey, to use their drag racing strips.” He said estimates show that a drag strip could generate more than $100 million in revenue.

He proposed that this would be “a safe and enjoyable attraction that people [will] want to come to.”

Kruspki, who grew up in Cutchogue and remembers his grandfather taking him to the Riverhead Raceway when he was young, said the racing culture is still very much alive.

“A lot of people are really interested in this and enjoy racing and working on cars and so to most people it’s more than a hobby, it’s more of a lifestyle,” he said in a phone interview. “I give DuWayne Gregory credit for putting this together; it’s a nice bipartisan group and everyone sees the value in it.”

While still too early to confirm any serious location ideas, the committee and members of the advocacy group have areas like Enterprise Park in Riverhead on a list of potential sites to build on. One of the motorsports advocates has expressed interest in contributing a piece of their own property.

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta said the proposed drag strip has the potential to bring in needed revenue for Suffolk County. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

“It’s going to be tough to find a spot to put this because a lot of people won’t want to hear it,” Trotta said in a phone interview. “It’s going to have to be somewhere far away from most people, but we’re going to try our utmost [best] to find a place.”

Trotta, who has been consistently vocal about Suffolk’s current economic state, said while he doesn’t necessarily believe the drag strip will be “a savior of Suffolk County,” there’s great potential to bring in needed revenue.

“There’s not a resort in Nassau or Suffolk, and Long Island is bigger than most cities,” Trotta said. “There’s an opportunity for us to make something and mix it with the drag strip. We need people from the city to come out here and spend money.”

During the press conference, John Cozzali, a Mastic resident and founder of “Long Island Needs a Drag Strip,” said he was happy to see the Legislature taking a serious look at his group’s long-dreamt project.

“We look forward to working on this initiative, which we believe will have a positive economic impact for Long Island and will create a safe place for the new generation to come and race,” Cozzali said.

According to Gregory, the full economic analysis, conceptual planning of the racetrack and location securing should take roughly nine months.

by -
0 1101

Port Jefferson take share of League VII title after senior day win

Courntey Lewis looks up under the rim amid a swarm of Pierson opponents. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Courtney Lewis drives to the basket. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Entering Port Jefferson’s final regular season game just 34 points away from becoming the 22nd player in Suffolk County girls’ basketball history to reach 2,000 career points, Courtney Lewis admitted she was anxious.

Her Thursday afternoon home game was rescheduled for Friday afternoon, only to be pushed back to a Saturday morning matchup as a result of last week’s snowstorm.

“It was stressful,” she said. “There was this build up, and I was so excited to finally get to the game.

When Lewis joined Port Jefferson’s varsity basketball team six years ago, she couldn’t have predicted the feat she would eventually achieve.

Jillian Colucci moves the ball into Pierson’s zone. Photo by Desireee Keegan

She reached 1,500 career points earlier this season, and at that point she said the thought of reaching 2,000 became a goal. The dream became a tangible milestone when she scored a field goal in the fourth quarter of her team’s 64-30 senior day win over Pierson-Bridgehampton Feb. 11. She finished with 39 points to move her to 2,005 for her career.

“Going into the game I knew I was 34 points away, so I told myself I wouldn’t think about it,” Lewis said. “But then, my coach pulled me out when there was two minutes left in the third quarter and said, ‘Do you know how many point away you are?’ and I said no. He told me I was three points away. I had no idea I was that close.”

Lewis scored the first nine points of the game for the Royals, on two field goals and a three-point play. In the second, she sank six more after converting a turnover and two offensive rebounds into three buckets.

Senior Jillian Colucci said she’s always marveled at what her teammate has been able to do on the court.

“Courtney is absolutely phenomenal,” she said. “When I dish the ball off to her she makes these nearly impossible shots and I just stand there in amazement.”

Jackie Brown looks to make a pass. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Lewis credited her teammates for her success.

“We did really well pushing the ball and looking for open girls,” she said. “We prepared all season and we’re ready to take on the playoffs.”

Several assists and multiple turnovers caused by the Royals’ defense helped her chip away at the 34 points until her goal was met.

“It was on today,” senior Corinne Scannell said. “We were working on our defense a lot in practice and it just shows that hard work pays off. We were able to get more traps and read their offense better. On the press we were also really good.”

Lewis needed three points heading into the final quarter, and after assisting on the first field goal of the quarter, she made a layup at the 5:49 mark to pull her within one point. She sank her 2,000th career point a minute later.

“It’s one of my best memories of basketball so far — being my senior year, my last home game, it’s great,” she said.

Corinne Scannell leaps for the ball at tipoff. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Colucci said the culmination of Lewis’ achievement, senior day and the team’s last game of the regular season made the victory sweeter.

“Being with these girls for the last time on this court, to win, it just tops off the season,” she said. “We had a lot of steals and we played really tough. This is my last sport, my last time playing in the Port Jefferson gym and it’s surreal, but it’s great to do it with these girls.”

With the win, Port Jefferson ended the regular season 15-1 and earned a share of the League VII title with Sayville.

“That was definitely our goal, so it feels incredible to have accomplished it,” Colucci said. “We’re working as hard as ever and I think we’re going to go far. We’re hoping that this isn’t the end.”

Echo Avenue. File photo

Suffolk County Police arrested two adults for hosting a party at their Sound Beach residence Feb. 11 after a teenager needed medical attention.

Seventh Precinct Patrol officers responded to a call from a parking lot across from 271 Echo Ave., at approximately 10:55 p.m., after a teenage girl became ill from alcohol consumption. The girl was coming from a party. When police arrived, there were more than 100 underage teenagers spilling out into the street. Alcohol was at the party.

The girl was transported to a local hospital for treatment.

Police arrested and charged the hosts, Charles Suomi, 40, and Farnelle Marseille 35, with violating the social host law. Both were issued field appearance tickets and released. They are scheduled to be arraigned at First District Court in Central Islip on April 12.

by -
0 1659

Wildcats' 44-33 win earns them share of League VI title

 

By Bill Landon

Shoreham-Wading River was hungry for revenge, and junior Erin Triandafils used it to feed a six-point scoring streak off the bench in the fourth quarter, which led to a 44-33 Wildcats win over previously undefeated Mount Sinai.

“Mount Sinai is a good rival in every sport, and we finally beat them,” Triandafils said. “It was definitely very exciting. We were hoping to play great defense, get some baskets and just play our game.”

Licking their wounds from their only League VI loss of the season, the Wildcats wanted to avenge the Jan. 17 defeat in front of their home crowd Feb. 11.

Shoreham-Wading River head coach Adam Lievre said he suspected the last game of the regular season would be a key matchup between both teams, and have it set the tone for the postseason.

“Going into the year, we both would’ve figured that there was a good chance this was how it was going to go down,” Lievre said. “We knew who they lost due to graduation, but we brought everybody back, so we expected to be fighting for the top spot.”

Mount Sinai was protecting a 17-0 season and 13-0 league record, but the Mustangs couldn’t overcome its rival as the lead began to slip away in the second half.

Shoreham-Wading River’s defense had held Mount Sinai senior Victoria Johnson scoreless until she found the rim three times in the third quarter. Classmate Veronica Venezia scored from the paint, sophomore Holly McNair banked two points and so did sophomore Gabriella Sartori, as the Mustangs edged ahead 27-22 with just over four minutes left.

Shoreham-Wading River tied the game at 29-29, and senior Lindsey McKenna hit a buzzer-beater that gave her team the edge heading into the final eight minutes of play.

Senior Maria Smith said her team had been practicing for weeks with the matchup against Mount Sinai in mind.

“We just wanted revenge, and we finally got it,” Smith said. “I knew that we had momentum and we went into the huddle [and said] we have to keep this [lead]. We can’t lose it.”

That’s when Triandafils scored three straight times.

“Erin [Triandafils], she’s been groomed to play behind Maria [Smith], because they’re very similar in what they’re capable of doing,” Lievre said. “We took a chance and gave her a couple of minutes, and it worked out really well.”

Junior Mikayla Dwyer led Shoreham-Wading River with 10 points, Smith scored eight and seniors Mackenzie Zajac and Sophie Triandafils, Erin’s older sister, each added seven points.

Venezia was atop the scoreboard for Mount Sinai with eight points, Johnson was right behind with seven and McNair, Sartori and sophomore Brooke Cergol rounded out the scoring with six points each..

With the loss, Mount Sinai shares the league title with Shoreham-Wading River.

“At certain times of the season you’re going to have adversity, and this is something we’ll be dealing with when it comes to the playoffs,” Mount Sinai head coach Michael Pappalardo said. “I thought this was a good game for us. I looked at this game as one with a playoff atmosphere. Adversity makes us better.”

Over the summer, Shoreham-Wading River graduate and singer-songwriter Gina Mingoia stepped into her father’s home studio in their garage to fulfill a promise she made to her late friend and classmate Tom Cutinella, a 16-year-old student who died in October 2014 following a head-on collision during a football game.

Months before his death, when they were both entering 11th grade, Cutinella told Mingoia, who was then in the process of auditioning for NBC’s “The Voice,” that if she ever became famous, she had to write a song about him.

More than two years later, it’s the 18-year-old singer’s heartfelt and moving “I Wish (Tom’s Song),” released last week on iTunes, Spotify and YouTube with a music video that’s reached more than 8,000 views, about Cutinella, their long friendship and the impact of his loss, that has catapulted her into the local spotlight.

Gina Mingoia and Tom Cutinella in eighth grade. Photo from Gina Mingoia

Both the song, which recently hit the airwaves on 101.7 “The Beach,” and its video, which shows Mingoia reflecting on her friend in several settings including the high school’s recently-dedicated Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field, have served as sources of healing for those closest to Cutinella, especially Mingoia herself.

“I Wish” was the first song she wrote after the fatal accident, between December 2014 and January 2015, after taking some time away from her passion in the midst of mourning.

Even though she had been trying to write songs in the aftermath that weren’t about the loss, she couldn’t. Finally, she sat down and the song came pouring out in as little as 15 minutes. “I wish I got to say goodbye,” sings Mingoia in the bridge. “To see his smile one more time.”

“The words came quickly,” Mingoia said. “I played the guitar and wrote it. I didn’t even show my dad for a while after … I just kind of kept it to myself.”

Her father Sal, a Suffolk County police officer and local musician who served as producer and played all the instruments on “I Wish,” said the song helped his daughter get through her devastation.

“[Gina] had a strange reaction to the death; all of her friends were collapsing and hitting the ground and screaming and crying, but she almost had no reaction,” Sal Mingoia said. “She just walked around in a daze — so maybe the song is what brought her out of it and brought her back to normal. She put all her feelings into it and it just came out.”

“To know that [Gina Mingoia] respected and loved [Tom] so much that she would write about him was amazing. We were just so humbled that she did it.”

—Kelli Cutinella

After recording “I Wish” in the middle of summer, Mingoia said her father was adamant about filming a video for the song and showing it to the world, but she knew she couldn’t do that without the approval of the Cutinella family. Sal and Gina Mingoia have performed together at the Thomas Cutinella Golf Tournament, a fundraising event started by Frank and Kelli Cutinella, Tom’s parents, and it was there, in October 2016, that Mingoia shared the song with them.

“I thought they were going to say no,” she said. “I thought it was going to be too invasive, but they loved it and pushed for it. Once it was done, Mrs. Cutinella just got right up and hugged me, for like five minutes, and said in my ear that he is watching and that he loved it. That made me cry.”

Kelli Cutinella, who thinks Mingoia is “an amazing artist with a beautiful voice,” was especially moved. As it’s their mission in life to keep her son’s memory alive and his legacy strong, she and her husband felt honored.

“She did not have to write this song about [Tom] … she wrote it from her heart and that speaks volumes to us,” Cutinella said. “To know that she respected and loved [Tom] so much that she would write about him was amazing. We were just so humbled that she did it, and as soon as she shared it with us, we shared it with others.”

Thomas Cutinella died following a head-on collision on the football field in 2014. Photo from Kelli Cutinella

For the video, shot in November, Sal Mingoia enlisted the help of his friend Frank Lombardi, a police helicopter pilot and skilled cameraman whose expertise helped bring the message of the song to life.

The emotional video features the singer, wearing a hat that bears Cutinella’s jersey number “54” throughout, looking at her late friend’s “in loving memory” page in the yearbook, clippings from newspaper articles following his passing, and a local barber shop adorned with his name and number.

In a shot in the beginning of the video, Mingoia shows a tattoo on her bicep that reads “I love you” in Cutinella’s handwriting, taken from a little note, featured at the end of the video, he gave to her in health class.

She said she and Cutinella, upon meeting the summer before sixth grade, were immediate friends, were always in the same science and math honors classes, and even formed an “apocalyptic preparation squad” through their love of AMC’s “The Walking Dead.”

“There was not a single person in the world who knew him and didn’t love him,” Mingoia said. “He was just a genuinely good person in every way.”

She thinks it’s incredible that even people who don’t know her, only knowing Cutinella, are sharing the video, a majority of whom have sent her messages sharing their favorite memories of the former Wildcats athlete.

“They’re incredible to read,” she said. “I just want people who loved Tom and need a way to remember him to use [the video]. I think our community, in particular, and all of Long Island can relate to it.”

Tracey Farrell, above, with her son Kevin who died of a heroin overdose, created an organization On Kevin’s Wings that helped Nick McErlean, below, afford recovery. Photo from Tracey Farrell

By Desirée Keegan

One hundred and one days ago, Nick McErlean got on his knees as he does every night and prayed.

The 27-year-old struggling drug addict and alcoholic was looking for a way out and a way off Long Island.

“I said, ‘God, you could send me to West Palm Beach, or you can keep me here,’” he said. “‘Whichever is your will.’”

At 8:30 a.m. the next morning, Tracey Farrell, a complete stranger to McErlean, called him regarding her new nonprofit organization, On Kevin’s Wings, to tell him she’d like to help him get that plane ticket out of New York and into recovery. After her two-hour initial conversation, she kept in close contact with him, and after a short two-day span, he was on a plane to Florida. He’s now 99 days sober.

Nick McErlean. Photo from Tracey Farrell

“I say this very seriously — it’s like God sent me an angel,” McErlean said. “Tracey found out about me and just took a chance, and it’s turned out to be the greatest thing to ever happen to me. I struggled for 13 years with drug addiction and alcoholism and what Tracey provided for me was a fresh start somewhere new. I could seek out the recovery I wanted and find out who Nick really is.”

Farrell, the founder of the group North Shore Drug Awareness, who helped work with Suffolk County to create the PSA “Not My Child,” following the loss of her son Kevin to a heroin overdose, said that although she initially wanted to create a coalition two years ago, she realized what she was doing was much more important.

“Of course, prevention is important, but North Shore [Drug Awareness] is really about awareness, communication, education, support — it’s just such a bigger scope than that,” she said. “I’ve had so many people reach out to me for help with their family members to get treatment, and so often I hear of families who want to send their kids out of state and unfortunately are stuck because of financial hardships. It totally clicked in my head, that that’s where I can help. Whether it’s airfare, bus fare, train fare. Anywhere I can help with transportation I’m going to take advantage of it.”

While formulating an idea of what she wanted her foundation to be, McErlean was living at a sober home in Riverhead. He said he was unhappy, and he was afraid he’d start using again.

“I’d been on Long Island my whole life, and I felt stuck,” he said. “I was caught in the grips of an overwhelming cocaine addiction. I saw my life on the streets ending with death, and I knew I didn’t want to die, and I knew that I didn’t want to be homeless and I didn’t want to hurt anybody else, most importantly myself.”

In conversation with a friend in the Riverhead facility, McErlean joked about wanting to move away. His friend responded that if he was serious, he might know someone who could help. McErlean was connected with Katrin O’Leary in West Palm Beach, who helped place his new friend in the home in Riverhead. The parent advocate told him that if he could get money for a flight, she’d save him a bed.

“It takes a village to help each other,” said O’Leary, who is also on the board of the Florida Association of Recovery Residencies. “Due to my connections, I connected him with someone who was willing to scholarship him in until he gets his feet on the ground.”

“I’m a suicide survivor, and the biggest thing that I’ve gotten out of this whole journey is my will to live back.”

—Nick McErlean

But he didn’t have money for a flight. After telling O’Leary, that’s when she reached out to Farrell, whom she’s known for a few years, asking if she knew anyone that could help.

“I literally had just started the foundation, so it was kind of amazing,” Farrell said when she received the call from O’Leary. “It reinforced me that this was the right thing to do.”

Two days later, she was helping put McErlean on a plane to Florida, and O’Leary, whose son is currently 25 months sober, couldn’t be happier to help him and for the work Farrell continues to do.

“He’s thriving,” O’Leary said. “It feels fantastic to help another person find their way into recovery. That’s what we all hope for. It’s someone’s child, and everyone should have a fair chance at life, especially when they’re willing. And Tracey is my hero. I cannot even fathom losing a child to substance abuse disorder and instead of just walking away, because that would’ve been her way out, she continues to help other children. I have the utmost respect for her.”

While some say the best way to get over the past is to face it head on, that was not the case for McErlean, who tried and continued to fail. He said being on Long Island he was surrounded by the reminders of his past, but in Florida, recovery and sobriety is all he knows, and he’s surrounded by people who will go to great lengths to get and stay sober.

“That’s what I needed in my life,” he said. “My whole life, I had a void within myself. I never felt worthy of anything. I never felt that anything I got I deserved. I always felt less than and I came down here on a self-seeking discovery and the journey is turning out to be beyond my wildest dreams already.”

In Florida, he’s gaining more than just sobriety. He has a full-time job, and he’s seeing and experiencing things besides sobriety he said he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to without Farrell’s help.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that if I stayed on Long Island I would have relapsed and I would have died,” he said. “It’s just how my life had gone from 14 years old to the point before I moved down here. I’m a suicide survivor, and the biggest thing that I’ve gotten out of this whole journey is my will to live back.”

McErlean called Farrell when he reached 90 days sober. It happened to be the day Farrell started a GoFundMe page for her organization. As of publication, On Kevin’s Wings has raised $2,075 with the help of 33 donors.

Tracey Farrell’s children Breanna and Kevin. Kevin died of an overdose, leading to Farrell becoming an advocate for awareness and support for addicts. Her daughter is currently a recovering addict who, like Nick McErlean, received help from being sent off of Long Island. Photo from Tracey Farrell

“I’m watching the money come in … and $1 million could’ve come in and I would still be more happy about his 90 days,” she said. “I’m just so proud. That’s a big number. That’s when their brain actually starts to heal — after that 90-day mark, so it’s so key that he got there. My son didn’t get to get to the 90-day point. Kevin was just shy of 90 days. I could cry that’s how much it means.”

Farrell said when she first got involved in helping others, she told herself, “if I could help one person,” but knew one was not enough.

“The fact that people know me by name now and know that they can come to me and I can help them, it’s the most gratifying thing,” she said. “It helps me heal in ways I could never have imagined.”

Farrell held the organization’s first fundraising event, a food and wine pairing dinner at Pure North Fork Craft Kitchen & Bar in Wading River Jan. 25. The event sold out days in advance. The next fundraiser will be held at Buffalo Wild Wings in Miller Place in March.

If in need of help, reach out to Farrell through the Facebook page North Shore Drug Awareness or On Kevin’s Wings Facebook page. If you’d like to donate to the organization’s cause, visit www.gofundme.com/on-kevins-wingshope-takes-flight.

“It’s only because of this relocation process that I’ve become so willing,” McErlean said. “The addiction crisis on Long Island is absolutely at an all-time high and I’m tired of burying friends, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mothers, fathers, you name it. People are dropping like flies. As I gain more and more sobriety and as I gain more and more through this process, it isn’t about me anymore. I want other people to know and see that there is a way out.”

President Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of education Betsy DeVos has been met with opposition from North Shore educators. Photo from Senate committee website

Many North Shore superintendents and educators are concerned with President Donald Trump’s (R) nominee for secretary of education: Betsy DeVos, chairman of The Windquest Group, a privately-held investment and management firm based in Michigan, to serve as secretary of education. According to her website, the Michigan resident has a history in politics spanning more than 35 years. She was elected as chairman of the Michigan Republican Party four times, and worked in a leadership capacity for campaigns, party organizations and political action committees, her website states.

DeVos went before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions for a confirmation hearing Jan. 17.

“Any programs and initiatives that attempt to weaken public education by diverting funds away from it … do not have my support.”

—Paul Casciano

“I share President-elect Trump’s view that it’s time to shift the debate from what the system thinks is best for kids to what moms and dads want, expect and deserve,” DeVos said during her opening remarks at the hearing. “Why, in 2017, are we still questioning parents’ ability to exercise educational choice for their children? I am a firm believer that parents should be empowered to choose the learning environment that’s best for their individual children. The vast majority of students in this country will continue to attend public schools. If confirmed, I will be a strong advocate for great public schools. But, if a school is troubled, or unsafe, or not a good fit for a child — perhaps they have a special need that is going unmet — we should support a parent’s right to enroll their child in a high-quality alternative.”

DeVos’ views on public education created a stir around the country, and superintendents from the North Shore and county as a whole joined the chorus of those skeptical about the direction she might take the country’s education system.

“I have devoted my entire adult life to public education and believe it is the bedrock of our democracy,” Port Jefferson school district Superintendent Paul Casciano said in an email. “Any programs and initiatives that attempt to weaken public education by diverting funds away from it or that offer alternatives that are not subjected to the same strict standards and scrutiny that public schools must live by, do not have my support.”

Kings Park Superintendent Tim Eagen echoed many of Casciano’s concerns.

“I find President Trump’s nomination for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, to be unacceptable,” he said in an email. “Education in this country is at an important crossroads. As an educational leader and parent of two public school students, it is my goal to provide our children with a globally competitive, rigorous, relevant and challenging education that will prepare them to be active, contributing members of society.”

“As an educational leader and parent of two public school students, it is my goal to provide our children with a globally competitive, rigorous, relevant and challenging education.”

—Tim Eagan

Eagen also has concerns about DeVos’ qualifications.

“I believe that Betsy DeVos is unqualified to run the U.S. Department of Education,” he said. “She is a businesswoman and politician without any experience in public service or public education. She does not have an education degree, has no teaching experience, has no experience working in a school environment, never attended public school or a state university, and did not send her own four children to public school.”

Middle Country Central School District  Superintendent Roberta Gerold stressed that she does not support the appointment of DeVos, stating that she believes all of DeVos’ actions to date evidence a lack of support for, and understanding of public education.

“I was disappointed with her answers during the hearing – she didn’t appear to do much, if any, homework,” Gerold said. “She couldn’t seem to, for example, understand or explain the difference between growth and proficiency — very basic concepts. And her answer to whether guns should be allowed in schools — please.”

The superintendent said, though, that she is most disappointed that DeVos would even be considered for the position.

“It seems clear to me that this is purely a political appointment, not an appointment that recognizes merit or values authentic education,” Gerold said. “John King — who I don’t believe was a great champion of public education, at least had credentials that deserved respect. The new nominee does not. It’s worrisome and disconcerting….and insulting to the public education system, K–12 and beyond.”

She said her teachers, several who are community residents, are preparing a petition that requests the board of education adopt of resolution in opposition to the appointment.

“I was disappointed with her answers during the hearing – she didn’t appear to do much, if any, homework.”

—Roberta Georld

“I believe that our board will be supportive of that request,” she said. “I know that our board president is in agreement with opposing the nomination.”

The Miller Place school district’s administration and board of education drafted and passed a resolution opposing DeVos’ appointment. Superintendent Marianne Cartisano addressed the appointment in an open letter on the district’s website.

“Our concerns are twofold,” she said. “The first reservation we have is regarding the candidate’s lack of first-hand experience as an educator or administrator within the public school system. Since the majority of the children in the United States are currently being educated within the public school system, we feel that this experience is very important for an effective Secretary of Education.”

Cartisano elaborated on her other issues with DeVos.

“Her record also shows a clear bias towards private, parochial and charter schools and the use of vouchers to attend these schools,” Cartisano said. “This bias leads us to our second overarching concern with Betsy DeVos as a candidate for Secretary of Education. The concern is that Betsy DeVos has been a strong advocate for the use of public funds to attend private schools through vouchers, and this would have a direct negative impact on our public school system’s fiscal stability if it is put into effect on a national level.”

The committee will vote to either approve or deny DeVos’ nomination Jan. 31.

Victoria Espinoza and Desirée Keegan contributed reporting.

Social

9,387FansLike
0FollowersFollow
1,155FollowersFollow
33SubscribersSubscribe