Kids

Marissa Pastore and her mom, flanked by Disney characters. Photo from Katrina Kurczak

A 14-year-old Huntington Station girl who was recently diagnosed with a terminal illness got the wish of her life on Sunday when her favorite Disney characters came out to celebrate with her.

Marissa Pastore, who has been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) on April 20, was treated at the Cohen Children’s Center, but her fragile body was unable to handle the chemotherapy, according to a GoFundMe online fundraising account set up for the family. A few days later, Marissa returned home with her mom Risa, dad Domenick and two brothers Domenick and Ryan, to enjoy their final days together.

Marissa’s mom is an emergency department nurse at Huntington Hospital and her dad is a former Huntington Manor Fire Department chief and a fireman with the New York City Fire Department (FDNY), according to the account. Both are volunteers at the Huntington Manor Fire Department, and the account was set up so the family could “concentrate solely on loving Marissa.”

Marissa Pastore, 14, gets the surprise of a lifetime when Disney characters visit her. Photo from Katrina Kurczak
Marissa Pastore, 14, gets the surprise of a lifetime when Disney characters visit her. Photo from Katrina Kurczak

“Please help us support the Pastore family with any donation you can make which will go toward covering their living expenses while they take time off from work to celebrate Marissa’s life together.”

Not only did the account amass more than $55,000 by Wednesday, Marissa got a special surprise when Minnie Mouse, Mickey Mouse, Olaf and other characters from popular Disney movies greeted the 14-year-old Disney lover, thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

According to Katrina Kurczak, one of Marissa’s wish granters and assistant director of program services for Make-A-Wish, the nonprofit group and the family put together Marissa’s wish quickly. Family and community members contacted them Tuesday, April 28, and the group met with the family Wednesday. On Sunday, her wish came true.

“She was surprised and so happy, she couldn’t believe it,” Kurczak said. The characters rode in on fire trucks and greeted her.

The goal was to bring Disney to her, as Marissa is unable to travel due to her condition. Disney princesses Anna and Elsa from “Frozen” also made a special appearance and sang to the young girl.

“Her dad wanted to do something to make her smile,” Kurczak said.

Many volunteers came together to help make the day as special as possible. The Huntington Manor Fire Department, Cold Spring Harbor Fire Department and the FDNY also helped make Marissa’s wish come true.

To donate to the Pastore family, visit http://www.gofundme.com/sus6z8.

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Stock photo

The Comsewogue School District will be conducting a lottery to determine which students will be attending its half-day pre-kindergarten program this fall.

The lottery will be held at the district office on Monday, June 15, at 11 a.m.

Applications will be mailed to all district residents and are also available in the main office of each of the district’s schools and at the district office.

Completed applications are due back to the district office by 2:30 p.m. on Friday, May 22.

Contact Jennifer Reph, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, at 631-474-8110, with any questions.

Johnny Cuomo sings to a group of children at the 2013 Middle County Public Library Apple Festival in Centereach. Photo by Kristin Cuomo

By Sue Wahlert

It’s quite possible that Mount Sinai’s Johnny Cuomo lives, breathes and sleeps music. Added to his life’s obsession are his love of cultures, nature, children and storytelling. He is a multidimensional music man who is lovingly known to many as “Mr. C.” As he says in his online introduction video, he is “deeply connected with nature, music, children and stories for children.”

However, there is even more to Cuomo than his guitar or his penny whistle.  There is a wisdom that lives within him.  It is a culmination of family vacations to the National Parks, his time spent volunteering on Indian Reservations in California and backpacking and studying abroad in Ireland, his dedication to religion and his need to make music. With all of this information, he has made it his life’s work to share his knowledge with children and adults through his musical storytelling profession and his performances in Irish Pubs.

At a very young age, Cuomo’s Stony Brook family began laying the groundwork for the man he has become.

“My parents had me interested in wolves, birds and bears,” said Cuomo. In college, Cuomo discovered the world of bird watching and is now an avid watcher. He uses his knowledge to incorporates tales of birds into some of his early childhood education programs.

Because Cuomo was exposed to history at a very young age, he was open to the experiences of volunteering at the Vieajas and Barona Indian Reservations in San Diego. “At night I would hang out with the elders. This enabled me to learn about their cultures and share my culture,” reflected Cuomo. This was also the first time Cuomo had the opportunity to work with children. “It solidified my love of working with children,” he said.

Cuomo’s love of Irish music was ignited during the two months he spent backpacking in Ireland, where he carried his belongings and a guitar. “I wanted to learn stories, music and history of the Irish,” he said. Upon returning home, he knew he had to go back, but this time would be via a study abroad program.  During his eight months of study, Cuomo learned to play the tin whistle, banjo and mandolin, and began performing Irish music.

In the late 1990s, Cuomo formed the popular Irish band, Gallowglass. Although they are no longer together, the musicians sometimes collaborate.  Currently you can see Cuomo on most Sunday nights performing Irish music at the Pig ‘n’ Whistle on 2nd Ave. in New York City.

Cuomo understands the vital importance of music in the life of children and adults. He offers private instruction and also has a wide range of children’s programs for Preschoolers through 12th grade. For more than seven years, Cuomo has been doing a weekly music program at the Chatterbox Day School in East Islip.

Director Lindsay Parker said of Cuomo, “The children look forward to their weekly music classes with “Mr. C.” They are fun, creative and exciting. Johnny brings a new dimension to children’s music that is rare to find!”
You might also find Cuomo on stage at the outdoor classroom at Play Groups School in East Setauket, strumming on his guitar while the preschoolers act out musical stories as they sing and dance.  Educational Director Maddy Friedman applauds Cuomo, saying “he is an exceptional music educator who brings his joy and love of music to our school.” Cuomo is scheduled to perform at the school’s annual May Fair on May 30.

Since 2000, Cuomo has also shared his talents at the Comprehensive Kids Developmental School, a public, special needs preschool on the lower east side of Manhattan. The opportunity to work with the special needs population has impressed upon Cuomo the importance of therapeutic music. “I can reach these kids with my music,” said Cuomo. “I have a special drum I use, where they can feel the vibration, and also a whistle, so they can feel the air move. It is a gift to be able to work with these kids.” Annemarie Fuschetti, the school’s former psychologist, said of Cuomo, “Everyone lights up when Johnny comes. Even those with the most difficult behaviors.”

One might wonder how one person can do all of this? Cuomo laughed as he said, “I have a number of part-time jobs that add up to more than a full-time job. I have traded sleep for time with my family.” His two boys, Johnny, 7, and Paul, 6, are also music lovers and have been to hundreds of their father’s gigs.  Recently, Cuomo was invited to play at Walt Disney World with a group of fellow Irish musicians. Fortunately his wife and sons were invited to be part of this journey, to experience the park and see Cuomo play an Irish music and dance show at Raglan Road Irish Pub in Downtown Disney.

More recently, Cuomo signed with manager Jean Marie Keevins of Little Shadow Productions. Keevins will serve as a liaison to other writers and companies with whom Cuomo might be able to collaborate and sell his original ideas to. The professional arena is wide open, from books to theater to animation. It is an exciting time for the artist.

Additionally, Cuomo is excited to be heading off to Alaska this July for the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival, where he will be teaching workshops and playing concerts focused on traditional Irish and American Folk music.

To top it off, the never weary Cuomo and his wife Kristin will be running their weeklong summer program, “Birds of a Feather Nature Camp.” Based out of the Setauket Neighborhood House, they have been running this outdoor program for more than 13 years. “We want to get kids to go outside and observe all that is here locally. It is an opportunity to see what’s in your backyard,” said Cuomo. The camp combines music, nature, crafts and hiking, all of which encourage kids to connect with nature and music.

Check out Cuomo’s website at www.johnnycuomo.com to learn more about his programs, listen to some of his CDs and check on upcoming shows. Any time spent with Cuomo is a time to remember, as his stories and music live on in the minds and hearts of many.

From left, Bobby Montaniz, Amanda Geraci and James D. Schultz in ‘The Littlest Pirate.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

Avast ye! Theatre Three’s world premiere of the musical adventure, “The Littlest Pirate,” which opened last Saturday, takes us from a baseball diamond to a treasure hunt on Diamond Isle and is a rollicking home run.

Written by Tim Peierls and Jeffrey Sanzel, the play tells the story of Annalise, a young girl who wants to play on the Petaluma Pirates Little League baseball team who are always losing to the Rovers from Roger’s Refrigeration. When the coach tells her that the only way she can be on the team is to cheat, Annalise is torn between playing a sport she loves and doing the right thing. She falls asleep on a bench and is swept away into a Pirate Dreamland where she faces the same dilemma when she encounters a band of pirates who want her to switch a real treasure map with a fake one.

Sanzel, who also directed the show, has gathered an enormously talented group of seven adult actors who all tackle duel roles with inexhaustible energy. The petite Amanda Geraci is the perfect choice to play Annalise, the littlest pirate. An incredible actress and singer, Geraci’s solo, “Always Wanted to Play Baseball,” is amazing.

James D. Schultz shines as Coach Wallop and Captain Pyrate who only speaks Pyrish. The one and only Bobby Montaniz is hilarious as he tells numerous jokes as Bobbo and Pirate Parrot. Hans Paul Hendrickson plays the role of twins, Fred and Norville and the Pirate Forvilles, which wasn’t an easy task, but he pulls it off with ease. Jenna Kavaler is wonderful as Jenny, the Petaluma Pirates’ best baseball player who really just wants to play the oboe. Evelyne Lune, as Erin Petaluma and The Pirate Queen, is the all-knowing matriarch of the group and switches roles effortlessly. Rounding out the cast is Andrew Gasparini as Boyd and Pirate Boyd, a terrific actor who has found his own niche on stage and clearly enjoys what he’s doing.

Although the set is minimal with only a few props, costume designer Margaret Ward has spared no expense with matching baseball uniforms and colorful pirate outfits. Choreographed by Marquéz Stewart and accompanied on piano by Peierls and on bass by David Goldberg, the musical numbers are superb, especially “How to Speak Pyrish” and the delightful “Great Day for a Treasure Hunt,” which you will be humming on your way out of the theater.

As with most children’s shows at Theatre Three, there are moral lessons sprinkled throughout the performance. In this case, kids will learn about cheating and the everlasting lesson of “it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” It is no easy task getting a young audience to sit still for periods at a time, but “The Littlest Pirate” does the trick. No restlessness here  — just children sitting wide-eyed on the edge of their seats, enthralled by the enchantment of live theater. Kids of all ages will enjoy “The Littlest Pirate.” It is funny, entertaining and a great way to spend a Saturday morning.

The entire cast will be in the lobby after the show for a meet and greet and photo opportunities.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “The Littlest Pirate” on Saturday mornings at 11 a.m. through May 9. Tickets are $10 per person. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

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Community rallies to raise $1,000 after funds go missing

The Mickey Mouse collection box that Sound Beach’s Kristen Abbondondelo decorated. Photo from Kerri Bové

By Erin Dueñas

Community members from Rocky Point and Sound Beach opened their wallets and their hearts over the weekend to replace a local family’s lost Disney vacation fund.

Sound Beach mother of three Kerri Bové had $1,000 cash in an envelope tucked in her purse on April 1, ready to use the funds to pay back a friend who had laid out the money for plane tickets to the amusement park.

Bové first had to drop her daughter off at a local gymnastics center where she used some of that cash to pay for tickets to an upcoming recital.

“I went to hand over my credit card to pay for the tickets when they told me it was cash only,” Bové said.
While a line formed behind her, she said she carefully thumbed through the Disney money to get out the amount she needed for the recital tickets.

Notes support the Bové family. Photo from Kerri Bové
Notes support the Bové family. Photo from Kerri Bové

In midst of the transaction, Bové started a conversation with her daughter’s gymnastics teacher and tended to her crying 2-year-old. She then left the facility to stop at the bank to replace the cash she had just used for the recital, and headed out to meet her friend to pay her for the tickets.

Less than a half hour later, Bové was tearing apart her car and her purse, searching everywhere for the money but it was nowhere to be found.

“My heart was pounding, I was searching frantically,” Bové said. “It was totally gone.”

In a panic, Bové called the gymnastics place hoping she had left the envelope there, but they said they couldn’t find it. She drove back to see if she dropped it in the parking lot, but still turned up empty.

“I was getting choked up thinking about all the months we spent planning this trip,” Bové said, noting that her husband Ray had been working 16-hour days, seven days a week to pay for it. “I was sick to my stomach. There was no way we would be able to pay my friend back and re-buy the tickets.”

The couple filed a police report, but the officer told them there was little chance that the money would turn up. That night, she took to the Rocky Point and Sound Beach community pages on Facebook to make a plea to the person who took the money.

“Please I beg you if you know anything or accidently took the money PLEASE return it,” Bové wrote. “I know we live in a good community and I want to show my children there are good, honest people in this world.”
“I was hoping the person who took it would see it,” Bové said. “I wanted them to just return it and to know that my kids were devastated.”

Bové said that the trip would be the first her family had taken since suffering a series of losses over the past few years, including the sudden deaths of her brother and nephew, as well as the death of her father just last year.

“We were so looking forward to it since the past couple of years had been so hard for us.”

Bové said she never dreamt of the response she got to her post. Soon community members sought to replace the $1,000. Roseann Sobczak and Mary Heely, neither of whom Bové had met, put out the call on Facebook to get the money back.

Notes support the Bové family. Photo from Kerri Bové
Notes support the Bové family. Photo from Kerri Bové

“I was devastated for them,” Heely of Rocky Point said. “I thought to myself I wish I had a $1,000 to give them and then thought, what if everyone could donate a little and maybe then we could recoup the loss.”

Sound Beach’s Kristen Abbondondelo jumped at the idea. She decorated a box in Mickey Mouse paper and sat in the gymnastics center for six hours while donations from people that had seen the Facebook post trickled in.

Abbondondelo estimated that at least 50 people dropped off money that day and still more donated the next day when the box was posted at another location in Rocky Point.

“They were all there to right a wrong and to show how much they cared,” she said. “People were concerned about there not being enough.”

Bové said her family was able to recoup the loss and the trip is on for May. She said she was greatly touched by the messages included with the donations. One child drew a picture of Cinderella’s castle and told the family to have fun. Another note was decorated with rainbows and hearts. One said how grateful they were to be part of the Rocky Point community. Yet another included the message that “miracles do happen.”

“It put pure happiness in my heart that my community did this for me,” Bové said. “It regained my faith that there are so many who are good.”

Bové said she credits her angels in heaven — her brother, nephew and father — and the ones on Earth for the happy ending.

“I feel my angels pulled through for me,” she said. “That the whole community pulled through for us, it is something we will never forget.”

Jillian Warywoda gets in a hug after reading ‘Farm Alarm!’ to Sally at the Sachem Public Library. Photo by Sue Wahlert

By Sue Wahlert

From April 12 to 18, libraries across the nation will be celebrating National Library Week. According to the American Library Association, “It is a time to celebrate the contributions of our nation’s libraries and librarians and to promote library use and support.” The quality and variety of programming libraries offer communities has grown exponentially and fulfills the needs of all residents, regardless of age. It is one of our most valuable community resources in a time when our communities have become more and more fragmented.

One such program that deserves celebration has literally, “gone to the dogs.” For more than 15 years, various libraries across Suffolk County have been inviting certified therapy dogs into their children’s department to encourage reluctant readers to develop their love of reading. Each participating library has their own unique name for their program, such as “Puppy Pals” or “Book Time with a Dog,” but the purpose is always the same, “We want to build confidence in young readers.  The dog is not going to critique the child as they are reading,” said Brian Debus, Emma S. Clark Library’s Children’s Department Head. It is an opportunity to make reading a fun process and it certainly takes the stress out of reading aloud.

Over the past month, we have visited five Suffolk County libraries and spent time with the dog handlers and children who attend these programs. Each library has their own style, but the formula is the same: take one certified therapy dog, a handler who loves what they do and a kid, place them in a quiet room and watch something magical happen.

Brothers, from left, Liam and Daniel Regan, with Mac at the North Shore Public Library. Photo by Sue Wahlert
Brothers, from left, Liam and Daniel Regan, with Mac at the North Shore Public Library. Photo by Sue Wahlert

This all-volunteer program would not be possible without the dedication of the dog owner/handlers, their dogs and the willingness of the libraries to engage in this type of program.  It is an opportunity to strengthen the love of reading while developing a connection between families and the library that can last a lifetime.

North Shore Public Library, Reading to Mac
On Saturday mornings in the children’s department of the North Shore Public Library you can find the lovable Mac, an 11-year-old black lab nestled against the book cases awaiting young readers to arrive. Jane Broege, Mac’s handler and owner, said that Mac has been listening to readers for three years now, after spending his life as a guide dog. “Dogs feel better if they are doing something,” said Broege. “Dogs were put on this earth to make us happy.” The “Reading to Mac” program does make kids and their families happy while encouraging the love of reading in children.

Recently, readers eight-year-old Daniel Regan and his five-year-old brother Liam came prepared with their books. It was Daniel’s second time with Mac and Liam’s first. Daniel settled in on the cushy beanbag chair and began his story while Mac snuggled up against him. After completing “Henry and Mudge and the Happy Cat,” he was able to spend time petting and talking to Mac and Broege. His response to the program, “I love it; it makes me calm!”

Broege echoes the mantra of all programs similar to this one, “The dog is not judgmental and it does not mind what the child reads.” As a reward, Broege gives each reader a blue rubber bracelet with a paw print on it to remind them of their time with Mac. The program runs on Saturday mornings, from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. To schedule a 15-minute session with Mac, call North Shore Public Library at 631-929-4488, ext 223.

Sachem Public Library, Book Time with a Dog
Established in 2001, Book Time with a Dog at Sachem Library invites not just one, but four dogs into its Children’s Department program room. You might think that four dogs in one room would encourage mayhem, but it is the complete opposite, calm and quiet. Each of the dogs is certified through an organization called Therapy Dogs International. Their handlers couldn’t be prouder to share their peaceful and obedient dogs with the young readers who come to this once-a-week program.

Children’s Librarian Marybeth Kozikowski has made this program one of her passions. “It is an esteem-building program, not an academic experience,” Kozikowski reflected. Amy Johnston, Head of Children’s Services, said of Kozikowski, “She has helped to make this program a success. She has written and obtained grants to purchase blankets for the dogs to sit on and chairs for the handlers to use during the program.”
Suzanne DiRusso began this program with a dog named Dakota and it continues to be very popular, reaching out to the library’s younger patrons. The goal of Book Time with a Dog is to provide a place for reluctant readers to sit with a dog and read. Because the dog is non-judgmental, it provides a non-threatening environment for readers. “Anytime they [children] want to sit and read, it is a win-win situation,” said Johnston.

Daniel Regan visits with Mac at the North Shore Public Library. Photo by Sue Wahlert
Daniel Regan visits with Mac at the North Shore Public Library. Photo by Sue Wahlert

Sachem’s program is open to children in first to fifth grades with a reservation for a 20-minute session with a dog. Parents can watch through large glass windows as their children get comfortable with an assigned dog.

On this particular evening, 12 readers had reserved spots with the dogs. Handler and dog owner Beverly Killeen accompanied her ten-year-old dog Maureen, a golden retriever. Killeen has been participating in this reading program for six years and has had many other dogs involved in the program as well. “I love children. It is good to see them make progress from year to year,” said Killeen.

Sisters Morgan and Calleigh Quirk were so excited to read to Emma, a greyhound, and Sally, a golden retriever. Their mother Kelly said, “They sit and read to our dogs too!” According to another parent, Sandra Kyranakis, whose son Jake has been attending this program for two years, “It is a wonderful program that has given him confidence. He has struggled with reading. This program has helped him to enjoy it.”

After the story is complete, readers sit and talk with the handlers while petting the dog. Upon leaving, the readers are given a card with the dog’s picture and information on it — a fun way to remember the experience!

Reservations are required for “Book Time with a Dog,” which is held on Thursdays from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. For more information, call Sachem Library at 631-588-5024 and ask for the Children’s Department.

Emma S. Clark Library, Reading with Angela or Alfie
On a recent Thursday afternoon, dog handler and owner, Fred Dietrich, brought Angela, a  seven-year-old purebred yellow Lab, to the Children’s Department of Emma S. Clark Library. Angela had a special job — to sit, relax and listen to a story. Dietrich said Angela completed an 8 week training program at Patchogue Rotary Animal Assisted Therapy and had been doing therapy work for over 2 years.

Emma S. Clark’s Library programs “Reading with Angela” and “Reading with Alfie,” began last spring after patrons inquired about a program of this type and the librarians researched journal articles about the benefits of therapy dogs with children.

Today’s half-hour reservation was held by six-year-old Thomas Tunstead, who came equipped with his own book, “The Bravest Dog Ever.” It was his first time reading to a dog. “I love reading to doggies!  If I ever tried to read to my dog, he would eat my book!” he said with a big smile.

Thomas Tunstead reads with Angela at the Emma S. Clark Library. Photo by Sue Wahlert
Thomas Tunstead reads with Angela at the Emma S. Clark Library. Photo by Sue Wahlert

The dog, handler and reader were brought into the colorful program room in the Children’s Department. Angela and Thomas settled in on the floor next to Dietrich who held the leash at all times.  Thomas leaned into Angela’s furry body and got busy reading his story. This was the place to be, as Tunstead read about Balto, the famous dog, to Angela. There were no moans or moments of frustration when he came across a tough word because Thomas knew Angela wouldn’t judge him for not knowing.

After the reading session ended, there was time for Thomas to bond with Angela by giving her treats and building a house for her made of soft blocks. Thomas’s mother Melissa said, “Thomas loves dogs and I want him to read, so this is the perfect match.”

Emma S. Clark Library holds their programs on Wednesdays and Thursdays, from 4:45 to 5:15 p.m. Reservations are required by calling 631-941-4080.

Harborfields Public Library, Tail Waggin’ Tales
At Harborfields Public Library, children can have their parents reserve a spot to read to a dog in their Tail Waggin’ Tales program. Since 2004, the program has brought together the calm creatures and young patrons to read aloud. “An animal is not judgmental and the kids feel that,” said Patricia Moisan, director of Youth and Family Services at the library.

Cutch, a golden retriever, is the dog of the hour. Handler Sue Semple greets the readers and their families who come for a 15 minute sessions.  The program is open to children Kindergarten through third grade and is held on Fridays. Siblings are invited to sit-in on this program, which makes it a family friendly activity.
Moisan spoke of a family’s experience with Tail Waggin’ Tales, “A mother came in and talked about how shy her daughter was, but when the young girl came in to read with the dog, she was not shy at all!” The program is an opportunity for children to become more relaxed with reading. Moisan feels it is a “really safe place” for children to take chances with their reading.  Unlike parents or adults, Cutch does not make any comments about the child’s reading, he just relaxes and listens.

Olivia Cortez reads ‘Click Clack Moo’ to Barbie the therapy dog at Huntington Public Library. Photo by Sue Wahlert
Olivia Cortez reads ‘Click Clack Moo’ to Barbie the therapy dog at Huntington Public Library. Photo by Sue Wahlert

The library will be hosting a weekend program in the near future, where the handler or librarian read a story while families interact with a dog. Please refer to their event schedule to find out the exact dates.
Tail Waggin’ Tales happens twice a month on Fridays, from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m., with four 15-minute reading sessions. If you are interested in reserving time with Cutch, contact Harborfields Library at 631-757-4200.

Huntington Public Library, Puppy Pals
Huntington Public Library holds their Puppy Pals program monthly, alternating between the Main Library on Main Street in Huntington and their branch in Huntington Station, on New York Avenue. The Library invites dogs who are part of Therapy Dogs International’s “Tail Waggin’ Tutors” program each month for a half-hour reading session. Laura Giuliani, head of Youth and Parent Services, said the library has been doing this for the past seven years. “It allows children who may not be confident in reading to sit with a dog and read. All the kids love it!” On the most recent Thursday visit, Ana O’Brien, the handler who organizes the dogs that visit the library, brought her ten-year-old Portuguese water dog, Nina, who was wearing pink bunny ears. “Reading is important. It can be intimidating, and so with our costumes and pets we can make it a little better,” said O’Brien.

Burt Rowley, who brings his six-year-old Vizsla, Maggie, feels it is very helpful for children who are afraid to read. He told the story of a child who has been coming  to the program since 2011, adding “he’s become a very good reader.” All of the handlers are passionate about their dogs and the children who come to read to their companions. Terry Gallogly brought her Labradoodles, Barbie and Ken. “I always believed in the connection between animals and humans,” said Gallogly.

On this particular day, first grader Olivia Cortez brought the book, “Click Clack Moo,” to read to the Barbie. Her mother, Jennifer Cortez, said that Olivia practiced with the book before she came. As Olivia worked her way through the book, she took some time out to smile and pet Barbie while receiving words of encouragement from Gallogly. “I just want to stay here forever!” Olivia exclaimed.

Words such as hers are a testament to how powerful a program such as Puppy Pals is to these youngsters and their families. It’s a feel-good experience that can only encourage continued reading. The Puppy Pals program is held monthly, alternating between library locations, from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Call the library at 631-427-5165 for reservations.

Children were delighted by tricks and treats at the Brookhaven parks department’s Spring Happening in Centereach on April 7.

The spring celebration featured a show by magician James Amore, along with crafts, games and face painting. In addition, some talented kids paraded their best spring hats for the special occasion. Claire Wagner, 7, of Sound Beach, whose hat featured New York City’s Empire State Building, took home the best hat award.

Michael Verre tries to squeeze a shoe on Kate Keating as Alyson Clancy and Maryellen Molfetta look on during a scene from 'Cinderella' at the Engeman Theater. Photo by Jennifer C. Tully

The John W. Engeman Theater in Northport was a sea of blue princess dresses last Saturday morning at the theater’s opening of the classic fairy tale, “Cinderella.” Directed by Jennifer Collester Tully, the story follows the original plot closely with lots of fun and laughter. The inclusion of a few younger actors is a nice addition, making this show the perfect choice to introduce children to the magic of live theater.

Allie Eibler and Michael Verre fall in love in a scene from ‘Cinderella' at the Engeman Theater. Photo by Jennifer C. Tully
Allie Eibler and Michael Verre fall in love in a scene from ‘Cinderella’ at the Engeman Theater. Photo by Jennifer C. Tully

Allie Eibler stars as the sweet and innocent Ella, a young girl whose father dies, leaving her at the mercy of her evil stepmother and mean stepsisters. Forced to do all the chores and sleep in the kitchen by the fireplace, she is nicknamed Cinderella. Her miserable plight attracts the attention of her fairy godmother, played wonderfully with a warm Southern accent by Suzanne Mason, who is determined to rescue her. Aided by her helpers, energetic 13-year-olds Ryan J. McInnes and Meaghan Maher (both last seen in “A Christmas Story”), the fairy godmother arranges for Cinderella to attend the royal ball, where she steals the heart of the young prince, played by the handsome Michael Verre, and, after the shoe fits, lives happily ever after.

The talented Maryellen Molfetta plays the role of the stepmother with just enough selfishness and greediness, and Alyson Clancy as Henrietta and Kate Keating as Gertrude are hilarious as the jealous stepsisters.

Maryellen Molfetta, Alyson Clancy, Kate Keating and Allie Eibler star in 'Cinderella' at the Engeman Theater. Photo by Jennifer C. Tully
Maryellen Molfetta, Alyson Clancy, Kate Keating and Allie Eibler star in ‘Cinderella’ at the Engeman Theater. Photo by Jennifer C. Tully

It is the incomparable Kevin Burns, however (seen most recently as the Cowardly Lion in the “Wizard of Oz” and as Frosty in “Frosty the Snowman”), in the role of the king, who steals the show.  Blind as a bat, he fumbles around the set, always headed in the wrong direction, mistaking a topiary for a guard, and almost falls off the stage at one point, drawing the most laughs.

There is a lot of audience interaction in this show — something the kids just love. The actors walk up and down the aisles during scene changes, serving as a nice distraction. The king even wanders up and down the aisles with Cinderella’s glass slipper, asking little girls to try it on as the prince stands by with eager anticipation. Even the youngest guests won’t have time to grow restless as they participate in “The Sneeze Polka” dance and are asked questions by the cast.

Suzanne Mason bewitches the audience in a scene from 'Cinderella' at the Engeman Theater. Photo by Jennifer C. Tully
Suzanne Mason bewitches the audience in a scene from ‘Cinderella’ at the Engeman Theater. Photo by Jennifer C. Tully

Designed by Laurén Paragallo, the colorful costumes, ranging from the stepsister’s hilarious outfits to Cinderella’s breathtaking ball gown, to the royal garbs for the king and prince, are spot on. Choreography by Marquez Catherine Stewart is terrific, especially evident during the “The Sneeze Polka.”

Meet the cast after the show for pictures and autographs. An autograph page is conveniently located in the back of the program. The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport, will present “Cinderella” on Saturdays at 11 a.m. and Sundays at 10:30 a.m. through May 10. Tickets are $15 each.

For more information, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright is putting pressure on the knocking down of Pine Barrens forrest in favor of a solar farm. File photo

A new bill protecting children from toxic chemicals is making its way through the state Assembly as elected officials work to keep chemicals out of children’s products.

The bill — commonly known as the Child Safe Products Act — would empower New York State to identify and phase out dangerous chemicals in products marketed to kids, lawmakers said. State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) helped craft the legislation and has been pushing it forward with hopes of keeping young people safe from what they cannot see.

If the legislation is passed, the state would compile a list of high-concern chemicals made up of those known to cause health problems such as cancer, learning and developmental disorders, asthma and more, officials said.

Then, a list of priority chemicals used in children’s products will be drafted for disclosure, lawmakers said.

“This bill addresses issues of poisonous products for children,” Englebright said. “It’s very important to protect the children. And that’s what I intend to do.”

The makers of children’s products would also be required to report their use of priority chemicals in their merchandise after a year, and phase out their use of such chemicals three years later.

Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) said legislation like this is important because there is always a need to prevent innocent children from being exposed to such harmful chemicals like arsenic, mercury, cadmium, formaldehyde and more.

“Kids are more vulnerable and more likely to put things in their mouth,” Spencer said. “Almost any toy could potentially have toxic chemicals.”

Spencer also said toxic chemicals are found in many children’s products such as clothes, dolls, toys and more. He said they can be in found things such as paint on a button or a bracelet a child wears.

According to Englebright, there are some 84,000 chemicals on the market today. The federal law that was supposed to protect against them — the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 —  “is a very weak law and has never been updated,” the lawmaker said.

The assemblyman also said he feels a bill like this is important for everyone in the state as it sets the standards manufacturers would be held to.

“We all benefit when children are protected from poorly regulated toxic chemicals that have the potential to harm development, cause illness and impair learning,” Englebright said. “I think it’s very important to get this bill to the governor’s desk.”

Spencer also said while he does support the bill, there should be guidelines and parameters set as there is the ability to detect parts per million, billion and even trillion. He said it is unnecessary to be overly restrictive as something at a certain parts per billion or trillion, may not be harmful.

Late last year, a press conference was held in Hauppauge to show parents the toxins present in certain items geared toward kids. While many of the toys at the conference had toxic chemicals in them, such a Hot Wheels cars or dresses bought in Long Island stores, there are toys on the market that are manufactured without them.

“A lot of times the effects of these toxic substances aren’t seen right away. But the impact lasts for a lifetime,” Spencer said at the December conference.

When asked why certain toys have chemicals and others don’t, Spencer said some manufacturers may be unaware of the chemicals present and others could possibly use the chemicals to maximize profit.

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Parents Glenda Corvera and Jose Granados welcome baby Christopher Granados to the world as Patrick Vecchio, supervisor of Smithtown, offers them honorary residence. Photo from Karla Mason

Smithtown’s St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center welcomed a newborn baby only a day after the town marked the beginning of its sesquarcentennial.

Baby Christopher Granados met his parents Glenda Corvera and Jose Granados when he was born March 4 at 8:49 a.m., weighing 8 pounds, 3.4 ounces at birth.

Members of the Smithtown 350 Foundation officially welcomed the infant as the first to be born since the town celebrated its 350th year. Although Christopher was born at a medical facility in Smithtown, the couple who had him are actually residents of Brentwood.

Smithtown Supervisor Patrick Vecchio (R) awarded the family with honorary lifetime residence in the town of Smithtown during a reception in St. Catherine of Siena’s own St. Luke’s Medical Library.

“Christopher is a star already,” said father Granados.

To further congratulate the family, the couple received a gift basket with baby essentials and $350 for their new son’s savings.

“We are proud of the staff at St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center and are happy to be part of the 350th birthday celebration of Smithtown,” said Paul Rowland, St. Catherine’s executive vice president and CAO. “We are all pleased to have the first sesquarcentennial baby here at the hospital and look forward to participating in future events.”

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