Kids

Sofia Pace of Smithtown shows off her catch of the day — an 18 inch largemouth bass caught at Willow Pond last summer. Photo from Paul Pace

By Rita J. Egan

Once the warm weather arrives, it can be a challenge when it comes to keeping children busy. Teaching them how to fish is a fun way to get them outside and have them connect with nature. Fortunately, for Long Islanders, in addition to water surrounding the region, the area is home to the Nissequogue River as well as other fish-filled waterways.

During fishing season, budding anglers can bring their poles and barbless hooks to the north side of Caleb Smith State Park Preserve in Smithtown and fish in the park’s Willow Pond, which empties into the Nissequogue.

The preserve’s environmental educator, Linda Kasten, said the park has offered children’s fishing since it opened in 1974, and little anglers can take home a fish depending on its size. A sign by Willow Pond lists the requirements that fish must be nine inches or larger, except in the case of a trout or largemouth bass, which must be more than 12 inches. Anglers who catch smaller fish are required to release them back into the river. 

Kasten said families who come to the preserve for a day of fishing are asked to sign in at the Caleb Smith House on the property and then return at the end of the session to let the staff know what fish they caught and how big.

From left, Sofia and Angelina Pace of Smithtown with a bluegill they caught last summer at Willow Pond. Photo from Paul Pace
From left, Sofia and Angelina Pace of Smithtown with a bluegill they caught last summer at Willow Pond. Photo from Paul Pace

When a child catches a fish, the educator said, “They think it’s the coolest thing.”

The park employee said she has seen children catch pumpkinseed fish, bluegills, largemouth bass and occasionally rainbow trout. Most of the fish that the junior anglers catch at the park are the panfish variety, which are small enough to cook in a pan yet still large enough to meet the requirements of fishers not having to release them back in the water.

Depending on the age of the child, fishing could keep them busy for a couple of hours or more, according to Kasten. “When they come with friends, they’ll sit out there for hours,” she said.

Last year the educator said there was a group of five young teenagers who would come to the park practically every weekend, and they always caught fish. “They were so excited just to be with each other, let alone fishing and catching stuff,” Kasten said.

Smithtown resident Paul Pace has been bringing his two daughters, Sofia (7) and Angelina (3), to fish at the park for the last two years. It was during a visit to the preserve, which features walking trails and a nature museum in the Caleb Smith House, that the father, a fisherman himself, saw the sign and thought it would be a great idea to teach his girls the sport.

Pace said his daughters will spend a good two hours fishing. He said he loves that, “it gets them away from computer-driven things. It’s real life. They breathe in the fresh air, see some animals, plants, birds, and do some exploring.”

However, he said they don’t find a lot of time to explore the preserve because they are very lucky fishing there. “We catch a lot of fish so there’s always some action,” the father said.

Pace said one day last year, his oldest caught an 18-inch bass, and they were able to keep it and cook it. He said his daughters are developing a love for the sport and can’t wait until they are older and can fish from a boat. “They get really super excited. They love it; they’re reeling them in. Especially that big one — they both freaked out!” he said.

Besides fishing being a fun family activity, Pace also believes that it can teach children some important life lessons. “To cast the line takes a lot of practice and patience and determination. Sofia, she was casting last year … really good. There’s always something to accomplish,” Pace said. 

’[Fishing] gets [kids] away from computer-driven things. They breathe in the fresh air, see some animals, plants, birds and do some exploring.’
—Paul Pace

Each year before the season begins, the preserve offers fishing clinics so young anglers can learn some useful tips. The Friends of Caleb Smith Preserve also hosts an annual Junior Angler Catch and Release Tournament at the park. For $15 per participant, children 12 years and under can compete for prizes for the most fish caught and largest fish reeled in. This year the event takes place this Saturday, June 11, when children  ages 5 to 8 will compete in the morning and kids ages 9 to 12 will cast their poles in the afternoon.

Fishing season at Caleb Smith State Preserve Park, 581 W. Jericho Turnpike, Smithtown, runs from April 1 to Oct. 31. There is no charge for fishing; however, a parking fee of $8 is in effect, except for Empire Passport holders. Children do not need a fishing license but are required to bring their own equipment. Fishing at Willow Pond is for anglers 15 years and younger, and children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult. For more information about fishing at the preserve or the Junior Angler Catch and Release Tournament, call 631-265-1054 or visit www.nysparks.com/parks/124/.com.

M.E. Junge (Ariel) sings “The World Above” in a scene from "The Little Mermaid." Photo by Lisa Schindlar

This summer, families will have the opportunity to swim under the sea with Ariel and all her friends as The Noel S. Ruiz Theatre presents one of Disney’s most beloved classics, “The Little Mermaid.”

Gregg Sixt as King Triton in a scene from "The Little Mermaid." Photo by Lisa Schindlar
Gregg Sixt as King Triton in a scene from “The Little Mermaid.” Photo by Lisa Schindlar
Ronnie Green as Scuttle in a scene from "The Little Mermaid." Photo by Lisa Schindlar
Ronnie Green as Scuttle in a scene from “The Little Mermaid.” Photo by Lisa Schindlar

The full-length musical, which opened last Saturday night at the CM Performing Arts Center, brings the ocean to life on the Oakdale stage and follows Ariel’s adventure to find true love — and her voice. The show delights children and adults with a dazzling production, special effects and unforgettable music.

Kristen Digilio and Patrick Grossman (who also serves as set designer and choreographer) skillfully direct a talented cast of more than 20 in this fun adaptation of the Danish fairytale of the same name by Hans Christian Andersen. Music is by Alan Menken with lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater from the 1989 animated film.

M.E. Junge is perfectly cast as Ariel the mermaid princess and shines in her solos, “The World Above,” “If Only (Ariel’s Lament),” and “Part of Your World.” Bobby Peterson is the romantic Prince Eric with standout vocals, and he is as handsome as can be. Kin-Zale Jackson perfectly plays Sebastian, Ariel’s lobster friend, Jamaican accent and all. His rendition of “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl” brings down the house.

Kyle Petty (Chef Louis) in a scene from "The Little Mermaid." Photo by Lisa Schindlar
Kyle Petty (Chef Louis) in a scene from “The Little Mermaid.” Photo by Lisa Schindlar

The wicked sea witch, Ursula, is played flawlessly by Erica Giglio-Pac, who commands the stage with her powerful voice and presence and is chilling during her performance of “Poor Unfortunate Souls.” Kyle Petty is hilarious as the French Chef Louis who chops and guts his way through “Les Poissons.” His chase after Sebastian through the castle draws the most laughs. Petty is a delight to watch and is on stage for too short a time.

The supporting cast does a wonderful job, with special mention to Flounder (Victoria Tiernan), Scuttle (Ronnie Green), the electric eels Flotsam (Matthew W. Surico) and Jetsam (Kevin Burns), King Triton (Gregg Sixt) and Grimsby (Andrew Murano).

Multiple sets are featured for both the above and underwater scenes with a ship, a castle, coral reef and lots of waves. Green’s costumes complement the set perfectly, with vibrant outfits, wigs (more than 40 are used during production) and tons of glitter. From Ursula’s dress, with six additional legs, to King Triton’s crown and trident, everything pulls together nicely. Lighting was designed by Allison Weinberger, with spotlighting neatly handled by Jacqueline Hughes and Marielle Greguski and the choreography was exceptional, especially during “One Step Closer,” in which Eric and Ariel dance the Waltz, and the tap dance number “Positoovity” with Scuttle and his seagull friends.

Erica Giglio-Pac (Ursula) in a scene from "The Little Mermaid." Photo by Lisa Schindlar
Erica Giglio-Pac (Ursula) in a scene from “The Little Mermaid.” Photo by Lisa Schindlar

This is a wonderfully family-friendly show and although the scenes with Ursula could be a little frightening for a younger child, the clever script — chock full of sea-themed puns, like “as long as you live under my reef, you will live by my rules” and “a squid pro quo” — as well as the singing, dancing and special effects make it all worthwhile.

As a special nod to the children in the audience, the crew turns on bubble machines during “Under the Sea“ from the sides of the theater and on stage, releasing, according to the program, 15 gallons of bubble juice during each show. Although the evening show starts at an earlier time of 7:30 p.m., it runs for two and a half hours with one 15-minute intermission, perhaps too long for the younger audience.

The Noel S. Ruiz Theatre at the CM Performing Arts Center, 931 Montauk Highway, Oakdale, will present Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” through July 9. Tickets range from $16 to $29, with VIP seats for $40.

The theater closes its 38th season with “West Side Story” from July 30 to Aug. 28. For more information, call 631-218-2810 or visit www.cmpac.org.

From left, Matthew W. Surico as Flotsam, M.E. Junge as Ariel and Kevin Burns as Jetsam in a scene from "The Little Mermaid." Photo by Lisa Schindlar
From left, Matthew W. Surico as Flotsam, M.E. Junge as Ariel and Kevin Burns as Jetsam in a scene from “The Little Mermaid.” Photo by Lisa Schindlar
Kin-Zale Jackson (Sebastian) and M.E. Junge (Ariel) in a scene from "The Little Mermaid." Photo by Lisa Schindlar
Kin-Zale Jackson (Sebastian) and M.E. Junge (Ariel) in a scene from “The Little Mermaid.” Photo by Lisa Schindlar

The Maritime Explorium children’s museum in Port Jefferson hosted the Eastern Long Island Mini Maker Faire on June 4, bringing innovators from all over and loads of fun stuff for kids and adults to check out.

The fair filled up the museum, the harborfront park and all three floors of the Village Center in Port Jefferson.

Environmentalist Jan Porinchak explores Willow Pond. Photo from Carole Paquette

Naturalist Jan Christopher Porinchak will lead an in-depth exploration of the natural wonders of Caleb Smith State Park Preserve on Jericho Turnpike in Smithtown on Saturday, June 18, at 1:30 p.m. Reserve by calling 631-265-1054. The walk will take approximately two hours and is not recommended for children under ten years old. The event, sponsored by Friends of Caleb Smith Preserve, is free, however, the preserve’s parking fee of $8 will be in effect.

An avid naturalist and environmental advocate, Porinchak will lead participants on a walk through the many landscapes of the park, offering tips on identifying the various plants and animals that will be encountered.

A hike leader for the Long Island Sierra Club, he is also an art teacher at Jericho Middle School and an award-winning natural science illustrator. 

For more information about Friends of Caleb Smith Preserve, their events and the park, go to: www.friendsofcalebsmith.org.

Children's book review: "Simon and Sedef: A Seal’s First Adventure" by Sheree Jeanes

Image of the cover of ’Simon and Sedef’ from author Sheree Jeanes

By Melissa Arnold

Sheree Jeanes has always loved animals, and last fall she channeled that passion into a captivating new children’s book. Jeanes, who grew up in Brooklyn and now lives in Huntington, published “Simon and Sedef: A Seal’s First Adventure” in November. A portion of the book’s proceeds will be donated to the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Ms. Jeanes about her book and what’s in store for the future.

Tell me a little bit about your background.
I’ve worked in marketing for close to 20 years now. I’ve also done grant writing, and I have my own copywriting business called Redwing Copywriting.

Have you always been interested in writing?
I always wanted to write children’s books. I have a collection of children’s books at home that inspire me, and I finally found the courage to do it.

Huntington author Sheree Jeanes/photo by Pat Dillon
Huntington author Sheree Jeanes/photo by Pat Dillon

Briefly summarize the plot for us.
“Simon and Sedef: A Seal’s First Adventure” is about a young seal who gets swept up in a sudden storm and is separated from his mother, Sedef. He needs to tap into his own resiliency, to see what he’s capable of, and learn to lean on others with trust.

What inspired you to write “Simon and Sedef”?
My mother-in-law lives in Rockaway Beach, which is a part of the story. Several years ago there was a story in her local paper, The Wave, about a little seal that got washed up on the beach, and it sparked my imagination. Simon’s story grew around him. When I got the idea for this book, I could see where it was going. I knew how it would end and that there could be sequels. I was able to enlist a friend who very generously edited and story boarded the book for me, and we went from there.

There are so many ways to write about marine life conservation efforts. Why did you choose to write a children’s book?
Honestly, I love to learn through stories. Historical novels are a great way to learn about different periods in history, for example. I did a lot of scientific research for the book, and when I do readings, I always bring someone from the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation. They always have an incredible wealth of knowledge to share and are able to answer additional questions about marine life while sharing how important it really is to all of us.

Who is your favorite character in the book?
My favorite character is Rita, a little girl that Simon meets on the beach. She’s actually named after my mother-in-law. Part of the book is about connection and being sensitive and kind to animals. She embodies what kids are able to do (if they encounter an animal), to engage them with respect on (the animal’s) own terms. She reflects the connection that humans and animals share and the animal part that exists in all of us. It’s a really beautiful part of the story, and she’s a lot of fun.

“Simon and Sedef” is full of vibrant, lifelike illustrations. Were you involved in the art development?
I’m not an illustrator, but I was a part of the process. I went onto (arts and crafts sale website) Etsy and put out a job request. I got a bunch of responses and spent a lot of time looking through portfolios. The artist I chose worked with these brilliant watercolors, and she was able to paint animals with so much expression and sensitivity. I ended up choosing her to do the illustrations — her name is Luminita Cosarenu and she’s from Romania. She was just lovely to work with. I told her what I had in mind and we went back and forth for a while until it was just right. She started with pencil drawings and finished with watercolor. They are just magnificent.

The Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation plays a big part in your story. Can you tell me a bit about what they do and your decision to work with them?
The foundation would have rescued Simon in the real world and they do such incredible work — it only seemed fair to include them in this way. We’ve been working together from the early stages of the publication process to figure out how to best promote the book and all of the great things they do. They do a lot of animal rescue, particularly of seals and sea turtles. They’re also affiliated with the Long Island Aquarium, where some of the rescued animals will remain for a while or even their lifetime if they can’t be released.

Is there a recommended audience for “Simon and Sedef”?
I think the littlest of kids should probably have the book read to them, but there’s nothing inappropriate for them in there. I did make it a little scary, but even younger children really tend to enjoy that.

What do you hope readers will take away from the book?
Every human character in the book is kind and also respectful to animals. That’s really the central message of the book — living and treating others with compassion.

What are some things we can do right now to help preserve marine life?
We can pick up after ourselves! So much garbage ends up going out to sea, where animals end up being choked or swallowing things that can impair their digestion or kill them. As for the bigger picture, go and experience the wildlife that’s all around us. Bring your kids. Lastly, really support the people who are out there doing the work of preserving marine life, whether that’s the foundation or another organization you care about.

What’s next for you?
I’m really enjoying the adventure of self-publishing and self-promotion right now. There is a sequel for Simon in the works right now that will be coming out soon — as you might expect, he has plenty more adventures to go on!

Where can people learn more about you or purchase the book?
My website is www.shereejeanes.com. I also have a Facebook page and an Instagram account to keep people up-to-date about the latest developments in my writing.

In celebration of World Oceans Day, Sheree Jeanes will hold a book launch on Wednesday, June 8, at the Long Island Aquarium, 431 E. Main St., Riverhead from 3 to 5 p.m. “Simon and Sedef: A Seal’s First Adventure” may be purchased online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, as well as at Book Revue in Huntington.

Participants from a previous Relay For Life at the high school take a lap. Photo from Alyssa Patrone

The fight to raise money and awareness for cancer research reaches far and wide, and on June 4, Northport High School’s track and football field will host nearly 900 people dedicated to doing their part to eradicate the disease.

Northport High School has held Relay for Life events since 2009, making the one this year its eighth annual. The popular American Cancer Society fundraiser starts with teams raising money from local businesses and individuals to be donated for the cause. During the event, which can last up to 24 hours, at least one participant from each team circles a track, usually at schools or parks, at all times as a reminder that cancer never sleeps. Campsites are set up for each team and laps during the relay are dedicated to various survivors and those who died of the illness.

Alyssa Patrone, the American Cancer Society representative overseeing Northport’s event, said Northport participants have raised more than $121,000 so far this year, bringing the total raised in eight years to about $1.3 million.

“There are so many incredible events that happen in our community, but Relay For Life really gives the Northport-East Northport community a place to gather and rally behind those who have been affected by cancer,” Patrone, a Northport resident herself, said in an email. “The volunteers that work to put the event together make sure that the Northport-East Northport community knows that if you’ve ever been touched by cancer in any way, we are here for you. At the event there really is a feeling of hope in the air that’s almost tangible. It’s hard to put into words, but it’s something truly special.”

Currently Deborah Kelly is listed as the top fundraiser on Northport’s page on the Relay for Life website, with more than $6,000 for her team “Steps for Christine.” Kelly’s page on the website says she is participating in the relay for “my sister and all the people who are battling this terrible disease.”

Ashleigh Basel of “Team Rainbow” has raised more than $4,000 for the cause. She also explained why she’s participating in the event on her Relay for Life page.

“I know there are a lot of worthy causes to support, but I think participating in an event that helps save lives from cancer is about as worthy as it gets,” she wrote.

The American Cancer Society has invested more than $4.3 billion in cancer research since 1964, according to its website. The organization estimates that in 2016 more than 1.6 million new cancer diagnosis will occur, and nearly 600,000 people will die.

For more information about Relay for Life or to make a donation, visit www.relayforlife.org.

Junior firefighters work a fire hose. File photo by Victoria Espinoza

By Victoria Espinoza

Stop drop and enroll in Dix Hills’ first-ever junior fire academy, a one-week summer program designed to introduce children between the ages of 12 and 14 to the volunteer fire service.

Commissioner Todd Cohen said the program will give kids an understanding of how the fire department works and what it means to be a volunteer there.

“Our academy will be tailored for the community,” he said in a statement. “We’re working hard to not only provide the kids with valuable knowledge and hands-on skills, but also to give them a fun week. This program gives youngsters a unique set of skills. There’s nothing else like it on Long Island — it’s truly one of a kind.”

Kids who attend the academy will learn fire safety, CPR, first aid, leadership and respect, as well as receive a Heartsaver certification card from the American Heart Association. There will also be limited hands-on training for hose-handling and rescue techniques. Kids will be taken on field trips to the Yaphank Fire Academy, the Suffolk County EMS call center, the Islip airport fire rescue department and more. Firefighters from the Dix Hills Fire Department will run the program.

Councilwoman Susan Berland (D), a Dix Hills resident, said she was excited to partner the town parks department with the fire department to launch the program.

“It’s a great opportunity for kids to learn all they can about the department,” she said. “It is our hope that this program will inspire students to join the fire department and instill in them a sense of volunteerism and responsibility. It promises to be a fun and rewarding experience for all involved. This is the first of its kind on Long Island.”

According to a press release, the idea began 15 years ago at the Cold Spring Fire Department in Putnam County. The academy grew immensely popular and, as a result, has been replicated throughout the country. Cohen and Todd Baker, a Dix Hills firefighter, are working with the originators of Cold Spring’s program to successfully duplicate it in Dix Hills.

The academy runs from Aug. 15 to 19, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Dix Hills Fire Department Headquarters at 115 East Deer Park Road. Registration opens on June 3.

The cast of ‘Shrek The Musical’ at Theatre Three. Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Michael Tessler

Putting on “Shrek The Musical” is no easy feat. There are countless characters, huge set requirements, fantastical costumes and puppets both small and … dragon-sized. Theatre Three’s bold production of “Shrek” takes these challenges in stride, resulting in a masterful production befitting the scope and size of its Broadway counterpart.

Donkey (Bobby Montaniz) and Shrek (Danny Stalter) in a scene from ‘Shrek The Musical.’ Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions Inc.
Donkey (Bobby Montaniz) and Shrek (Danny Stalter) in a scene from ‘Shrek The Musical.’ Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

Jeffrey Sanzel, the show’s director, is deserving of great praise as he takes on the task with his usual grace and theatrical virtuosity. His versatility as a director is to be commended, such range and vision is an unusually rare thing. As a frequent spectator of his work, I’m beyond grateful that he makes every show a thrilling new experience, and his interpretation of “Shrek” is certainly no exception to that rule.

The production is filled with show-stopping numbers (21 of them!) and every song outdoes the previous. From the leads to the ensemble, each cast member delivers a spectacular performance worthy of the show’s Tony-nominated score.

One of my directors growing up would often remind me that a successful show lets people “leave their brains at the door”  — it’s an escape from reality, and even the slightest mistake can upend that magical facade. This is why this production of “Shrek” was so uniquely satisfying. There was not a moment when I wasn’t fully swept up by the show’s phenomenal cast and harmonies.

Our title character Shrek, played by Theatre Three newcomer Danny Stalter, was an absolute treat. Stalter plays upon the Mike Myers’ legacy but forges his own unique style that is both endearing and hugely rewarding. This dynamic character undergoes development in nearly every scene. This progression is captured beautifully by Stalter whose well-conceived performance only enhances the emotional moments. Shrek, while grotesque and green on the outside, has a beautiful voice that will send chills down your spine more than once.

His partner-in-crime is a jackass, and by that I mean Donkey. Played with sass and master comedic timing by Bobby Montaniz, this hard not to love character steals the show and often! Admittedly his performance of “Make a Move” has been stuck in my head for hours, and I’m not complaining because it’s still making me laugh.

Danny Stalter as Shrek, Jenna Kavaler as Princess Fiona and Bobby Montaniz as Donkey star in ‘Shrek The Musical’ at Theatre Three. Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions Inc.
Danny Stalter as Shrek, Jenna Kavaler as Princess Fiona and Bobby Montaniz as Donkey star in ‘Shrek The Musical’ at Theatre Three. Photo by Brian Hoerger, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

In theater they say “there are no small roles, just small people,” which bring us to Lord Farquaad, the Lord of Duloc, played to perfection by Matt Senese. This miniature-sized dictator had me laughing so hard, I’m surprised they didn’t kick me out of the theater. Senese makes perfect use of his tiny costume legs, dancing, jumping and kick-lining fearlessly. As if being funny weren’t enough, he also has a voice that is sure to wow!

Jenna Kavaler, a Theatre Three veteran, plays Princess Fiona flawlessly. Having just watched her performance in “Beau Jest,” I was amazed at her range as an actress. She is funny and wildly entertaining, especially during one particularly gassy sequence with Shrek. Her voice is beautiful but shines best during her three-part harmony with her younger Fiona counterparts played by Leah Bloom and Ella Watts. Their performance of “I Know It’s Today” was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard in local theater.

Steve McCoy choreographs the show to perfection, while Jeffrey Hoffman masterfully manages musical direction. Robert W. Henderson Jr. lights up the show with expert design and Patrick Grossman brings to life some fantastic fairy tale costumes. All in all, this family-friendly production is the perfect way to spend a weekend! If you don’t believe me, see below for a few notes from my little cousins who joined me for this special review!

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present “Shrek the Musical” through June 25. Evening shows begin at a family-friendly time of 7 p.m. Tickets range from $15 to $30.

All are invited to a Director’s Dinner on the Second Stage on June 5 at 5:45 p.m. with Jeffrey Sanzel for a fascinating behind the scenes look of the making of “Shrek” following the 3 p.m. show. Tickets, which include dinner and a show, are $53 adults, $48 seniors and students, $45 children ages 6 to 12.

For more information or to order tickets, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

From left, Aida, Liam and Maddox pose with the program and their green ogre ears after the Shrek show last Saturday night. Photo by Michael Tessler
From left, Aida, Liam and Maddox pose with the program and their green ogre ears after the Shrek show last Saturday night. Photo by Michael Tessler

KID CRITIQUES:

Aida (age 7½): I loved when Donkey shaked his booty at Shrek! I liked the dragon because she had a nice voice!

Liam (age 5½): My favorite part is seeing Donkey! He’s really funny! Especially when he fell from the tree and made a little wall!

Maddox (age 5½): Loved the tap dancing and when Shrek kicks! And when Shrek found out Fiona’s secret!

Big buddies and little buddies from the North Shore Youth Council danced and socialized during their annual reception at Majestic Gardens in Rocky Point. Photo by Alex Petroski

In a day and age when negative influences for kids are easy to find, positive influences are growing in importance.

The North Shore Youth Council celebrated the kids who take part in their Big Buddy/Little Buddy program and the positive influence it has on everyone involved during their annual reception at Majestic Gardens in Rocky Point Tuesday.

The cross-age mentoring program matches up high school students with elementary and middle school students to form a bond built on support and guidance. Big buddies volunteer at least one hour per week year round to spend time with their little buddy after undergoing training and taking a pledge to be a positive influence.

Every year, big buddies, little buddies, their families and the council’s board of directors and staff get together to celebrate the positive effect the program has.

“These big buddies are amazing,” said Samantha Netburn, who has a son and daughter in the program as little buddies. Her daughter is autistic and her son has a learning disability and anxiety, she said. “They make them happy. My daughter looks forward to every week going with her big buddy and my son, it makes him happy that he gets to see his friends and interact more with the kids when he’s with his buddy. Instead of sitting home by themselves, they’re with a nice person who is positive for them.”

‘You never know the huge impact that you’re going to have on these kids.’ — Joe Wilson

Janene Gentile has been the executive director of the North Shore Youth Council for almost the entirety of its 35-year existence. She credited the Youth Advisory Board with driving the program. The board is made up of six high school students who are responsible for coordinating events, setting up outings and arranging activities for big and little buddies to enjoy together.

“They’re probably more important than I am,” Gentile said about the youth advisory board. They were recognized, along with all of the big buddies, individually, with certificates during a ceremony at Tuesday’s reception.

Joe Wilson, 16, is the Youth Advisory Board president.

“You never know the huge impact that you’re going to have on these kids,” Wilson said. “One of the kids in my first year when I was in ninth grade was in seventh grade at the time, so there’s not really too big of a difference there, but he now comes back and he does our open gym nights with us and he volunteers there, so that’s amazing to see — that you could have impacted their lives so much that they wanted to give back themselves.”

Sixteen-year-old Dylan Mulea was a little buddy, and is now on the Youth Advisory Board. He said being in both positions has been a positive experience for him.

“I met so many new people,” Mulea said. “It broke me out of my shell too, so it was awesome.”

Little buddies gave the program rave reviews as well.

“It shows that there is caring in the community,” 12-year-old Alexander Spallone said. “We do crafts and art, we create things and then we usually play games and sometimes we go outside when the weather is nice. We do all fun stuff.”

Councilwoman Jane Bonner, on right, attended the North Shore Youth Council reception at Majestic Gardens in celebration of the positive influence the program has on North Shore kids. Photo by Alex Petroski
Councilwoman Jane Bonner, on right, attended the North Shore Youth Council reception at Majestic Gardens in celebration of the positive influence the program has on North Shore kids. Photo by Alex Petroski

The North Shore Youth Council is funded by Suffolk County and the Town of Brookhaven along with private donations, and serves the Miller Place, Shoreham-Wading River, Rocky Point and Mount Sinai areas, with programs set up within each school district.

Laurel Sutton is the president of the council’s board of directors, and her daughter served as a big buddy when she was in high school.

“I think it just is a very, very positive thing more now than ever because so many kids are lost as to what they want to do and who they can talk to and have as a safe haven,” Sutton said.

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) and Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) both attended the reception Tuesday and commended the efforts of everyone involved in the program.

For more information about the North Shore Youth Council or the Big Buddy/Little Buddy program, visit www.nsyc.com.

Matt Senese will portray Lord Farquaad in Theatre Three’s latest production, ‘Shrek the Musical.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

By Rita J. Egan

Armed with hockey-grade shin and knee guards, Patchogue resident Matt Senese is ready to hit, not the ice, but the stage as Lord Farquaad in Theatre Three’s upcoming Mainstage production of “Shrek the Musical.”

For those who may not be familiar with the 2001 DreamWorks movie or 2009 Broadway musical, Lord Farquaad is the diminutive archenemy of Shrek and friends. Senese, who jokes that he is “5 feet 7 inches with a lot of sleep,” will play the role on his knees in order for the audience to get the full effect of just how small his royal nuisance is. The shin and knee guards under his costume protect his lower legs from injuries.

Matt Senese will portray Lord Farquaad in Theatre Three’s latest production, ‘Shrek the Musical.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.
Matt Senese will portray Lord Farquaad in Theatre Three’s latest production, ‘Shrek the Musical.’ Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

The seasoned actor, who is also a fourth-grade teacher at Maud S. Sherwood Elementary School in Islip, has appeared in over 300 local productions as well as regional theater outside of New York. Recently, Senese took time out from his busy schedule to answer a few questions about his participation in the upcoming production.

How did you feel when you learned that you got the part?
I was very excited! Jeff (Sanzel), the artistic director, cast me before it was even announced. He asked me about it last year. So, I’ve known for a year that I was going to be doing it which gave me time to … learn it and kind of get used to dancing on my knees.

How are rehearsals going?
They’re great. I think it’s going to be a wonderful show. It’s a very hard working group.

Do you have a favorite number in the musical?
The favorite thing that I do is a song called “What’s Up, Duloc” where it’s kind of a … Las Vegas number, so it’s got back-up singers and dancers. But, I’m doing it on my knees with these tiny legs so it’s very funny. I think my favorite song in the show though is one that I’m not in, and it’s called “Freak Flag.” It’s a song about just being yourself — everyone is different; nobody is perfect. So just let your freak flag fly.

For you is that the main message of ‘Shrek’?
Absolutely. It’s a great musical to bring the whole family to because it’s a musical that celebrates differences. Also, the wonderful thing about this story is it’s not your typical fairy tale. Usually the princess kisses the frog, and the frog turns into a handsome prince. It’s a musical about an ogre who falls in love with a princess and at the end of the story, she turns into an ogress. They’re both ogres at the end of the show, and happy to be ogres because it’s not about looks, it’s about love.

Do you have plans after the musical ends at Theatre Three?
No, I don’t. I’m just going to take it easy. I think after “Shrek” I’m going to rest up and enjoy myself, and then in the fall, look for something to do.

Do you have anything to share with locals who want to act?
I think people who live on Long Island are very lucky in the fact that there are so many theaters. We’re lucky. There are other places you go to, and they really don’t have any kind of local theater and they have to wait until tours come through. We live in a place that really has a lot of art. I think if that’s your passion, then there is a lot opportunity for it on Long Island.

What do you hope the audience will take away from this production of “Shrek the Musical”?
First and foremost, I hope they’ll be entertained. I hope they’ll leave whistling a tune from the show because I think the score is really wonderful. Sometimes you go to see a show and you really can’t whistle any of the tunes. This show you can take so much of that with you. The music is very catchy; it’s very inspirational.
And, I hope that they just get the message. The message of “Shrek” is to just be yourself. There’s no such thing as perfection in the world. We’re led to believe…as children we’re taught these fairy tales, but really nothing in life is a fairy tale, and that is what I think “Shrek” shows. It’s about love. It’s about love and accepting who you are and accepting everyone else for who they are.

Theatre Three, 412 Main Street, Port Jefferson, will present “Shrek the Musical” from May 21 to June 25. Tickets range from $15 to $30. For more information, visit www.theatrethree.com or call 631-928-9100.