Kids

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Hailey Del Giorno, left, is out for a meal with three of the girls she works with at Little Flower Children and Family Services of New York in Wading River. Photo from Hailey Del Giorno

It isn’t typical for a 9-year-old to reject the joy of crafting a Christmas list from scratch, but that’s exactly what 22-year-old Setauket native Hailey Del Giorno encountered.

Del Giorno, a Ward Melville High School graduate, recently launched a campaign to raise money to buy holiday gifts for children she works with at Little Flower Children and Family Services of New York in Wading River. She works in Mary’s Cottage with girls between ages 9 and 16, providing foster boarding home care, residential treatment care and adolescent development. And while she said she knew raising funds would be a challenge, she did not expect the toys list to be equally as difficult.

“They seemed hesitant at first,” Del Giorno, who is now studying psychology at St. Joseph’s College, said about the young girls’ reluctance to share their holiday wishes. “They didn’t seem to want to get their hopes up.”

Del Giorno landed the Wading River job over the summer to satisfy her desire to help others in need and has since been working closely with the young girls, many of whom come from abusive or neglectful homes, every weekend over shifts that could run as long as 12 hours. Since June, she has been working on developing relationships with these girls, but it was not easy, she said.

The group did not openly trust Del Giorno at first, she said, often misconstruing her caring demeanor as intrusive or fake. But she made it a point to squash those misconceptions by working longer and longer shifts on a week-by-week basis.

“These girls have tendencies to be defensive, untrusting and resistive to authority figures because of what they have been through,” she said. “When I started getting to know the girls, I wanted to show them that I had a true interest in learning who they were as people.”

And with each passing week, and each blossoming relationship, Del Giorno said she saw the upcoming holiday season as an opportunity to give back and show the girls that she’s on their side.

Her co-workers and even family members jumped into action. The goal was to raise $5,000 for the girls so Del Giorno and her team could buy them holiday presents and take them out to dinner on Christmas somewhere in the community. She launched an online crowd-funding page via Gofundme.com and has since raise close to $2,000 of that goal, with more than two weeks left, and has spent weeks polling her girls with hopes of assembling a holiday items wish list.

“Hailey I’m so proud of you,” supporter Belinda Groneman wrote on the page. “You have a big heart”

Maria Adams also chimed in.

“God bless you for caring,” she said alongside her donation.

And even when she did get an answer, they were still selfless ones. Several of the girls Del Giorno approached used their holiday gift wishes as opportunities to request items for siblings or loved ones instead, including anything from Barbie dolls to paint brushes and portable Casio keyboards.

In the end, Del Giorno said she hopes to make a lasting impression on the girls and remind them that family does not have to be just along their bloodlines.

“In my family, we always practiced the concept of giving back to the less fortunate,” she said. “After [my family] learned to care about these girls the way I did, we felt we needed to give these girls an extra special Christmas … They are all unique and special in their own ways and shine so positively when they are passionate and excited.”

Matthew W. Surico stars in a sensory-friendly performance of ‘My Christmas Elf: The Musical’ on Dec. 5 at 11 a.m. Photo by Kristen Digilio

By Melissa Arnold

For a child with special needs, the world can be overwhelming.

The things many of us take for granted — a trip to the mall, stopping for a coffee or going to a show — can be frightening and confusing to children with sensory processing issues.

A sensory processing disorder affects how someone experiences their surroundings. Their senses might be too dull, or heightened to the point of discomfort. The disorder, which impacts at least 1 in 20 children, according to the SPD Foundation, can vary widely from person to person. The foundation also reported that 80 percent of people with autism experience symptoms of SPD, though not all people with SPD are autistic.

One thing is shared among them, however: SPD can make life’s little pleasures nearly impossible, not just for those with the disorder, but for their families and caregivers as well.

This year, the Noel S. Ruiz Theatre at the CM Performing Arts Center in Oakdale has been hard at work adapting their children’s theater program for audiences with sensory difficulties.

Office manager Terry Brennan was inspired to bring sensory-friendly shows to the theater after reading about it in a magazine. Broadway theaters occasionally offer an adapted show, but CM is the only theater to do so regularly on Long Island.

Brennan, the former owner of the now-closed Airport Playhouse in Bohemia, is sympathetic to families and children with SPD. “It’s hard when you see a child in the theater who is extra vocal or likes to move around. It can be challenging for their families,” she explained. “We don’t want them to feel embarrassed. I thought, ‘Why don’t we do something, even if it’s just one performance per production?’”

Using brief instructional videos as a guide, Brennan educated the actors and theater staff on what makes sensory-friendly theater work.

“First, as people come in the door, there are sensory-friendly toys in the lobby, like Koosh balls and blocks, that the kids can play with while waiting for the show to start. They can bring the toys into the theater with them,” she said. “Families may also use cellphones or tablets with children who need distraction throughout the show, as long as the volume is turned off.

The key to an adapted production is to tone down elements of a show that may be disturbing to viewers with SPD. The house lights, which are normally off during a show, are kept on to prevent sudden darkness. Strobe lights, fog machines and most other special effects are not used. In addition, there is typically no intermission, as it can disrupt focus and peace for people with SPD. Most shows will run about one hour straight through.

The volume for sensory-friendly shows is lowered, and actors tend to avoid physical interaction with audience members unless directly approached first.

Beyond that, audience members are welcome to sing, dance, yell and move around to their hearts’ content. They can also meet cast members after the show if they’d like.

The theater held its first sensory-friendly performance, “Pinocchio Jr.,” in the summer of last year. At the time, there were just three families in the audience. But Brennan wasn’t measuring success by audience size, she said.

“To me, success is when a parent comes up to me and says, ‘Thank you, I didn’t feel like I had to leave or feel embarrassed at all.’ She could let her son stay and enjoy. It was wonderful.”

Today, sensory-friendly shows at the theater can bring in audiences of more than 100 people.

Kristen Digilio, director of the children’s shows and an occasional cast member, was working in the light booth during “Pinocchio.”

“Getting to see the kids waving, clapping and getting vocally involved was really exciting,” she recalled. “It was easy for them to get up and dance. We encourage audience participation in all of our shows, and this was special.”

She added that learning the basics of sensory-friendly theater was a breeze for the actors.

“It was really cool to learn about, because as a junior production, we were working with young actors,” she said. “There was even an actor in that show (‘Pinocchio’) with autism, so he was pumped for the changes and was really able to share why it made a difference.”

The theater is currently celebrating 38 years of children’s productions, and they plan to hold one sensory-friendly show per production from now on.

There are two upcoming sensory-friendly shows this season, including “My Christmas Elf” on Dec. 5 at 11 a.m. and “The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley” on Feb. 27, 2016, at 11 a.m.

Sensory-friendly shows for “Schoolhouse Rock,” “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” and “James and the Giant Peach,” in the spring and summer of 2016, will also be held. Dates for those shows will be announced soon.

The CM Performing Arts Center is located at 931 Montauk Highway in Oakdale. Admission for all children’s performances is $12. To learn more about the theater and its sensory-friendly productions, call 631-218-2810 or visit www.cmpac.com.

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Event benefits children with life-threatening illnesses

John and Janet Kornreich will be honored at the Friends of Karen’s annual gala Friday. Photo from Friends of Karen

Friends of Karen of Port Jefferson will present its third annual Long Island Gala, which will take place on Friday, Dec. 4, at Stonebridge Country Club in Smithtown.

The event will honor Rich Panico, president of Symbio of Port Jefferson, John and Janet Kornreich with the Friends of Karen’s Humanitarian Award and Debbie Peck with the Friends of Karen’s Shelia Petersen Award.

Panico has been a champion for the charity for several years, the group said, and the Kornreiches were selected for their award because of their work as the founders of the John and Janet Kornreich Charitable Foundation. Peck has been a longtime Friends of Karen advisory board member and speaker for the organization and has shared her family’s personal story with schools, corporate employees and others so they can learn about the important work of Friends of Karen.

The group provides vital, practical and comprehensive support, at no cost, to families in the tri-state region who are caring for a child with a life-threatening illness. Since 1978, Friends of Karen has helped the children and their families with personal advocacy provided by a team of dedicated professionals — which includes social workers, expressive arts therapists and child life specialists — who work to ensure they have the financial, emotional and practical support they need to get through the turmoil and treatment process of a devastating diagnosis.

Friends of Karen began in 1978 when friends and neighbors came to the aid of a family with a 16-year-old daughter, Karen, who was terminally ill. A fund-raising campaign for medical and other costs enabled Karen to spend her precious last days at home surrounded by loving family and friends. More than 37 years later, Friends of Karen has helped nearly 14,000 children in the tri-state region, from birth to age 21, who have been diagnosed with cancer or another life-threatening illness.

For sponsorship and ticket information or to learn more about Friends of Karen, visit www.friendsofkaren.org or call Patricia Conway at 631-473-1768, ext. 303.

Brandon Niederauer plays during a show. Photo from Gary Niederauer.

This young boy from Dix Hills sure knows how to rock.

Brandon Niederauer, 12, has only been playing the guitar for four short years, but he has already had more career milestones than most kids his age.

Brandon has already played on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, with the Allman Brothers Band, and at The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. But his most recent accomplishment is perhaps his most impressive.

Brandon Niederauer plays during a show. Photo from Gary Niederauer
Brandon Niederauer plays during a show. Photo from Gary Niederauer

This December, he will be in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s newest musical on Broadway: “School of Rock-The Musical.” Brandon said he first became interested in playing the guitar after seeing the original movie, “School of Rock.”

After competing against more than 50 musicians to get the part and going through an eight-week workshop, Brandon said he got the call that he had gotten the role while he was playing basketball with his brother.

“All the kids and adults in the cast get along really well,” Brandon said in an email. “We have a lot of fun playing pranks and joking around. We are like a family.”

As for working with legendary composer Webber, Brandon said he has already taught him a lot.

“School of Rock — The Musical” officially opens on Dec. 6 at the Winter Garden Theatre.

This month, Brandon performed on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert to promote the musical.

According to Brandon, when Webber was asked to be a guest on the show, the producers thought it would be a good idea to have him on the show as well.

“I was very honored to play the whole set with such an amazing band,” Brandon said. “I was one of the band. There is something special about that. They showed me the music and set list right before the show and I had so much fun playing and fitting it.”

Brandon Niederauer in "School of Rock — The Musical." Photo from Gary Niederauer.
Brandon Niederauer in “School of Rock — The Musical.” Photo from Gary Niederauer.

Brandon will also be performing with his cast in The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade this year on the Gibson guitar float.

“Being on the Gibson float is a dream come true,” Brandon said. “I saw that float a year ago and said, ‘I want to do that.’”

Brandon’s father, Gary Niederauer, said he knew right away that his son had special talents.

“I knew after the first lesson,” Niederauer said in an email. “Everything was easy and natural for him. He knew where all the scales were after only being taught one.”

As for seeing his son up on stage, Niederauer said he delivers every single time.

“It is thrilling to be able to watch your son create amazing sound from nothing with other amazing advanced musicians,” he said. “I really can’t believe it. He has no fear and loves to perform for an audience.”

When asked about any plans for the future, Brandon said there’s nothing concrete.

“I have been a guitar player, singer, writer — now I’m acting on Broadway,” he said. “I really have no plan. Things have been happening on their own, so whatever it is, I just want it to be fun!”

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The John Hopkins Center for Talented Youth has named Port Jefferson eighth-grader Lucas Rohman one of the brightest middle school students from around the world. Photo from Port Jefferson school district

The Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth recognized a local middle school student recently, naming him one of the brightest in the world.

According to a press release from the Port Jefferson school district, eighth-grader Lucas Rohman received the honor based on his performance on the SAT and the ACT — tests classically taken by high school students getting ready to apply to college.

While more than 30,000 students participated in the center’s annual talent search, Lucas was one of 1,175 students chosen, qualifying him for “challenging and inspiring” programs and classes through the center, according to the organization’s website.

The talent search was open to students in second through eighth grade.

Lucas is a member of the Port Jefferson Middle School’s National Junior Honor Society and its Science Olympiad team, according to the school district. The boy said in a statement that he felt honored to be recognized.

“It has opened up a lot of opportunities to further my studies,” he said.

Children take part in playground activities at Heritage Park in Mount Sinai. File photo by Erika Karp

Taxpayer dollars don’t go to the Heritage Park in Mount Sinai.

The 15-year-old park is funded by the Heritage Trust Fund, a nonprofit organization that helps keep the park and its annual community events alive. Earlier this year, two of the organization’s popular community events — Summerfest and the carnival — were rained out. The group lost $3,900 from Summerfest and only made $7,500 from the carnival; they were hoping to raise $5,000 and $25,000 from the events, respectively.

Now, Heritage Trust is $25,000 below its operating budget. The lack of money left Heritage Trust board members with an idea to “create a Close the Gap Campaign,” shortly after the carnival ended on Oct. 5 — the only day community members attended for the four-day event— to try to raise funds to make up for the lost money.

In the past several days, the organization raised $2,680, around 10 percent of the online fundraiser’s goal of $25,000. The Heritage Trust has 47 more days to raise money. According to Heritage Trust President Lori Baldassare, the money raised from this campaign will go toward upkeep of the park, paying off various insurance or financial expenses and funding future events.

“We were hoping the carnival would help us get back on our feet,” Baldassare said. She added that the trust’s request for donations with the online campaign wasn’t created because they weren’t doing well.

“It’s because of circumstances like the weather that prevented us from meeting our goals,” she said.

Heritage Trust holds around eight fundraising events in addition to occasions like the Christmas tree lighting ceremony, which is free to residents. This year they added a fundraising event on Nov. 6 to help their effort. According to one of the founding board members Tom Carbone, the organization had its ups and downs, but he said they haven’t “been in the situation [they’re] in now.”

Aside from gathering money from fundraising events, Baldassare and Carbone agreed there are additional complications.

“It’s harder and harder to find volunteers,” Carbone said. “We had a solid base of support when we were building the building and supporting the park.”

Fifteen years ago a Home Depot was planning on purchasing the property. Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) was important in acquiring and preserving the property. He wasn’t available to comment on the park, but countless other community members were also involved, including Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai).

Anker said she was there when the park was being built. According to Anker, a Home Depot in that location might have deterred people from moving to Mount Sinai and said the park is important to the area.

“I think the park is a jewel in the Mount Sinai community,” she said. “The community needs to be more aware of the needs of the park. If it wasn’t for Heritage Trust, the park wouldn’t be there … we’d be missing out on the gifts that the park gives us.”

Although the Heritage Trust and the park lack the support they once had, sponsors like Dierdre Dubato continue to help. Dubato said she may donate up to $1,000 to the organization annually and agreed that many people think local government bodies help support the park. Many don’t realize the park is funded by a nonprofit despite the fact that this is advertised on one of the few signs residents pass before entering Heritage Park’s facility.

Although Baldassare said there is no need to eliminate an event like the tree lighting, which costs the organization a couple hundred dollars, if they don’t have enough money to support these types of community events, these events would be the first to go.

To date, the organization has 28 supporters on its online campaign. Baldassare acknowledged that residents and their families are busy, but said she wished more people would help the organization maintain the park.

“I just feel that it’s a little bit harder to rally troops,” Baldassare said about funding community events. “It would be nice to have that grassroots support that we did when we were creating the park.”

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Father Francis Pizzarelli of the Hope House Ministries speaks at the Miller Place Teachers Association 5K walk to promote drug awareness. Photo by Caperna-Korsen Photography

After Miller Place lost two more students last summer to drug overdoses, members of the Miller Place Teachers Association said it was time to take their community back.

“Many [people] in our area have felt helpless as a result of the growing drug problem in our community,” Nancy Sanders, president of the Miller Place Teachers Association, said in an email.

In light of recent events, the teachers association sponsored a 5K walk fundraiser to promote drug awareness in the community. The walk began at noon on Sunday at the Miller Place High School track. According to Sanders, the association raised over $14,000. All proceeds went to Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson and a family who lost their son to a heroin overdose just before school started this year. The family wished to remain anonymous. Sanders added that Hope House has helped many students in the Miller Place school district.

Father Francis Pizzarelli from Hope House spoke at the event, alongside several former Miller Place students who are recovering addicts. Pizzarelli was impressed with the event and commended the teachers for their effort.

“Finally after more than 25 years of ranting and raving about the serious drug problem we have … finally someone’s listening,” Pizzarelli said.

He added that other school districts should use the teachers association effort as an example.

“Until we educate parents with signs and symptoms and until we really yell and scream, this problem is going to continue to senselessly take lives,” Pizzarelli added.

The idea for the fundraiser came about during a Miller Place Teachers Association meeting. The fundraiser’s theme #BeSmartDONTStart was supposed to encourage Miller Place students to make the right choices “and to know that they have a tremendous support system that they can count on to always be there for them,” Sanders said.

BJ’s, Stop&Shop, Utz, Party Hardy and That Meatball Place are some of many businesses that donated goods to sell at the fundraiser. Additional stores and restaurants also donated goods for the raffle baskets. The association also received more than 300 shirts from Port Jeff Sports to sell at the event.

“This has been a true school and community effort,” Sanders said. “We would not have been able to pull off an event of this magnitude without all the support we received.”

Students pet re-enactor Frank Bedford's horse on Nov. 9
Students pet re-enactor Frank Bedford's horse on Nov. 9
Students pet re-enactor Frank Bedford’s horse on Nov. 9

By Alex Petroski

The Revolutionary War leapt from the textbooks and onto the fields of Northport Middle School during an afternoon performance on Monday.

The school’s seventh-graders were treated to a day of fresh air and visual demonstrations by Boots and Saddles Productions, a Freeport-based group that specializes in “living history.”

Principal Tim Hoss said about 250 students attended the “in-house field trip.”

“What better way to learn then being immersed in it?” Hoss said.

Dixie Francis works with a spinning wheel in front of students on Nov. 9
Dixie Francis works with a spinning wheel in front of students on Nov. 9

The students were split into groups and spent time at the five different stations set up by re-enactors.

Gen. George Washington, rebels and British soldiers greeted the students with tales of betrayal to the throne and last ditch pleas to join the Redcoats. A female re-enactor taught kids about the role of women during the Revolution.

The students had the opportunity to ask questions of the re-enactors, pass around props and hear deafening blasts from prop guns.

“They’re actually interacting with us and they’re showing us, not just reading out of a textbook, so we get to hear from them how it was,” Griffin Crafa said. “Now I can actually see it. I heard it, so it’s in my mind, whereas in the textbook you have to just copy notes down and … it doesn’t really stay in your mind.”

Meghan Sheridan said she had fun and Cami Tyrer, referencing the loud musket shots that echoed across the Northport Middle School playing fields, said, “It was a blast, and we learned so much.”

Social studies teacher Barbara Falcone, who organized the event for the second consecutive year, was happy with how the day turned out.

“This is what real learning should be like,” Falcone said. “They’re getting out from behind those dusty computer screens. They’re being outside and they’re seeing from all of these people what real life was like during that period.”

Falcone said the students will remember this event for many years.

Re-enactor Joe Bilardello expressed a similar sentiment: “Out here it’s like we jumped from the history books.”

Uerda Zena colors before her heart procedure last week. Photo from Debbie Engelhardt

A 4-year-old girl from Kosovo is recovering after a life-saving heart operation on Long Island, thanks to the work of local volunteers.

Mom Barbara Zena comforts Uerda as she recovers from her heart procedure. Photo from Debbie Engelhardt
Mom Barbara Zena comforts Uerda as she recovers from her heart procedure. Photo from Debbie Engelhardt

It took a village to support Uerda Zena. Rotary groups throughout Suffolk lent a hand to the girl and her mother, Barbara, through the Gift of Life program, which works to provide such stateside heart procedures to children from around the globe. Uerda’s Nov. 4 surgery to repair a hole in her heart the size of a nickel was a milestone effort that celebrated the Rotary program’s 40th anniversary.

The atrial septal defect closure performed on Uerda at St. Francis Hospital in Roslyn will add 60 or more years to the little girl’s life, Port Jefferson Rotary member Debbie Engelhardt explained, but the surgery was not available in her home nation.

Engelhardt, who is also the director of the Comsewogue Public Library, said more than 19,000 children from dozens of countries have received life-saving surgeries since the Gift of Life program was born in Suffolk County four decades ago and expanded through Rotary International.

The medical team that took care of Uerda Zena, including Dr. Levchuck second from right, surrounds mom Barbara Zena. Photo from Debbie Engelhardt
The medical team that took care of Uerda Zena, including Dr. Levchuck second from right, surrounds mom Barbara Zena. Photo from Debbie Engelhardt

Rotary groups in the county are still going strong with Gift of Life, which is doubling up its efforts by providing doctors and medical staff in other countries with equipment and training to perform the heart procedures themselves.

“It’s a unique, renowned and respected Rotary-run program,” Engelhardt said.

Dr. Sean Levchuck, the pediatric cardiologist who performed the life-saving procedure on Uerda at St. Francis, described it as minimally invasive. To close the nickel-sized hole, he fed a catheter “the size of a coffee stirrer” into a vein in her leg and up to her heart, where the catheter deployed a device that, once placed in the hole, expanded to plug it. The cardiologist had to position the device properly while Uerda’s heart was still beating, mostly using ultrasound imaging to guide him.

Barbara Zena and daughter Uerda have fun at Chuck E. Cheese. Photo from Joe DeVincent
Barbara Zena and daughter Uerda have fun at Chuck E. Cheese. Photo from Joe DeVincent

The doctor said the procedure took between 45 minutes to an hour and required a team of nurses, an anesthesiologist and techs to assist with the imaging. The hospital donated the use of its facility and staff for the procedure.

Levchuck does about 15 of those procedures a year for Gift of Life, he said, with a fair number of the child recipients coming from Eastern European countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union. He also sees kids from places like Haiti and Jamaica.

Just like in those other nations, the procedure to repair a hole in a child’s heart is not available in Kosovo, Levchuck said, because the hospitals don’t have the resources to train their staffs to do it. And the kids who are born with those defects are more prone to pneumonia or respiratory infections, which could also be difficult to treat in a developing nation.

“Problems in this country that are seemingly innocent take a whole new look” in places like Kosovo, the doctor said. But he is willing to help: “Keep ‘em coming. … It’s easy to donate time.”

In Uerda’s case, plenty of Long Islanders donated their time, with many people pitching in to make the girl’s medical procedure a reality. Sayville Rotarian Joe DeVincent wrote letters to get the girl a visa, and she and her mother are staying with a host family in Northport while here. DeVincent has also provided transportation to the Kosovan mother and daughter.

Uerda Zena and mom Barbara are all smiles while in the U.S. to repair the girl's heart defect Photo from Joe DeVincent
Uerda Zena and mom Barbara are all smiles while in the U.S. to repair the girl’s heart defect Photo from Joe DeVincent

The endeavor to save Uerda had an additional element of kids helping other kids — students at St. Anthony’s High School in South Huntington, one of whom is Levchuck’s son, raised funds to bring the girl to the United States from her home in the Kosovan capital, Pristina, where her mother works at a bakery and her father at a public works plant.

“They’re a fine group of students over there that championed a cause,” the doctor said about the St. Anthony’s kids. “When you see something like that, you really get a nice warm feeling about the future.”

Uerda will be staying stateside for a little while longer, and Rotarians are trying to show her a good time. She has already gone on a play date to Chuck E. Cheese and visited a children’s museum, DeVincent said, and this weekend she will go into New York City with her mother and some native Long Islanders to visit Times Square and Rockefeller Center.

“Uerda really enjoys being with her mother,” DeVincent said.

And she has more energy to do these things than before.

After a heart procedure, Uerda Zena is now healthier than ever. Photo from Joe DeVincent
After a heart procedure, Uerda Zena is now healthier than ever. Photo from Joe DeVincent

“Her heart’s working better, her circulation’s better,” the Rotarian said. “The kid generally feels better than she has in her whole life. So this is a very happy story.”

Uerda will also appear at a Taste of Smithtown, an event in St. James on Nov. 17, where there will be food from restaurants along the North Shore. The 10th annual event will run from 6 to 9 p.m. at Mercedes-Benz of Smithtown on Middle Country Road and will benefit the Gift of Life program, along with the Smithtown Emergency Food Pantry and the Smithtown Children’s Foundation.

The plan is for the Zenas to head home on Nov. 22, to be reunited with Uerda’s father and her 18-month-old brother.

“Her mother is in touch with her family in Europe through her cell phone and … Uerda has spoken to her brother over the cell phone,” DeVincent said. “She’s actually very maternal toward her younger brother.”

It is a happy ending for both the Kosovo family and Suffolk County Rotarians.

“When you’re doing something like this with an adorable 4-year-old child, it brings you tremendous satisfaction,” DeVincent said. “This is the best way to spread happiness, certainly for these children and their parents but also for yourself. Nothing that I do or have done in my life has brought me as much joy.”

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Dentists drill down on trick-or-treating

By Susan Risoli

Everyone knows that Halloween treats are bad for children’s teeth. Or is that just a myth, perpetrated by parents who want to pilfer their kids’ candy stash?

With their mouths full of restorations, adults are the ones more likely than kids to experience post-Halloween dental problems, said Dr. Robert Branca D.D.S. It’s not unusual for adults to make an appointment at Sweetwater Dental Care in Hauppauge, where Branca practices, to take care of a cracked tooth, a lost crown or a missing filling caused by biting into hard or sticky candy. As far as kids go, Branca said, Halloween doesn’t so much affect the ongoing issue of tooth decay as much as the child’s genetic makeup and the texture of their teeth — smooth or pitted. To prevent cavities, he recommends that children get fluoride treatments and have their teeth sealed.

Energy drinks and soda are way worse for a young person’s teeth than once-a-year consumption of Halloween candy, Branca said.

“We see a big difference in tooth decay of young adults in their 20s,” since energy drinks became popular, he said, because the drinks are “very high in sugar, very high in acid. Those things are really bad for your teeth.”

If the child has braces, their parents can remind them to choose and eat their Halloween candy carefully. “Sticky things could be a problem,” he said.

When it came to raising his own kids, Dr. Branca said he practiced the “all things in moderation” approach. “I wasn’t going to take Halloween away from them. Let them have their fun,” he said. “But I wasn’t going to let them have candy every day, either.”

Young trick-or-treaters have healthier teeth than adults, said Dr. Roger Kleinman, D.D.S., so a little Halloween indulgence shouldn’t be bad for their dental health.

“Up until age 14 or 15, children tend to still have strong teeth,” he said. “Some of their adult teeth didn’t come in until they were 12. There hasn’t been a chance yet for adult decay to set in.” At the Gentle Dental office in Port Jefferson, he has treated his share of dental trauma caused by adults biting into candy — “broken teeth from a frozen caramel cluster, for example.” Dr. Kleinman recommends parents follow the usual advice about letting their kids eat only wrapped candies.

“And after they eat the candy they’re allowed to have, I would recommend that they go brush their teeth,” he advised.

Dr. Aimee Zopf, D.M.D., also a practitioner at Gentle Dental, isn’t likely to condemn Halloween. “That’s my birthday,” she said.

For the rest of us trick-or-treaters, as long as proper dental hygiene is practiced on a consistent, daily basis, Halloween shouldn’t pose a problem, she said. Eating candy won’t necessarily cause tooth decay “as long as you’re brushing and flossing and seeing your dentist every six months, or more frequently if needed,” Dr. Zopf said. She also reminded parents to check their kids’ Halloween candy not only to make sure it’s safely wrapped, but also to check that it doesn’t trigger any allergies the child might have.

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