Kids

Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D) holds up signs kids made in support of peace. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

By Victoria Espinoza

The divisive nature of the 2016 presidential election is still affecting many Americans, and racist, anti-Semitic and other xenophobic actions have occurred in some communities.

Local legislators, police officers, school administrators and religious leaders gathered at the Tri Community Youth Association in Huntington Nov. 23 to preach inclusivity and acceptance after several hate-driven incidents were reported.

Two weeks ago, police said multiple swastikas were found spray painted on walls at Northport High School, and town officials said residents have reported hearing hateful language as well.

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) said parents and community members need to teach children the importance of accepting one another.

“One of these incidents is one too many,” he said during the Huntington event. “It’s our responsibility to speak out against it and educate our youth of the ramifications of such actions.”

A local rabbi holds up another sign encouraging unity. Photo by Victoria Espinoza
A local rabbi holds up another sign encouraging unity. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) echoed the sentiment.

“I want to take this opportunity to come together, to speak to our anxieties, our fears, our concerns that have been spurred by acts of predominantly ignorance,” Spencer said at the event. “We now have a new generation of young people that may not have experienced the Holocaust or the civil rights movement, and this call of unity is not speaking against acts for any particular group, but for all of us. Whether it’s with minorities, in the Jewish, Muslim, Christian community; this is condemning acts of hatred for all of us.”

Spencer said he has received multiple calls from friends and colleagues detailing stories of bullying and threatening acts in recent weeks.

“We are better than this. We can disagree with dignity and without being threatened or going as far as to commit a crime,” Spencer said.

The legislator outlined the many resources available to the public to battle hate crimes and encourage the observation of human rights, including education programs for students, and officers who are specifically trained to recognize hate crimes and counsel victims.

Rabbi Yaakov Saacks from the Chai Center in Dix Hills detailed programs offered to educators to help them teach about the Holocaust.

Saacks urged teachers to give extra attention to Holocaust studies and racism studies. The rabbi said he is involved with the Memorial Library, an organization that supports Holocaust education with satellite seminars, mini grants and more to help schools teach students about the Holocaust. He also offered to travel to schools himself to teach students.

“I believe a Holocaust symbol, while it’s true it’s hurtful to the Jews, the swastika … is hurtful to us all,” Saacks said. “Sixty million people died because of Hitler’s nonsense in World War II. Ten percent of those were of the Jewish faith. Fifty-four million non-Jewish people died. Over three percent of the world’s population were killed in WWII — 292,130 U.S. soldiers were killed in battle. The Iraq War was 5,000. The Civil War was 87,000. It’s not only a Jewish problem. The swastika hurt us all and hurts us all greatly.”

“We are better than this. We can disagree with dignity and without being threatened or going as far as to commit a crime.”
— William Spencer

Kenneth Bossert, superintendent of Elwood school district as well as the vice president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association, agreed educators need more help teaching students about these sensitive issues.

“Schools are a reflection of what’s happening in society,” Bossert said. “What children bring with them to the classroom is not only what they learn from their teachers, but what they’re learning in their homes.”

Bossert said he has been an educator for more than 20 years, and this is the first presidential election he remembers that required teachers to talk about issues of race and division.

“Typically, after a presidential election, the results come in and teachers instruct about lessons on the Electoral College and the popular vote and how states break it down,” he said. “The lessons were very different this year. The lessons were about community and respecting others and making everyone feel comfortable and welcome in the hallways and the classrooms.”

Bossert said he wanted to correct one word used throughout the rally: tolerance.

“That’s not a word I use,” he said. “The word I use is acceptance. Tolerance implies that we’re going to tolerate someone who is somehow less than we are. Acceptance implies respect, community and love for one another.”

Students in teacher Eric Gustafson’s fourth-grade class at Setauket Elementary School hold wrapped gifts to be donated. Photo from Three Village school district

By Rebecca Anzel

Opportunities for warming hearts abound during the holiday season and those who give tend to receive much more.

Five years ago, when Linda Bily, cancer patient advocacy and community outreach director at Stony Brook Cancer Center, and others noticed some patients did not have family members to share the holidays with, she started the Adopt a Family program.

The first year, 20 families were “adopted” by 20 departments, which donated gifts such as winter coats, new sneakers and gift cards for grocery stores and gas stations. This year, Bily estimates that 75 families will be adopted by departments and community groups.

“This is a good thing for patients going through chemo because it’s one less thing they have to worry about,” Bily said. “The people that donate the gifts get as much out of it as the patients — and they always go above and beyond. It makes them feel good to do it.”

From left, Stony Brook ‘elves’ Maryellen Bestenheider, Mary Alice Plant and Michele Hass make the season bright for some cancer patients and their families. Photo from Stony Brook Cancer Center
From left, Stony Brook ‘elves’ Maryellen Bestenheider, Mary Alice Plant and Michele Hass make the season bright for some cancer patients and their families. Photo from Stony Brook Cancer Center

Patients and their families are nominated by the nursing staff and social workers. The only requirements are that they receive treatment at the cancer center and are facing financial hardship.

Alicia McArdle has been a social worker at the cancer center for two years and nominates families to participate in the program. She said what separates this program from others like it is that it includes cancer patients of all ages, not just children.

“So many people are nominated, it’s unbelievable,” McArdle said. “It’s a way to give our patients joy during a difficult time, and it definitely brightens their days.”

Once a patient agrees to participate he or she gives Bily a wish list. It contains items like a new pair of sweatpants, music, or gloves — never anything like a new Xbox or cellphone, Bily said

“You wouldn’t believe how a new pair of sneakers and a really warm winter jacket can change someone’s life,” McArdle said. “It really helps because most of our patients want to pay their bills first and they put themselves last. It’s nice to put them first for once, and they’re so appreciative for it.” Only first names are shared, in compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

Bily said once a group has participated in the program, it almost always does so again. That’s true of the cancer center’s radiology department, which has adopted a family every year. Elizabeth Kramer said her 22-person department looks forward to the holiday tradition.

“We’re all very fortunate and we want to help these people that are in need,” she said. “A lot of them cannot afford to buy gifts for their family, so we enjoy purchasing and wrapping presents for them.”

Radiology is adopting a family of four this year — a mom, a dad and two children. Kramer said the father asked for music to relax and “zone out” while he receives chemo. Kramer added the radiology department always purchases a supermarket gift card as well.

In December 2014, Judith Mitchell, a mother of five was receiving radiation at the center to treat her breast cancer, and she needed help. She knew she would have trouble affording gifts such as clothes and shoes for her holiday presents for her children.

Mitchell was asked by cancer center staff if she wanted to participate in the program.

“The program was a blessing because there’s no way we could have done for these children what our adopters had done,” she said. “It’s nice to know that people are really willing to help others who cannot help themselves, because sometimes when you have cancer, it’s hard. My cancer did not affect me alone, it affected my whole family.”

“What’s nice about this program is that it’s giving and it warms the heart. “It’s such a beautiful experience being able to provide gifts and it gets your mind off yourself during the holiday season.”

— Jennifer Scarlatos

Business owners in the community also get involved.

“What’s nice about this program is that it’s giving and it warms the heart,” Jennifer Scarlatos, co-owner of Toast Coffeehouse in Port Jefferson, said. “It’s such a beautiful experience being able to provide gifts and it gets your mind off yourself during the holiday season.”

She participated in the program with her employees last year, and also helped her daughter’s fourth-grade class at Setauket Elementary School adopt a family.

Teacher Eric Gustafson said it was a great opportunity to remind his students of the importance of giving — not just receiving. He remembered the children excitedly telling each other about gifts they picked out while they all wrapped the presents together.

“It was such a fun day and the kids really got into it,” he said. “Once you put together everything they bought, it made for a pretty impressive pile, and it put us in the spirit of giving.”

Gustafson encouraged other classrooms to participate, and Kramer added churches and other groups should consider it as well.

The Port Jefferson community lined Main Street in the village Nov. 26 to welcome a very special visitor. The annual Santa Parade saw the man himself riding his sleigh through the streets for hundreds of onlookers, along with floats from local Boy Scout troops, the Port Jefferson Ferry, the Chamber of Commerce, the Village Board and many more. Port Jefferson’s annual Dickens Festival begins Dec. 3.

Photo courtesy of Comsewogue Public Library

‘LITERACY BEGINS AT BIRTH’

The Comsewogue Public Library in Port Jefferson Station recently announced that it has officially become a Family Place Library. Family Place Libraries redesign the library environment to be welcoming and appropriate for children beginning at birth and connect parents with resources, programs and services. Pictured from left are Kristen Todd-Wurm, Christine Kowalski, Director Debra Engelhardt, Audrey Asaro, Debbie Bush and Amanda Pendzick.

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Reviewed by Rebecca Anzel

A family of ducks living near a river by author Stacey Moshier’s home in Mastic was the inspiration for her new children’s book “Dylan the Singing Duck” (Squidgy Press). This 52-page book, with illustrations by Barry Sachs, is the heartwarming story of how a little duck, with the encouragement of new friends, discovers the importance of never giving up on a dream. Moshier recently took time out from writing new stories to answer a few questions about her first book and new-found passion for writing.

Tell me a little bit about your background.

I’m actually a New York State certified teacher. I subbed for many, many years in various districts but just didn’t land that full-time position.

Tell me about the book.

The story is about a little duck named Dylan who wants to sing. Despite everybody laughing at him or thinking that who heard of a singing duck, he still holds on to that and goes for it. With the help of some friends, he finally achieves that dream.

How would you describe Dylan?

I would say initially shy — determined though. And just a good little guy.

What inspired you to write this book?

One summer we had moved into a new house by a river, and there was a family of ducks there. On a whim I just started writing. My family was coming together. You have to believe in a dream, that it’s going to be okay and believe in each other and trust in that. That’s where that idea came from. And then, of course, not giving up on yourself and believing in your goals and dreams. I always want a lesson to be behind [a story] that you can carry with you throughout your life. Dylan’s lesson was “don’t give up on yourself, believe in your dreams.” I didn’t set out to be a writer but it’s the greatest thing I’ve ever done. I’m working on other stories. Of course, life gets ahead of you, and you have to find the time. I have a bunch of ideas in my head so that’s pretty much how I got into it. I did it not knowing that I was a writer, but I am.

How did it feel when you saw the final book?

The publishing was like a dream come true. I couldn’t believe I did it. It was a very proud accomplishment to be published.

What do you hope children will learn from reading your book?

That they can be whatever they want to be and never to give up on themselves, and that it’s okay to be different.

Tell me a little about the new stories you’re working on.

One is going to be called “Why So Mean Norma-Jean?” It’s about anti-bullying. There are two cats, Norma-Jean and Babies. They are my cats actually. The other one is called “I Love You Just As Much.” It’s about Francesca who has been the only child for five years and now they’re having a baby. She’s not thrilled. And then the third one is “Tumbling Timothy Jay.” It’s about a turtle who wants to be a gymnast. Through the help of his friends he tries to overcome his obstacle.

What advice would you give to someone who is writing their first book?

Don’t give up — go for it. Even though it’s hard to get published, don’t give up that dream. If you have an idea and you’re inspired to write, do it. I carry a notebook around with me all the time. I write little things that come to my head, even if it’s just an idea. At least it came to my head, and I wrote it down and maybe I don’t do anything with it for a little bit, but I have it.

Why do you think reading to a child is important?

I know kids are all into the Kindle and all the electronics. But the physical act of holding a book is just the best thing of all. Just for you to actually read to that child I think inspires a love of reading and an interest in it. You know, if they see a parent or teacher or someone holding a book to read it to them, and they sit and enjoy it, I think that promotes a love of reading.

Readers can contact Moshier by phone (631-618-5889) or email (dylansadventures@gmail.com) for an autographed copy of “Dylan the Singing Duck,” which the author will send with free shipping anywhere on Long Island.

A previous year’s entry depicts Port Jefferson’s Village Hall. File photo by Heidi Sutton

Calling all gingerbread house enthusiasts and architects! Time to start your ovens! Suffolk Lodge No. 60 Ancient, Free & Accepted Masons will be hosting its 6th Annual Gingerbread House Contest during the 21st annual Port Jefferson Charles Dickens Festival on Dec. 3 and 4.

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Every year thousands of people attend this wonderful festival to see the transformation of Port Jefferson Village into a town out of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

All Gingerbread House Contest submissions will be on display during the festival in the basement of the Port Jefferson Masonic Temple, 312 Main Street on Dec. 3 from noon to 10 p.m. and Dec. 4 from noon to 5 p.m. Entries will be judged for their creativity, execution and originality by a panel of judges that includes celebrated local artists and chefs.

First prize in the adult category will be $500, runner-up receives $200. In the under-18 category, first prize is a $125 Amazon gift card, and runner-up is a $75 Amazon gift card. All Gingerbread House Contest entry registrations must be submitted by Sunday, Nov. 23. For complete details, printable and online registration forms and rules, please visit www.gingerli.org. For further information, call 631-339-0940.

Local Boy Scout Troop 454 helps beautify the Greenway Trail as part of a community service project, led by James Nielsen. Photo by Alex Petroski

The popular walking trail that connects Setauket and Port Jefferson Station is getting much needed TLC from some of the community’s youngest leaders.

Fifteen-year-old James Nielsen of Terryville Boy Scout Troop 454 organized a clean-up effort on the Port Jefferson Station end of the Greenway Trail Oct. 29 and has future plans to create a sign post with a smartphone scannable QR code that will provide historical information alongside a bench in the trail. The plan would be part of James’ process to become an Eagle Scout.

At the other end of the 3.4-mile long nature trail, Eagle Scout candidate Jake Linkletter also organized a clean-up effort and fundraised for a new kiosk in the Gnarled Hollow Road parking lot in Setauket.

Local Boy Scout Troop 454 helps beautify the Greenway Trail as part of a community service project, led by James Nielsen. Photo by Alex Petroski
Local Boy Scout Troop 454 helps beautify the Greenway Trail as part of a community service project, led by James Nielsen. Photo by Alex Petroski

The cleanups were started to remove brush and litter from the trail as part of a beautification process.

Charles McAteer, chairman of the not-for-profit organization Friends of the Greenway Trail, is grateful for all of the work being done by local Scouts, which he called “invaluable.”

“This community spirit is what has and continues to make the Greenway the community gem we all hoped it would be,” McAteer said in an email. “Civic groups like Scouts have contributed via their fundraising thousands of dollars for improvements to the trail as well as hundreds of man hours in cleanups and creating the various improvements. As mentioned, all to help the community keep the Greenway clean — fulfilling the needs of our citizens.”

James said he feels the community service efforts are important because it shows how many people care about the area and its trail.

“I’ve [been] sending out emails to the people in my troop and the people I’ve been working with on the project — the fundraising people who have been working to get my project improved — It’s been a bit of work, but I’ve been glad for all the help that I’ve been getting,” he said. “I feel like it’s a good community.”

James attends JFK Middle School, and his parents Steven and Jean are both teachers in the Comsewogue School District.

From left Marc Difilippo, Jake Linkletter, AJ Colletta and David Linkletter install a new kiosk on the Setauket end of the trail. Photo by Nick Koridis
From left Marc Difilippo, Jake Linkletter, AJ Colletta and David Linkletter install a new kiosk on the Setauket end of the trail. Photo by Nick Koridis

“It has been an unbelievable experience to watch him,” James’ father said of his son. “When he started he was kind of shy and introverted, and to watch him grow throughout the years in Scouts — taking a leadership role … I’m so proud of him.”

James’ mother stressed the importance of doing something positive to benefit the community.

“It’s really nice to see something positive in Port Jefferson Station,” she said. “I feel like living here forever, we need some things to be proud of, some things for our community. But to have some pride, and see all of these residents working together, it’s just very, very exciting. I’m proud of James and the Boy Scouts.”

Strathmore Bagels in Setauket donated bagels on the morning of the cleanup. James has also set up a crowd-funding website where community members can donate money to support his project. He has received almost $450 in donations, and his ultimate goal is to raise $800. To contribute to his efforts visit www.youcaring.com/james-nielsen-659986.

The Rocky Point GearHeadz with coach Chris Pinkenburg, a physicist at Brookhaven National Lab. File photo by Desirée Keegan

“It’s finally happening,” award-winning Rocky Point-area robotics coach Chris Pinkenburg said. “After six years in the making we will have a FIRST Robotics Competition team.”

This was the goal for him and his GearHeadz since day one. The team competed in lower divisions in the FIRST LEGO League to build experience and grow to be able to compete in the higher-level league.

In February, the team was crowned Second Place Champions in the FLL Long Island Championship Tournament and went on to represent the area in the North American Open Invitational Championship Tournament in May. The GearHeadz competed against 74 teams — all regional and state champions from the U.S. and Canada, as well as international guests from Germany and South Korea.

The team’s hard work paid off, as the GearHeadz claimed second place in programming in its final year as an FLL team. This award recognizes a team that utilizes outstanding programming principles, including clear, concise and reusable code that allows their robot to perform challenge missions autonomously and consistently. The team also placed in fifth place overall.

“It’s very heartening to see kids involved in this kind of work. We’re proud of what they have been able to accomplish and we wish them more success in the future.”

— Jane Alcorn

It is the second championship win in a row for two members, and the third championship win for two of the founding members.

As a result of its continued growth, the GearHeadz gained a new science connection.

The GearHeadz now have affiliation with the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe in Shoreham, and the future collaboration will help the team as it ventures into the FRC.

A more advanced team needs more space than the Pinkenburgs’ basement, which is where the team currently practices and builds.

“Space is the biggest problem, so I approached the Tesla Science Center in April or May to see if they would be interested to host a robotics team,’ Pinkenburg said. “They are absolutely in favor of this. It also fits well into their plans for the science center.”

The Tesla Science Center, while currently working on turning some of the lab into a museum, is also working on hosting space for local community groups and an incubator where scientists can conduct experiments, build and share ideas. While the space is not going to be ready for this upcoming season, which begins in January, the plan is to move to permanent housing next season.

“With the Tesla Science Center we have a long-term future,” Pinkenburg said.

The center’s president, Jane Alcorn, hopes the partnership will give the team more visibility and  said it’s exactly the kind of thing the site wants to foster and work with and would like the team to one day be Tesla’s GearHeadz.

“Since Tesla is one of the fathers of robotics it seems very appropriate,” she said. Nikola Tesla also invented the first remote control. “Part of our mission is to have groups like this.”

The Rocky Point-based robotics team, GearHeadz, after competing in the North American Open Invitational Tournament. File photo from Chris Pinkenburg
The Rocky Point-based robotics team, GearHeadz, after competing in the North American Open Invitational Tournament. File photo from Chris Pinkenburg

But besides space, an FRC team needs more money. That’s where Bohemia-based North Atlantic Industries came in. The organization contacted Pinkenburg after FIRST pointed it in Rocky Point’s direction. The company offered to sponsor the GearHeadz with up to $6,000 dollars in matching funds.

“This was really great news,” Pinkenburg said. “It was the breakthrough we needed.”

In order to compete in 2017, the GearHeadz must raise at least $15,000 to purchase equipment and pay the FRC fees. The six-week season begins in January, but the team must come up with the funding by mid-November. So far, the group has raised close to $3,000, and the matching grant enables the team to pay for the $6,000 registration fee that is due this month.

The registration comes with a robot base kit and one competition, which will take place from the end of March to the beginning of April at Hofstra University.

“We still need additional material for the robot — you are allowed to spend $4,000 but my guess is that it’ll be around $1,500,” Pinkenburg said. “We need tools — we have some promises for donations in that department already — and we would like to participate in a second competition, which is another $4,000. That’s where the $15,000 comes from. If we match the money from North Atlantic Industries we’ll be close to this.”

Pinkenburg said from his team’s past experience he believes the GearHeadz are well-prepared to have a good start in its new division. Since it’s a community-based team — not limited by school district boundaries when accepting new members — he hopes that the team can continue to grow.

“I hope that this will turn into something where many kids from the North Shore communities profit from,” he said.

Information about the team and a sponsor form may be found on the GearHeadz’ website at www.rockypointroboticsclub.com. The group also set up a GoFundMe site: www.gofundme.com/Gearheadz. 

“We’re excited to see what this robotics club can do, especially since they’re doing so well,” Alcorn said. “It’s very heartening to see kids involved in this kind of work. We’re proud of what they have been able to accomplish and we wish them more success in the future.”

Photo from PJCC
Photo from PJCC
Photo from PJCC

THAT’S BRILLIANT! The Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce recently announced the winner of its annual scarecrow competition that was held in conjunction with the village’s Harvest Fest. Port Jefferson Juniors & Cadet Girl Scout Troop 1390 beat out the competition with their scarecrow, ‘Harry Potter’s Hermione.’ The group wins a $50 gift card to The Pie in Port Jefferson. Congratulations! Take a Scarecrow Walk down East Main Street through November to view all the wonderful entries.

Send your Photo of the Week to leisure@tbrnewspapers.com.

By Judith Burke-Berhannan

New technology influences everything, including your child’s college application process. Websites, social media and streaming videos may be more common than catalogs as sources of information for the college-bound child, but the fundamentals of applying for college remain the same — along with the anxiety and anticipation. So how do you help your children make the most of their college search and selection process?

Talk to your child about his or her interests, strengths and goals early. During sophomore and junior year, keep college in focus by including him or her in conversations with family, friends and associates about their college experiences and take advantage of college planning and guidance resources available through your high school and library.

Help your child compile a checklist of what he or she wants in a college, so that by senior year, they can explain their reasons for applying. Research options by exploring college websites together. For example, the Stony Brook University website features a virtual tour, blogs from current students and tools to help you plan for college costs and scholarship opportunities.

The summer before senior year is an ideal time to tour college campuses and review essay topics and application deadlines. Encourage your child to complete all college applications before Thanksgiving. Remember that application and scholarship deadlines are non-negotiable.

At the same time, establish an email account for your child’s college correspondence. Colleges will correspond with applicants primarily by email, so make sure your child checks the account regularly and responds quickly throughout the application process. Remind them that all college correspondence is professional and their writing style should be formal to reflect how serious they are about applying. Make sure they use proper grammar and etiquette and don’t use any casual shorthand commonly used in text messages and on social media — in other words, no acronyms, abbreviations or emojis!

But remember, when it’s time to write essays and talk with the people who will provide letters of recommendation, step aside. This is your child’s college experience, not yours. Admissions committees can detect essays written by professionals and parents. Empower your student to take ownership of the process. Finally, take a step back and relax. Be confident that with the proper preparation and a positive outlook, your child will be successful in his or her college search.

Judith Burke-Berhannan is the dean of Undergraduate Admissions at Stony Brook University.