People of the Year

Susan Delgado and her husband, John, stand in front of St. Cuthbert’s food pantry in Selden. Photo from Tracy LaStella

One woman’s passion for helping others has benefited many who are in need.

For the past 15 years, Susan Delgado has headed up the food pantry at St. Cuthbert’s Episcopal Church in Selden, and at 79 years old, she has no plans for slowing down.

The Delgados with their children, Paul, David, Tracy and Dan, who they raised in Selden after moving to the area 50 years ago. Photo from Tracy LaStella

Christina Rundberg, the church’s vestry clerk, said when the church decided to offer a food pantry, Delgado soon took over as coordinator.

“The food pantry has become her pride and joy and her baby,” Rundberg said.

Delgado and her husband John can be found working in the food pantry a few times a week, according to Rundberg. Susan Delgado coordinates pickups with drivers from the food banks Long Island Cares and Island Harvest, picks up food with her husband at various locations including Bethel Hobbs Community Farm in Centereach and ShopRite in Selden and stocks the shelves.

“I don’t know where she gets the energy,” Rundberg said.

The pantry that was initially opened only Fridays from 6 to 7 p.m. is now open on the same day from 10 a.m. to 12:15 p.m as well. Rundberg said the additional hours were added when Delgado was worried about people walking and riding bikes at night, especially during the winter months, and she decided it would be helpful to open it to the public on Friday mornings, too.

Rundberg, who volunteers in the pantry Friday nights, said it’s open to anyone in need, not just to congregants. When it comes to holidays, the vestry clerk said Delgado always ensures there are enough food items, so clients can have a Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter dinner. She also helps to raise funds and items for a local battered women’s shelter, coordinates an adopt-a-family program during the winter holidays to buy families in need gifts and helps to collect backpacks filled with school supplies for children in need before the school year starts.

Father Charles Schnabel, a retired priest who helps with church services, said he’s always impressed when laypeople keep a church going, and Delgado is no exception. He said there’s hardly a time he doesn’t see her there working.

“She is very well focused on this area of ministry, and it’s so needed today.”

— Father Charles Schnabel

“What I see in Sue is a woman of great faith and dedication, and it’s rooted, I think, in her faith and membership at St. Cuthbert’s,” he said, adding she’s emblematic of the church’s congregants.

He described Delgado as a quiet, unassuming person, who at the same time isn’t afraid to stand up and speak at services to inform church members about what is needed at the pantry, whether it be food, toiletries and even toilet paper. The priest said she sees those who stop by the pantry as more than clients, and he remembered one time when she made a plea to the church members and was near tears.

“She is very well focused on this area of ministry, and it’s so needed today,” he said.

Delgado’s daughter, Tracy LaStella, said in addition to volunteering at the pantry, her mother works full time for a local IRS office in its mail room. The pantry, the daughter said, on average serves 342 households and 274 individuals per week.

“Every time I go there I can’t even believe how many people need the help and that [the church is] able to help them and give them food,” LaStella said.

She said she always thought of food pantries as only having canned foods, and she’s amazed at the quality and variety of foods that are available at the St. Cuthbert’s food pantry.

She said her mother has also partnered with Middle Country Public Library, where LaStella serves as assistant director for youth services. Members of the teen advisory council there have helped stock the shelves of the pantry before Thanksgiving and make tote bags for the families to use to pick up food.

LaStella said people come up to her in the library all the time and tell her about her mother — and father as well.

“It just warms my heart that they’re doing such great work for the community that they live in, and we all grew up in, too,” she said, adding her mother has four children and seven grandchildren.

The daughter said talking about her mother’s good deeds makes her teary-eyed.

“From what I can remember as a child, she was always helping neighbors,” LaStella said. “She was always helping her sisters. If she grew up in this day and age, she probably would have been a social worker. She has a really big heart. She would give her coat off her back for somebody.”

Pilar Moya, center, stands to protest President Donald Trump’s immigration laws at a Huntington rally this June. Photo by Eve Krief

Generous, warm and intelligent are a few of the adjectives Huntington residents use to describe one Huntington Station resident.

Pilar Moya — also known as Moya-Mancera — has dedicated her life to community activism, in particular aiding Town of Huntington residents and its Latino communities.

“I’ve always been a public servant, always,” Moya said. “That’s my passion, my love.”

“[Pilar Moya] is always standing up for what is right.”

— Eve Krief

During the day, Moya works as executive director of Greenlawn-based nonprofit Housing Help, a certified housing counseling agency that has served town residents for more than 30 years. She helps ensure the organization provides housing counseling, financial literacy, and credit and debit education for residents of Long Island. Her clients often include first-time home buyers, seniors, low-income families and people suffering with student loan debt.

Since taking leadership of the nonprofit in 2017, Moya has initiated several affordable housing counseling and advocacy programs.

“I call my agency tiny but mighty,” Moya said.

Housing Help was able to assist more than a thousand clients last fiscal year.

“That’s for the entire Suffolk County,” she said. “Our impact for the Town of Huntington was 702 clients.”

Moya brings fresh ideas, a positive spirit and drive to the agency.

“She jumps in with both feet at all times,” said Michele Martines, of Huntington. “Whatever she’s interested in or feels like is worthwhile.”

When she’s not working at Housing Help, Moya created the nonprofit Latinos Unidos en Long Island, an organization that aids Latino immigrants by assisting in obtaining and providing legal aid, support and housing help. The organization started in Huntington and rapidly expanded across Long Island.

“She is always standing up for what is right,” said Dr. Eve Krief, a Huntington pediatrician and founder of the Long Island Inclusive Communities Against Hate advocacy group.

I’ve always been a public servant, always. That’s my passion, my love.”

— Pilar Moya

Moya partnered with Krief to assist with the Families Belong Together rallies in Huntington, to protest against the immigration policies of President Donald Trump (R), including the separation of children from their mother at the border.

At the second rally held June 30, nearly 50 organizations and close to 1,000 people attended, according to Krief.

“We hope our rally displays the love and compassion we hope that America can represent as well as the hopeful and powerful nature of our democracy,” Moya said at the event. “Our message to the families separated at the border is, ‘You matter — and our voices are our extensions of yours.’”

Krief shared that she can always count on Moya for help even when she’s “doing a thousand other things.”

In addition to Housing Help and Latinos Unidos, Moya participates in many different local organizations including co-chairing the Hispanic Task Force, Suffolk County Hispanic Advisory Board, serving as a steering committee member of Huntington Township Housing Coalition, and as a member of the town’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

“I guess I have been blessed that I am able to do this work because I have a good team of leaders that work side by side with me,” Moya said.

Linda Johnson presents a check to support Stony Brook Cancer Center to registered dietitian Jennifer Fitzgibbon. Photo by Terri Quinn

By Susan Risoli

Thanks to Linda Johnson, the Three Village Artisan and Farmers Market has become a place of healthy healing, not only through its fresh produce but because of the fellowship and friendship it offers. For her hard work and dedication to reinventing the market, TBR News Media names Johnson one of the People of the Year.

Linda Johnson helps a customer at the Three Village Market. Photo by Terri Quinn

The Three Village Market — as it is colloquially known — sets up shop on the North Country Road grounds of the Three Village Historical Society. This year Johnson stepped up to manage it and ran the event every Friday from June through October. She is scheduled to manage it again in 2019.

Those who shopped at the market say Johnson infused it with the same spirit that flavors her family-run chocolate business, Chocology Unlimited in Stony Brook.

“Linda’s business is about the whole experience of chocolate, and philanthropy, and building relationships in the community,” said Sandy White, Three Village Historical Society office manager.

Johnson turned the market into an opportunity to support survivorship programs at the Stony Brook Cancer Center. She also made it a relaxed gathering spot, where neighbors brought their dogs and kids and enjoyed live music.

The Three Village Market features locally grown and crafted wares, with an emphasis on the freshest of foods. Jennifer Fitzgibbon, a Cancer Center registered dietitian who specializes in oncology nutrition, found the market to be an ally in educating her patients and raising funds to support the Cancer Center. She said Johnson donated a percentage of sales from the farmers market, as well as a percentage of sales from her chocolate business, to purchase exercise equipment and yoga mats for cancer patients and survivors to use.

As part of the Cancer Center’s Healthy Forks program, Fitzgibbon takes people to grocery stores to show them how to shop healthy without spending a lot of money. So taking them on tours of the Three Village Market was a great addition to Healthy Forks, she said. Fitzgibbon said she and her patients appreciated Johnson’s efforts to establish “an uplifting and beautiful experience. It’s just a healthy atmosphere.”

For one vendor, working with Johnson turned into a homecoming. Ann Marie’s Farm Stand, a beloved Three Village mainstay, was for many years headquartered right up the road from the farmers market. Although they’re doing well at their new location in Port Jefferson Station, many in the Three Village community mourned their absence. So Johnson brought Ann Marie’s back, by inviting them to sell their produce at the market every week.

“She was sort of our guardian angel,” said Ann Marie’s owner Mary Ann Deriso. “We saw our old customers again, and that was great for us.”

“She has a lot of positive energy. She always has so many ideas.”

— Jennifer Fitzgibbon

Deriso praised Johnson’s people skills.

“It’s not easy positioning the vendors in their spots and making them happy where they are,” Deriso said. “She’s very good at it. She made us all feel comfortable and welcome.”

Above all, “Linda is down to earth,” Deriso said. “She’s likable and real.”

Fitzgibbon said Johnson created a diverse marketplace that was more than just vegetables.

“She has a lot of positive energy,” Fitzgibbon said. “She always has so many ideas.”

The nutritionist said one example was “at the market there was a bread person, a gluten-free dessert person, a pasta vendor and even a lady who knits.”

Fitzgibbon called Johnson “the heart and the soul and the nucleus of the farmers market.”

Besides setting up the vendor tables every week, “she was literally going through the neighborhood, getting people to come over there and shop.”

White said Johnson put together a farmers market that filled a void.

“Yes, there are other farmers markets in other areas, but we needed one here,” she said. “The market is successful, and we’re happy that Linda took it over.”

St. James resident Scott Posner gives out books at St. James Elementary School. Photo by Donna Deedy

By Donna Deedy

On a gray, mid-December day, Scott Posner wheeled four cardboard boxes into the gymnasium at St. James Elementary School, just as he has done annually for the last 13 years.

“Do you know what a hero is?” he said to the 106 third-graders sitting attentively on the gym floor.  “It’s someone who makes a difference.” 

Posner said the Rotary International’s one million members assist people in need.  Some of the world’s neediest people, he added, often ask for schools. He then handed out to each child a copy of the dictionaries stacked inside his boxes, a gift from the Rotary Club of Smithtown. Feeling fortunate and inspired, the children filed back to class after leafing through their new book.

Scott’s shown me how important it is to immerse yourself in giving back.” 

— David Dircks

Posner, of St. James, is a financial planner. For the last 20 years, he’s worked for Edward Jones in its St. James office. The company encourages its advisers to be active community members. For Posner, that altruism comes naturally.

Posner founded and currently serves as president of the Deepwells Farm Historical Society.  He’s also president of the St. James Chamber of Commerce and past president of the Rotary Club of Smithtown. Each year, he prepares and promotes events such as parades, street fairs, outdoor concerts, a haunted house, Christmas parties and a winter gala. He also raises funds for Angela’s House, a Hauppauge-based charity that provides assistance to medically fragile and terminally ill children and their families.

More than a decade ago, Deepwells Farm, a county-owned historic property on North Country Road in St. James, fell into disrepair. Posner took action.

“The place was left to rot, but Scott formed a foundation to save the structure,” said Howard Essenfeld, treasurer for Deepwells Farm Historical Society. The site serves as an important hub for community events.

For the last 11 years, acoustic musicians have performed for a live audience in the farm’s parlor. The recorded live broadcasts ultimately became the  No. 1 acoustic music podcast on iTunes.

I don’t mind fighting to get money for St. James and Deepwells, but I find myself working harder knowing that someone like Scott is keeping an eye on things”

— Rob Trotta

“Scott’s shown me how important it is to immerse yourself in giving back,” said David Dircks, the program producer. He credits Posner for getting permission from county officials to use the site as a music venue. 

“I don’t mind fighting to get money for St. James and Deepwells, but I find myself working harder knowing that someone like Scott is keeping an eye on things,” said Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga).

An East Northport native, Posner moved to St. James in 1995 with his wife, Debby Fiorella Posner.  She attended the same elementary school where he now delivers dictionaries to third-graders. They have two daughters: Rebecca, a junior at SUNY Geneseo, and Julianna, a senior at Smithtown East High School.

After his wife was diagnosed and treated for cancer, Posner pedaled 532 miles from Manhattan to Niagara Falls with four comrades to raise $18,225 for the Roswell Park Cancer Center. 

“I could not be more thankful for the incredible leaps in cancer treatment that directly benefited us,” he stated in a 2018 Facebook post. “Many people’s past contributions made those breakthroughs possible. Now it’s our time to fund research for the next generation of warriors that will face the challenge of cancer.”

His wife, Posner said, may participate in the seven-day Empire State Ride next summer.

“This is what Scott does,” said Laura Endres, president of the Rotary Club of Smithtown, a sponsor for Posner’s ride. “He’s just a wonderful human being.”

Members of the Three Village Interfaith Clergy Association lead a prayer vigil at Temple Isaiah in Stony Brook after the shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Photo from Facebook

For approximately two decades, clergy members from a variety of faiths have been working together in the Three Village area to bring residents from different religions together for community discussions. The hope is to achieve a better understanding of the issues that face the world today.

The Three Village Interfaith Clergy Association recently set up a website where members alternate writing blogs. To view the site, visit www.3vclergy.blogspot.com.

The TVICA includes leaders from various religious organizations in the Three Village area including:

Rabbi Aaron Benson, North Shore Jewish Center, Port Jefferson

The Rev. Richard Visconti, Caroline Church and Cemetery, East Setauket

The Rev. Chuck Van Houten, Stony Brook Community Church

The Revs. Margie Allen and Linda Anderson, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook

Ismail Zahed, Islamic Association of Long Island, Selden

Father Farrell Graves, All Souls Episcopal Church, Stony Brook

The Rev. Kate Huddelson, Stony Brook University Hospital

The Rev. Steven Kim, Setauket Methodist Church

Elaine Learnard, Conscience Bay Quaker Meeting

The Rev. Gregory Leonard, Bethel AME Church, Setauket

Father James Mannion, St. James Roman Catholic Church, Setauket

Sister Edith Menegus, St. Charles Hospital and Ursuline Sisters of Tildonk

Rabbi Paul Sidlofsky and Cantor Marcey Wagner, Temple Isaiah Stony Brook

The Rev. Kate Jones Calone, Open Door Exchange — Mission of Setauket Presbyterian Church

The Rev. Mary Speers formerly of Setauket Presbyterian Church

Because of this mission, members of the Three Village Interfaith Clergy Association have garnered the honor of being among TBR News Media’s People of the Year 2018.

“The goal of the clergy association, since the beginning, is to promote understanding among the different faith traditions in our community, to learn from one another, and to come together as people of faith interested in connecting with what’s happening in the world and in our community,” said the Rev. Kate Jones Calone, director of Open Door Exchange, a mission of Setauket Presbyterian Church.

Jones Calone said the members organize events where residents can discuss issues such as the 2017 Muslim ban, children being separated from their parents at the U.S. border and gun safety in the country in such a way that helps to build bridges. She said another hope is that the conversations will get residents involved in a positive way that may “allow us to cross the lines that divide us.”

In the past year, events have included the association’s annual Community Thanksgiving Service and prayer vigils for the victims of the shooting at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and those who were separated from their families at the U.S. border. In addition, the group hosted an event titled Interfaith Dialogue on Guns in America and a Good Deeds Day cleanup at West Meadow Beach. The clergy members have also come together to compose letters to the editor, which have been printed in The Village Times Herald.

Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said she first learned about the TVICA several years ago when she was invited to the annual interfaith Thanksgiving program. She said she finds the events warm, inclusive and responsive to the issues existing in the country, including political and religious segregation.

“Since that time, my staff and I have attended their events whenever the schedule permits,” Cartright said. “The TVICA is a vibrant, dynamic community group within Council District 1.”

She said the association’s mission is not only of critical value and importance to the area but also to the world.

“The act of bringing together religious and spiritual ministers and leaders from all backgrounds has created a ripple effect that encourages diversity of thought, compassion for others, and respect for the rich cultural and religious diversity that exists in our area,” Cartright said.

Since the association’s inception, Joan Marino, an elder at Setauket Presbyterian Church, has attended many of the events along with her husband, Frank. She said events such as the prayer vigil for Tree of Life not only recognize the pain of those who are suffering but the pain of the mentally ill.

“Everybody has a different theology of various types, but we all recognize the sanctity of life and loving your neighbor and standing up for those who are oppressed,” she said.

“Everybody has a different theology of various types, but we all recognize the sanctity of life and loving your neighbor and standing up for those who are oppressed.”

— Joan Marino

Marino added one of her favorite events is the Thanksgiving service because she enjoys witnessing residents of all faiths coming together to give thanks. She also appreciates how the events are held in different houses of worship.

“That’s really wonderful because you go to be with the people in their place of faith,” she said.

Jones Calone said the TVICA has held educational programs where community members have been invited to learn about each other’s faith traditions, touching on topics such as end-of-life rituals and understanding other faiths practicing of prayer.

Marino said the events make her feel optimistic.

“From singing together to praying together, to lifting each other up — when there’s a world out there that’s pretty full of hate — and to find a way to bring people together into a more loving community, we have that here in Three Village,” Marino said.

Jones Calone said the Three Village community and surrounding areas are religiously diverse, and the clergy members have seen how meaningful the events have been to residents of different faith traditions.

“People are just hungry for opportunities to support one another — to be in a relationship with one another — and hopefully doing events like this gives people that chance to really know who their neighbors are even if we spend worship hours in different places,” she said.

 

Andrew Harris, right, stands with Comsewogue Superintendent Joe Rella and two other Comsewogue students. Photo from Joe Rella

Amanda Perelli

Those who know him say Andrew Harris, a special needs teacher at the Comsewogue High School, is an empathic teacher in the classroom and an advocate for service within the community, and that he often goes above and beyond.

Harris recently organized Joe’s Day of Service, a community service initiative where students and community members pledge to give back.

“Sometimes kids are like, ‘Oh, I have to get another five to 10 service hours,’ but with him the kids are so happy doing it. He’s really visionary in many ways,” Comsewogue Superintendent Joe Rella said. “He moves comfortably between and among the teachers, the administrators, the elementary students, secondary students, and really gets them excited about service. He’s a selfless person and that comes across in everything he does.”

Comsewogue High School students clean headstones at Calverton National Cemetery May 30 as part of Joe’s Day of Service. Photo from CSD

Harris has been a member of the district for 14 years, but it wasn’t until last year, with the help of his colleagues, that the idea for Joe’s Day of Service was born. 

The name was inspired by Rella for his constant dedication to better the community. 

Harris asked Rella what he thought of creating more districtwide volunteer opportunities and Rella was instantly on board.  

“He said, ‘What do you think about creating some opportunities [in service],” Rella said. “We have different opportunities at the High School level, where kids have to do community service as a part of the National Honor Society — what about if we did it on a district level? I said, ‘That’s a fantastic idea’ and he’s transformed the whole concept of service.”

The superintendent added the community was missing a districtwide event to get everyone involved at once.

Students in Harris’ class pitched how they thought they should spend the day — excited to work outside the classroom and with others within Comsewogue. 

“We had a movement here for many, many years to get kids more involved in their community — giving back, to be more empathetic,” said Joseph Coniglione, the principal at Comsewogue High School. “The goal was to do that through community service in the area. We had a large sum of students who went out and did individual projects and a tremendous group, who went to the Calverton National Cemetery to clean off the head stones and get them prepared for the veterans.”

Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said Joe’s Day of Service was so successful she expects it will only grow in coming years.

 “The Comsewogue community is very close knit, and neighbors have already been working with students, teachers and faculty to improve the lives of others through the Joe’s Day of Service projects,” Cartright said. “Andy Harris and those involved have portrayed this initiative as continuous from the start, so I have no doubt that participation will increase as more members of the community learn about the project.”

Andrew Harris, right, stands with Brookhaven town Councilwoman Valerie Cartwright (D). Photo from Joe Rella.

Harris spearheaded the initiative, developing one day-long service event that taught students the value of service while helping out the community. 

“There are major problems everywhere — addiction, depression — and the thing is, they say one of the best things to do is to help other people,” Harris said in an interview at Brookhaven Town Hall, where the students were recognized for their efforts by the town board June 14. “I wanted the students to understand that, because they don’t always have the opportunity. I wanted them to get a taste of that just in one day and understand that when you give to others you feel rich.”

Harris has inspired students to give back to their local communities, and he also teaches the importance of being a civic leader in service. 

“Andy is a veteran special education teacher, but what sets him aside from a lot of people is his ability to really be empathic toward people,” said Coniglione. “He’s probably one of the kindest souls you’ll ever meet in your life. He really tries to make others life better and just happier.” 

Dix Hills resident Linda Beigel Schulman, second from left, and Commack resident Paul Guttenberg, third from left, at a rally together in summer in 2018. Photo from Ellyn Guttenberg

On a holiday to celebrate love in all its forms, two Suffolk County families’ worlds were forever shattered upon hearing their loved ones were killed in the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Dix Hills resident Linda Beigel Schulman learned that her son, Scott, a geography teacher was killed while attempting to lock his classroom door after holding it open for students fleeing from the gunman. Scott Beigel, 35, had only been teaching at Parkland for six months.

Paul Guttenberg, of Commack, recalled waiting for news that his 14-year-old niece, Jaime, was safely home from school, but his hope turned to despair when he received news she was one of the victims who was fatally shot.

I remember hearing about mass shootings on the news, but you never think you’ll be so affected until you are. This can happen to anyone and anywhere.”

— Paul Guttenberg

“How could this have happened,” he said at a March rally. “I remember hearing about mass shootings on the news, but you never think you’ll be so affected until you are. This can happen to anyone and anywhere. This could happen here to us, and it already happened to me.”

Both Beigel Schulman and Guttenberg have worked hard to make the best of a tragic situation and in doing so they have been transformed in the process.

“I have the deepest respect and admiration for Linda, who while coping with unspeakable sorrow, has channeled her emotions and energy into becoming a forceful voice for reasonable gun control,” Huntington Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D) said.

For their efforts in turning personal tragedy into action, TBR News Media is recognizing both Beigel Schulman and Guttenberg as 2018 People of the Year.

Throughout 2018, these two individuals have spoken out publicly and have met with federal, state and local officials to advocate for stricter gun control measures. Beigel Schulman and Guttenberg are familiar faces in the offices and staff members of U.S. Congressman Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D), Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) and the Huntington town board.

“[Linda] has implored legislators to ban automatic weapons and require background checks for all gun ownership and to pass the Red Flag Law in New York State,” Huntington Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) said. “She has and will continue to make a difference.”

“[Linda] has and will continue to make a difference.”

—Mark Cuthbertson

Beigel Schulman and Guttenberg came together July 29 in Huntington Station’s Breezy Park to speak at a gun control rally before a crowd of more than 600 people. Each took a turn at the podium to call for stricter gun control measures and encourage youth voter participation in the upcoming November elections.

“People ask me, ‘What can we do to support you?’” Beigel Schulman said July 29. “My answer is so simple: Make sure you get out and vote.”

Guttenberg’s wife, Ellyn, said it has taken a lot of courage and determination for her husband to step forward into the public spotlight following Parkland.

“Paul was not a public speaker,” she said. “It was very hard for him in the beginning, but it’s something he’s very passionate about.”

The ability of both Beigel Schulman and Guttenberg to move forward and attempt to make a difference, while being level headed, is a feature many elected officials applauded them for. Others have called their actions inspirational.

“Someday we will win this fight to have common sense gun violence prevention laws passed. Linda will be one of the proud drivers of that success,” Suozzi said. “She inspires me!”

Mark Cronin and his son, John, fourth and fifth from the left, are joined by John’s Crazy Socks employees as they present a donation to a Special Olympics representative to celebrate the company’s second anniversary. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

A Huntington father-son duo show the business world how accepting people’s differences as strengths can form a road map to success.

Mark Cronin and his son, John, have found the secret ingredient to happiness is socks. The pair started John’s Crazy Socks by offering 31 wacky styles of socks in December 2016 and have since grown to become an international seller offering more than 2,300 different styles.

John and his father Mark Cronin smile. Photo from Mark Cronin

The company started with an idea from John Cronin, a 22-year-old entrepreneur diagnosed with Down syndrome, who was trying to figure out what he wanted to do with his life after graduating from Huntington High School. Together, with his father, they built a business based on social enterprise.

“We have a simple mission of spreading happiness,” the father said. “Spreading happiness comes from doing things for other people.”

The Melville-based company currently has 35 full-time employees, 18 of whom are neurotypically different, according to the owners. To keep up with holiday demand, John’s Crazy Socks hired an additional 27 seasonal workers largely from the Town of Huntington, 23 of whom have different abilities.

“If we can have 35 permanent employees, why not 350?” Mark Cronin said. “There’s 80 percent of the disabled population that is unemployed. Yet they’re ready, willing and able to work.”

Dozens of employees dressed in Santa hats helped customers pick out socks, pulled orders from the warehouse and rang up sales at the company’s 2nd anniversary and holiday pop-up shop Dec. 8.

“With all the people with disabilities, it’s not disabilities anymore — it’s abilities,” David McGowan, a retired speech pathologist from North Babylon, said. “It’s beautiful to see them working in a place like this.”

The co-owners have built an atmosphere of inclusion where each workday starts with a 15-minute briefing at 9:30 a.m. for all employees. Each Wednesday, there’s a bagel breakfast and on Fridays a staff luncheon.

“It’s not enough to just sell stuff. You have to have a mission, a purpose and give back.”

— Mark Cronin

“Our employees make our business go each and every day,” Cronin said.“ We’re out there competing with Amazon, Wal-Mart and Target; yet we beat them in completing orders and shipping. They do a great job. There is no charity here.”

Well, that’s not completely true. Since launching the business, the father-son duo has held true to their pledge to donate 5 percent of the company’s earnings to the Special Olympics as the younger Cronin has competed in the program as an athlete since age 5. The co-owners celebrated the company’s second year in business by presenting a check for $49,751.25 to a Special Olympics representative.

“It’s unheard of and it’s something all corporations should start doing,” Kim Brown, of Huntington, said. “And he’s done it since the very beginning.”

Her husband, Dave, agreed with her.

“That should be the American mission,” he said.

In addition, John’s Crazy Socks has created a line of sock designs whose sales help benefit different charities including the National Down Syndrome Society and the Autism Society of America.

“It’s not enough to just sell stuff,” Mark Cronin said. “You have to have a mission, a purpose and give back.”

Through November 2018, the co-owners said the business has donated more than $200,000 to their charity partners in a little less than two years.

John Cronin smiles with a customer during a home delivery. Photo from Mark Cronin

It’s not enough to donate money, according to the father, as they also frequently open up their warehouse to Long Island school districts and social service agencies. The pair goes out on speaking engagements to share their vision, business model and hopefully inspire others under the U.S. State Department’s speaker’s bureau.

“John and his father have made this successful because of how much they care about other people,” Patricia Klee said.

Klee, who was John’s former speech therapist at Huntington High School, said she will be bringing her current students to his company for a work-study experience this spring. The company opens its doors and provides an “invaluable” hands-on learning experience for the students.

In the coming year, the father and son have announced the company is rapidly outgrowing its Melville warehouse and is looking to expand to a new location, hopefully in Huntington or Huntington Station. They are looking for a site that will allow them to have offices, a storeroom, a studio for John’s social media videos, a storefront to sell their socks and hopefully a cafe. On their wish list is also space for an auditorium or presentation space that can be used by the community.

“They’ve always put other people first,” said Erica Murphy-Jensen, one of John’s former teachers at Huntington High School. “They’ve always taken care of others.”

Operation Veronica founder Janet Godfrey tapes up a package to be shipped to a solider. Photo by Kyle Barr

Nearly every Friday at St. Anthony Padua R.C. Church in Rocky Point a number of women are hunched over boxes, twine and packing slips.

Though it may be Christmastime, for the women of Operation Veronica, a nonprofit that sends care packages to active military personnel stationed all over the globe, the season of giving has lasted since 2005.

“I’ve been here 13 years, almost since the first day,” volunteer Annabelle Skoglind said. “The government takes care of their basic needs, but there’s always something that could make them feel a little better.”

Operation Veronica founder Janet Godfrey, in back, and volunteers Judi Miranda and Annabelle Skoglind put together items to be shipped as care packages to soldiers across the world. Photo by Kyle Barr

All of it comes from the mind of Wading River resident Janet Godfrey, who has led her team for more than a decade of giving, sending much more than 70,000 items, including food, toiletries, utensils, playing cards, hand warmers, blankets, scarves and items that help those soldiers remember that people back home still care about them and support them.

The many volunteers who work with Operation Veronica have nothing but praise for Godfrey. 

“She never stops, she’s like a dynamo,” Skoglind said.

During packing days Godfrey is a bundle of energy with her packing-tape gun like a magic wand in her hands. Though the weeks vary, the group can send more than 50 boxes out in a single session. These boxes end up in nine different countries and U.S. Navy ships.

The boxes the group dispatches are filled with essentials, but the volunteers often add other items at soldiers’ requests, such as glue traps to deal with vermin. The group is often busy making their own products such as neck coolers made from cloth or survival bracelets made from 550 paracords, the same cordage airborne infantry used making World War II parachutes. 

It’s not cheap to send so many boxes overseas, even using medium-sized flat-rate United States Postal Service boxes. If the group wishes to send a more irregular-sized box, it may cost upward of $30 or $40. Operation Veronica relies mainly on donations from the community, and Godfrey is constantly going out to civic meetings and seeing public officials to help raise funds.

“She takes great care in every package she sends,” said volunteer Liz Meskill. “She goes out to all these places to raise money just for our postage. She goes out and she does it, and she never complains. It gives her the enthusiasm to keep going.”

They often rely upon support from American Legion Post 1880 in Ridge, American Legion Women’s Auxiliary at the Leisure Glen Homeowners Association in Ridge, Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 and The Richard and Mary Morrison Foundation based in Port Jefferson.

Operation Veronica volunteer Irene Stellato braids a bracelet. Photo by Kyle Barr

“Janet, who leads this nonprofit volunteer organization in certainly more than deserving the recognition as person of the year,” said Joe Cognitore, commander of VFW Post 6249. “Janet would share some of the great responses that the troops send back. They are very appreciative that Operation Veronica cares about them and that they are remembered.”

The genuine feeling of appreciation for the troops overseas is evident in everything Godfrey and the volunteers do. It’s evident in the care and attention they pay to each package they ship out. It’s apparent in simply how they talk about the troops with an absolute reverence.

“She feels for the troops,” volunteer Irene Stellato said. “When something happens with the troops she cries, we all cry. She feels it from her heart.”

Godfrey said while her group isn’t explicitly a Christian organization, she was inspired by the story of St. Veronica The name for the group comes from the story of St. Veronica, who in the Bible is said to have used her veil to wipe the face of Jesus as he carried his cross to the mound. Godfrey’s words describing her organization and what it does ring true beyond all today’s
current politics and issues overseas.

“She couldn’t take him off the walk, she couldn’t change his fate, but she gave him a momentary relief from physical discomfort, and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Godfrey said. “We can’t change their fates, we can’t change their lives, we can’t bring them home as much as we want to, but we can cool them off when they’re hot, we can warm them up when they’re cold, we can give them something to eat when they’re hungry, so we do what we can.”

Heather Lynch visits Cape Lookout in Antarctica during recent trip that included an NBC TV crew that produced a feature for ‘Sunday Night with Megan Kelly.’ Photo by Jeff Topham

By Daniel Dunaief

Heather Lynch is thrilled that she’s in the first class of scientists chosen as a recipient of the National Geographic AI for Earth Innovation Grant.

An associate professor of ecology and evolution at Stony Brook University, Lynch uses computers to study satellite images to reveal details about populations of penguins.

In addition to determining how many penguins are in an area, Lynch also can use images of the stains penguin poop leaves on rocks to determine what the penguins eat. Krill, which feeds on the underside of ice, is reddish or pinkish, while fish leave a white stain.

Heather Lynch with a penguin. Photo from Heather Lynch

A total of 11 researchers won the grants, which are a combined award from Microsoft and the National Geographic Society and were announced in December. The winners were chosen from more than 200 qualified scientists.

“This is the first grant that National Geographic and Microsoft are doing,” Lynch said. “It’s super exciting to be in the inaugural group.”

To hear from Lynch’s colleagues, she is an extraordinary candidate for a host of awards, including recognition as one of the TBR News Media People of the Year for 2018.

In addition to landing a coveted grant for her innovative research using sophisticated computers and satellite images, Lynch earlier this year made a remarkable discovery using Landsat imagery about a population of Adélie penguins on the Danger Islands in the Antarctic that was largely unknown prior to her published paper.

This archipelago of nine islands, which were named because of the ice that is impenetrable in most years, was home to 1.5 million penguins, which she surveyed using a combination of photos, drone imagery and hand counting. That figure represents a substantial population of a charismatic animal whose numbers often are used as a way to determine the health of a delicate region managed by a collection of nations.

“She does such good work,” said Patricia Wright, a distinguished service professor at Stony Brook University and the founder and executive director of Centre ValBio, a research station in Madagascar. Her discovery of the additional Adélie penguins was “fantastic.”

Lynch received some pushback from people who thought the discovery of these penguins ran counter to the narrative about the need for conservation. Wright appreciates how Lynch shared the discovery with the public, reinforcing her scientific credibility.

“She’s an example of a scientist who doesn’t give in to political pressure,” Wright said. “It’s difficult sometimes to face up to people who have good intentions, but who don’t seem to want to accept the reality.”

While the discovery of the Adélie penguins was remarkable, it doesn’t necessarily run contrary to the notion about the delicate balance of the Antarctic ecosystem, and it also doesn’t indicate that the population is soaring in a way the flightless water fowl never will. Indeed, the 1.5 million penguins may have been higher in the 1990s, although she is working to pin down exactly how much larger they might have once been.

Heather Lynch at Spigot Peak in the Antarctic. Photo by Catherine Foley

Lynch has also won admiration and appreciation from Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), who recently won his 14th term and has focused attention on environmental issues.

“Her ability to use statistics and mathematics to further conservation biology is pioneering work and worthy of recognition,” Englebright said.

The assemblyman believes scientists and policymakers are still in the early part of the process of understanding the complexity of the ecosystems in the Antarctic.

Finding the penguins on the Danger Islands doesn’t mean the “Antarctic is any less at risk. We still have to place that discovery into its proper context and [Lynch] is helping us do that,” Englebright said.

People who have ventured to the Antarctic with her admire Lynch’s focus, energy
and stamina.

Michelle LaRue, who is a lecturer at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, suggested that Lynch was “the most hardworking scientist that I know.”

LaRue recalled a time when Lynch was ill, and she still got up and did her job every day.

“The work we were doing wasn’t easy,” LaRue said. “I know she didn’t feel well and she kept going. She has a lot of perseverance.”

LaRue appreciates how her fellow scientist sees the “forest for the trees,” using a combination of high technology and considerable on-site counting to understand what changes in the penguin population reveal about the region.

Michael Polito, an assistant professor in the Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences at Louisiana State University, has also worked with Lynch for years. He appreciates how she’s “not afraid of uncertainty. In science, it’s knowing how well you know something. She’s amazing at taking data and information, which from the natural world is messy, and analyzing it and helping people pull useful and meaningful knowledge from complex situations.”

Ron Naveen, who founded the nonprofit group Oceanites in 1987, has worked with Lynch for 11 years.

“I’m very much proud of her work ethic and the standard of excellence she brings to the job,” Naveen said.

Oceanites collaborates with Lynch and others, Naveen said, to understand how penguins have reacted to climate change in an area where temperatures have been increasing at a faster rate than they have for much of the rest of the world.

Naveen recalls how Lynch, whom he describes as “petite and energetic” lugged around “amazingly heavy equipment,” including a camera for a Google Earth project.

“Whether [Lynch] is hiking, using a satellite or a drone, or lugging equipment that’s heavier than she is, she gets the data,” Naveen said.

He recalled a lab meeting with Lynch, who was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Maryland in the lab of William Fagan. Lynch circled the room as she wrote on the board, sharing statistical language to explain a point.

“I had no bloody idea what she was talking about,” Naveen said. “When she was done, she sat down with a smile, and I raised my hand and innocently asked, ‘Would you mind translating that into plain English?’ Without missing a beat, she did.”

By all accounts, she’s continuing to do that.

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