Nonprofits

An East Nothport house decked in more than 25,000 holiday lights hopes to raise funds for charity. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Each year as it gets close to Christmas, drivers slow down just a bit on residential streets as those who are young at heart enjoy the holiday light displays. Everyone knows the address or road of that one home whose lawn is decorated with more figures and lights than can be counted.

James Tomeo, 28, has spent weeks decorating his East Northport home with more than 25,000 Christmas lights and hundreds of figures in hopes of raising money for Cohen Children’s Medical Center. On the night of Dec. 7, his home was transformed into Santa’s workshop where children would take pictures and talk to Santa and Mrs. Claus while marveling at the display.

A sign at James Tomeo’s house indicate the holiday light display is in honor of his late mother, Jacki. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

“Every year the fundraiser has grown bigger and bigger,” he said. “And with that the display has continued to grow bigger and bigger.”

Tomeo said his massive holiday light display is inspired by his late mother, Jacki, who died when he was 8 years old. He recalls fondly that his mother’s favorite holiday was Christmas and remembers frequently stopping with her to admire a large light display in Deer Park near where he went for karate lessons as a child.

 

“I slowly started building up my display over time, and I wanted to have a huge display like his,” Tomeo said.

In 2015, the Elwood school district board of education trustee decided to put his light display up and host an event to raise money for the Leukemia Foundation in honor of his mom. Over the years, he’s transitioned to donating any funds raised to the Cohen Children’s Medical Center.

“A lot of people stop by each year for their kids,” Tomeo said. “So, we wanted to do something for the children.”

In order to create his holiday light display, the East Northport resident said he starts assembling his army of more than 600 lit and blow-up figurines featuring popular characters from Disney movies, Star Wars, Sesame Street, Looney Tunes and more by Halloween.

“Everyone comes on Halloween to see what I’ve started with on the roof,” he said. “It’s become a Halloween tradition.”

His neighbor Sarah Perinchief said it’s a community activity to watch the display come together each year.

A homemade light display in honor of Tomeo’s brother, a U.S. Marine, who is deploying overseas. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

“Last year, when he did it I saw it from The Best Market parking lot,” she said. “I was like, ‘Where is that house’ so I took a drive around in October, and I could see the lights.”

Among the more than 25,000 Christmas lights are a number of personal decorations that Tomeo has made throughout the years. For 2018, he custom built an American flag made up of more than 2,000 bulbs with the words “Peace on Earth” to hang above it. In front of the flag, a Santa Claus kneels over a pair of combat boots. Surrounding the American flag and Santa, are choirs of angels. The installation was designed to honor Tomeo’s brother-in-law, a U.S. Marine who will be deploying overseas for Christmas.

“It’s our Christmas present to him,” Tomeo said. “That’s our way of telling him that we wish him the best overseas and a safe return home.”

High school volunteers from Commack, Elwood and Northport school districts came dressed as elves Dec. 7 to help oversee a raffle of baskets and items donated by local business owners in an effort to help raise money for the children’s hospital. Among the prizes raffled off were a 55-inch television and spending a day in the life of New York State assemblymen Andrew Raia (R-East Northport) and Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills).

“It’s awesome,” Perinchief said. “It’s such a fun, nice family-friendly event for a good cause.”

Carl Safina with a scarlet macaw chick in Peru. Photo from Three Village Community Trust

The Three Village Community Trust will host “An Evening with Carl Safina” at the Old Field Club, 86 West Meadow Road, East Setauket at its 14th Annual Celebration of “fun and fundraising” on Wednesday, Nov. 14 at 7:30 pm. Safina, a MacArthur “genius” award winner, renowned author and naturalist and Setauket resident, will speak on “Making a Case for Life on Earth.”  

A marine ecologist and environmental writer, Safina is the author of seven books, including the award-winning “Song for the Blue Ocean” and his latest, “Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel.” Safina is also the founding president of The Safina Center at Stony Brook University, where he is also a professor of nature and humanity.

At $50 per person, the festive evening will include wine, hors d’oeuvres, desserts, prizes, basket drawings and the raffle of a pastel painting, “Stony Brook Harbor Sunset,” by Mary Jane van Zeijts (above). Tickets for the painting are $25 each and only 200 tickets will be sold. 

Proceeds from the event will help support the trust’s preservation projects, including the restoration of the newly acquired Smith-deZafra House and the Patriots Hollow State Forest stewardship agreement recently signed with New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. 

To make a reservation or for more information, please call 631-689-0225, email tvcommtrust@optonline.net or visit www.threevillagecommunitytrust.org.  

A WAVE OF SUPPORT

For the second year in a row, Splish Splash Water Park in Riverhead held a Doggie Splash Day fundraiser to raise money to help the homeless animals at the Kent Animal Shelter. The event, which was held on Sept. 10, was dedicated to K-9 fun when pet owners brought their dogs to the park for some water fun of their own and raised $2,500 for the Calverton shelter. “This awesome gift from our pet loving friends at Splish Splash will help to provide food, medical care and spay/neuter to the more than 30 animals that were rescued and brought to the shelter after Hurricane Florence,” said Director Pam Green, pictured in photo on the left with Splish Splash sales manager Claire Smith.

From left, Legislative Aide Bill Maggi, Hobbs Farm President Larry Corbett, HF Vice President Ann Pellegrino, Suffolk County Legislator Tom Muratore, Brookhaven Town Councilman Kevin LaValle and HF Treasurer Cindy Gallo. Photo by Heidi Sutton

By Heidi Sutton

Suffolk County Legislator Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma) was honored at the Bethel Hobbs Community Farm’s Harvest Fair Oct. 6 for his many years of dedicated support of the farm’s programs. The legislator was recently able to secure a $29,616 grant for the 11-acre Centereach farm, which donates 90 percent of its vegetables to area food pantries.

Children enjoy the farm’s Harvest Fair. Photo by Heidi Sutton

“This is a great place in Centereach — the last remaining farm we have in this area. Legislator Muratore was the one that really turned me on to Hobbs Farm and what was going on here,” Brookhaven Town Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) said before presenting a plaque to the legislator along with the farm’s President Larry Corbett and Vice President Ann Pellegrino. “He’s been, for years, a huge supporter of this farm, whether it’s been working with me to do the Run the Farm to raise money, to bring in grants, to help out any way possible.”

“I can’t do enough for Hobbs Farm. This is our jewel here in the district. We love this place – it brings so much,” Muratore said, pointing to the families enjoying the festival. “I thank Ann, I thank Hobbs Farm and, most of all, I thank you my community. God bless you.”

Over 15 local restaurants will participate in this year’s Evening of Wine Under the Stars. Photo courtesy of HHS

By Sabrina Petroski

Eat, drink and be merry at An Evening of Wine Under the Stars! Hosted by the Huntington Historical Society, the 28th annual celebration will be held on Thursday, Sept. 6 from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. on the grounds of the Dr. Daniel W. Kissam House Museum (1795), located at 434 Park Ave. in Huntington Village. With delicious food and drink from local restaurants, wineries and breweries, live music from the band Ladies Drink Free (a blend of gritty funk, R&B/soul, pop rock and modern jazz) along with a silent auction and raffles, guests are sure to have a night full of fun.

This year’s event will honor The Paramount and its owners, Jim Condron, Dominick Catoggio, Stephen Ubertini and Brian Doyle. “We are thankful to them for restoring the Huntington Theater, built in 1927,” said Lorraine Kelley, the chairperson for the event. “The Huntington Theater is an important part of our history. The Founder’s Room at The Paramount is also part of the walking tour and pub crawl led by town historian Robert Hughes.”

Participating restaurants as of press time include Mr. Sausage, Culinary Studio, California Pizza Kitchen, Crew Kitchen, Babalu NY, IMC, Shamrock Pub, Christopher’s Pub, Kerber’s Farms, The Sandbar, Miko, Black and Blue, Crabtree’s, Duck Island Bakery, Copenhagen Bakery, Jeff’s Surf & Turf and Red Restaurant. Wine will be provided by Bottles and Cases, Joanina and Millbrook Wines, a Hudson Valley winery; and three local breweries will be present — Blind Bat Brewery, Oyster Bay Brewing Company and HopWins Brewery.

One of the highlights of the evening will be the silent auction and raffle in the historic Kissam Barn. Auction items will include a shed from Burt Lumber, a fishing trip with Skip Hartmann, a wine tasting at Total Wine in Westbury for 20 people (wine included), a reproduction handmade dining room table and chairs and a reproduction handmade queen size bed. Baseball memorabilia items will also be auctioned, as well as an original piece of artwork from “The Lockhorns” that has been generously donated by cartoonist Bunny Hoest. 

This year the society will be using Bidpal/OneCause for the first time to allow participants to bid on auction items while also purchasing their tickets online. For those who cannot attend, but wish to bid on the auction items or contribute to the society, it will be possible to register and bid from home. Participants do not need to attend or buy a ticket to bid.

Donations of approximately 40 raffle baskets have been received from merchants in Huntington, Greenlawn, Cold Spring Harbor and Northport, filled to the brim with restaurant gift cards, spa and beauty salon gift cards, baskets of wine, free passes for Pilates and dance lessons and various books.

“This event is our most important fundraiser of the year,” said Kelley. “The money we raise allows us to offer free programs to the community such as the Sheep to Shawl Festival in May and Apple Festival in October. It also gives us the funding to restore and maintain our four historic properties. We are so grateful to all the restaurants and businesses who are donating food, wine and gifts to help us reach our goal.”

Tickets for An Evening of Wine Under the Stars are $75 for members and $90 for nonmembers. Any remaining tickets will be sold at the door for $100. For further information, please call 631-427-7045, ext. 401, or visit www.huntingtonhistoricalsociety.org.

Dan Graziosi

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported in 2017 there were more than 550,000 homeless in the country. Three alumni from Ward Melville and Commack high schools have asked a simple question: How many are stuck that way simply because nobody can see their résumés?

“You never really know why someone became homeless,” said Dan Graziosi, 22, a Ward Melville graduate. He is chief executive officer of Lazarus Rising, a nonprofit created in 2015 that helps homeless people write their résumés and get ready for job interviews. 

“A lot of the people don’t necessarily see the skills that they themselves have, and sometimes showing this person that they have value is almost more important than making a résumé for them,” Graziosi said.

Matthew Sobel

Co-founders of Lazarus Rising, Ward Melville alum Matthew Sobel, 23, and Commack alum Matthew Rojas, 23, gave birth to the organization wondering, as sophomores at the University of Delaware, that if creating a résumé for them was difficult — two people who considered themselves privileged — then how tough would it be for a person without access to resources such as a computer?

“There’s a really unfortunate number of people who are experiencing homelessness,” Rojas said. “While some are unfortunately addicts, a lot of them don’t have basic things like a printer, Microsoft Word or they just haven’t had an interview in a long time.”

As they first walked into a Delaware homeless shelter in 2014, just a block away from their freshman dorm, the two did not have much in the way of community service experience. Yet at the shelter they met a man named Jeff, that while he had fallen on hard times since the 2008 recession, he also had years of experience managing more than 20 people at a warehouse. The only problem was his résumé was five pages of a single-spaced biography rather than the commonly accepted single page bulleting a person’s most applicable skills.

“It kind of took our breath away knowing that an employer is throwing that right out the window,” Sobel said. “It’s not Jeff’s fault — he just didn’t know what standards there are in résumés.”

In 2015 Sobel, Rojas, Graziosi, along with several other friends and compatriots, incorporated their talents into the non-profit Lazarus Rising, all while they were still undergrads. 

Matthew Rojas

“There is a subset of the homeless population that have the skills to be an amazing employee, but they simply lack the skills that we take for granted like being able to write a résumé,” Sobel said. “We all realized we came from super-fortunate situations, being from where we came from and what schools we came from. I came into college with minimal community service. It’s one of those experiences you really can’t understand until you do it.”

Lazarus Rising has grown to host more than 200 volunteers offering their services either in school or during their free time. They have college chapters at Binghamton University, University of Delaware, University of Maryland and the University of Pittsburgh and professional chapters in New York City and Philadelphia. Graziosi estimates that the organization has aided more than 300 homeless participants.

Volunteers for Lazarus Rising often spend approximately one hour with a homeless person working on his or her résumé. They then spend more time after completing mock interviews or even help the person navigate applying for jobs online.

Rojas said that it is one of the greatest satisfactions of his life having helped these people get back on their feet. “It’s a feeling that what I’m doing actually makes a difference,” he said.

Meanwhile the group hopes to expand its reach in New York state and eventually Long Island, most likely through local colleges like Stony Brook University.

All three alumni are out of college and have either found jobs or starting ones, but that has not stopped any of them from being active in the organization. While Graziosi will soon be taking on a job as a technology consultant for Ernst & Young, a professional services organization, he still plans to run as the nonprofit’s CEO into the foreseeable future.

Graziosi’s mother Sheila, a Setauket resident, said what her son and his friends have been able to accomplish has not only changed their lives, but the lives of many homeless.

“He’s amazing — I’m just so proud of him,” Graziosi’s mother said of her son. “He’s really getting so much out of it.” 

Lazarus Rising is looking for more volunteers. For more information about volunteer opportunities or to donate to Lazarus Rising, visit lazarusrising.org.

Connor Richardson. Photo from the Richardson family

A Smithtown father is looking to honor his young son’s memory by pledging to continue the battle against pediatric cancer in his name.

Wayne Richardson is pairing up with The Park Lounge in Kings Park to host the first Connor R. Richardson Forever One Pediatric Cancer Foundation Tournament July 22 from 1 to 5 p.m. The event — featuring a tournament of the outdoor beanbag toss game Cornhole — will be a tribute to Richardson’s late son, Connor, who died in January after a six-month battle with cancer.

“I promised him I’d cure this thing and it gives his life more meaning,” Richardson said.

“I promised him I’d cure this thing and it gives his life more meaning.”

— Wayne Richardson

Connor was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer called aggressive teratoid rhabdoid tumor in August 2017, when he was only seven months old. Less than 10 percent of children with brain tumors have the same type of Connor’s diagnosis, according to St. Jude’s Children Research Hospital in Memphis.

Richardson said his son and wife, Janida, spent months living at St. Jude’s while Connor was an inpatient. He underwent extensive chemotherapy treatment in hopes of defeating the cancer.

“I knew it was going to be difficult, but I was hoping it would at least be a couple of years,” his father said.

Richardson said he is grateful for how St. Jude’s staff treated his family while they were there, and keeps in touch with his son’s doctors. He recalled how for Connor’s first birthday in December 2017 his son received not one, but two birthday cakes from staff. Now, Richardson wants to pay his family’s kind treatment forward.

The Cornhole tournament at the July 22 fundraiser will cost $15 per player or $30 per team, all of which, along with gift basket raffles and all donations, will be donated directly to St. Jude’s, according to Richardson. A Kings Park High School alumnus, he’s had the support of The Park Lounge in helping put together the event.

“It all helps, it’s all bullets in the gun against cancer.”

— Wayne Richardson

“He’s a Kings Parker and he hangs out here” said Michele Cocco, an employee of The Park Lounge.

Richardson said the event will also be used to kick start the Connor R. Richardson Forever One Pediatric Cancer Foundation, with which he hopes to raise money to provide continuous support for St. Jude’s and help research ways to fight pediatric cancer.

Since Connor’s death, Richardson said he’s been learning about another former of pediatric brain cancer called diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, or DIPG, which affects the brain stem. On average, less than 10 percent of children diagnosed with DIPG survive for two years, according to Michael Mosier Defeat DIPG Foundation, a nonprofit committed to finding a cure for the disease. Richardson, a retired New York City police officer, said he hopes to one day work with computer programmers to help track DIPG and other pediatric cancers in order to pin down the causes and fund research to develop a cure. He frequents Stony Brook University’s medical library, so he can study up on the cancer and similar ones that took his son and still threatens the lives other children, he said.

“It all helps, it’s all bullets in the gun against cancer,” Richardson said.

Tom Lambui leads a dog through an obstacle course designed to distract at the Paws of War Nesconset facility. Photo by Kyle Barr

Those servicemen and women who have had their dog trained at the Nesconset nonprofit Paws of War know the best companion to have when past trauma returns, is a trained service dog at their side.

“You can’t imagine how much dogs make an impact on your life,” said Frank James, a retired police officer from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

James is training his dog Bailey for service dog certification through Paws of War, an organization which helps provide service dogs and train them for retired service members. The former police officer said having a service dog has helped him deal with the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder after being at the scene of the World Trade Center on 9/11.

Russell Keyser sits with his service dog, Artemis. Photo by Kyle Barr

“She’s helped significantly, really significantly,” he said.

For the last five years, Paws of War has provided service dogs and emotional support dogs along with the necessary training to veterans of all stripes, from those in the armed services to former cops and emergency responders. Robert Misseri, a co-founder of Paws of War, said the nonprofit provides the training for service members entirely free of charge.

“If they are approved, we train their dog at the very least, with all behavioral training to work toward a service animal for their needs,” Misseri said.

U.S. Army veteran Russell Keyzer, of Ronkonkoma, said he got his service dog,  Artemis, through Paws of War three years ago. Artemis has helped Keyzer get through the most difficult parts of his post-military life, including managing the effects of his PTSD.

“I was in really, really bad shape when I got her.” he said. “I got her at two months old, and I started training right away. Things were a lot more therapeutic on my end — to get back to that normal life.”

Keyzer said Artemis helped save him during a difficult situation at a June 22 Foreigner concert at Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theater. When the lights flashed and the music cut through the noise of the
audience, Keyzer said he started to tense up and his PTSD that has haunted him since he left the Army, started to creep into his head. He knew he couldn’t be there anymore.

Paws of War trains service dogs, like Phoenix, for veterans, former law enforcement and first responders. Photo by Kyle Barr

“Get me the (expletive) out of here,” Keyzer recalled saying to Artemis.

With his hand wrapped around the dog’s leash, Artemis helped guide the distraught veteran through the crowd, away from the noise and the lights, until they reached emergency medical personnel.

Suffolk County officials have come to recognize Paws of War and the work it does. On July 2, Suffolk Sheriff  Errol Toulon Jr. (D) announced a 2-year-old black Labrador named Rocky to be trained by inmate Jermaine, a veteran himself diagnosed with PTSD who is currently serving time at the Suffolk County Correctional Facility in Yaphank. Jermaine will train the dog twice a week for eight weeks, before Rocky will be given to Babylon resident Harry Stolberg, a single father and Marine Corps veteran who also has PTSD.

Those interested can watch Rocky’s training live online at the website www.suffolksheriff.com with the first broadcast scheduled for July 4.

Misseri said that so many veterans have become interested in the program that the organization needs to move into a larger space. They have already picked one out — a storefront located in the same Nesconset Plaza shopping center on Smithtown Boulevard as their current home. Misseri said the new location would provide the organization with hundreds more square feet of space.

Mark Hayward works on training his service dog, Phoenix, at VetDogs in Nesconset. Photo by Kyle Barr

“We could really serve so many more veterans,” Misseri said. “There’s plenty of people who want to go into a class with our current space, but we can only take 10 people per lesson — in this new space we could take 30.”

Paws of War is entirely funded by donations and spends most of its money paying for dog trainers. It is seeking out volunteer plumbers, painters, electricians, carpenters, floor specialists and sign makers to help renovate the new shop.

In the meantime, veterans find hope for the future in the form of their dogs. Mark Hayward, an Army veteran who participated in Operation Desert Storm, walked his dog, Phoenix, through obstacles designed to
distract her. Every time she went through the course without turning her head, Hayward would look down and smile at her.

“It’s between night and day from before I got her in 2016 and now,” he said. “She helps me get out and do things a lot more. I named her Phoenix because, like they say, she is helping me rise from the ashes.”

Those veterans who are interested in obtaining a service dog, or individuals willing to volunteer their assistance in the organization’s upcoming move, can contact Paws of War at at 631-367-7297 or online at www.pawsofwar.org.

TTG Board members Susan Emro (left) and Elizabeth Sprauer with Suffolk Legislator William R. Spencer Photo courtesy of TTG

Township Theatre Group (TTG), Long Island’s oldest continuously operating volunteer community theatre company, was recently awarded a 2018 Omnibus Grant for $7,000 through the office of Suffolk County Legislator William R. Spencer, MD. The grant is administered through the Suffolk County Department of Economic Development and Planning and is directed to cultural programs relevant to the enhancement of the tourism industry in Suffolk County, including theatrical activities. Spencer’s 18th Legislative District encompasses the Huntington area where TTG was founded in 1952 and currently performs.

“TTG greatly appreciates the support of Suffolk County and especially Legislator Spencer’s commitment to the arts in the Long Island community,” said Susan Emro, President, Township Theatre Group. The grant will assist with production costs for the group’s Spring Season musical, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” from June 2 to 16. Details can be found at www.townshiptheatregroup.org.

From left, Kevin J. O’Neill; Rev. Rachel Vione (Interim Pastor, First Presbyterian Church of Northport); Donna Galluccio (Chairperson of the Ecumenical Lay Council Food Pantry); Martha Keller (Manager of the food pantry); and Richard T. Dolce. Photo courtesy of Engeman Theater

GIVING BACK: On March 6, co-owners of the John W. Engeman Theater, Richard T. Dolce and Kevin J. O’Neill, presented a check for $50,000 to the Ecumenical Lay Council Food Pantry of Northport. This is the fourth year that the Engeman Theater has raised funds for the Food Pantry and the First Presbyterian Church of Northport, which hosts the Food Pantry. Following each performance of the 2017 holiday production of “Annie,” cast members collected donations from audience members for the food pantry. “We’re very appreciative of the generosity of our patrons,” O’Neill said. “It sounds a bit cliché, but it’s true: community begets community. We feel it’s very important to invest back into our community in any way we can.”

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