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Club

Uniqua holds her two new teddy bears tightly. She received the gifts from members of Mount Sinai's Students Against Destructive Decisions club. Photo by Kevin Redding

Just one night at Mount Sinai High School helped to make the season bright for local families in need.

For Christmas, all 6-year-old Uniqua really wanted was an Elf on the Shelf toy, a gift her mom struggled to afford. But Moniqua McGee, who lives with her daughter at Concern for Independent Living in Medford, knew she had nothing to worry about. She had Mount Sinai high schoolers to rely on.

A family from Concern for Independent Living receive gifts from Mount Sinai children through Hauppuage-based nonprofit Christmas Magic. Photo by Kevin Redding

On Dec. 6, during the Students Against Destructive Decisions club’s Christmas Magic dinner in the high school’s cafeteria, a beaming Uniqua not only got her wish, but two new teddy bears and holiday-themed face paint, too. She even met Santa Claus and Rudolph.

“I’m grateful they’re doing this for the families and putting smiles on the kid’s faces,” said Moniqua McGee, who has been coming to the event the past five years. “It works every time.”

The McGees were just one of dozens of families from the Medford nonprofit enjoying the holiday spirit in the room. An 18-year partnership between the Hauppauge-based organization Christmas Magic and the SADD club, the Christmas soiree served as the ultimate payoff of a shopping spree by the students Dec. 1. Under the supervision of SADD club advisors John Wilson and John McHugh, they spent that day rushing around Smith Haven Mall and Walmart to buy gifts for more than 60 boys and girls from Concern for Independent Living, which provides housing and employment help for struggling families, based on wish lists they wrote to Santa. The school district also raised $8,000 for Christmas Magic.

Members of Mount Sinai’s Students Against Destructive Decisions club watch children open up presents. Photo by Kevin Redding

“I’m happy and proud to be part of a program and district that not only encourages, but fosters this type of activity,” McHugh said. “The students involved display the best we have to offer … we have grown our program every year and that makes me feel great.”

With all the gifts wrapped and labeled, every kid left the dinner with at least three presents given to them by Santa, played by rosy red cheeked wrestling icon Mick Foley, who also posed for pictures. Christmas tunes blared through the cafeteria’s speakers as families ate chicken, pasta and desserts, and SADD club members — some dressed up in costume — went around the room with little gift bags of extra toys for attendees. SADD club members also played games and watched “Elf” with the kids.

“It’s so nice to be able to see all the kids here and see them get the gifts we got for them,” said Allie Garrant, an 11th grader and SADD club member, who picked up a lacrosse stick and Rubik’s Cube for a 13-year-old boy. “Just seeing their faces — it’s a whole different thing. It’s like, ‘Wow, these are real people I’m helping’ and you get to see firsthand the difference you’re making.”

Renato Lugo, whose four children were ecstatic over their gifts, expressed his gratitude to those involved in the event.

Students dressed up to entertain children during a Christmas Magic dinner at Mount Sinai High School. Photo by Kevin Redding

“It’s a beautiful thing to have organizations like these that help out and take care of people in need,” said Lugo, who has been aided by Concern for Independent Living for six years. “The students bring joy and cheer and they make my kids very happy.”

His 12-year-old daughter, Elena, was ecstatic receiving a long-sleeve Unicorn pajama shirt from Santa.

“I think it’s really amazing I got the present I wanted,” Elena said. “And the food is amazing and everyone’s so happy. I love SADD. They’re really like another Santa.”

Kim Dellamura, who’s been at the nonprofit agency for six months, said the event allowed her 4-year-old daughter MacKenzie to have a Christmas.

“It feels good because I don’t know how much I would’ve been able to give her this year,” Dellamura said. “So this really helps out a lot. She loves it.”

For Lawrence Aurigemma, the event is a perfect reflection of what this time of year means.

“This season is all about peace and generosity,” said Aurigemma, a military veteran whose 14-year-old son received Pokemon cards. “These students are just fantastic. They go out of their way to help out the less fortunate people here. It’s a wonderful thing. They knew exactly what to get my son … he’s so happy.”

Smithtown resident and former WWE wrestler Mick Foley dishes out gifts to children. Photo by Kevin Redding

Also at the event was Christmas Magic founder Charlie Russo and representatives of Concern for Independent Living, including case managers Ella Cantave and Julio Villarman, who were excited to see their clients enjoying the holidays.

“It’s a very special day for them,” Cantave said. “It took a lot of effort to make it happen and to make it nice for them.”

As everybody in the room sang “Jingle Bells,” Santa arrived and joined in. Each kid’s name was called out to sit down with the big man in the red suit.

Foley, who has been a volunteer with Christmas Magic since 2000 and officially assumed the role of Santa for the organization in 2014, said he looks forward to the event all year round.

“It’s a great organization — they spread joy and happiness to so many of the less fortunate in the community, and it’s an honor to wear the red suit and represent Christmas Magic,” Foley said before turning his attention to the SADD club. “I make it a point to thank all of them because I think it’s wonderful that they get involved in volunteer work at a young age. They do a great job and it’s really easy for me to show up and get a lot of the credit from children, but the truth is, without them, absolutely none of this is possible.”

Mount Sinai Students Against Destructive Decisions club members organize gifts that will be donated to children at Concern for Independent Living in Medford through the Hauppauge-based nonprofit Holiday Magic. Photo by Kevin Redding

Mount Sinai High School students took on the roles of Santa and his elves to make sure local children in need have gifts to open this Christmas.

In a continued collaboration with Hauppauge-based nonprofit Christmas Magic, 43 members of the school’s Students Against Destructive Decisions club embarked on shopping sprees at Smith Haven Mall and Walmart Dec. 1 to bring holiday cheer to underprivileged children. They set out to find gifts for more than 60 boys and girls from Concern for Independent Living, a nonprofit agency in Medford that provides permanent housing for homeless families, based on wish lists they wrote to Santa.

With $4,500 supplied by Christmas Magic, SADD club members bought more than 100 gifts — each child receives about three — from wireless headphones to action figures and dolls, to sweatshirts and diapers.

Members of Mount Sinai’s Students Against Destructive Decisions club unpack gifts to be donated after going shopping. Photo by Kevin Redding

Back at the high school, the students turned the cafeteria into a makeshift Santa’s workshop. They organized the gifts, piled them into garbage bags and sent them off on a big truck to be wrapped and delivered back to the school Dec. 6, where the district hosts a dinner for the children and their families, where club members join Santa Claus himself in presenting the wrapped gifts.

“I think this teaches the students compassion,” said John Wilson,  a special education teacher and the SADD Club’s co-advisor who said the district is in its 18th year of involvement with the program. “When they see some of the lists — and there’s a jacket or something they take for granted — I think it humbles them and makes them appreciate what they have.”

In one letter, which included a drawing of a smiling snowman and a Christmas tree, a young boy asked Santa for a tech watch and a lightsaber. In another, a girl asked for a pair of boots and a unicorn onesie.

“I love getting the lists,” said Julie Pfeiffer, an 11th grader and SADD club member, who picked up wrestling action figures and Roblox toys for a 7-year-old boy. “We get these lists from them, in their own handwriting, and it’s so sweet. We’re able to give them what they want, directly. It warms my heart so much.”

High school senior Ruchi Thaker bought a sports kit and learning toys for a 1-year-old boy as well as a My Little Pony toy and a bracelet making gift set for a little girl. Junior Rebecca Muroff tracked down a specific brand of hoodie and phone case for a 15-year-old girl.

“You just feel good about doing this,” said Emma Wimmer, a senior who bought a Nike sweatshirt, a pair of sneakers and pants for two teenage boys.

Margaret Kopcienski, a junior and president of SADD Club, said this is her favorite event of the year and said prior to the Dec. 6 dinner that she looked forward to meeting the children at the high school.

“We’re able to give them what they want, directly. It warms my heart so much.”

— Margaret Kopcienski

“It’s really magical seeing how happy they are,” Kopcienski said. “It’s a great time and really cool to see the result of all our hard work and how much joy the presents bring to them.”

The school district will also be reimbursing Christmas Magic more than $7,500 raised during its Turkey Trot 5K and Fun Run Nov. 25, an annual fundraising event run by SADD co-advisor and history teacher John McHugh. Last year, upwards of 11,000 kids across Long Island were gifted through the nonprofit.

“It’s an amazing feat that the students and staff at Mount Sinai make this happen every year,” said Charlie Russo, who founded Christmas Magic in 1990 out of a lifelong passion to give back to those less fortunate. “It just speaks volumes as to where the district is and where their community service efforts are. I can’t praise them enough.”

Russo said Christmas Magic has been working alongside Concern for Independent Living, one of about 70 agencies involved, since the nonprofit was formed.

Concern for Independent Living was formed in 1972 and has been recognized as the largest nonprofit provider of supportive housing for individuals and families in need on Long Island. Ralph Fasano, the organization’s executive director, said Mount Sinai students have helped families and kids get through the holidays for years.

“All the families come from low-economic brackets and oftentimes there’s not enough money to buy kids gifts,” Fasano said. “When these kids get things they’ve wanted for years — gifts they never thought they’d ever have — it restores some hope for them.”

Thanksgiving Turkey Trot races benefit Hauppauge-based nonprofit Christmas Magic

By Bill Landon

Thanks to Mount Sinai community members displaced children are once again getting what’s on their Christmas lists this year.

The school district’s Students Against Destructive Decisions club members teamed up with Strong Island Running Club and more than 36 local businesses and families for the 7th annual Mount Sinai Turkey Trot 5K and Fun Run to benefit Hauppauge-based nonprofit Christmas Magic.

According to running club founder John McHugh, the organization receives letters from children who write to Santa from area homeless shelters.

“Many were originally displaced back in 2008 as a result of the housing market crash,” McHugh said. “We get those letters, and with the proceeds of today’s race, we’ll go shopping next week and buy presents for the kids and host a dinner for them and their families.”

The races brought out more than 350 entrants, and Mount Sinai student-athletes swept the top five 5K spots. First across the finish line was Mount Sinai junior Sean Higgins, who is a member of the school’s varsity track and field and cross country teams. He clocked in at a personal best 17 minutes, 26:31.

“I practice at 7 a.m. every day,” the 17-year-old said. “I run for a living.”

Second across the finish line was teammate Ryan Wilson, who tripped the timer at 17:55.88. Mount Sinai runner Jackson Law finished in third with a time of 18:23.38, and was followed by his twin brother Christian who covered the distance in 18:24.97.

The first female finisher was Mount Sinai senior Noreen Guilfoyle, who finished in 18:35. It was her third consecutive first-place finish among females in the event.

“It’s a beautiful morning,” she said.

The event had the best turnout of any year so far, with event proceeds totaling just over $7,500, according to McHugh. After dinner, which will be held at Mount Sinai High School Dec. 6 at 5 p.m., there will be a visit from Santa where the kids will receive their gifts and sing Christmas carols.

“These people all have hearts of gold,” McHugh said. “It is our privilege to help make the holidays special for those children and families in need across Long Island.”

For more information about the collaboration, visit www.strongislandrunningclub.com or call 631-806-4649.

Cinema Arts Centre photo by Victoria Espinoza

Looking for a more exclusive way to enjoy movies in Huntington? The Cinema Arts Centre has just the fix.

The Preview Club is a new program opening in March that will allow a select amount of people to attend advance screenings of new films before their New York release dates.

David Schwartz, chief curator of the Museum of the Moving Image in Manhattan, will be curating the program and will also design the program from audience feedback. After every show, a guest speaker — for example, the producer of the movie — will lead a discussion with the audience related to the film shown. The audience will also be given cards for comments, which will aide Schwartz in his development of the program going forward.

Preview-Card-Raj-wThere is a maximum of 270 members allowed in the club, and Raj Tawney, director of publicity and promotions at the Cinema Arts Centre, said the club already has about one hundred members after just announcing the program last week.

“The exciting part of it is you as an audience member won’t know what you’re seeing until you sit down in the theater,” Tawney said in a phone interview.

The films shows will be a range of major independent and international movies and will be shown about once or twice a month.

The first showing is Mar. 16, and the following few include April 16 and 27.

The Preview Club is not only a ticket to new movies but also a social club meant for fellow film lovers to interact.

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The Salvation Army youth league begins Feb. 3 and will take place every Wednesday. File photo by Kevin Freiheit

Northport has announced year-round basketball divisions for boys and girls for third-grade to eighth-grade.

Final divisions will depend on enrollment, but each season will be 10 weeks, beginning Feb. 3.

Enrollment is $140 per player, and games will be every Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the Salvation Army Gym at 319 Clay Pitts Road in East Northport.

Teams of three to four players will play three 10-minute games every week, and every player gets a reversible jersey with enrollment.

There are no coaches, but official and certified referees will be at every game.

The 3-on-3 games will heighten the awareness of applying skills in game-like settings where players will have an increased repetition set on both the offensive and defensive side of play. Through each game, players will be able to address skills that are often overlooked in a 5-on-5 setting.

Since there are no coaches, young players are forced to rely on their own instinct and abilities which facilitates quick growth and development. It is difficult to hide in 3-on-3, so everyone participates. There is an emphasis on fundamental skill sets and an increased competitive advantage.

Some topics addressed in 3-on-3 basketball include movement with and without the ball, screening action, individual and team defense, offensive spacing patterns, and the ability to read and react to players.

The program is geared toward providing all players an opportunity to enhance player development in a supervised, small, controlled setting while actively engaged in a safe and healthy environment and is directed by Long Island standout Ralph Rossetti.

Rossetti has been the recreational director and trainer for the Salvation Army since 2013, and has been training basketball players at the Army since 2008. At the Salvation Army, Rossetti has worked with dozens of boys and girls from the youth level through high school as well as a number of NCAA and professional players.

Registration can be done as a team or individually.

Space is limited, but athletes can register online at www.northportyouthbasketballclub.com/p/3-on-3-basketball-registration.html.

Three decades later and Middle Country sign language club is thriving

The Middle Country Public Library’s Flashing Fingers club following a performance at Brookhaven Town Hall last month. Photo from Kristin Shankles

For four years, Molloy University senior and music therapy major Anna Delgado, of Selden, fought to make American Sign Language a course that fulfills the university’s language requirement. Now, ASL is offered at her university. But that may not have been the case without her experience with the Middle Country Public Library’s Flashing Fingers and sign language programs.

Delgado, followed by her younger sister, Calli, joined the library’s sign language programs in second grade and advanced to the Flashing Fingers club, which Jennie Sardone created more than three decades ago.

Thirty-three years ago, Sardone entered the Middle Country Public Library and inquired about starting sign language programs there. Today, Sardone’s sign language programs are still thriving.

“We started with only a few children, really seven, and over the last 33 years, we’ve had hundreds of children,” Sardone said.

Mary McLaughlin, Youth Services librarian, said thousands of children went through the programs. McLaughlin, who handles booking events for Flashing Fingers, also said kids must finish Sign Language One, Two and Three before advancing to the Flashing Fingers group.

“In the beginning, the children learn signs, they learn to communicate with deaf adults or other people who are learning sign language,” Sardone said. “So we’ll start easy, with colors, emotions, animals, family, numbers, the alphabet, things like that.”

Sign Language One, Two and Three are held in the fall, winter and spring, during the school year, alongside Flashing Fingers. Once a child registers for the sign language courses, they only need to sign up for the Flashing Fingers club.

McLaughlin said the group performs at around three big events each year, in addition to smaller performances for parents. Tracy LaStella, coordinator of Youth Services at the library, said organizations also request the group to perform at various events.

On Thursday July 16, the group performed at a Town of Brookhaven meeting and had local politicians moving to the music. Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and members of the town council awarded the group its own day. Now, July 16 is Middle Country Flashing Fingers Club Day in the Town of Brookhaven.

The Flashing Fingers club performs a song. Photo from Tracy LaStella/Middle Country Public Library
The Flashing Fingers club performs a song. Photo from Tracy LaStella/Middle Country Public Library

The group sang, signed and danced to a variety of new and old songs that followed last academic year’s “happy” theme. Previous themes include disco and Disney.

Around two years ago, the club performed “Fiddler on the Roof,” which was one of Alexandria Gibaldi’s favorite performances. Gibaldi, of Centereach, who is going into her junior year in high school, started the sign language programs as a second-grader. She said “Fiddler on the Roof” was the first play the group performed.

According to LaStella, Sardone and McLaughlin, around 25 of nearly one hundred children in the program attend performances and Gibaldi is always one of the 25.

“I have a lot of stuff going on, but I usually make time for it because I know it’s important,” Gibaldi said. “I know it’s for Ms. Jennie and for the program. So I want to make sure I look good for the library and so I make sure I go.”

The group also performs at Veterans and nursing homes. Gibaldi said giving back to the community by performing for these individuals is one of the reasons she enjoys Flashing Fingers, as seeing people happy also makes her happy.

Jacqueline Schmitt, of Holtsville, is another Flashing Fingers member. She joined the club in the middle of last academic year. In addition to learning sign language, participants can meet kids from several local elementary, middle and high schools.

Thus far, the club’s end of year performance in May was Schmitt’s favorite. The end of year performance let club members show off what they have learned. Twelfth-grade students perform a song of their choice as a way to say goodbye to the club and its instructors at the end of the year.

Since Sardone teaches all children going through the sign language programs, the end of year performance is bittersweet.

“When they are seniors, we … cry,” Sardone said about herself, McLaughlin and LaStella. “We’ve been together for so long and … I’m happy they’re moving on, but I miss them.”

Anna Delgado remembers performing Carrie Underwood’s “Ever Ever After” from the “Enchanted” soundtrack for her final performance as a Flashing Fingers member. She was determined to learn and perform the song on her own.

Calli Delgado, who is entering seventh grade, has yet to perform a solo at the end of year performance, but like her sister, she used what she learned outside the club at school functions and talent shows.

“It was weird because a lot of people didn’t know what I was doing,” Delgado said about her first experience signing for a school event. She also signed at her school’s talent show. With the help of Sardone, Delgado performed her first solo of “L-O-V-E” by Nat King Cole at a school talent show. Although she doesn’t know if the club has influenced her plans for her future, she loves the program and mentoring younger members.

Anna Delgado said she credits the Flashing Fingers club and her love for ASL to Sardone.

“This kick-started my love for American Sign Language,” she said. “It changed my life; it changed my passion; it changed the direction I wanted to go in my life.”

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