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Community Service

Rebecca Muroff, a 17-year-old Girl Scout Gold Award recipient, shows off the archive of historical photos she created for the Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society Aug. 11. Photo by Alex Petroski

A piece of history has been organized and preserved thanks to the hard work of a Mount Sinai teen.

Girl Scouts looking to achieve their Gold Award, the highest honor a scout can earn, are tasked with identifying an issue in their community, conducting research, pitching a project, and shepherding it to completion in a leadership role in the hopes of achieving some greater good for the community. Rebecca Muroff, a Mount Sinai High School student heading into her senior year, stood at the William Miller House, the headquarters of the Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society on North Country Road in Miller Place, Aug. 11 and shared the byproduct of months of hard work as the culmination of her Gold Award project.

Muroff and her family have long enjoyed events held by the historical society, from the annual Country Fair to the local Christmas tradition of passing letters to Santa off to Postman Pete, so exploring a project to help an organization close to her heart was a no-brainer, she said. The Gold Award recipient, beginning in October 2017, sifted through the historical society’s vast collection of old photos amassed since its inception in 1974 to create a pictorial archive, labeling the photos with numbers and a corresponding destination in a spreadsheet, including categories like location, date, names of the people in the photo and any other pertinent comments. The result is a detailed catalog available to visitors who can now quickly and easily find photos of specific people or events dating back decades. Muroff said plans are even in the works to digitize the archive in some manner.

From left, Troop 1090 leaders Tara Broome and Gretchen Lynch join Muroff’s parent Greg and Christine, right and third from right, as well as Edna Giffen of the society, second from right, in honoring the latest Gold Award recipient. Photo by Alex Petroski

“It shows people as we matured over the years and there are a lot of people — members — that, because we were founded in ’74, have passed or moved away,” said Edna Giffen, the society’s recording secretary and archivist, who Muroff said played a crucial role in working on the project. “I realized there are people in the pictures that I don’t even know. Members will be glad to see this.”

Muroff said she always liked going to events at the society as a kid and reflected on the idea that she’d created something that will enrich visits by future generations.

“It’s just nice I think to have tangible memories of the historical society,” she said. “Now people can look through the pictures and people can see themselves or their family members. It’s a nice feeling to know that I’m preserving history so other people can enjoy it.”

Tara Broome and Gretchen Lynch, Muroff’s leaders in Girl Scout Troop 1090, attended the Aug. 11 event set up to unveil the new photo archive.

“It’s really beautiful because we started with the whole troop when they were in second grade and now they’re seniors in high school,” Broome said.

Lynch added the troop had about 20 members when the girls were young, and Muroff was one of only five to earn the Gold Award.

“We’re almost like second mothers to them really,” she said. “They really persevered and did everything that was asked of them, and they’re like a family now.”

Muroff’s actual parents, Christine and Greg, also beamed with pride over their daughter’s accomplishment.

“It really hit me yesterday when we went to the Girl Scouts store to complete her sash,” her mom said. “I’m so happy she stuck with it.”

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

Stories of Comsewogue School District students and staff engaging in acts of kindness are hardly rare, but an event conceived by a teacher and several students carried out May 30 somehow raised the bar.

High school teacher Andrew Harris said he thought of the idea of a full day of community service projects last school year, and in talking with some of his colleagues, a larger idea was born. By this school year, the event had a name — Joe’s Day of Service, after Superintendent Joe Rella — and students were making pitches in Harris’ class for how the student body should spend the day.

“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.”

Comsewogue Superintendent Joe Rella with students who participated in Joe’s Day of Service. Photo from CSD

Ninth-grade students Julia Ratkiewicz and Rachel Plunkett proposed the idea of visiting Calverton National Cemetery, where members of the United States armed forces are laid to rest, to spend the day cleaning gravestones. By May 30, nearly 200 Comsewogue High School students headed to the Calverton cemetery — on seven buses donated for use that day by Suffolk Transportation Service.

“I was in such a good mood, my mom asked, ‘Are you sure you were out cleaning gravestones?’” Julia said.

Rachel, who said she and Julia thought of the idea because they both have veterans in their family and wanted to show their appreciation, said she never imagined their small idea presented in class as a way to give back would turn into a districtwide day of service.

“It’s just the least we could do for them since they did so much for us,” she said.

Eleventh-grader John Quartararo, who also helped organize the trip, called his experience at the cemetery a beautiful day, and marveled at the mood and response from his classmates who participated on the trip.

While the high school students were at Calverton, other Comsewogue kids were at Save-A-Pet animal shelter in Port Jefferson Station, cleaning cages and spending time with the rescued animals. John F. Kennedy Middle School students visited Stony Brook University Hospital to sing in the lobby, then went over to the Long Island State Veterans Home on SBU’s campus to sing patriotic songs and spend time with the veterans living at the facility. Others collected toiletries to donate to the homeless. Some painted rocks as part of The Kindness Rocks Project, an initiative which calls on people to paint inspiring messages on rocks and leave them in places where they will be found by someone in need of a boost.

Comsewogue students are recognized during the June 14 Brookhaven Town board meeting. Photo by Alex Petroski

Local businesses even got wind of Joe’s Day of Service and contributed to the cause. Chick-fil-A, Wahlburgers, Bagelicious Café, Walmart, McDonald’s and Applebee’s Grill and Bar in Miller Place all offered support in one way or another.

Harris and the students involved each credited Rella for setting the tone at Comsewogue and in the community.

“All I did was go to the events and just get blown away at every single one,” Rella said. “It was an unbelievable show on the part of our students. I’m better for having been here. I’m a better person for just having been at Comsewogue. And that’s the way it is.”

Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) commended Harris and the students involved for their efforts.

“I think it’s important that we highlight all of these [acts] because on one day, they provided all of this service to our community, to those in need,” she said. “I just want to say thank you so much for all that you do, Comsewogue, and keep up the great work.”

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The discussion locally and nationally about potential suspensions for students who participated in the walkout March 14 has us thinking.

The issue with suspensions, we feel, is that it’s the wrong way to go about punishing a student for his or her wrongdoing, based on both context and merit.

Giving a student a day off from school for misbehaving or not completing his or her work doesn’t seem quite like a punishment. Even an in-school suspension doesn’t seem like an effective answer. Surely something more productive and positive can be born from an instance of student rule breaking. Community service or completion of acts of kindness in lieu of a day at home on the couch, for a student who talks poorly about another student or answers foully when speaking to a teacher or administrator seems more appropriate. Exercises that create more inclusion and less exclusion might have a more positive effect in the long run.

In situations when a student is violent, sending a message that it cannot be tolerated while also remaining under supervision of the school community, say, with additional counseling time or through a written
personal reflection about the ramifications of their behavior, would create better outcomes than a day at home playing video games or watching TV.

Schools are admittedly in a tough position in deciding how to handle punishments for students who used class time to make a statement on an issue they feel passionate about. More can be learned from, say, being
assigned to research and report about civil rights protests in the 1960s.

For the record, we are behind Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) sentiments regarding districts’ reactions to the March 14 walkout. Yes, it’s against school rules in all districts to walk out of school in the middle of the day, but students experiencing a moment in time of solidarity and turning it into action is something worthwhile that educators should seize on as an opportunity for learning, not vegetating with a day off.

“Peaceful expression of views on controversial issues that is not disruptive or threatening is a right that all students have in this country, and any attempts to stifle this speech violates the constitutional rights of student and faculty to free speech,” Cuomo said in a letter. “Threatening to discipline students for participating in the peaceful demonstrations is not only inappropriate, it is unconstitutional. Reports that schools may also discipline faculty are also highly concerning and would send a terrible message to our students.”

Reports by parents and students claim districts like Rocky Point, among others, were suspending kids for participating in the national event. We urge those districts to view this as an opportunity for a teachable moment. These are unique times requiring unique responses.

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Glenn Jorgensen poses with a tree stump at the Montclair Avenue highway yard. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

Smithtown’s former Highway Superintendent Glenn Jorgensen was sentenced to 560 hours of community service and three years’ probation in state Supreme Court on Friday after pleading guilty to charges accusing him of falsifying public documents, records showed.

Back in October, Jorgensen, 64, pleaded guilty to the felony charge of offering a false instrument for filing and the misdemeanor charge of official misconduct relating back to a construction project he headed in November 2014, the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office said. He appeared in front of Supreme Court Justice Mark Cohen in Riverhead on Friday, where he avoided four months of jail time and received a plea deal that included his community service sentencing as well as a surcharge of $375 to be paid over the next 90 days.

Anthony La Pinta, Jorgensen’s Hauppauge-based criminal defense attorney, could not be reached from comment.

According to the criminal complaint against Jorgensen, the former highway superintendent instructed an employee of Smithtown to alter road construction reports to hide his approval of Medford contractor Suffolk Asphalt Corp. paving as many as eight Smithtown streets in below-freezing temperatures throughout November 2014.

“This disposition compels the defendant to resign from his elected position and his admission of guilt before the court confirms the facts uncovered during the investigation,” Robert Clifford, spokesman for the DA’s office, said in a statement earlier this year. “As the superintendent of highways, Mr. Jorgensen knowingly had false information about the paving of town roads filed as an official town record, and he knowingly directed that inaccurate information be filed to make it appear as though the roadwork met state mandatory specifications.”

Jorgensen resigned from his position Oct. 16.

“It is a sad occurrence and I will have no comment other than I have sympathy for Mr. Jorgensen and his family,” Smithtown Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R) said in an October statement.

In April, Jorgensen was charged with tampering with public records, falsifying business records, filing false records, official misconduct and grand larceny, Suffolk County District Attorney Tom Spota said. Initially, Jorgensen pleaded not guilty to the charges.

At the time, Jorgensen, of St. James, was accused of altering road construction reports and stealing a public work order for an improper repaving. He tried to conceal his approval of paving at least eight Smithtown streets in freezing temperatures last November and then directed a highway foreman to alter the record of the weather conditions done during the repaving work.

Jorgensen had also been accused of sexual harassment involving his former secretary. The town was issued a notice of claim alleging he sexually harassed her in December. The claim also alleged he had taken her out to job sites, out to eat and eventually fired her after finding out she was dating an employee of the highway department.

District attorney detectives found work orders for the improper repaving jobs hidden under Jorgensen’s bed at his Hope Place residence in St. James.

Jorgensen worked for the Smithtown Highway Department for 37 years, and won election for highway superintendent in 2009 and 2013.

Highway Superintendent Glenn Jorgensen patches a pothole in the Town of Smithtown as another highway department staffer looks on. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

Smithtown Highway Superintendent Glenn Jorgensen (R) has resigned and pleaded guilty to felony and misdemeanor charges in a scheme to alter road-repaving records from last year.

Jorgensen, 63, pleaded guilty in New York State Supreme Court in Riverhead on Thursday, Oct. 15, to a felony charge of offering a false instrument for filing and a misdemeanor charge of official misconduct as part of a plea deal with the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office.

He will be sentenced on Dec. 11 to four months of jail but will serve an alternative sentence in lieu of jail of 570 hours of community service, and will receive three years probation, according to Robert Clifford, spokesman for the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office.

“This disposition compels the defendant to resign from his elected position and his admission of guilt before the court confirms the facts uncovered during the investigation,” Clifford said in a statement. “As the Superintendent of Highways Mr. Jorgensen knowingly had false information about the paving of town roads filed as an official town record, and he knowingly directed that inaccurate information be filed to make it appear as though the roadwork met state mandatory specifications.”

Vecchio’s office confirmed that Jorgensen resigned from his position as of Friday, Oct. 16.

In April, Jorgensen was charged with tampering with public records, falsifying business records, filing false records, official misconduct and grand larceny, Suffolk County District Attorney Tom Spota said. Initially, Jorgensen pleaded not guilty to the charges.

At the time, Jorgensen, of St. James, was accused of altering road construction reports and stealing a public work order for an improper repaving. He tried to conceal his approval of paving at least eight Smithtown streets in freezing temperatures last November and then directed a highway foreman to alter the record of the weather conditions done during the repaving work.

District attorney detectives found work orders for the improper repaving jobs hidden under Jorgensen’s bed at his Hope Place residence.

“State Department of Transportation construction standards dictate asphalt must not be applied to a road surface in freezing temperatures, and in fact, the town’s own engineer has said repaving in freezing weather would result in the asphalt falling apart,” Spota said in an April statement. “The repaving of a residential street doesn’t happen that often and when it does, residents are paying for a job done correctly, not a faulty repaving that will soon need pothole repair work.”

Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R) has said he felt Jorgensen should resign from his post amid the slew of accusations.

“It is a sad occurrence and I will have no comment other than I have sympathy for Mr. Jorgensen and his family,” Vecchio said in an email on Tuesday morning.

Jorgensen had also been accused of sexual harassment involving his former secretary. The town was issued a notice of claim alleging he sexually harassed her in December. The claim also alleged he had taken her out to job sites, out to eat and eventually fired her after finding out she was dating an employee of the highway department. Earlier this year, Vecchio publicly called Jorgensen out for taking his new secretary out to job sites, going against the Suffolk County Civil Service’s job description for the position.

“It seems to me that you are either not comprehending why the position exists, you have a disregard for civil service law or you are mocking the town board and the public,” Vecchio said of Jorgensen bringing his new secretary to the job site in April.

Smithtown Democratic Committee Chairman Ed Maher also called for Jorgensen’s resignation in April, and said it was an outrage that the taxpayers were funding his salary.

Jorgensen worked for the Smithtown Highway Department for 37 years, and won election for highway superintendent in 2009 and 2013.

Jorgensen’s attorney could not be reached for comment this week.

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