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Fundraiser

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.”

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Hundreds of residents showed off their athleticism and generosity this past weekend in Smithtown during the 12th annual 5K Running of the Bull, which benefits local children in need.

On the grounds of the New York Avenue Smithtown Central School District administrative building, spectators rang mini cowbells and giant speakers played the “Rocky” theme song as more than 200 runners raced down a 3.1-mile course along Forestwood Park to the finish line during this year’s fundraiser. The competitors ranged in age from 11 to 82. Each finisher was met at the end of the race with cheers from family and friends, food from local eateries and raffle drawings.

Commack resident Stephen Abruzzo, 47, who came in first with a run time of 18 minutes 28 seconds, has been running in the Greater Smithtown Chamber of Commerce event since it began in 2006.

“It’s all about giving back to the local charity,” Abruzzo said. “This is a great cause and this race is a great reflection of the Smithtown community.”

Dominick LoGiudice came from Patchogue to take part in the event for the first time.

“I heard it’s a well-run event and the charity angle is unbelievable,” he said. “We all have to do our part.”

All proceeds from the 5K Running of the Bull go to Angela’s House, a Hauppauge-based nonprofit with locations in East Moriches, Smithtown and Stony Brook that assists families caring for children with special health care needs. The funds primarily cover the costs of what insurance companies won’t, like sending a child to a specialty camp or providing expensive mobility equipment such as adaptive strollers.

The race helps the 25-year organization continue to provide special needs families the ‘yes’ after everybody else says ‘no,’ according to founder and executive director, Bob Policastro, who also competed.

“When a parent sees an event like this advertised, it’s like, ‘Wow, my town is supporting an agency that’s supporting us,’” Policastro said. “A lot of them feel very alone as their life can be restricted. So when they know a community is rallying around them, it’s like a boost that they need and deserve.”

When Mark Mancini of the Greater Smithtown Chamber of Commerce first joined the group in 2005, he said he pitched the idea of a 5K run for a charity, which he said was met with lukewarm responses from his fellow board members.

“It was a little shocking to me,” he said. “But that all changed after the first Running of the Bull. The chamber after that wanted to get charities for everything. One event basically kick-started others.”

Mancini said after he learned about Angela’s House and Policastro — who started the organization after his own daughter died from medical complications in 1990 — he was determined to make it the focus of the run. The race has also benefited other charities over the years, such as The Courtney Sipes Memorial Foundation, a nonprofit founded in memory of a Smithtown student struck and killed by a car on Main Street in 2009.

“This is so important,” Mancini said. “It’s such a positive event and just the thing that we need.”

Barbara Franco, executive director of the chamber, agreed.

“It’s a fabulous day for the community, for families, for children, for pets,” Franco said with a laugh and pointed out a bulldog dressed in an event T-shirt. “If mom is running, dad and the kids cheer her on. If dad’s running, the whole family’s behind him.”

Chamber president, Robert Cartelli, who led the 1K fun run for young children and their parents before the main race, said this is among his favorite events in Smithtown.

“I love it,” Cartelli said. “I look at this community as a pulse of Long Island and I’m very happy to be part of this family event. It’s the best.”

A check with funds raised by the event will be presented to Angela’s House during the chamber’s holiday party in December.

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Episcopal Church Runners prepare for last year’s Soles for All Souls race. Photo from All Souls

Members of a local congregation will be pounding the pavement Oct. 1 to raise funds for their historic church, one that was designed by renowned architect Stanford White in 1889.

All Souls Episcopal Church’s 90 members are inviting runners and walkers of all ages and denominations to join them as they participate in the 9th annual Soles for All Souls 5K Race/2K Walk. Dan Kerr, race and church membership chairperson, said it’s the second year he is heading up the event. His wife Susan Kerr and friend Mary Ellen Doris started the race after the late priest in charge, Mother Ann Plummer, asked members, “Why don’t you do something to get the community more active.”

Dan Kerr congratulates his wife Susan on her win during last year’s race. Photo from All Souls

Susan Kerr, the church’s head of fundraising, said Doris suggested the race, but she herself was skeptical at first if the church committee could pull it off. However, Doris had experience with running and was confident that it would be a success, and the first year they attracted approximately 100 runners.

The two organized the race together every year until Doris moved to South Carolina.  Kerr continued to chair the race until her job as a physical therapy assistant required her to work more hours. That’s when she passed the baton to her husband, and he stepped in to head up the race.

Relieved of her organizational duties, Kerr said last year at 62 years old she competed in her first race and came in first in her division in Soles for All Souls. She said as a former power walker, who began her quest to run by taking it one mailbox at a time, she believes anyone can take up running.

“Enjoy the process and compete only against yourself,” she said.

Kerr said her husband has been doing a great job organizing the race these last two years. She said he is fastidious in his organization and has taken the event to the next level and brought in more sponsors.

“He really knows how to get out there and get sponsors, advertising on the back of shirts,” she said.

Dan Kerr said approximately 120 serious and casual runners and walkers participated in last year’s race. He said his wife and Doris carefully planned the route before the first race in 2009 wanting to make sure it was exactly five kilometers and both challenging and scenic.

“The people who run it tend to be people who are serious runners,” he said. “They run in a lot of races, and they always tell us our race, although it’s small, is one of the best planned and has one of the most beautiful routes, especially when they come to the end when they come down Sand Street on the last leg and they get to run along the harbor.”

Episcopal Church
Runners prepare for last year’s Soles for All Souls race. Photo from All Souls

The church’s senior warden Steven Velazquez has run in the race for five years along with his daughter Veronique, while his wife Suzanne helps at the event. He said the fundraiser brings the members of the church together as they promote and work on it, and Dan has been doing a phenomenal job.

“It connects our small church together, it binds us together,” Velazquez said.

He said many children run in the race, and now that they’re getting older, keeping up with them is becoming more challenging. While he used to run on a regular basis and participate in Northport’s Great Cow Harbor 10K Race, he broke his leg a few years ago and hasn’t been able to run as much in recent years.

“I’m not the greatest runner but I’m happy to complete it,” he said.

The race begins at 9 a.m. Oct. 1 rain or shine. To register, go to www.active.com and search for Soles for All Souls. Fee is $25 for adults and $10 for children under 18 before Sept. 24 and $30 for adults and $15 for children afterward and on the day of the race. The day will include pre-race stretching led by Inspired of Port Jefferson, and the band Down Port will perform after the race. Nonperishable food items and toiletries will be collected for the food pantry at St. Cuthbert’s Church in Selden.

All Souls Episcopal Church is opened every day to visitors and located at 61 Main St., Stony Brook.

Gunther's Tap Room caught fire in May, and a fundraiser was held this week to help restore the historic bar. File photo from Photo from Chris Ciaci.

By Sara-Megan Walsh

It’s said that many hands make for light work, and if that’s true, the outpouring of community support for Gunther’s Tap Room will hopefully have it rebuilt in record time.

The uplifting refrain of “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey could be heard as dozens of Northport residents and their families attended a fundraiser Aug. 13 for Gunther’s Tap Room at the Park Lounge in Kings Park. Gunther’s has been closed since being consumed by an early-morning fire May 23.

John Weeden, owner of Park Lounge, said he hosted the $25-per-person community barbecue and extensive Chinese auction to raise money to help reopen Gunther’s Tap Room, and to financially aid its employees who have been without a job. Weeden declined to say how much was raised in total.

“I’d like to raise enough money to help them pay for whatever bills they have to reopen it. I thought it was the right thing to do.”

— John Weeden

“I’d like to raise enough money to help them pay for whatever bills they have to reopen it. I thought it was the right thing to do,” said Weeden, who worked as a bartender at Gunther’s for 13 years. “I feel [Pete Gunther] would want that bar reopened. It was his legacy.”

Peter Gunther Sr., a late Northport native and ex-chief of the Northport Fire Department, owned and operated Gunther’s Tap Room since the 1960s, according to current co-owner Brad Vassallo.

“Gunther’s is the bar of the people,” he said. “It’s been basically built amongst the patrons.”

Vassallo, who purchased Gunther’s with Eddie McGrath in 2016, said they are currently in the process of completing structural repairs to the more than 100-year-old building to make it safe and compliant with modern building codes.

“The town has been remarkable in terms of helping the process,” Vassallo said. “They and the community have been fantastic in trying to help us out — letting us do what we need to get this place reopened.”

How much it will cost to rebuild and restore the landmark bar to its former glory is still an unknown, according to Vassallo, saying that “it will be substantial.” The owners said they have run into a number of unforeseen repairs that have slowed down the process.

But several community members have stepped forward, offering donations of building supplies and skills to speed up that process. Some have offered their help to lay down new hardwood floors, and others offered to fix up the bathrooms.

“The community [has] been fantastic in trying to help us out — letting us do what we need to get this place reopened.”

— Brad Vassallo

“We are going to keep the aesthetics as similar as we can,” Vassallo said. “There will need to be some changes, but the color scheme and the way the bar was set up — we are going to keep it as close as we can to the original form.”

With Gunther’s closed for reconstruction, bartender Jani Zubkovs said it’s been difficult for him and the other employees. They’ve stayed in touch over the last few months on updates on the repairs and in trying to find other work.

“It’s an eyesore right now,” Zubkovs said. “I miss all the people, all my regulars. It’s the local Northport place where everybody knows each other.”

In an attempt to offset the financial hardship, Zubkovs has picked up bartending two nights a week at Elijah Churchill’s Public House on Fort Salonga Road in Northport.

Dozens of area businesses contributed to Sunday’s fundraiser by donating goods and services for the Chinese auction.

For those who missed the event, a GoFundMe campaign has been set up, with a goal of $75,000 to help the business reopen. Visit www.gofundme.com/gunthers-tap-room for more information or to donate to the restoration cause.

Despite the disruptions in construction, Gunther’s owners remain hopeful that beer will be flowing again within the next couple of months.

“It’s disappointing that me and Eddie just bought the place to have this kind of situation happen,” Vassallo said. “The primary reason we took it over is that we made a vow. We wanted to keep Gunther’s Tap Room as it was, as Pete Gunther made it to be. We are doing everything we can to do that.”

Hundreds attended the Lax Out Cancer fundraiser in Shoreham that benefited four local children battling cancer. Photo by Kevin Redding

Alexa Boucher has attended Shoreham-Wading River’s Lax Out Cancer game for years, and this year, she’s one of the fundraiser’s beneficiaries.

In January, Alexa Boucher was diagnosed with Rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancerous tumor that’s grown on the 14-year-old’s eye socket.

She was chosen as one of four — alongside 6-year-old Grayson from Miller Place, and 1-year-old Hannah Grace and 10-year-old Jackson from Port Jefferson Station — who were honored in the middle of Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field during the ninth annual event May 6.

Alexa Boucher, above with her family, enjoys playing her guitar, basketball and softball. Photo by Kevin Redding

Shoreham-Wading River, Garden City, Miller Place and Bellport participated in three games, with all money raised through donations and raffles divided equally among the recipient’s families.

“I’m overwhelmed,” Alexa said when she arrived on the school grounds to see hundreds of families, volunteers and corporate sponsors rallying behind her. “I never would’ve imagined that I would be a recipient.”

Kimberly Boucher, Alexa’s mother, was equally overwhelmed by the outpouring support for her daughter, who has been undergoing chemotherapy at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in the city.

“We’re just so blessed to live in such an amazing community; there aren’t enough words to say how much we appreciate what’s been done for Alexa,” she said. “You never think it’d be your own child that you’re coming for … we’re just so grateful [that] everybody comes together when they hear a child is sick.”

Larry and Vanessa Horowitz, whose son was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma in February and has been in and out of treatment at Stony Brook Hospital the last few weeks, were grateful to be there with him.

“He’s 6 years old and deserves everything we can give him,” Larry Horowitz said as he watched Grayson, smiling ear-to-ear, pass a lacrosse ball around with his friend. “There’s so much unbelievable selfishness and fundraising and everyone getting together here. The sun is shining and this is what I’ve been praying for.”

Grayson Horowitz tosses around a lacrosse ball. Photo by Kevin Redding

His wife, reflecting on her son’s ability to muscle through his ordeal at such a young age, said, “He’s stronger than I ever imagined and it’s making us all stronger just watching him. … You don’t really know people until you go through something like this, and I have no idea how to thank everybody for doing they they’ve done for us.”

The Shoreham-Wading River-based fundraiser was started in 2008 by Tom Rotanz, the high school’s then varsity lacrosse coach, as a way to acknowledge the father of one his player’s, who succumbed to a rare salivary gland cancer in 2005, as well as others in the community affected by cancer.

Since then, the event narrowed its focus on raising money for the families of kids in Shoreham and neighborhood districts fighting cancer — starting with 10-year-old Liam McGuire, a member of Shoreham’s lacrosse program who has been in remission following a 38-month leukemia battle, and Kaitlyn Suarez, a Shoreham girls’ lacrosse superstar who joined the team after recovering from two bouts with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“It’s such an uplifting experience to feel all the love that everybody throws at these kids,” said Miller Place resident Glen Cote, who, along with his wife Renée and young son Zachary, were beneficiaries in 2014 and 2015. In June 2014, Zachary, 5 at the time, was diagnosed with Grade 4 medulloblastoma, or brain cancer.

“To have your child go through something like this, you’re down in the dumps,” the father said. “But this provides the parents and the little ones with a great feeling.”

Before the event even kicked off, $30,000 was raised for the families through sponsors, which included St. Charles Hospital and FLG Lacrosse, and the sale of program ads, T-shirts and raffle tickets.

A DJ from 101.7 FM “The Beach” emceed the fundraiser and That Meetball Place, from Patchogue, supplied food for attendees.

“They’re competitive kids and they want to play the game, but they understand the bigger purpose of giving back to kids that are not as fortunate.”

— Mike Taylor

“Every year it’s grown and grown,” said Kathy Miller, a member of the event committee and mother of a lacrosse player. “It’s teaching the players a valuable lesson about life, how precious life is and how much this giving means for the families. It’s bigger than just a lacrosse game.”

Mike Taylor, head coach of the boys’ varsity lacrosse team who opened the door for other school districts to participate when he was hired three years ago, said the players are a different breed of athletes.

“They understand the true meaning of this,” he said. “They’re competitive kids and they want to play the game, but they understand the bigger purpose of giving back to kids that are not as fortunate as they are. When they were kids seeing this event, they wanted to be part of it on the lacrosse side. Now that they’re older, and they’ve met the kids that they’re helping, it becomes a whole different thing to them.”

Joe Miller, a senior and varsity midfielder for Shoreham-Wading River’s boys’ lacrosse team, said he’s incredibly moved by what the recipients go through.

“It means a lot that we can help them out a little bit,” Miller said. “Seeing the kids and their families here, it makes it a lot more powerful and makes you feel like what you did made a difference.”

Defenseman Kyle Higgins echoed his teammate’s sentiment.

“It’s an honor to play for this kind of event,” he said. “Helping those who need support means a lot to us.”

Rocky Point and Mount Sinai faced off in the Suffolk County baseball championship game in 2016, and though the schools are rivals, they’re on the same team once a year to honor Susie Facini.

A Rocky Point High School graduate, Facini died in November 2011 at 19 years old of a sudden heart attack. Without warning, she felt her heart race, and passed out just seconds later. Despite efforts of her mother, Bernadette, a registered nurse, Facini was unable to be revived.

Susie Facini’s parents, Bernadette and Pete, during the fourth-annual Live Like Susie baseball game and fundraising event. Photo by Bill Landon

The Rocky Point alum had an immediate impact on everyone she met. Her reach was so strong, that over 3,000 people came to her one-day wake. As a result of her death, 18-year teacher Andrew Aschettino, head coach of the Rocky Point baseball team, felt compelled to host a baseball game in her memory.

“She was genuinely concerned for other people — she was the happiest person,” Aschettino said. “With a smile, she always had something nice to say about everybody everyday. Everyone was happier just by being around her, and that’s what we’re trying to spread.”

Rocky Point assistant coach Eric Strovink said Aschettino called up their good friend and Mount Sinai baseball team’s head coach, Eric Reichenbach, in 2014 to ask if his Mustangs would compete in a yearly game in Facini’s honor.

“Reichenbach said, ‘We’re in for as long as you guys do this,’” said Strovink, a Shoreham-Wading River graduate. “That’s pretty impressive.”

The two teams faced off May 6 in the annual Live Like Susie game, which raises money for a scholarship in Facini’s name. There’s no requirement for the student who receives the scholarship except that they be a kind and giving person.

 

“It’s extremely heartwarming,” Facini’s father Pete said of the event. “This is a community that came together to make something great out of something that is so sad and tragic. Susie represented nothing but kindness and that message transcends what has happened. These people here recognize it, and we couldn’t be more grateful.”

Mount Sinai tops Rocky Point

By Bill Landon

Although the matchup was in the name of a good cause, someone needed to come out on top, and with a five-run sixth inning put Mount Sinai’s baseball team ahead 9-2 at Ridge’s Fireman’s Field.

Mount Sinai senior Dan Deckert’s bat cracked first, drilling a home run over the left field fence and bringing home classmate Will Esposito for an early 2-0 lead. Mount Sinai junior George Rainer took a healthy lead off second base, and senior Alex Giantonnio helped bring him home for a three-run lead with a shot to deep right field.

Rocky Point junior John Rosman took the egg off the scoreboard for the Eagles, sending the ball through the gap and sending home senior Shane Owensby to make it a two-run game, 3-1.

The Mustangs found themselves in trouble in the bottom of the third inning when senior Robert Lindstrom walked a batter to loaded the bases with one out. Lindstrom focused in on his next two batters, and escaped the inning without letting up a run.

The team found itself in trouble yet again in the bottom of the fourth, but this time, the Eagles capitalized, with a run coming in off a walk with the bases loaded to cut the lead in half, 4-2.

Then, Mount Sinai’s bats caught fire in the top of the sixth with a pair of unearned runs, and followed it with a bases-clearing three-RBI single for a 9-2 lead and the win.

Rocky Point hit the road May 8 for the first of a three-game series against Sayville, coming up just short 5-4. The Eagles will host Sayville and Mount Sinai will host Elwood-John Glenn May 9 at 4:30 p.m.

He and his wife said they enjoy seeing that even though the current students and members of the baseball team may not have known their daughter, they’re excited to be a playing in such a special game.

“These boys never knew her, and we’re very proud,” Bernadette Facini said. “Sometimes I’ll be out shopping and I’ll see one of the kids from Mount Sinai with a purple bracelet on that says Live Like Susie or they’re wearing a Live Like Susie T-shirt, so we are so humbled by the kindness. She was adored by so many and she was just a joy to be around. She literally went from group to group to group — there were no outsiders in her life — and that’s why we keep the kindness award and scholarship going in her name.”

Reichenbach said he’s also proud to be part of the event.

“Our communities are so close — the kids all know each other — so it’s just good people getting together for a good cause,” he said. “I know [Susie Facini] was a big part of coach Asch’s life. It’s a great way to keep her memory alive.”

Parents donate food for the event, and in return for the free food, there’s a suggested donation toward the scholarship. Last year, $1,000 was raised, and with an even larger turnout at this year’s game, Aschettino said he’s hoping for an even bigger scholarship.

Cassie Rando, last year’s recipient, was home from college and attended the crosstown matchup. Bernadette Facini pointed to her as a reason why the family and the baseball teams keep doing what they’re doing. But Aschettino pointed to the Facinis as the real motivators.

“It’s a classic case of where the apple didn’t fall far from the tree,” he said. “Their son Andy is also a great kid — they’re just great kids from a great family.”

Rocky Point students and Eagles’ team members like Brian Forbes feel the same way.

“It just shows how we can all come together as a family,” the senior said. “[Mount Sinai doesn’t] have to do this, but they do. That shows how great they are.”

Senior Matt Pendl said he likes seeing the two teams continue to come together each year with mutual respect and admiration for a beloved community member.

“This is so important — it shows that there’s more important things in life than just baseball,” he said. “We had a blast celebrating the memory of someone who was just a great individual. I was not fortunate enough to know Susie, but my three older brothers who went to this school were fortunate enough to know her, and all I’ve heard is that she was an amazing person. This event is just a great way to remember her.”

To donate to the Live Like Susie scholarship, contact Rocky Point High School at 631-744-1600 or visit the school at 82 Rocky Point-Yaphank Road.

Bill Landon contributed reporting

Dating back to the 18th century, The Setauket Neighborhood House has served as a private home, an inn, a post office, a bank and a general store, among others. Today it functions as a community meeting house. File photo

By Irene Ruddock

Now that spring is here, every homeowner wonders how everything in their home is ever going to get repaired. Just multiply that concern many times to imagine the projects needed for the improvement and upkeep of a beloved community treasure — the Setauket Neighborhood House (SNH). In helping to provide funds for projects that are needed to keep this historic building for all the community to enjoy, the SNH will host its 5th annual Taste of the Neighborhood fundraiser on Friday, May 12 from 7 to 10 p.m.

In past years, funds raised from this annual event have helped with the upkeep of the house, parts of which are over 200 years old — rebuilding a beautiful front and back porch, replacing the roof, building chair storage units, purchasing a new furnace and paying bills! This year, the house, which is located at 95 Main Street in Setauket, is in need of a new ballroom floor, a grand undertaking that will enhance the house immeasurably and ensure continued enjoyment and participation by the community. What an exciting adventure that will be! Here is your chance to be a part of it!

‘Shadow Play’ by Irwin Traugot will be raffled off at the event.

On May 12 you will also be given the opportunity to join your neighbors to come together for wonderful food provided by the generosity of 16 of our local restaurants. Taste the signature dishes of Amici Restaurant, Bagel Express, Bliss, Chick-fil-A, Country House, Curry Club, Fifth Season, Fratelli’s, Mario’s, Old Field Club, O Sole Mio, Pumpernickel’s Deli and Market, Setauket Gourmet Deli, Setauket Pastaria, Three Village Inn and Villa Sorrento. Wine and beer will be served along with other refreshments, compliments of the SNH.

Of course, a fundraiser wouldn’t be the same without raffle baskets, so plan on taking a chance on over 15 beautiful baskets donated by community and board members. There will also be plenty of gift certificates from local business owners. A special thanks to Debbie Bryant, who for years has dedicated her time and talent by wrapping and organizing our baskets. Drawings will be conducted that evening, but you don’t have to be present to win.

To add to the elegance of the evening, an art retrospective will feature the paintings of Irwin Traugot. Traugot, a beloved Setauket Artists’ member, has been exhibiting annually at the house for 35 years. The artist will also donate a beautiful painting for the raffle; his other paintings are for sale with a portion of the proceeds going to the SNH. They will be on view for several weeks after the event for all to enjoy. Finally, live music will be provided by music students from Ward Melville High School.

Tickets for this event may be purchased for $30 online at www.setauketnh.org or at the door for $35. Checks are payable to Setauket Neighborhood House and may be mailed to P.O. Box 2192, Setauket, NY 11733. For more information, please call 631-751-6208.

Olivia Gregorius, right, and Emma Lutz, left, are hoping to raise awarness for female empowerment on their bike journey across the country. Photo from Gregorius

A Northport native is biking across the United States to raise money and awareness for an organization that builds schools in Africa.

Olivia Gregorius, a 2011 Northport High School graduate, kicked off her cross-country adventure in Vancouver about three weeks ago and said she is determined to finish at the Mexican border by July.

“I feel good so far,” she said in a phone interview. ”My body hurts horribly, but I feel good.”

Gregorius is a volunteer with the organization Africa Schoolhouse, a nonprofit that brings education, medical care, job training and clean water to rural villages in northern Tanzania. Her journey was designed to raise money for the newest ASH project: an all-female boarding school. Gregorius said she hopes to promote female youth empowerment while on the journey.

“This mission to help females so far away who deserve an equal and safe education space is something we believe is very important,” she said. “I truly believe that the way we teach and treat young females is key to shaping a more progressive and healthy society both locally and abroad.”

She also said it is important to acknowledge the privileges she’s been afforded that other women aren’t as lucky to receive.

“We, as young women who have had the distinct privilege of a college education, want to give back to the many girls around the world who struggle to access basic education,” she said. “We want to empower ourselves as young women going on a self-supported trip of 2,000 miles with the ultimate goal of supporting as many other young women as possible to believe themselves capable and worthy of any achievement.”

Africa Schoolhouse began in Ntulya, Tanzania, in 2006, when village elders approached founder Aimée Bessire with the idea of building a school and medical clinic. ASH successfully built the school and medical clinic, and now the organization is shifting its focus on getting women a safe and efficient education.

Gregorius said only 1 percent of Tanzanian girls complete secondary school for reasons including families who privilege the education of sons over daughters, girls being married off at young ages and unsafe journeys to school due to incomplete or unfinished roads, or the risk of assault while traveling long spans of distance on their own.

This wasn’t the first time Gregorius worked on projects associated with female empowerment. During her first year at Bates College in Maine, she helped develop a college-access mentoring program for Lewiston, Maine, middle school females. She also worked at an overnight teen empowerment camp in 2013, where she developed classes pertaining to girls’ youth empowerment, outdoor education, wellness and the arts.

Gregorius is traveling with Emma Lutz, a fellow Bates graduate, and so far the team has already raise more than $3,000. To make a contribution or learn more, visit https://www.crowdrise.com/emma-and-livs-bike-tour-from-canada-to-mexico.

Sample tiles were on display at the Community Art Center on June 4. Photo by Ellen Barcel

By Ellen Barcel

A community art event, Make Your Mark, has come to Gallery North. The gallery invites the community — adults, children, families, both professional artists and even those with no artistic background — to come and paint their own six-inch ceramic tile. The tiles may be taken home or used at the gallery in the planned tile wall of the new Community Art Center.

Ceramic tiles have a long history. Once ceramics are fired, they do not deteriorate like wood or cloth. The result is that the art world has tiles created and fired not only hundreds but thousands of years ago. The decorative tile work on the Dome of the Rock (begun in the seventh century) in Jerusalem dates back to the 16th century while Egyptian tile goes back to 4000 B.C. These examples attest to the beauty and longevity of this art form.

Tiles continued to be important in the art world. The Tile Club consisted of over two dozen American artists in the late 19th century, including Winslow Homer, William Merritt Chase, Stanford White, John J. Twachtman and Augustus Saint-Gaudens, who met periodically to paint ceramic tiles. Even today, decorative ceramic tiles are popular tourist souvenirs.

Judith Levy, executive director of the gallery noted that people shouldn’t be afraid to tackle painting a tile. “I’ve had people say ‘I have an idea, but…’ they aren’t artists. Well, we have helpers, students from the art department at Stony Brook University.” In addition, designs can be traced onto the tiles or stencils can be used. It’s up to the individual.

“We want to create stakeholders in the gallery, new ways of exciting people,” added Levy. Since some of the tiles will be a permanent part of the wall next to the new building, people can come back with their families, year after year to see their tile — basically being a part of the artistic heritage of Gallery North.

On June 4, the first in the series of workshops was held at the gallery. Handmade tile production was demonstrated by sculptor and Long Island artisan Tina Folks. Folks, a ceramic artist for over 25 years, is a graduate of the Parsons School of Design. “I knew my medium would be clay from summer camp,” when she was a child. “I fell in love with the medium.”

Folks showed how a rolled out slab of moist red clay is cut into squares, dried and coated with bisque before its first firing. This preparation, getting them ready for the community artists to paint, will be done by Folks. “I have about 200 tiles now in my studio to decorate,” she noted.

“What I love about this [a community art project] is the collaboration. It takes me out of the solitude of my studio. It’s a nice exchange working with other people. It helps me grow as an artist,” said Folks.

Make Your Mark starts with those attending the workshops drawing their designs on a six-inch square of paper. In the weeks to come, they and others who join them will transfer their designs to the tiles to then be fired a second time by Folks. Future workshop dates include June 18, June 26 and July 7. Times will vary to accommodate painters’ schedules. For example, the July 7 workshop will be held in the evening from 6 to 8 p.m. When all the tiles are completed and fired, those intended for the gallery will be installed in the garden wall.

Levy added that the patio next to the art center will be expanded. There will be seating and plantings. The planned wall, referred to as a knee wall, will be about 2½ to 3 feet tall. The community’s tiles will be affixed to the inside of the wall, where those on the patio, as well as those inside the art center, can enjoy them.

The event is a fundraiser for the gallery, to help develop the gallery’s new ceramics program as well as other arts programs. The cost to decorate a tile and have it fired, to be taken home by the artist is $50. To decorate a tile and contribute it to the gallery’s garden wall is $100. Naturally, people are encouraged to do both. The goal is for 300 to 600 tiles to be completed for the wall.

Another option is to sponsor a local, professional artist who would do four tiles (12-inch square) for the garden wall. The contribution for sponsorship is $750. Sponsorship can be shared by more than one individual.

So, to “make your mark” and work on one or more tiles, contact Gallery North. A nonprofit, the gallery is located at 90 North Country Road in Setauket. It is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For further information, call 631-751-2676 or go to www.gallerynorth.org.

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Rob Marianetti is raising money to help fund his daughter Kayla’s care. Photo by Elana Glowatz

A local church is hosting a fundraising event to benefit a little girl who is seriously impaired after almost drowning in a bathtub at 17 months old.

Rob Marianetti is raising money to help fund his daughter Kayla’s care. Above, Kayla before her bathtime accident. Photo from Rob Marianetti
Rob Marianetti is raising money to help fund his daughter Kayla’s care. Above, Kayla before her bathtime accident. Photo from Rob Marianetti

Although Kayla Marianetti was found floating and unresponsive, doctors revived her. However, the Port Jefferson Station toddler was left with a brain injury. She needs multiple therapy appointments each day, including hyperbaric therapy, which involves putting her in an oxygen-rich environment; physical therapy, to move her toward sitting up, standing and walking; vision therapy, as neurological issues have made her legally blind, even though her eyes themselves are fine; and speech therapy, which is used both to teach her to communicate and to eat on her own.

Her father Rob, who works for Setauket-based Hurricane Tree Experts, has seen improvement in her function but needs help to fund the girl’s expensive treatments.

The theatrical fundraiser, for ages 15 and older, at the St. James R.C. Church in Setauket will be held on June 10. In addition to the performance “The Class of Life,” which starts at 7 p.m., there will be refreshments, a Chinese auction and a raffle. The father and daughter will be present. Contact Tabitha Chabalik for reservations, at 631-671-8206 or kaylamarianetti@gmail.com. Tickets are $40. People can also contribute to Kayla’s recovery on her fundraising page.

Rob Marianetti has previously said his goal is to have Kayla at least be able to walk, talk, eat and see on her own.

“I’m not leaving her like this,” Marianetti said last year. “I’m going until either she gets better or I die.”

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