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Jack Soldano

The William Miller House had a new roof installed to protect the historic building. The renovation was made possible with local donations. Photo by Kevin Redding

When it comes to saving the oldest existing house in Miller Place, the community has it covered.

In its 298th year, the William Miller House on North Country Road stands stronger than ever thanks to a brand new, $18,300 roof made possible by donations from residents, local businesses and community groups. The roof’s installation, by Patchogue-based Ultimate Exteriors, began Dec. 26, 2017, and was completed the following week.

Miller Place-Mount Sinai Hisotrical Society Vice President Antoinette Donate and
historian Edna Davis Giffen show off some of the old shingles. Photo by Kevin Redding

Replacing the historic structure’s dilapidated roof has been a top priority for the Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society members since 2015, when a campaign was launched to complete all needed repairs in time for the house’s 300th anniversary in 2020.

“The roof was open partially — you could see the sky when you were in the attic,” said Antoinette Donato, vice president of the historical society. “It’s so nice to know that the community supports us and understands the importance of this house, because it’s not just Mount Sinai and Miller Place history, it’s American history.”

Built in 1720, the house is the ancestral residence of the family the town was named after, and is on the National Register of Historic Places, significant for its lack of interior changes over the centuries.

Historical society members said they saw a spike in community donations in May 2017 after their goal was reported by local news outlets. On the day the story got out, a resident who wished to remain anonymous approached the society and promised to donate a dollar for every two dollars it raised. Local residents pitched in, as well as large contributors,including the Suffolk Federal Credit Union and PSEG Long Island.

“It’s so nice to know that the community supports us and understands the importance of this house, because it’s not just Mount Sinai and Miller Place history, it’s American history.”

—Antoinette Donato

According to members, the most memorable donor was 12-year-old Jack Soldano, who rushed to the society’s rescue by selling 1,000 comic books over the summer at Heritage Park in Mount Sinai. In the end, he raised more than $1,220 for the project, which, at the time he presented the check, brought the repair fund to $7,500. He said he did so because of his strong connection to the town landmark, as he and his family were regulars at its annual Postman Pete and Spooky Lantern Tour events.

“I remember when I was younger and having so much fun” he said. “I want the younger kids to be able to experience that too.”

Gerard Mannarino, treasurer of the historical society, announced the historical society reached its $18,300 goal in December, and shingles were delivered right before Christmas.

Society board member Edna Davis Giffen said she couldn’t believe her eyes as construction crews began the repair.

“We’d been talking about this for years — wanting to get this roof done — and never had the money to do it,” Giffen said. “Now, all of a sudden, here it was. And now it’s all done. It’s just so wonderful.”

The historical society hopes to tackle its second priority, restoring the house’s 16 windows, as soon as possible.

Miller Place comic book kid Jack Soldano sold comics at a stand outside the William Miller House to raise funds to replace the historic building’s roof. Photo by Kevin Redding

Jack Soldano can’t fly or shoot webs out of his wrists. And despite his spot-on Batman impression, he doesn’t spend nights jumping off buildings fighting crime.

But this past summer, the 13-year-old North Country Road Middle School student was inspired by all the comic books he reads to do some saving of his own, and in the process, he earned the title of hero in his hometown of Miller Place.

Every week in July and August, Jack, who was 12 at the time, set up a table at Mount Sinai’s Heritage Park and sold 1,000 of his own comic books, as well as pins, magnets and bottle openers he made out of the vibrant panels in extra issues he had. The booming business he dubbed Comics for a Cause — a magnet for Marvel and DC comics lovers of all ages from the area — collected a total $1,220, but Jack didn’t keep a cent.

Miller Place comic book kid Jack Soldano sold comics at a stand outside the William Miller House to raise funds to replace the historic building’s roof. Photo by Kevin Redding

Instead, he gave it all to the Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society to help the nonprofit fund roof repairs on its main headquarters, the nearly 300-year-old William Miller House at 75 North Country Road. The night Jack presented the check to historical society members, he sold a few more comic books and contributed an additional $10.

“I was bitten by a radioactive altruistic person,” Jack quipped when asked what made him want to aid in the nonprofit’s effort.

In actuality, Jack, currently in eighth grade, said that he felt compelled to help when he saw in The Village Beacon Record in May that the historical society was in desperate need to renovate the collapsing roof on the structure, the oldest existing house in Miller Place, built circa 1720. While he didn’t know any members of the nonprofit personally, Jack said he had a strong connection to the town landmark, as he and his family were regulars at its annual Postman Pete and Spooky Lantern Tour events.

“I figured, I like helping people, I have these comics — way too many of these comics — and people need help,” said Jack, who inherited the large collection from his grandfather, the former owner of a hobby shop in Port Washington. “And also, smiles are contagious, so it makes me happy that I can make others happy.”

When they heard what the young entrepreneur planned to do for them, members of the historical society, who rely heavily on the generosity of others to function, were stunned. With an initial goal of $18,300 to fix the roof, Jack’s contribution had brought the repair fund to $7,500. As of Dec. 20, the nonprofit had reached its goal to be able to start the project.

A brick in his honor — reading “Jack Soldano Our Comic Book Hero 2017” — was recently installed on the walkway around the historic house. Jack was also named an honorary member.

“That boy is a diamond in the rough,” said Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society Vice President Antoinette Donato. “We sometimes have to send out an appeal to the public when we need to raise money, but we certainly did not expect a 12-year-old boy to respond to us the way he did.”

Donato said Jack is not just a role model to other young people but to adults too.

“I think he motivates everyone to think about giving back to the community — giving to a good cause and caring about the world around us,” she said. “He’s truly an inspiration.”

The historical society’s president, Peter Mott, was equally impressed with Jack, who he referred to as a friend.

Miller Place comic book kid Jack Soldano sold comics at a stand outside the William Miller House to raise funds to replace the historic building’s roof. Photo by Kevin Redding

“This young man displayed an uncommon and incredible sense of responsibility and concern for his local community,” Mott said. “We seasoned adults were in awe of his energy and spirit. Jack is, and we predict will continue to be, an amazing person who will benefit his local and larger community for many years to come.”

But for those who know Jack best, this generosity wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.

“He’s always doing stuff like this,” said his friend, Cory Gardner, 14, who helped out during the comic book sales. “The levels of things he did, and does, for the community blows my mind. If he’s not a hero, I don’t know who is.”

Cristin Mansfield, Jack’s mom, said her son often helps the elderly on their block by moving their newspaper from the edge of the driveway to where he or she can reach it, and shovels when it snows.

“Jack’s always been an enthusiastic helper, from a very early age,” Mansfield said. “I think he just really feels good helping people out and making them smile.”

A member of his school’s track and wrestling teams and National Junior Honor Society, Jack is a frequent volunteer at Parent-Teacher Association events, including a reading club where he once dressed as Cat in the Hat and read to kids.

“Whatever is put before him, he always jumps in with both feet and takes it to the next level,” said Matthew Clark, principal at North Country Road Middle School. “And the fruits of his labor have created a contagious environment here. He stands out in such a positive way.”

In the midst of the comic book project over the summer, Jack began volunteering at Great Strides Long Island’s Saddle Rock Ranch in Middle Island, helping developmentally disabled children ride horses and even set up his table at the organization’s annual Evening Under the Stars fundraiser. He made 25 customized magnets and bottle openers and raised $100 for the event that benefits community therapeutic riding and veterans programs.

Of his own accord, he also made special magnets for a “swab drive” Nov. 30 that sought to find a bone marrow donor for a Sound Beach resident diagnosed with AML leukemia, the father of one of his friends.

“Jack’s just one of those kids who’s always thinking of things like that to do for other people,” said Kim Daley, whose husband was the focus of that event and has known Jack since he was in preschool. “He’s always been the boy that goes out of his way to make sure no one sits alone at lunch, and confirms everyone gets a chance at an activity  … He’s observant and sensitive to others. I could go on and on about Jack and what a big heart he has.”

Jack hopes he can inspire more people his age to get involved in any way they can.

“With a great ‘blank’ comes great responsibility,” he said, paraphrasing a quote from Spider-Man. “Go fill in the blank.”

More to come as next location is planned for Rocketship Park in Port Jefferson

Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society Vice President Antoinette Donato unveils the new Little Free Library in front of the William Miller house in Miller Place. Photo by Kevin Redding

Outside the oldest house in Miller Place sits the newest public library on the North Shore.

What might initially appear to be a newly installed, red-and-white mailbox in front of the William Miller House at 75 North Country Road is actually a Little Free Library, where residents of all ages are encouraged to pick up or drop off a book while on the go.

The mini library, which is shaped like a tiny schoolhouse and currently holds between 15 and 20 books ranging from “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” to “Goodnight Moon,” stands as the most recent free book exchange program to sprout up on Long Island, with others installed at West Meadow Beach and Heritage Park in Mount Sinai last year.

Books inside the new Little Free Library in front of the WIlliam Miller House in Miller Place were donated by the Port Jefferson and Comsewogue libraries. Photo by Kevin Redding

The idea for the book-sharing movement, which has spanned more than 70 countries around the world since the first little library was built by Todd Bol of Wisconsin in tribute to his mother in 2009, is that with a quick turn of a wooden latch, it can increase book access for readers of all ages and backgrounds and to inspire a love of reading and community connection.

Members of the Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society unveiled their new addition Aug. 9 to a large crowd of smiling faces, which included residents, elected officials and representatives from Port Jefferson Free Library and Comsewogue Public Library. The two libraries partnered with the historical society to buy and sponsor it.

“I woke up this morning and I had the Mister Roger’s song in my head, ‘Oh what a beautiful day in the neighborhood,’” said Antoinette Donato, vice president of the historical society, during the ceremony. “This little library is symbolic of how our community comes together … and a community is strengthened when all the different organizations work well together. So when you reach into that box to put something in or take something out, please remember that you’re also reaching into your community. I hope it’s a very active library.”

Tom Donlon, director of Port Jefferson Free Library, said when he and Debbie Engelhardt, director of Comsewogue Public Library, decided to partner up to bring the program to the Miller Place community, they immediately knew the perfect place for it.

Jack Soldano, who has been selling his comic book collection this summer to raise money to help fix the historic William Miller House, was the first to add to the new Little Free Library’s collection. Photo by Kevin Redding

“Right away we thought of the historical society,” Donlon said. “The society really meshes with our libraries’ goals of education, entertainment, enlightenment and lifelong learning and investigation. We love that it’s here, it’s a great spot and I think it’s certainly going to serve the community very well.”

Engelhardt called little free libraries a beautiful concept.

“Anybody can use it as much as they want and it’s always a mystery when you open that box — you never know what you’ll find,” Engelhardt said. “There are no late fees, no guilt, no stress. If you want to keep a book, you can … we are pleased to partner with the historical society to bring this gem. The books inside will move you and teach you. We say that libraries change lives and, well, little free libraries can too.”

She added that these mini libraries have also proven to energize the spot they’re put in. For the historical society, whose William Miller House is nearly 300 years old and needs between $18,000 and $28,000 to renovate a collapsing roof and a total $100,000 for a full-house repair, any amount of attention to their cause is welcomed.

“What this does for us is it puts us in the limelight again, so that people are aware of us, they come and visit us and are sensitive to our needs,” Donato said.

Fittingly, although the box was stocked with books already donated by the libraries, the first batch of reading material from the public came from 12-year-old Jack Soldano, who spent the summer raising more than $1,000 for the historical society with his very own comic book stand.

Soldano contributed issues of Captain America, Star Wars and Power Rangers comics to join such titles as “Leaving Time” by Jodi Picoult, “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn, “The Stranger” by Harlan Coben and the Grimm fairy tale “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

Over at Heritage Park, next to the Shack concession stand by the playground, the red-painted little free library currently contains more youth-oriented reads. Several books within “The Babysitters Club” series and Walt Disney’s “Fun-To-Learn Library” collection, as well as “Sable” by Karen Hesse, are available for the taking.

Manorville resident Megan Murray, who was at the park with her young daughter, said she’s been a fan of the initiative since a few popped up in her area.

“The concept is great because it’s for everybody, rich or poor,” Murray said. “It’s really sad that so many kids don’t have access to books and I think it’s wonderful.”

Currently there are plans for a little free library to be installed at Rocketship Park in Port Jefferson next month.

Jack Soldano wanted to help the Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society repair the roof of the William Miller House, so he’s selling some of his collection of comic books at Mount Sinai’s Heritage Park yard sale this month and next. Photo by Kevin Redding

With a little help from some super friends, a local boy wonder is on a mission to save the oldest standing house in Miller Place.

For most 12-year-olds, summer vacation means sleeping in, goofing off and avoiding responsibility at all costs.

Some of Jack Soldano’s collection of comic books. Photo by Kevin Redding

But for Jack Soldano, a North Country Road Middle School student and self-professed “lover of geeky things,” it’s been spent organizing and pricing hundreds upon hundreds of old comic books and making pins, magnets and bottle openers out of the collection’s vibrant panels, sometimes from 8 in the morning until 11 p.m.

Although Jack has a passion for the medium — he dresses up every year as his favorite superheroes at New York Comic Con and even wrote a letter to Marvel Comics when he was 6 years old detailing why the company should hire him — he isn’t doing this for himself.

“With a great supply of comic books comes great
responsibility,” Jack said, laughing.

He will be selling up to 1,000 comic books — Marvel, DC and everything in between — and homemade superhero accessories throughout July and August at Heritage Park’s community yard sale in Mount Sinai to help the Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society repair the roof on its main headquarters.

The nearly 300-year-old William Miller House at 75 North Country Road, built in 1720, is the ancestral residence of the family after which Miller Place was named. The oldest existing house in the town, which is open to public tours and serves as the meeting place for the nonprofit organization, needs between $18,000 and $28,000 to renovate its collapsing roof and a total $100,000 for a full-house repair, including window replacements.

Jack Soldano is selling some of his comic books for a cause at Mount Sinai’s Heritage Park yard sale this month and next. Photo by Kevin Redding

The society has offered family-friendly programs for years at the Miller House, like Postman Pete, where kids eat cookies and mail out letters to Santa, and the Spooky Lantern Tour of the historic Miller Place district in the fall.

So when Jack, whose family has been involved in the programs since he was very young, saw on the news more than a month ago that members of the historical society were pleading for public donations, he got an idea.

He went to his grandfather, who has an expansive library of comic books that includes everything from “Batman” to “Superman” to “Dr. Strange” as the former owner of a Port Washington hobby shop in the early 1990s, and told him he wanted to sell the collection to raise as much money as possible for the restoration project.

His grandfather simply said, “Okay,” and started donating bins of issues.

“I remember when I was younger in Miller Place, going to the Spooky Lantern Tour and Postman Pete, and having much fun, and I want the younger kids to be able to experience that too,” Jack said, adding with a smile that he won’t be giving away every comic. “I’ve kept some comics for myself, of course, because why not, but I wanted to sell the leftovers to a worthy cause and what’s more worthy than one in your own backyard?”

Jack Soldano is also handmade pins to help restore the William Miller House. Photo by Kevin Redding

Jack’s mother, Cristin Mansfield, said she and her husband are proud of their son for coming up with the idea himself.

“He’s not using the proceeds for himself,” Mansfield said. “He’s sitting there and immersing himself in this thing that he loves, reading the comics, finding funny speech bubbles. We’re super proud.”

Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society Vice President Antoinette Donato said the society is extremely grateful.

“We are so inspired that someone so young has such an interest, and that nobody planted the seed — it all came from him,” Donato said. “I think it’s everybody’s responsibility to keep history alive, so when somebody like Jack comes along who obviously has an interest and is genuine, it’s very reassuring for us and gives us hope.”

Residents can buy comic books every Thursday between 5 and 8 p.m., through Aug. 24, at the Mount Sinai Heritage Park. Visit https://www.facebook.com/comics4acause/ and https://www.etsy.com/shop/ComicsForACause for more information.

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