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Kevin Redding

Katlyn Lindahl, above left, and Jillian Dinowitz, above right, were honored for saving the life of Ryan Magill, at center, who was critically injured when he fell off a boat while giving sailing lessons. Photo from Jillian Dinowitz

A senior at Shoreham-Wading River High School was recently recognized as a hero for helping to save the life of her best friend over the summer.

Jillian Dinowitz snapped into action when she heard Ryan Magill screaming.

It was Aug. 9 and Dinowitz, 17, was in a powerboat on Moriches Bay giving sailing lessons to kids, ages 8 to 12, as an instructor at the Moriches Yacht Club. Her lifelong friend Magill, 17, who was instructing kids in another boat, had fallen overboard and was wailing and thrashing in red water. His left arm and pectoral region had been severely cut by the boat’s propeller.

Jillian Dinowitz, on left with Ryan Magill, are best friends and avid boaters since age 7. Photo from Jillian Dinowitz

Dinowitz, joined by another friend and instructor, rushed over to Magill, pulled him out of the water by his life jacket and got to work. As the boat sped back to shore and emergency services were called,  Dinowitz focused on keeping her friend calm and awake while Katlyn Lindahl, 18, made a tourniquet out of a towel and T-shirt. Dinowitz and Lindahl pressed it tightly against his blood-soaked arm.

“I honestly don’t know how I did it — it’s kind of a blur,” said Dinowitz, who admitted to feeling queasy at the sight of blood. “I would’ve done this for anybody in the water but just seeing that it was somebody so close to me, I kind of held myself together and just tried to stay strong for him. He’s the one that needed help at the time.”

Lindahl said while the two of them have had first aid training, their actions were entirely based on instinct.

“This was definitely a fight or flight thing,” she said. “There was no time at all really to think about what to do.”

Once back on land, Magill, a senior at Center Moriches High School, was emergency airlifted off the property to Stony Brook University Hospital. There, he underwent major surgeries. The doctors had to take a nerve out of his leg and transplant it into the damaged part of his shoulder.

They told him that if the girls hadn’t acted as quickly and effectively as they did, there was a good chance he could’ve died from blood loss or, at best, lost his arm.

“The difference they made was the difference between me being here and me not being here,” said Magill, who has since been slowly but steadily on the road to recovery. While he has trouble with menial tasks like tying his shoes and must wear a brace, he said he’s regained 50 percent of movement back in his arm and shoulder. “I’m doing very well, actually, and it’s thanks to Jillian and Katlyn. They literally saved my life and I’m in debt to them forever.”

His mother, Heather Magill, said her son has been incredibly positive throughout the entire experience and can be seen smiling every day no matter how tough things are.

“We’re in awe of him,” she said.

“After the accident, when we went to visit him in the recovery room, he said to my husband and me, ‘I love you guys … I need you to get me my phone, I have to call Jillian and Katlyn and tell them thank you for saving my life.’”

— Heather Magill

Magill’s and Dinowitz’s mothers, who have been best friends since high school, said the two teens have been inseparable since they were born. They joined the yacht club together when they were 7.

“I know in my heart there’s not a thing [Jillian] wouldn’t do for him in this whole world,”Heather Magill said. “It’s a testament to their friendship. We love her like family. After the accident, when we went to visit him in the recovery room, he said to my husband and me, ‘I love you guys … I need you to get me my phone, I have to call Jillian and Katlyn and tell them thank you for saving my life.’”

But for Jillian Dinowitz, it’s all about Ryan Magill getting back to his old self.

“When I visited him the day after the accident, it really hit me that something really serious happened, but it turned out okay and things are going to be better from there,” she said. “It’s amazing that he’s never gotten down about himself through all of this and has always been positive and willing to work hard to be where he was before the accident. It’s so inspiring.”

Nearly four months after the incident, on Nov. 28, the Shoreham-Wading River board of education honored Dinowitz, an Advanced Placement student and member of the school’s varsity tennis team, for her heroism, dedication and courage. As it happened in Center Moriches, Dinowitz said nobody at the school really knew about the incident, but it felt good to be recognized.

“Our true character often shines the brightest when we’re thrust into challenging circumstances,” high school Principal Frank Pugliese said of Dinowitz. “When that happened to Jillian this past summer, she rose to the occasion and helped to save a young man’s life. The entire Shoreham-Wading River community is so incredibly proud of her for her quick thinking and brave actions.”

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.”

LISCA performed at the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi during a concert tour of Italy. Photo by Candice Foley

By Kevin Redding

A Stony Brook University-born singing ensemble is celebrating its 50th anniversary on a high note.

The Long Island Symphonic Choral Association (LISCA), formed in 1968, will take to St. James Roman Catholic Church in Setauket on Dec. 8 for its most grandiose performance yet. The nonprofit group, made up of roughly 70 diverse members ranging in age from early 20s to 80 who have put on concerts around the world, will deliver a program of works by Igor Stravinsky and Arvo Part, to name a few, in honor of its late, great founder Gregg Smith, an internationally renowned choral conductor and composer who died last year.

“We designed this to reflect the many different kinds of things we have sung over the 50 years of our existence,” said Norma Watson, a member since the group formed. “The mission has always been to present excellent performances of not frequently heard music. We’ve done premieres of great modern composers and sang the pieces of Renaissance masters. It’s been fun to go back and sing these songs again. I’ll never get tired of singing with this group. ”

Among the highlights of the upcoming concert, which will run about an hour and a half and culminate in a giant meet-and-greet reception in the church’s downstairs, are “Heilig” (Holy) by Felix Mendelssohn, “O Magnum Mysterium by Morten Lauridsen, “Ave Maria, “Pater Noster” and “Russian Credo” by Stravinsky, and the Long Island premiere of “A Mary Trilogy” composed by Smith himself.

Smith, who died of a heart attack at 84 in July 2016, served as LISCA’s conductor from 1968 until 2005. The mantle was then passed over to Thomas Schmidt, who conducted through 2016. Since January, the group has been led by 32-year-old Eric Stewart, a composer-in-residence at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in New York City and conductor of the Tzu Chi Youth Chamber Orchestra on Long Island whose own work was recognized and encouraged by Smith.

As a Stony Brook University student and member of the University Community Chorus in the late 1960s, Watson met Smith when he arrived as director of choral music. Soon after being hired, the conductor — who established new standards of professional choral singing with the Gregg Smith Singers, a group founded in 1955 and famous for showcasing the music of contemporary American composers and not doing “the usual sort of choral programs,” as Smith told The New York Times in 1977 — changed the name of the college’s choir to LISCA to broaden the group’s ambitions and welcome collaborations with symphony orchestras.

Eric Stewart

“We weren’t really singing challenging stuff initially,” Watson said of the choir before Smith came on board. “What made me want to sing were the ambition he had to make us a really great choir and sing interesting pieces we weren’t used to singing.”

One of the group’s first concerts revolved around a major piece by Stravinsky, a composer Smith knew well who was in attendance to see their performance. Smith’s other acquaintances included Dave Brubeck and Elliott Carter, now legendary composers who watched the choir sing their charts. They have performed concerts in Spain, France, England, Ireland and Iceland.

“Gregg had such an exciting and unpredictable approach,” said Joe Dyro, the president of LISCA and a singer in the bass section since 1980. “He had a brilliant way of making things turn out right for the performance, helping us singers blend. I feel very honored to be part of a group that has such a large legacy.”

Dyro said he was singing while waiting to pay at a restaurant at the Smith Haven Mall when he got a tap on the shoulder from a member of LISCA, who extended an invite to join the group.

“I’m humbled because I know that many of the singers in the group are much better musicians and much more learned. I’m trying my best to keep up with the rest of the crowd,” Dyro said, laughing. “And Eric is a young, exciting conductor who, I think, is going to bring new vitality to the choir.”

Sidonie Morrison, a soprano in the choir since 1981, also spoke highly of LISCA’s new leader. “He’s very enthusiastic and fun to work with. We’re looking forward to a different kind of concert with him,” he said.

It will be an especially poignant night for Stewart, who made his LISCA debut when he conducted the group’s May concert. He points to Smith as the first person to seriously look at his original compositions when he first moved to New York City in 2010. Smith was so taken by the young musician’s work that he made sure to perform it with a professional ensemble.

“It’s because of him that I saw how amazing a choral ensemble could sound,” Stewart said. “He really opened up a whole new mode of expression for me as a composer and meant a lot to me on my path to becoming a professional musician. It’s truly an honor to pay tribute to him and his contributions with LISCA, with whom I’m extremely impressed. Some of these pieces are quite difficult and they’ve been able to take on the challenge. I’m quite excited about it.”

This year’s LISCA concert is in honor of the group’s late conductor, Gregg Smith, pictured above. Photo from LISCA

PROGRAM:

Felix Mendelssohn:

“Heilig” (Holy) for double choir

Arvo Part: “Magnificat”

Giovanni Gabrieli: “Beata es Virgo,” “Jubilate Deo” and “O Magnum Mysterium” for double chorus and brass Morten Lauridsen: “O Magnum Mysterium”

Gustav Holst: “Christmas Day” and “In the Bleak Midwinter”

Igor Stravinsky: “Ave Maria,” “Pater Noster” and “Russian Credo”

Gregg Smith: “A Mary Trilogy” and “Alleluia: Vom Himmel Hoch”

The concert begins at 8 p.m. at St. James Roman Catholic Church, 429 Route 25A in Setauket on Friday, Dec. 8. Tickets, which are available at the door and at www/lisca.org, are $25 adults, $20 for seniors, and free for students. For further information, please call 631-751-2743.

 

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, center, and representatives from community groups, who work to improve the Long Island Sound, attend a press conference Dec. 4 announcing the distribution of $2.04 million in grant funds. Photo by Kevin Redding

The future of Long Island Sound is in very capable, and now well funded, hands.

Federal and state officials gathered Dec. 4 in East Setauket to officially announce $2.04 million in grants to support 31 environmental projects by local governments and community groups mostly in New York State and Connecticut actively working to restore the health and ecosystem of Long Island Sound. Of the 15 New York-based projects — totaling $1.05 million in grants — nine of them are taking place across Long Island, including Salonga Wetland Advocates Network in Fort Salonga and Citizens Campaign Fund for the Environment in Huntington, Smithtown and Riverhead. 

This year’s recipients of the Long Island Sound Futures Fund — a collaborative effort between the Environmental Protection Agency and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation  — were encouraged by a panel of guest speakers to continue efforts to monitor and improve water quality; upgrade on site septic systems for homeowners; protect vital habitats throughout the watershed; and engage other residents to protect the 110-mile estuary.

“This fund is supporting and celebrating real-life solutions — grassroots-based solutions — that make a difference in our quality of life, in our quality of environment and the overall fabric of our community,” said Peter Lopez, the regional administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, to a room of grant recipients at the Childs Mansion on Shore Drive in East Setauket, overlooking the Sound. “We have this amazing resource in our backyard and we have to support it.”

“It’s your spirit and hard work that got us to this point. It’s important we’re making our impact right now.”

— Lee Zeldin

The Sound, which was designated an estuary of national significance in the 1980s, supports an estimated 81,000 jobs and activities surrounding it such as boating, fishing and recreational tourism, which generates around $9 billion a year for the region.

Lopez stressed that community involvement is the key to its perseverance in the future. U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who has long fought for federal funding and support for the estuary, was in full agreement.

“Since I got to Congress at the beginning of 2015, I’ve been watching all of you and your advocacy is why we’re here today,” Zeldin said.

The congressman addressed members of the crowd whose phone calls, emails, social media blasts and trips to Washington, D.C., he said served to mobilize elected officials around the importance of the Sound and its watershed and boost the funding of the Long Island Sound program to $8 million in May.

“I just want to say a huge thank you for what you do,” he said. “It’s your spirit and hard work that got us to this point. It’s important we’re making our impact right now. What will be our legacy in these years to ensure the water quality, quality of life, economy and environment of Long Island Sound is preserved and protected? Because of all of you, the legacy will be that in 2017, we all gathered to celebrate more than doubling the funding for [Long Island Sound].”

The LISFF was started in 2005 by the Long Island Sound Study and has since invested $17 million in 380 projects, giving way to the opening of 157 miles of rivers and streams for fish passage and restoring more than 1,000 acres of critical habitat, according to Amanda Bassow, the Northeast region director of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

This year’s grants will reach more than 870,000 residents through environmental and conservation education programs, and will be matched by $3.3 million from its recipients. In New York, the $1.05 million in grant funds will be matched with $2.58 million from the grantees, resulting in $3.63 million in community conservation.

One of the grantees, Mike Kaufman of Phillips Mill Pond Dam fish passage project in Smithtown, plans to restore the native migratory fish runs from Long Island Sound to the Nissequogue River for the first time in 300 years.

“This is the final piece of the puzzle,” Kaufman said of the grant. “It’s an incredible, historic opportunity. We’re reversing 300 years of habitat destruction and these grants enable us to engineer the restoration.”

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.”

By Kevin Redding

There’s no place like a historic home for the holidays.

On Sunday, Dec. 3, the Huntington Historical Society will host its 12th annual Historic Houses at the Holidays driving tour, giving residents the opportunity to explore five private historic homes and two house museums in the area from Huntington Village to Cold Spring Harbor.

Each stop on the self-guided tour will be decorated to the nines for the season; equipped with a volunteer from the historical society to answer any and all questions about the background of each location; and provide a firsthand glimpse at the original architectural styles and designs within these homes, which were built between the early 1800s and early 1900s. Visitors will be able to view bedrooms, living rooms, kitchens and even some attics of these colonial-style residences.

Approximately 300 to 400 people are expected to attend the event this year.

“The Holiday Historic Houses Tour is a real treat,” said Claudia Fortunato-Napolitano, executive director at Huntington Historical Society. “The houses on the tour are all decorated for Christmas and the refreshments are overwhelming. Come and enjoy a day out!”

The theme of this year’s tour is also the mantra of the historical society: Huntington Lives Here.

“Huntington’s history goes back to the mid-17th century and the people that came to live here were interested in building a meaningful town and leaving their imprint on it. This tour serves to highlight that,” said Toby Kissam, a trustee at the historical society and one of the tour’s chief researchers, whose ancestral home — the Dr. Daniel W. Kissam House Museum on Park Avenue — is among the afternoon’s seven stops. “Each year I find people that come on our tours know there’s going to be a great historical story with each house and I enjoy researching and telling that story. It’s always fun.”

Kissam said the oldest private home on the tour is also the one he’s most excited about: the 1820s-built Cold Spring Harbor birthplace of leading suffragette Ida Bunce Sammis, who organized the first women’s suffrage club in Suffolk County and became one of the first two women elected to the New York State Legislature in 1919. The home’s inclusion on this year’s tour correlates with the 100th anniversary of the passing of the constitutional amendment granting women the right to vote in the state of New York, Kissam added.

Also on full display is a house built in Huntington Harbor for a local sea captain in 1902; the grand 1914 Georgian-style home of New York City attorney-turned- Suffolk County representative in the New York State Assembly John J. Robinson, who was elected in 1912 and built his house on West Main Street in 1914; and a farm house constructed in the village in 1917 by Henry Willets of Dix Hills.

The most modern stop on the tour is a 1935-built summer estate in Greenlawn previously owned by a wealthy manufacturer named Walter Beh and his wife Margaret. Beh acquired the large, 110-acre property so he and his a wife, an equestrian, could raise and train horses there.

“Most of these were part-time residents, but they have contributed meaningfully to the town over years and has contributed to the place that Huntington holds today in Suffolk County and Long Island as one of the premiere towns in the region,” Kissam said.

The historical society-owned museums — both the Kissam House and the David Conklin Farm House, built in 1750 — will also be decorated for the tour. Visitors to the Kissam House will be treated to an exhibit entitled Promenade and Parasols, showcasing outfits and umbrellas from the 19th century and Victorian era, and the Conklin Barn will provide an array of refreshments from noon to 4 p.m.

Kissam, who is the great-great-great-grandson of Dr. Daniel Kissam, has naturally had a deep fascination with history his whole life, both general and Huntington-specific, and has occupied the role of genealogist in his family. This past summer, he and the rest of the Huntington Holiday House Tour Committee began their search and research of local private properties to feature.

“That’s always the challenge,” Kissam said on choosing homes to showcase during the tour. “We have to get people to agree, but we know of houses with a history and sometimes we just knock on doors and explain who we are and what we’d like to do. Usually we can talk people into it, particularly if they’re interested in what the history of their own house is. Once we run out of houses and can’t find houses maybe the tour has to stop, but we’ve been able to keep it going for the past 12 years.”

Historical society and committee member Patricia Ernst said the tours are beneficial to both those who take them and those who host them. “At the end of the day, everybody has such a good time,” she said. “The homeowners have a great afternoon having people exclaim over their houses, both the historical aspects of them and otherwise. The tour highlights these old houses and I think that’s a big draw for people who are deciding on what town they want to live in.”

Ernst continued, “Huntington has homes that have been here since the mid-1600s and that isn’t true in too many places. These houses are lovingly taken care of and are being guarded, and people in Huntington appreciate that.”

The Huntington Historical Society’s 2017 Holiday House Tour will be held on Sunday, Dec. 3 from noon to 4 p.m. Tickets are $40 for the general public and $35 for members. For more information or to order tickets, please call 631-427-7045, ext. 401 or visit www.huntingtonhistoricalsociety.org.

Photos courtesy of Huntington Historical Society

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Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

With the yearly rise in the number of Mount Sinai students who refuse to take standardized tests — in relation to a statewide movement against Common Core — district administrators have rolled out new ways to assess and strengthen learning skills. So far, three months into the school year, school leaders believe students are reaping the benefits.

“We’re doing things differently than we’ve ever done before,” said Mount Sinai Superintendent Gordon Brosdal during a Nov. 15 board of education meeting.

Brosdal said the district has implemented new literacy-based assessment programs to fill a great need to measure the academic abilities of elementary and middle school students. Since the 2012-13 school year, more and more students have opted out of the state’s English Language Arts and Math standardized exams, which are administered to evaluate those in grades three through eight, Brosdal said.

“I don’t necessarily agree with Common Core … but it’s important for kids to take the test because you get information out of them. What do we do to inform us about the kids who don’t take it? Or get more information on those that do?”

— Gordon Brosdal

“We went from a participation rate of 97 percent down to 40 percent,” he said, pointing to the uproar among members of the community over the adoption of Common Core as the main cause. Those against the tests criticize the pressures it places on students and teachers. “I don’t necessarily agree with Common Core … but it’s important for kids to take the test because you get information out of them. What do we do to inform us about the kids who don’t take it? Or get more information on those that do?”

Joined by district principals — Peter Pramataris of the middle school and Rob Catlin of the elementary school — Brosdal showcased the growth of students at both schools as a result of the newly implemented programs. Fountas & Pinnell, which started in September, gauges the reading and comprehension level of individual
students by having them read a book with their teacher three times a year. It’s a more relaxed form of testing that serves to measure a student’s progression throughout the year while also encouraging them to find the fun in reading.

When the student demonstrates overall reading ability and understanding of the text, he or she graduates to more challenging books. Books are organized into letter-based levels, “A” books being Dr. Suess and “Z” books being “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.”

In a demonstration of the district’s Columbia Writing Program, which was put in place three years ago as a
result of weakness in the subject across the elementary and middle schools, Pramataris compared a middle school student’s writing assignment from the second day of school to a writing assignment in October. As he pointed out, the second assignment was lengthier, and the student’s narrative skills were punchier.

Academic Intervention Services — help offered by the state at schools to help  students achieve the learning standards, monitors and helps those falling behind.

“We see weaknesses and we want to make them stronger and really work at it,” Brosdal said. “I believe our students have become better writers and readers and they will only get stronger. We’re going to see a lot of good things.”

Catlin, who was hired as principal of the elementary school over the summer, came to the district already well versed in the new programs and was determined to help initiate them.

“We’ve really developed a district wide action plan this year,” Catlin said. “The absence of meaningful assessment results required us to have meaningful in-house assessments. We can’t be in the dark about how a majority of our kids, who don’t take the state tests, are doing.”

The absence of meaningful assessment results required us to have meaningful in-house assessments. We can’t be in the dark about how a majority of our kids, who don’t take the state tests, are doing.”

— Rob Catlin

Catlin said in the first Fountas & Pinnell session performed by the district, teachers observed that 45 percent of students in lower elementary grades (first and second) performed at or above grade level. In the upper elementary grades (third and fourth) 22 percent of students performed at or above grade level.

“There are many reasons for this,” Catlin said. “As they say, data doesn’t answer questions, it just opens up questions and makes you think more about why things are happening.”

He explained that while students at these grade levels may have understood the books they were reading, they aren’t used to answering the high level of questions about it, and aren’t engaging in enough independent reading to practice these skills.

Now that teachers have that information about the student, they will be able to directly address their needs before the second session, which takes place in January. In the meantime, the elementary school librarian has started leveling books in the library and Scholastic money from the PTO, totaling $4,000, is being used to purchase more leveled books, Catlin said.

“Now we can use resources to really target their needs,” Catlin said. “And we’re able to see progress quickly, which is nice, and not have to wait until April when the state tests are taken.”

Deena Timo, executive director of educational services and another integral player in bringing the programs to the school, said of the state tests: “We’ve always viewed them as just a little snapshot in time and not the be all, end all to assess a child. It’s that, taken with a lot of things done in the classroom throughout the year that give you a good picture of a student.”

While Brosdal said he wishes more students took the Common Core tests in order to prepare for Regents exams once they reach the high school, he agreed.

“When you have to push the state stuff aside you ask, ‘Now what do we have to measure our kids?’” Brosdal said. “In the classroom, are we seeing growth? Are they engaged now where they weren’t earlier in the year? We are reacting to what we’re seeing, trying to put better things in place. I believe we’re heading in the right direction.”

Brianna Florio, on right, was honored by the Sound Beach Civic Association and president Bea Ruberto, on left, for her community involvement. Photo from Sound Beach Civic Association

A Sound Beach Girl Scout recently solidified the organization’s highest honor by helping children who live in a temporary shelter feel a little more at home.

Brianna Florio, an 18-year-old Sound Beach resident and a member of Rocky Point Girl Scout Troop 2945, has been working since last year to better the lives of 16 children who reside at Halo House in Sound Beach, a shelter for families in crisis.

While staffers within the home — which gets its funding from the Department of Social Services — do all they can to help the four families currently living under one roof get their cases under control, find employment and locate more permanent housing, helping young children adjust to their new environment is a constant challenge.

Brianna Florio will be receiving her Gold Award next month after working with children at Halo House in Sound Beach to paint a mural to make the place feel more like home. Photo from Brianna Florio

So when it came time to pick a community outreach project in summer 2016 to fulfill the requirements for her Gold Award, the Rocky Point High School graduate, who learned of the shelter from one of her troop leaders, set her sights on making it more kid-friendly.

“I knew this would be a good fit for her,” said Donna McCauley, her troop leader who first became aware of the Halo House through St. Louis de Montfort R.C. Church in Sound Beach. “Brianna is very dedicated, has a very generous spirit and is always ready to help anyone in need. It also gave her a way to express herself creatively, which she’s very good at.”

Florio utilized her artistic talent and painted a large mural on the wall in the shelter’s dining room depicting animals having a tea party, installed a bench to be placed in the property’s yard and hosted a toy and book drive at her high school. Through that event, Florio brought multiple boxes of donated entertainment for children of different ages to the Halo House — items that are sorely needed, according to shelter manager Joe Pellegrino.

“[Brianna] definitely helped bring the kids a sense of community within the neighborhood of Sound Beach,” he said, adding the children in the shelter were eager to be involved in her mural project. “The younger ones would wait for her to come, and when she got here, they would say, ‘Can you paint a snake? Can you put a hat and bowtie on it?’ It betters the children’s state of minds when they’re at the shelter, because they get a sense that it’s a home and not just a place they’re forced to live in.”

Pellegrino said the mural has become a center of pride in the home and is even used as an educational tool to teach the children about the different animals depicted.

“It really warmed my heart to see the kids and their smiling faces and just how excited they were about it,” Florio said of the mural. “It was really nice to see it all finished, because I didn’t think I was going to be able to do it.”

She will officially receive her Gold Award from the Girl Scouts of Suffolk County council in December.

Although it was an independent project for the Girl Scout, Florio was able to acquire paints and various supplies through local donations, like from Costello’s Ace Hardware of Rocky Point. She also received support from her school district, where she was a member of the Be a Nicer Neighbor Club, a group that cooked for the homeless and performed songs at senior citizen homes during the holidays.

“Brianna is very dedicated, has a very generous spirit and is always ready to help anyone in need. It also gave her a way to express herself creatively, which she’s very good at.”

—Donna McCauley

“I think if anybody is deserving of a Gold Award, it’s Brianna,” Rocky Point High School Principal Susann Crossan said. “What sets her apart from everybody else is she has a constant concern for other people. She’s been involved in so many activities within the high school that involve giving back. She was an extremely well-rounded and kind student.”

Florio’s project was also no surprise to Nancy Kloska, the director of an aftercare program for children at Mount Sinai Elementary School, where Florio currently serves as a mentor helping students with homework, playing games with them and leading fun activities.

“She’s warm, approachable, responsible and the kids really love interacting with her — Brianna always has a large group around her,” Kloska said. “I think she just brings out the best in the kids and is such a positive role model. I can’t say enough good things about Brianna. I think she’s wonderful.”

Florio was bestowed a certificate of appreciation by elected officials and community members for her Gold Award efforts during a Sound Beach Civic Association meeting Nov. 13. Civic president Bea Ruberto later said in an interview that Florio is a shining example of upstanding youth in the community.

“We were so proud to honor Brianna at our meeting — she’s very community-minded and is always there to help and give back,” said Ruberto, pointing out that Florio has helped with the civic’s pet adoption efforts and contributed a drawing in honor of the civic’s 40th anniversary. “We often hear about all the kids who behave badly and do this or that, and we really make an attempt in the civic to showcase the good kids. She’s a very fine young lady.”

Florio is currently pursuing a career in computer science and game programming as a freshman at Stony Brook University.

Classic car owners cruised into the parking lot at Brookhaven Town Hall last weekend to not only show off their collection of vintage hot rods, trucks and wacky automobiles, but their hearts, too.

At the town’s annual Charity Car and Motorcycle Show Nov. 12 — a partnership between the Brookhaven Youth Bureau and different classic car, truck and motorcycle clubs throughout Long Island — more than 300 vehicles of all shapes, makes and models were on display for residents in an effort to gather nonperishable food and unwrapped toy donations for families in need.

This year’s event raised 1,500 pounds of food, including canned soups, tuna and boxes of rice, which were transported by the town’s charity-based INTERFACE program to its Thanksgiving Food Drive, and will go directly to residents that need it most. By the end of the day, residents filled 25 big garbage bags with toys for children to open next month.

“This really helps allow people to have a very merry Christmas and a happy holiday,” said Sound Beach resident Dan Ryan, a member of the Long Island Chapter of the American Truck Historical Society, one of the event’s main groups that has helped collect donations since it first began about 12 years ago. “It’s just one day out of the year but it makes a big difference in people’s lives, especially kids. The crowds here are really caring people. They come out and give what they can.”

Maxine Kleedorfer, the event’s chairperson and a member of East End Olds Club, said of the day: “This is still so amazing to me. It’s Long Islanders giving to Long Islanders.”

Other organizations represented at the all-day free event were Long Island Moose Classic Car Club, the Long Island and New York City Oldsmobile Club and Long Island Street Rod Association, as well as independent car owners, who showcased everything from old Chevy Coupes to Lincoln Continentals to a 1981 Checker Taxi Cab.

Residents perusing the variety of wheels in the parking lot were treated to live music from local bands, free hot dogs and beverages, 50/50 raffle prizes and even a special visit from Santa Claus, who rolled up in an antique LaFrance Brockway Torpedo fire truck to meet with the kids and ask what they wanted for Christmas.

Adam Navarro, a vintage car collector from Centereach, said while he was happy to see so much generosity in the air that day, it didn’t surprise him all that much.

“One of the biggest things about car culture is that those involved are always giving back to the community,” Navarro said. “So you come out here, look at some great cars, sip hot chocolate, meet some friends and at the same time help out the community. You can’t get better than that.”

Joe Morgani from Mastic, who brought along his classic Corvette and several cans of soups and vegetables, called the event a win-win.

“The cars are amazing, we have the band and everything, and it all brings people together to help other people,” he said. “We need more charities like this. I love it.”

Sitting in front of a blue 1958 Chevy Bel Air was the car’s original owner, Lake Ronkonkoma’s Karl Krumsick. His wife Carol said he bought it when he got home from serving in the Korean War. The two went on their first date in the car and drove off in it after they got married.

“We come to this show every year because we love to donate to the needy,” Carol Krumsick said. “We brought a bunch of toys and canned goods. It’s wonderful here.”

Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco was honored for his impact surrounding gang violence and rehabilitation during Council For Unity’s annual Champions for Children Gala Nov. 9. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

In 2006, a year after he was elected Suffolk County sheriff, Vincent DeMarco took a huge risk. In an effort to reduce gang violence in the Riverhead correctional facility, DeMarco brought a seemingly ill-fated program into the jail where rival gang leaders and members — Bloods, Crips, MS-13, Latin Kings and Aryan Brotherhood — gather in a room to share stories, make peace and help one another escape a life of crime. In doing so, Riverhead became the first county jail in the nation to embrace Council for Unity, a nonprofit founded in Brooklyn in 1975 to keep gang activities out of schools and communities and replace a culture of despair with a culture of hope. The newly-appointed sheriff’s gamble quickly paid off.

Robert DeSena, Vincent DeMarco, Alex Bryan and Butch Langhorn were recognized for their work. Photo by Kevin Redding

In a matter of months, DeMarco and correctional facility members watched the entire jail system turn around, as inmates who came to the prison as enemies began to form friendships through their similar experiences. The men, many of whom are imprisoned for violent behavior and drug dealing, find careers after they’ve served their sentences thanks to job and education opportunities offered in the program.

Inmate population and the rate of recidivism at Riverhead are now at an all-time low and the jail serves as a model for other correctional facilities statewide. The Riverhead Police Department has since developed its own companion anti-gang program with the organization.

“DeMarco has changed the dynamic in that facility and has created hope for inmates who live without hope,” said Robert DeSena, president and founder of Council For Unity, who met with DeMarco and his staff to pitch the radical concept in February 2006. “He has a tremendous social conscience and his perception of incarcerated people is atypical. He saw they had the capacity to be reclaimed and he went with it.”

DeSena and others involved in the program, including ex-gang members, honored DeMarco for his significant impact surrounding these criminals’ rehabilitation during Council For Unity’s annual Champions for Children Gala at the Garden City Hotel Nov. 9.

“I had this smirk on my face as if to say to ‘this guy is nuts. You’re going to get Crips and everybody together Kumbaya-ing? That’s not happening here. But Sheriff DeMarco is somebody who’s willing to take a chance. And let me tell you, it was worth a chance. I love this man.”

— Butch Langhorn

The annual event aims to celebrate public figures on Long Island active in the reduction of gang violence in society. DeMarco, who has served as sheriff for 12 years and decided earlier this year he would not seek a fourth term, was on the short list of honorees alongside Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas and Council for Unity alumnus Dr. James Li.

He received a plaque referring to him as a visionary, reformer and humanitarian “for creating a climate of hope and possibility for the inmates in his charge.”

While introducing DeMarco to receive his honor, Butch Langhorn, assistant to the sheriff who oversees the Council For Unity sessions at the jail, recalled the first meeting he and DeMarco had with DeSena.

“While we were listening, I had this smirk on my face as if to say to ‘this guy is nuts,’” Langhorn said. “You’re going to get Crips and everybody together Kumbaya-ing? That’s not happening here. But Sheriff DeMarco is somebody who’s willing to take a chance. And let me tell you, it was worth a chance. I love this man.”

During his 2005 campaign, DeMarco advocated for more programs that aimed to work with inmates and provide opportunities to change their lives. This came in response to a New York State mandate at the time to build a new $300 million correctional facility in Suffolk as the county was pushing 1,800 to 2,000 inmates per day. He was determined to not only lower the population, but make sure the inmates were working toward a goal beyond bars.

“I thought, this is corrections and we’re supposed to correct their behavior,” DeMarco said at the podium. “The facility isn’t about warehousing people and just putting them back into the same situation they came from.”

Although he admitted being skeptical of the idea of intermingling gang members at first, fearing it would only lead to more violence, the sheriff said he left the meeting with DeSena fully on board.

Mario Bulluc, a former MS-13 gang member, went trough the Riverhead jail program and spoke during the gala. Photo by Kevin Redding

“He did this Jedi mind trick on me and I was spun around,” DeMarco said laughing. “I just kept thinking, ‘this could work, this could work.’ It was the right thing to do and we’ve come a long way. A couple people who went through the program are out now and they’re getting paychecks, they’re married. [The program] got them out of gang culture. That warms my heart and makes it all worthwhile for me. I know we’ve helped change people’s lives, so this is a big honor for me. You always seem to remember the first and last thing you did in a position and Bob was the first meeting I ever took and now there’s this. It’s a nice little cap off.”

Mario Bulluc, 22, who was an MS-13 leader when he was a student at Riverhead High School and now serves as an employee of the council, sought refuge in the program after countless close calls with death and time spent in the Riverhead jail. He now devotes his life to helping kids get out of gangs.

“Council For Unity saved my life — DeMarco and DeSena are the greatest men I’ve ever met,” said Bulluc, who joined the infamous gang when he was 14. “They try and get to the root of our problems and help us see we are the same people no matter our race, gang, or gang colors. If I can change, anybody can.”

Alex Bryant, a retired corrections officer at Riverhead and a Council For Unity advisor, said the council was put to the test in the correctional facility and has been proven to be life-changing. He pointed to DeMarco’s leadership as the reason for its success.

“I’ve been under several sheriffs in my 30-year tenure in the field,” Bryant said. “DeMarco is by far the best. He is progressive and eons ahead of most sheriffs across the state of New York.”

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