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Kevin Redding

A rendering of the proposed Country Pointe Woods development, if state approval is given to build in Smithtown. Photo from Beechwood Organization

By Kevin Reddin

The remains of a demolished hospital on the northwest corner of Routes 347 and 111 could soon become the site of Smithtown’s newest residential community for all ages.

A Jericho-based residential developer, the Beechwood Organization, has proposed plans to build Country Pointe Woods, a 69-unit condominium community on the property of the former Smithtown General Hospital. The hospital was shut down in 1999 and the land has been vacant since then. For more than a decade, various developers have eyed the abandoned lot — seen by some residents as an eyesore — as the potential site of their projects, but all plans up until Beechwood’s have fallen through.

The award-winning home builder’s proposal was approved by Smithtown Town Board at its July 12 meeting and is currently under review by the New York State Attorney General’s Office. If approved, the developer would construct villas and townhomes with a starting price tag of $600,000. The units within the community range in living space sizes from 1,395 square feet to more than 2,400 square feet. The site plan  also includes  a 1,500-square-foot clubhouse with a fitness center, lounge, outdoor pool, sun deck and gated entrance, as well as lawn maintenance and snow removal.

Of the 69 homes proposed, the plans call for 56 units,  or approximately 80 percent, to be age-restricted to buyers 55 and older. The remaining 13 units, or 20 percent, will be open to all ages, according to the developer.

If approved by the state, pre-construction sales will begin offsite at Country Pointe Huntington sales center in November with first occupancy slated for summer 2018.

“Country Pointe Woods in Smithtown gives those who are just starting, downsizing or working nearby the benefits of condominium living in a central North Shore location,” said Michael Dubb, CEO and founder of the Beechwood Organization, in a press release. “They will have brand new energy-efficient homes built to our signature quality construction with the amenities our buyers tell us they value the most.”

Smithtown Councilman Ed Wehrheim (R), who voted to approve Country Pointe Woods’ site plan application in July, said condominiums are needed in the town.

“Frankly, we have a fair number of homeowners that are emptynesters, whose
children have all grown up or gone to college [or are ] in the workforce,” Wehrheim said. “I get at least a couple calls a month asking me where they’re developing nice condos because they all want to sell their single-family home and move into them.”

During the town board’s meeting over the summer, it was discussed that the abandoned sewage treatment plant on the grounds of the former hospital had been removed and most of the site was cleared for development.

The application was approved under several standard conditions and requirements, such as building permits from the town and the installation of a fence along tree-clearing limits.

Residents on a closed Smithtown-oriented Facebook group were mixed on the proposal. While some applauded the development’s proposed location, others voiced concerns over it.

“Traffic was always an issue with either entrance to the hospital and I don’t see how it could be any better with condos,” said Lee Buxton Brooks, a former Smithtown General employee. “The intersection doesn’t need any more traffic because it can’t handle what it has now.”

But James Brako-McComb spoke in favor of the proposal.

“Higher density developments like these are the types of developments we need to keep millennials on the island,” Brako-McComb wrote.

Steve Gardella, too, spoke up for young adults who might occupy some of the condominiums.

“If you don’t want traffic — people who stimulate the economy and help make the town what it is — then continue to allow Smithtown to die and lose its citizens to towns that aren’t stuck in the 1950s,” Gardella said.

Susan Mahoney said the development’s demographic is crucial to the town’s survival.

“The older generation are people that you want to keep here since most of them will spend their money in restaurants, theaters, etc.” Mahoney said. “And it is better than that ugly lot.”

Melinda Murray, on left, and Karen Acompora, on right, who are the founders of Copiague-based Heart Screen New York, gave Shoreham-Wading River Girl Scout Jordan McClintock, at center, a $400,000 grant to help with her Gold Award project. Photo by Kevin Redding

A Shoreham-Wading River senior showed a lot of heart this past weekend by making sure her fellow students and community members got theirs checked out.

Jordan McClintock, a 17-year-old Girl Scout, saw the culmination of a two-year Gold Award project Saturday, Oct. 14, as Albert G. Prodell Middle School’s gymnasium became a mini medical center fully staffed with cardiologists, physicians and nurse practitioners from hospitals across the state, bringing with them life-saving equipment. The medical professionals provided more than 400 registrants — between the ages 12 and 25 — with free, all-day heart screenings in an effort to raise awareness about sudden cardiac arrest, the leading cause of death in young athletes.

A volunteer shows a girl how to use an AED machine. Photo by Kevin Redding

With help from a $400,000 grant by Copiague-based Heart Screen New York, McClintock’s event allowed students from Shoreham-Wading River and beyond to get thorough cardiovascular screenings, which included an electrocardiogram test, a blood pressure reading and final consultation with medical professionals. Pediatric cardiologists were available in case further testing was needed and students were given hands-only CPR and automatic external defibrillator training after their exams.

As heart screenings are not generally covered by health insurance, the event also made it possible for parents to evaluate a crucial component of their children’s health without spending up to $1,000 per exam.

“This is amazing,” said Maureen MacDowell, whose son, a cross country runner at the school, was screened Saturday. “It’s a huge deal that the girl who organized this did so. It’s definitely worth having.”

Marlene Baumeister, the mother of a football player, said other school districts should use the event as a model for their own heart screenings.

Tony Zajac, a Shoreham-Wading River parent and coach, called the program excellent.

“It’s very educational for these kids and more in-depth than I thought,” Zajac said. “It gives them feedback on their own heart health while teaching them how to potentially save somebody else’s life.”

Sudden cardiac arrests claim the lives of more than 2,000 people under 25 in the country every year, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, and yet they are not included in most routine physical exams or pre-participation sports physicals. One out of 100 students that attend a heart screening will discover an underlying heart condition.

“If I can save one life with early detection, my work for the past two years will have been all worth it.”

—Jordan McClintock

“If I can save one life with early detection, my work for the past two years will have been all worth it,” said McClintock, an aspiring pediatrician. “I’m really hoping it initiates some conversations among my peers and their families.”

The Girl Scout developed her project as a freshman after she got her own heart screening done at St. Francis Hospital in Roslyn, which was offered in partnership with Heart Screen New York, based on her family’s history of cardiac problems.

It was through the procedure, which she referred to as “painless” and “relieving,” that McClintock began her years-long correspondence with Karen Acompora, the co-founder of Heart Screen New York.

Acompora lost her 14-year-old son to a sudden cardiac arrest during a high school lacrosse game in 2000 after a ball struck his chest between heartbeats. She and Melinda Murray, a Queens-based mother whose son collapsed on a basketball court and died from an undetected heart condition, formed Heart Screen New York together as a way to detect heart trouble in local youths and prevent as many deaths as possible.

Heart Screen New York hosts only two screenings per year due to the expenses and resources needed for each one.

“I thought it was an amazing program and would be great if I could bring it to Shoreham,” McClintock said. “Out here we’ve never really had anything like this that’s free and promotes cardiovascular health in student-athletes and the community in general. I was very inspired by Karen’s story.”

McClintock’s perseverance paid off, literally, early last year when Heart Screen New York representatives informed her Shoreham-Wading River would be the site of their October 2017 screening.

A young boy is shown how to perform CPR. Photo by Kevin Redding

“I think the screening is certainly opening a lot of eyes in the Shoreham community and Jordan’s done such a nice job of advertising and promoting the event,” Acompora said. A founder of another group called the Louis J. Acompora Memorial Foundation, in memory of her son, the Northport mother hopes heart screenings will eventually become a mandatory part of physicals. In fact, she and Murray have been pushing legislation for years to make electrocardiograms part of student-athlete’s preparticipation screening process.

“There’s a lack of knowledge on the part of individuals who feel it’s too costly to do heart screenings, but how do you put a price tag on life?” said Murray, whose 17-year-old son Dominic died in 2009, exactly three years after his father died from a massive heart attack. “We’re really proud of Jordan. It’s having a great impact at the school and is really spreading the awareness of the importance of heart screenings.”

Among the volunteers at the event was Shoreham senior and baseball player Jack Crowley, who, two years ago, at 15 years old, was declared medically dead after a line drive hit him in the chest. Crowley’s heart stopped and he was unable to breathe. He was brought back to life from the shock of an automatic external defibrillator — which Heart Screen New York had pushed to make available in as many locations as possible.

“They’re the reason I’m here,” Crowley said. “Get a heart screening. It’s so much better than learning the hard way that you have an issue.”

Senior volleyball player Lindsay Deegan said of the screening: “This is something I never would’ve thought of doing this before, so it’s cool to know what’s going on.”

McClintock is expected to receive her Gold Award during a ceremony in Spring 2018.

“Girl Scouts pledge to help people at all times, and Jordan’s stellar work truly exemplifies that promise,” said Yvonne Grant, President and CEO for Girl Scouts of Suffolk County. “Jordan’s Gold Award project is an inspiring and extraordinary way to bring awareness.”

Northport High School has replaced its wood bleachers, pictured above at a prior homecoming celebration. File photo

By Kevin Redding

The Northport-East Northport Tigers’ challenges this football season have given them a whole new perspective on why there’s no place like home.

On Saturday, Oct. 14, Northport-East Northport’s varsity football team will celebrate homecoming by stepping onto their own field for the first time this season after a recent announcement that the district has completed its thorough and long-proposed bleacher repairs.

The process of replacing the football field’s deteriorated wooden bleachers with new metal bleachers officially began in late August and ended Monday, Oct. 9. This was a period of frustration and uncertainty for many parents and players within the district as it forced the Northport Tigers to go to other fields for the first two home games of the 2017 season.

The team’s first home game in September was moved to Elwood-John H. Glenn High School. Their Oct. 1 game was relocated to Half Hollow Hills High School East’s field.

Northport High School. File photo

The new structures passed inspection with Texas-based LandTech Inc. at the helm of construction. Total cost for the project was more than $1 million, which came from the district’s general fund as well as state aid, according to school officials.   

“We’re going to be back on course for homecoming Saturday,” Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer said.

A former football player himself, Banzer claimed the stadium had the same wooden bleachers when he was there in the early 1980s. The upgraded bleachers are far less dangerous and were built in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“I’m excited to have everybody see the work but, most importantly, to be at home,” he said. “It’s always a very fun time.”

Banzer and the school board initially approved the bleacher repairs in the 2015-16 budget, along with a variety of infrastructure projects throughout the district. But the construction couldn’t move forward on it right away as it faced a lengthy state approvals process.

The first opportunity the school district could seize to begin repairs was in late spring of this year prior to
graduation ceremonies. Banzer said he didn’t want to risk the job not being done in time for a large event. By the time the district hired LandTech to build the bleachers, the construction company was booked for most of the summer and couldn’t begin the project until a couple weeks into August.

School officials projected the bleachers would be finished by the team’s second home game, but as that proved to be overambitious, the community grew increasingly anxious that the job wouldn’t be done in time for homecoming. Some residents made sure their voices were heard.

“It’s a disgraceful, embarrassing, hurtful situation that in my opinion could’ve been avoided,” Mike Gozelski, president of the Northport Football Booster Club, said during the Sept. 28 board of education meeting. “We’re halfway through the season and the athletes, marching band, cheerleaders and the community have yet to set foot on our home field. It’s heartbreaking for most of us. Part of our anger comes from the fact that work on the bleachers didn’t start until August with football season starting in September. It’s negligent.”

Gozelski, a former Tiger, said for many seniors on the team, including his son, this season is the last chance they had to show their school pride in the stadium.

A previous Northport running back rushes across the football field. File photo by Bill Landon

“These kids practice for two hours a day and work hard 12 months a year to be able to play on this field,” he said. “You have to understand how disappointing this is for them.”

Banzer responded, explaining the school’s side of the situation to Gozelski, as well as about a dozen parents and football players in uniform in the room.

“I know it’s disappointing,” the superintendent said. “But we also wanted to make sure we provided the best product going forward. We just want the job to be done right.”

At the end of the exchange, the board said it was hopeful the bleachers would be ready to go for the district’s pep rally Oct. 13 and Oct. 14 homecoming.

Gozelski said he received the good news from the school’s athletic department on Monday morning.

“Now we’re going to be out there and opening up a brand new, refurbished Tigers stadium,” Gozelski said. “The players get to play, the band gets to play, the cheerleaders get to cheer and the community gets to see a good football game … and hopefully a victory.”

Gina Macchia-Gerdvil, a mother of two students on the team and a member of the Booster Club, was equally upset over the situation, believing the district should have replaced the bleachers after the football
season was over. She said up until Monday’s announcement, nobody was certain if homecoming would take place at home.

“I’m excited for all the kids,” Macchia-Gerdvil said. “My boys are in their second year on varsity and they haven’t had a chance yet to step into their stadium and see the big crowd and all the festivities.”

Stony Brook University students grab a cup of coffee with campus police officers during Coffee with a Cop Oct. 4. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Instead of handing out tickets, officers at Stony Brook University were handing out free food.

Stony Brook University police officers and students mingled over pastries and coffee on campus Oct. 4 as part of a nationwide effort to better connect officers with the citizens they serve.

Half a dozen members of the university’s police department spoke with passing students as well as faculty outside the Student Activities Center on a number of topics, from current events to police training to food, during the college’s second “Coffee with a Cop,” an initiative that began in 2011 in Hawthorne, California and was adopted by local districts last year.

Community relations team Officer Joseph Bica answers a student’s questions. Photo by Kevin Redding

“This is a great way for students to get to know a police officer as an individual,” Eric Olsen, assistant chief of police at Stony Brook University said. “The media largely groups cops as one thing and it sort of dehumanizes them. We think this is a great concept.”

Community relations Officer Jared King, a former patrol officer who regularly pulled people over and made arrests, said he was excited to show off a more down-to-earth side to the police force.

“Nobody really knows the nice side of police work, which is interacting positively with people during the day, walking the beat, meeting and talking with people,” King said. “Here, we get to meet everyone during the day and talk about what’s going on on campus, address their questions, whatever they bring to the table.”

Jhinelle Walker, an anthropology major in her second year, made the rounds to each officer and asked several questions, even asking about their uniform colors. She commended the event for “bridging a gap.”

A student and Stony Brook University campus officer have a discussion during Coffee with a Cop. Photo by Kevin Redding

“I think this is a wonderful idea because often there’s a miscommunication that comes between people in the community and police officers,” Walker said. “We have to understand they’re regular people with lives. Here, students get to know who they are, what they do and can clear up misconceptions.”

A mechanical engineering major, Sagardeep Singh, said, “It’s good to get to know the cops better. They’re just trying to do their job and want to get familiarized with us students.”

Patrick Bazemore, another officer, fielded questions about recent national events and how he became an officer.

“I love dealing with people,” Bazemore said. “Everything is about communication and interaction. That’s how you move forward in life.”

This event is far from the department’s only outreach to the campus community,Olsen said. Officers regularly take part in a game night with the students and hold a one-credit citizen’s police academy, a course designed to provide insight into the daily functions and responsibilities of law enforcement personnel.

“It’s great to know how the students think of our cops,” Olsen said. “We always need to get input from people to know if we need to improve or change. And it’s a pleasure to do this style of policing.”

Nico's Way serves as reminder of child's character

Vincent Sr. and Kim Signore embrace one another while their son Vincent Jr. speaks during the street-renaming ceremony. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

After her son was fatally struck by an SUV earlier this year, Kim Signore of Miller Place feared 14-year-old Nico would be forgotten. But a new street sign on the block where the budding lacrosse star grew up will help preserve his memory forever.

The Signores huddled together alongside family, friends and elected officials Oct. 6 during an unveiling of the sign labeled Nico’s Way. The dedication was done on the corner of Miller Place Road and Islander Court in Miller Place for the boy who died riding his bike on a busy intersection on Route 25A in February. The street sign, which stands only a few houses down from the Signore residence, was installed by the Town of Brookhaven at the request of members of the family.

“This block is where it all began for Nico,” the boy’s older brother, Vincent Jr., said before the unveiling. “Nico left us too soon, but in the little time he was here on this Earth he taught us how to live life to the fullest. He will never be forgotten. We hope that this street serves as a compass when you are lost and can’t find your way.”

Nico Signore’s Miller Place lacrosse teammates attend the ceremony to pay their respects and remember their fallen friend. Photo by Kevin Redding

Kathleen Perry, a longtime friend of the Signore family, agrees the dedication is a wonderful way to help Nico live on.

“Nico just lit up this block,” Perry said, remembering the 14-year-old as the most kindhearted boy she’d met. “I think this is a great thing for the town to do.”

Nico’s aunt, Mary Alipo, said although the family will never be the same after the tragedy, townwide support is helping with the healing process.

“He was such an amazing individual and to see this many people who cared about him coming forward and serving as a support group is just incredible,” Alipo said.

Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) commended the Miller Place community for rallying around the Signores in their time of need.

“Thank you for opening your hearts and your arms to the Signores — I know you will forever keep Nico’s memory in your embrace,” Bonner said to the large crowd, including Miller Place school district faculty, members of Nico’s lacrosse team and neighbors, as well as Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro (R). “You have all been there to prop them up, hug them when they needed it and dry their tears. This is a wonderful community.”

Kim and Vincent Sr. Signore unveil the new Nico’s Way sign in memory of their son. Photo by Kevin Redding

An emotional Kim Signore held back tears as she thanked everyone in attendance.

“You guys are amazing,” she said.

Upon losing Nico, the mother’s greatest fear was that, over time, her son’s legacy would disappear.

“This is a way to always remember him because he was such a good kid — a beautiful boy inside and out,” she said. She laughed recalling the impromptu dance sessions to Frank Sinatra songs that Nico often initiated. “He would come downstairs in his lacrosse shorts, and no shirt and say, ‘Let’s dance, ma.’ He was a good boy. He loved this community. He loved everybody.”

The idea for a street sign initially came from Kim and Vincent, Nico’s father, and was carried through by Nico’s aunt and uncle, Kelly and Charles Butruch, who were in contact with Romaine and Bonner for most of the year. As Brookhaven policy requires a six-month window between a person’s death and public memorialization, a resolution for Nico’s Way was approved at the end of August.

Vincent Signore hopes that the sign will serve as not only a memorialization of his son but as a reminder to drivers to be more careful.

“I would like for people to be more aware of their surroundings when they’re driving and not be distracted,” he said.

Since Nico’s death at the intersection of Miller Place Road and Route 25A, there have been significant changes to the location to ensure better safety for pedestrians and drivers alike.

Sophia, Vincent Jr., Vincent Sr. and Kim Signore are overwhelmed with emotion recalling memories of their brother and son Nico Signore during a street-renaming ceremony in Miller Place. Photo by Kevin Redding

Around what would have been Nico’s 15th birthday in April, the road saw the implementation of a red left-turn signal to stop cars from entering the crosswalk when pedestrians and bicyclists are given the go-ahead to get to the other side. No turn on red signs were also added.

“It’s bittersweet,” Kelly Butruch said. “A year ago, did I think we would be here today? No, and I wish we didn’t have to be, but it’s the best way to memorialize him.”

Michael Lombardi, a Miller Place 10th grader
and lacrosse player, remembers his friend as an amazing person on and off the field.

A scholarship fund for Miller Place seniors who show exemplary spirit, courage and love of community was given out to two students this past May. The family intends to continue the fund throughout the future.

As the Signores and community members gathered under the sign, they shared stories of the highly regarded student-athlete.

“Nico was astounding,” Lombardi said. “He had a great personality — he was funny. He was always nice to everybody and a great player. Whenever we needed a goalie, he stepped up. He’s greatly missed.”

Another of Nico’s former teammates, Kevin Thompson, said his friend will never be forgotten.

“Whenever you pass the sign here and look at it, we’ll think of him,” he said.

From left, Steve Healy (as Henry Smith Mount) and Steve Hintze (as William Sidney Mount) at last year’s Spirits Tour. Photo by Heidi Sutton

For the past 23 years, as the air gets chilly and colorful leaves decorate the ground, the Three Village Historical Society ushers in the spooky month of October with its annual Spirits Tour, a night of treks through local historic cemeteries guided by local historic figures. This year’s event, whose theme is The Spirits of Prohibition: Setauket of the Roaring 20s, will take place Saturday, Oct. 21, at the Setauket Presbyterian Cemetery, 5 Caroline Ave., and Carolina Church Cemetery, 1 Dyke Road in Setauket. The evening promises a rip-roaring night of jazz, artifacts and more for all guys and dolls in attendance.

The 2015 Spirits Tour focused on Culper Spies. Photo by Heidi Sutton

Building on the themes of the historical society’s Prohibition Night fundraiser last month, this year’s Spirits Tour is a 1920s-set event exploring what it was like to live in Setauket in the decade that saw the rise of the women’s suffrage movement, gangsters and flappers, and, of course, illegal speakeasies and alcohol bootleggers. Fourteen actors, decked out in period-perfect costumes courtesy of Antiques Costume & Prop Rental by Nan Guzzetta, will portray local figures from the past such as Annie Rensselaer Tinker, a prominent suffragette who had a summer cottage in Poquott, George Vingut, whose barn was used to bootleg liquor, Ward Melville, who famously redeveloped Stony Brook Village, and many more.

This year’s 2-hour tour will be a multisensational event, according to director Brian Cea, including period exhibits previously displayed at the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook, like Ford Model T cars, antique bottles, a live jazz band and even silent films projected on the side of the churches. Prohibition-era food and drinks will also be offered for sale.

“It’s not just going to be walking around in a circle listening to spirits,” Cea said. “It will entail smelling, feeling and tasting the era. I wanted to help bring this subject to life.”

Brian Cea as Benedict Arnold during the 2015 Spirits Tour. Photo by Heidi Sutton

Cea, who has been involved in the Spirits Tour for the past eight years, got the idea for the Prohibition-era concept when he was giving a private historic house tour on Bennetts Street in East Setauket once owned by a judge with ties to a tavern owner on Wall Street in New York City in the 1920s. Old whiskey bottles dating back to that time were eventually found underneath the flooring.

“We believe this guy was holding liquor that was being transported from over the Sound into Long Island and brought into the city,” Cea said. “I then found out bootlegging was very prosperous here on Long Island with illegal gin mills around our area and I thought, ‘Let’s look into that.’”

TVHS President Stephen Healy said he’s excited for a walk through that unexplored aspect of Long Island history. “A lot of times you see the bootlegging arrests that took place in the city, but you don’t see where the product was made and where it came from,” Healy said, explaining the local farmers grew the key ingredient in alcohol: potatoes. “It’s fascinating how people would get alcohol. They would smuggle it in coffins and rum-running boats. We were a pretty good source [for the alcohol].”

Historical society trustee Frank Turano returned to write the script for the event, a process that took up a majority of the summer due to the massive amounts of research. “In town, around Prohibition, there were bootleggers, there were people storing booze, people making moonshine — a representation of all things,” he said. “Each year we try to do something different and we’d never done that era before, so we took advantage.”

The Cast

Kate Wheeler Strong (Donna Smith)

Ellsworth Buckingham (Steve Healy)

Eversley Childs (Max Golub)

Harry Golden (Mort Rosen)

Celia Hawkins (Karin Lynch)

Ward Melville (Michael O’Dwyer)

Robert Cushman Murphy (Art Billadello)

Sarry Ann Sells (Bonnie Duvall)

Etta Sherry (Holly Griesel)

Eugenio Goncalves de Teixeira (Michael Tessler)

Annie Rensselaer Tinker (Stephanie Carsten)

William Bryant (George Overin)

George Vingut (Robert Ogden)

Roaming Cop (Brian Cea)

The Three Village Historical Society will present its 23rd annual Spirits Tour on Saturday, Oct. 21 from 5 to 9 p.m. Rain date is Oct. 28. Tours, which begin at the Setauket Presbyterian Church parking lot at 5 p.m., leave every 15 minutes and can last from 1½ to 2 hours each. Last tour starts at 7:45 p.m. Participants are asked to arrive 15 minutes prior to your tour’s departure, to dress warmly, wear comfortable shoes and bring a flashlight and umbrella.Tickets in advance are $18 adults, $15 members; $10 children under 12, $8 members. Tickets at the door are $25 adults, $20 members; $12 children under 12, $10 members. For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.

From left, Leg. Kara Hahn and Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant check out the selection of books in the new Little Free Library at Rocketship Park with a young reader. Photo by Kevin Redding

‘Today a reader, tomorrow a leader’ — Margaret Fuller

By Kevin Redding

Port Jefferson’s newest minilibrary has liftoff at Rocketship Park. In a partnership between the Port Jefferson Free Library and the village board, a Little Free Library was recently installed at the family-friendly park, where adults, teens and children alike can reach into the purple-painted wooden box to pick up or drop off a wide array of books. An official ribbon cutting was held last Thursday, Sept. 28.

The library, shaped like a tiny schoolhouse and currently stocked with children’s titles like “A Series of Unfortunate Events” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” was built from a kit and installed by Stonegate Landscape. It stands as Port Jefferson Free Library’s second book exchange program, with the other unveiled in front of the William Miller House on North Country Road in Miller Place last month.

From left, PJFL Director Tom Donlon, Leg. Kara Hahn, Mayor Margot Garant and Chris Graf, president, Stonegate Landscape in East Setauket. Photo by Kevin Redding

Director of Port Jefferson Free Library Tom Donlon led elected officials, including Mayor Margot Garant and Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), in a ribbon-cutting ceremony for what the mayor called a fantastic addition to the town.

“I’m so happy that we can provide some reading for our young children because I think reading a book goes a long way to helping educate them and bring them into the world,” Garant said with giant scissors in hand. “[It’ll make for] a true sense of community, and that’s what makes our village great.”

Donlon said when the park reopened in June, he and the library’s board members knew it was a perfect spot for book-sharing for all ages. “We have families that come here and while the kids are running around, mom or dad or the adult with them might want something to read,” he said. “Giving back to the community is our goal. And you never know what you’re going to find in there … and what adventures await.”

Rocketship Park is located in the Village of Port Jefferson on Maple Place between Mill Creek Road and Barnum Avenue, across from the tennis courts. For more information, call 631-473-0022.

Miller Place AP English Literature teacher Brian Sztabnik was a finalist for New York state's Teacher of the Year award. Photo from Miller Place school district

It’s easy to pick out Brian Sztabnik among the students and staff at Miller Place High School. The 6-foot, 8-inch English teacher and boys varsity basketball coach is a towering figure not just physically, but as a molder of minds in and out of the classroom, serving as a role model for students and faculty in the district for the past 10 years. And New York state recently took notice.

Sztabnik, 39, who has taught AP English Literature and Composition and English 12 at the high school since 2007, was the runner-up for 2018 New York State Teacher of the Year. The award, issued by Albany-based New York State United Teachers union through a lengthy application process, honors exemplary educators who go above and beyond what’s expected of them.

Miller Place High School Principal Kevin Slavin, Superintendent Marianne Cartisano and Nancy Sanders, president of the Miller Place teacher’s association, present Brian Sztabnik with an award for his second-place finish for state teacher of the year. Photo by Kevin Redding

As a College Board advisor for AP English Literature; a speaker on behalf of English education on the state and national levels; the creator of  “Talks with Teachers,” a top iTunes podcast aimed at inspiring teachers; a published author and the person school administrators turn to for advice, it makes sense why Sztabnik was chosen as one of five finalists out of hundreds in the running.

“Brian is a once-in-a-career type of teacher,” said Kevin Slavin, Miller Place High School principal, before presenting Sztabnik with a certificate for his achievements during the Sept. 27 board of education meeting. Slavin, alongside dean of students Diana Tufaro, nominated Sztabnik for the award last October. “He’s somebody that sees things in a way I could never envision myself. The impact he has on a daily basis is tremendous. Our librarian said it best — when you walk into his classroom, ‘students are invited to learn, not expected to learn.’ We are beyond lucky to have him.”

Slavin said, as protocol during the application process, two previous recipients of the state award observed Sztabnik in the classroom. In May, the pair paid a visit to Miller Place and were impressed to say the least, the principal said.

“The New York state guys said they had never seen a classroom like that — they were in absolute awe,” Slavin said.

Sztabnik consistently provides innovative and immersive curriculum for students, such as “wacky Wednesdays,” a weekly experimental approach to lessons, “Shakespearean musical chairs” and competitive trivia games revolving around novels, poems and works studied in the class.

“School shouldn’t just be sitting at a desk listening to someone talk. It should be about students interacting, moving around and working together to create a unified body of knowledge.”

— Brian Sztabnik

“School shouldn’t just be sitting at a desk listening to someone talk,” Sztabnik said. “It should be about students interacting, moving around and working together to create a unified body of knowledge.”

His wife, Jessica, a fellow English teacher, said she’s pleasantly surprised by his recognition, but not too surprised.

“He works very hard and is such a creative person, so that translates in the classroom,” she said. “He also found a district that really supports him and allows him to use that creativity. Miller Place has been great to Brian.”

Sztabnik, who grew up in Mastic and graduated from William Floyd High School in 1996, has been teaching English, as well as creative writing and public speaking, for 13 years. His career in education began at the Frederick Douglass Academy in West Harlem in a classroom overlooking the original Yankee Stadium, where he taught sixth- and seventh-graders and coached basketball. He then spent a year each at St. John the Baptist Diocesan High School in West Islip and Islip School District before settling in at Miller Place.

After receiving his undergraduate degree in communications from New York University and pursuing a career in journalism for two years, Sztabnik was inspired by his wife to get his master’s degree in English education from Stony Brook University in 2002.

While he is grateful for any accolade he gets, Sztabnik said he first and foremost teaches to make a difference in young people’s lives.

“I love being in the classroom and having that interaction with the students,” Sztabnik said. “I’m just fascinated by how they think and I constantly want to hear how they think. I think that’s what makes English so cool — everyone can have an opinion and as long as they can back it up from the text we can have really varied and diverse discussions from which we can learn about each other.”

Brian Sztabnik reads to his son. Photo from Brian Sztabnik’s website

Part of his goal in the classroom is to push students to think critically, a skill he said transfers beyond English.

“It’s such an important skill in life,” he said. “I want them to notice the small things and be equipped to respond to those things. If you put learning in the foreground, the grades take care of themselves, but the opposite is not always true.”

Jake Angelo, a senior in Sztabnik’s AP Literature class, said his teacher encourages students to learn and take action.

“He doesn’t prepare us; he teaches us how to prepare ourselves for the future,” Angelo said, saying something like studying Shakespeare’s play “The Merchant of Venice” becomes a theatrical production under Sztabnik’s tutelage. “He had us act out the play, giving us props while teaching the impact of every symbol and character. He makes it interesting.”

Former AP student Brianne Ledda, who graduated last year and attends Stony Brook University, said Sztabnik deserves all the recognition he gets.

“His teaching style depended very much on student interaction and the class was always engaged and active,” Ledda said. “I appreciated that he valued our input as students, and I loved that we were given more freedom of choice in our reading.”

At the end of the board meeting, Slavin joked that sooner or later, “Somebody in the larger state is going to steal Mr. Sztabnik away from us,” so Miller Place needed to get as much out of him as it could as long as he’s there.

Sztabnik’s response sent a sigh of relief over the room.

“I’m not going anywhere,” he said with a smile. “I think, and this is also true of Miller Place, the best is still yet to come.”

Longtime Shoreham-Wading River High School cross country and track and field coaches Bob Syzmanski and Paul Koretzki were named state coaches of the year. Photo from Shoreham-Wading River school district

Bob Szymanski and Paul Koretzki are used to winning together. With a combined 72 years and more than 100 seasons as cross-country, winter track and spring track and field coaches at Shoreham-Wading River High School, the dynamic duo has steered four decades of Wildcats toward victories and scholarships, and put the district on the map with a consistent winning record.

It’s no surprise the two veteran coaches — Szymanski, 70, the boys cross-country coach and Koretzki, 77, the girls cross-country coach — were recently recognized as coaches of the year by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association. While they take different approaches to the job, with Koretzki as a hard-nosed, numbers-based wiz and Szymanski cracking jokes and belting out Bobby Darin songs during practice, the pair work best together.

Bob Syzmanski. Photo from Shoreham-Wading River school district

“I like to call them Abbott and Costello,” said Mark Passamonte, the school’s athletic director, during the district’s Sept. 12 board of education meeting. The coaches were recognized by board members for their accolade, which measured their number of years coaching, career records and status as positive role models within the school and community. They are now eligible for national coach of the year awards.

“I’ve worked with both of these gentlemen for the last four years and they are outstanding,” Passamonte said. “They bring such wisdom and great humor to the cross-country program.”

Koretzki and Szymanski joined forces this past winter and spring as head coach and assistant coach, respectively, and, as a result, the girls 4×1-mile relay team took home the national title for both seasons. The boys fall team, so far, under Szymanski’s leadership, boasts a 5-0 record, triumphant against Sayville and Mount Sinai at recent meets.

Koretzki started coaching girls cross-country at the school in 1980 and suggested to the district it hire Szymanski, who had coached in the Center Moriches and Amityville schools, a year later when a job opened for the boys team. The two have not had a single argument since they met in the 1970s.

“The only thing I have against Bobby is he beat me in a race once in 1976,” Koretzki joked at the podium before thanking the board. “It’s a very nice honor and not the kind of thing we expected.”

During an interview, Szymanski said of his career alongside Koretzki, “We’re meant to do this job together for some reason. We work so well, he and I. He can cover me and I can cover for him. Paul is one of the most organized guys, he’s tremendous.”

“If you make practice tougher than meets, then they’re not afraid when it comes to competing.”

— Bob Syzmanski

In terms of their coaching strategies, the pair said not much has changed over the years.

Szymanski, who broke running records in high school and was cross-country captain at what is now Emporia State University in Kansas, pointed to techniques he learned from his own coaches, including middle-distance legend John Camien, as his foundation. Among his go-to workouts is one that “breaks the pain barrier.”

“Running is 50 percent physical and 50 percent mental,” he said. “When you run, and you feel discomfort, that’s when some people quit. You have to make the kids break that pain barrier in practice. If you make practice tougher than meets, then they’re not afraid when it comes to
competing at meets.”

He speaks highly of his runners, and said the best members on the team are often those who join merely to get in shape for other sports like lacrosse and football. Many of them end up with college scholarships, such as Bobby Andrews, a baseball player who joined the team in his freshman year in 2006 and was captain by senior year. He got a full ride to North Carolina State University, for which he has Szymanski to thank.

Paul Koretzki. File photo

“Without him, I never would have ran,” Andrews said. “He’s a great motivator. There’s something about him that just makes you want to perform your best. I had a great group of teammates around and we all felt the same way about him.”

Andrews and his teammates were also one of many packs of high schoolers over the years who have been introduced to the sounds of Bobby Darin through the coach, who considers himself a lifelong fanatic of the “Beyond the Sea” singer.

“In my lifetime, I must’ve given away over 50 Bobby Darin CD’s as I buy them as gifts for people,” Szymanski said with glee. He saw Darin in concert numerous times, has his fair share of signed albums and was even featured in a Biography Channel special on the singer. “When I’m in my car, going to school or a meet, I’m listening to Darin.”

Spending most of his career teaching math, in the Brentwood school district and at Suffolk County Community College, Koretzki didn’t start running until he was 33, encouraged by a friend of his who ran in a marathon.

“What I love most about the job are the kids,” Koretzki said. “Especially the ones who really dedicate themselves and see great improvement. Just seeing their faces or when they give a thumbs up after a race, that’s really nice.”

“What I love most about the job are the kids. Especially the ones who dedicate themselves.”

— Paul Koretzki

As a coach, he said he’s been running the same drills for 38 years. He’s been described as “very direct” and not one to sugarcoat a bad performance, as a way to help his runners better themselves. Alexandra Hays, an All-American who was among the national champions this past winter and spring, and currently runs at Columbia University, said she was able to achieve so much because of his tutelage.

She said her coach “pushed us to strive to exceed his expectations,” recalling a particular interaction after the team won the 4×1-mile in the nationals.

“He came up to me and told me how proud he was of us and he knew we would be able to pull off what we had because of how hard we’d worked in our practices,” said Hays, considering it his most meaningful post-race talk because it was her last. “He doesn’t give meaningless compliments or false reassurance, so to hear this after five years running for him was the best way to end my high school career.”

While Szymanski said he would like to retire after 50 years as a public high school coach, with 48 under his belt at this point, Koretzki doesn’t plan on leaving anytime soon.

“I have nothing else to do,” Koretzki said with a laugh. “I’m not interested in soap operas so I might as well keep going.”

Tree decorated in honor of national Breast Cancer Awareness month

Sound Beach resident Patti Kozlowski, founder of the nonprofit North Shore Neighbors Breast Cancer Coalition, places a flag with her friend Camille's name under the Pink Tree for Hope at Mount Sinai's Heritage Park. Photo by Kevin Redding

Throughout October, a tree at Heritage Park in Mount Sinai will be pretty in pink in celebration of national Breast Cancer Awareness month.

Up to 5,000 lights on the Pink Tree for Hope, which sits in front of the Heritage Center on Mount Sinai-Coram Road and overlooks the park, burned bright during a ceremony Oct. 4 held by Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) and the nonprofit North Shore Neighbors Breast Cancer Coalition.

The Pink Tree for Hope glows pink at Heritage Park in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month. Photo by Kevin Redding

The glowing tree will serve as a reminder to passersby of the importance of breast cancer prevention by way of early detection screenings and education. The names of local breast cancer survivors and those who lost their lives to the disease are displayed on little flags around the tree.

“There’s not one person I know that has not been affected by breast cancer in one way or another,” said Anker, whose grandmother passed away after a long fight with the disease. “I am honored to partner with the North Shore Neighbors Breast Cancer Coalition to raise awareness about the prevalence of breast cancer, honor our loved ones lost to breast cancer, and support survivors across Long Island.”

Anker encouraged residents to work together and support groups like the coalition to help find a cure for breast cancer. The North Shore Neighbors Breast Cancer Coalition, founded in 2001 by Sound Beach resident Patti Kozlowski, is a grassroots organization that raises funds to provide non-medical or support services for local families fighting breast, gynecological and other forms of cancer. If someone is out of work for a number of weeks during and after breast cancer treatment, it can be devastating financially, Kozlowski said.

“We need to help raise awareness and hopefully help people understand the magnitude of what we’re dealing with,” said Kozlowski, who will be collecting donations to support the nonprofit’s mission at the park throughout the month. “Treatment is incredibly important.”

Darlene Rastelli, assistant director at the Carol M. Baldwin Breast Care Center at Stony Brook Medicine, set up at a table during the ceremony to spread the word that “early detection is the best prevention.”

A flag placed in honor of a man’s wife, a breast cancer survivor, sits under the Pink Tree for Hope at Heritage Park. Photo by Kevin Redding

The American College of Radiology, Rastelli said, recommends women over the age of 40 have a breast screening once a year.

“It’s so important to screen not only in October, but throughout the year,” she said. “Breast cancer is not a death sentence anymore. If you get your screenings done early enough, it can be managed early and you can survive.”

Miller Place resident Felicia Lopez said she was scared when she was diagnosed in 2011, because she wasn’t educated and assumed the worst.

“I didn’t know anything about it, but the doctors comforted me and told me it was curable,” said Lopez, who is now cancer-free. “You have to be your own advocate. You have to check your own body regularly.”

Before the ceremony, Kozlowski, who started her nonproit as a way to inspire women to come together, wrote her friend Camille’s name on a flag.

“She’s a co-worker of mine who retired Aug. 31 and was diagnosed with breast cancer Sept. 1,” Kozlowski said before placing the flag under the tree. “I think this tree will give people a good feeling to know they’re not alone.”

The Pink Tree of Hope, adorned with lights donated and installed by Bob Koch of Koch Tree Services Inc., will be lit throughout October at 633 Mount Sinai-Coram Road in Mount Sinai.

Learn more about the North Shore Neighbors Breast Cancer Coalition at https://www.facebook.com/NSNBCC/.

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (fourth from left) with local community members around the Pink Tree for Hope at Mount Sinai’s Heritage Park. Photo by Kevin Redding

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