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Kevin Redding

Former Suffolk County legislator running as Democratic candidate for 10th state Assembly district seat

Steve Stern (D). Photo by Kevin Redding.

By Kevin Redding

At 19, Steve Stern knocked on doors in the outskirts of Louisiana, urging folks not to let a former Ku Klux Klan leader become a state representative.

It was 1989. David Duke had entered the race for a Louisiana House of Representatives seat on the Republican ticket, despite party members’ denouncement of his candidacy and racist, anti-Semitic past. Stern, a junior at Tulane University in New Orleans at the time, took to the streets for the first time as a political advocate for Duke’s opponent.

“Talk about being in the deep end without a paddle,” Stern said, during an interview with TBR News Media at a Dix Hills diner Feb. 19. “I just tried to persuade the area residents to do what was right and stand up against hate and intolerance. It showed me the importance of meeting people on their doorstep, talking to them face-to-face.”

Duke won. But it didn’t dissuade Stern from later seeking political office himself.

Stern (D) has honed the art of canvassing in his 12 consecutive years as Suffolk County Legislator of the 16th District beginning in 2005, after building a career as a lawyer.

“Our local region doesn’t get our fair share from the state level of government and I know that firsthand.”
— Steve Stern

In the Legislature, Stern sat on the Suffolk County Veterans and Seniors Committee. He wrote the law that created the state’s first Silver Alert system — which helps locate seniors with Alzheimer’s or cognitive diseases who have gone missing — and initiated the first ban in the nation on the use of the BPA chemical in baby bottles, sippy cups and toys. Stern said he launched the Housing Our Homeless Heroes Act, as part of a long-term effort to bring an end to veteran homelessness in
Suffolk. Now, he’s running for state office.

Touting this record and a self-proclaimed natural ability to connect with community members, no matter their party affiliations, the 49-year-old family man will run in the April 24 special election to fill Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci’s (R) vacant seat in the 10th District of the New York State Assembly. He recently won the Democratic nomination and will campaigni against Republican Party candidate and longtime Huntington resident Janet Smitelli.

“I think he’s an excellent candidate,” said Mary Collins, chairwoman of the Huntington Town Democratic Committee. “He was very attentive to constituents and he worked on many issues that were important to his district.”

Stern said he hopes to bring a “very strong, local voice” to Albany.

“Our local region doesn’t get our fair share from the state level of government and I know that firsthand,” he said. “Look at our school districts. Community leaders on our school boards have very little they can do because there are too many state mandates preventing them from making real progress.”

“[Stern] has the ability to turn a concern into an actionable item and achieve a successful healthy change.”
— Karen Miller 

If elected, Stern said he wants to continue local efforts but on a much larger scale, such as combating gang activity, which he has done by helping to get county funding for automatic license plate readers that target criminals. He’s also passionate about protecting the environment and the area’s water quality, having co-sponsored legislation identifying key areas of importance when it came to developing sewer infrastructure. Stern said this legislation plays a key to downtown revitalization of Huntington Station. He said he’s a strong supporter of term limits and bipartisanship.

“Because at the end of the day, I can tell you, people don’t care what the letter is after your name,” he said. “They want to know that you’re putting points up on the board for them and that you’re doing it in a way that’s going to make them proud.

Karen Miller, founder of the Huntington Breast Cancer Action Coalition, said Stern made her proud when she presented her group’s concerns about the dangers of the BPA chemical, a meeting that ultimately led him to his 2009 ban.

“Steve was an extremely good listener, he took time with me and wrote notes on his yellow pad,” she said. “He has the ability to turn a concern into an actionable item and achieve a successful healthy change. What a coup that would be for New Yorkers to have somebody like that up in Albany.”

Read TBR News Media to learn more about Republican party candidate Janet Smitelli soon.

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The Hartlin Inn co-owner Andrew Streef was named the Friends of St. Patrick's 68th grand marshal. Photo by Kevin Redding

Andrew Streeff likes being a behind-the-scenes kind of person.

For the past 20 years, he has operated out of the kitchen in the back of The Hartlin Inn, a Sound Beach pub and restaurant and community fixture where he serves as chef and co-owner and he’d hoped to keep it that way. He has always been eager to help local school districts and clubs through fundraisers and donations, but never seeks recognition. And, in 2001, when encouraged by his business partner and mentor Richie Hartig to join the Friends of St. Patrick, Streeff was hesitant, despite his lifelong Irish pride and love for the group.

The Hartlin Inn in Sound Beach. Photo by Kevin Redding

“I told him, ‘I’ll do it as long as I don’t have to march up front,’” Streeff said, referring to the group’s annual Miller Place-Rocky Point St. Patrick’s Day parade. In his 17 years with the organization, and being involved in the parade, Streeff has run raffles, sold T-shirts and fed information to the event’s announcer.

“That’s what I really enjoy,” he said. “When the cameras and the politicians come, I’m darting out of the way.”

That all changes March 11 when Streeff leads the nearly three-mile march from the Flying Pig Cafe in Miller Place to Broadway in Rocky Point as grand marshal of the 68th annual parade. This honor is bestowed on longtime, dedicated members of the organization, or those who have proven to be pillars of the community, and Streef “fits both those bills,” according to Friends of St. Patrick president Michael Tatilian.

“He’s very active in our community, a great guy, and, whenever we’ve asked him to help us out with something, he’s always been there,” Tatilian said.

“While Richie would have loved to have led the parade, in my heart I know that he’ll be walking right alongside Andrew.”

— Linda Hartig

But Streeff said he isn’t marching for himself. Instead, he’s accepting the honor in memory of the man who pushed him to join the group in the first place — Hartig, one of the two original owners of The Hartlin Inn; a U.S. Navy veteran, a detective in the Nassau County Police Department, a commodore of the Mount Sinai Yacht Club; and a proud member of the Friends of St. Patrick until his death from a heart attack in 2004 at age 63.

Hartig died before it was his turn to be grand marshal, Streef said.

“Anyone who knew Richie knew this was right up his alley,” he said. “My biggest concern really was asking his wife how she would feel about this if I did it. It turned out she was 100 percent behind it. A lot of people are excited that I’m doing this in Richie’s name.”

Linda Hartig, who joined the restaurant full time as an accountant after her husband’s death, described Streeff as a “standup guy” who would do anything for anybody in the community. She said she was honored by his motivation to march.

“While Richie would have loved to have led the parade, in my heart I know that he’ll be walking right alongside Andrew,” she said. “I’m sure he’s looking down very happy.”

Streeff was born in Queens to a Finnish father and Irish mother, and moved to Sound Beach in 1969 when he was 7 years old. Just a year later, he marched for the first time in the parade as a Cub Scout, later joking that his mother indoctrinated him with the importance of St. Patrick’s Day from day one.

Richie Hartig is the founder of Sound Beach’s The Hartlin Inn. Photo from Linda Hartig

“I think when I was in Catholic school in Queens, with the mandatory uniform on, she made sure that, on St. Patrick’s Day, I had green on somewhere,” Streeff said. “Any time I got a new job growing up, I’d tell the boss, I can work any holiday and any weekend throughout the year except that one Sunday in March.”

Streeff has been in the restaurant business since he was 16 as a student at Miller Place High School. By the time he graduated in 1979, he had been working full time for about a year. He began at the old Nine Doors restaurant in Port Jefferson and picked up different styles of cooking, from a variety of cultures like French and German, as he moved on from one local establishment to next. He eventually found himself working seasonally in Florida’s Palm Beach County for a number of years in the 1990s, until he learned his friend, Linda Sarich, and her business partner, Hartig, bought a restaurant in Sound Beach. The name Hartlin is a combination of Hartig and Linda’s names. Streeff originally offered to help set up their kitchen and menu, but within a matter of months, he became a full partner.

“Having grown up here, it was ideal for me to get involved,” said Streeff, who, since 1997, has taken it upon himself to hire youth in the community with the aim of steering them in the right direction and keeping them out of trouble. “This is a down-home type of family restaurant in a tight-knit community where you wave to strangers. You don’t really see that anywhere else anymore.”

After 40 years in the restaurant industry, and 21 strong years at The Hartlin Inn, Streeff said, “It feels like I’m the typical hometown boy who made good.”

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Theilen family launches GoFundMe campaign to cover medical costs from Evelyn’s battle with neurofibromatosis

The Theilen family of Smithtown. Photo from Theilen family.

By Kevin Redding

It was a parental nightmare. Immediately following the birth of their twins in 2016, Allon and Lauren Theilen of Smithtown were told by doctors that their daughter’s leg was broken and it had no chance of healing. An hour later, they learned that amputation would be in little Evelyn’s future.

“It was devastating,” Allon Theilen said.

His wife, Lauren, who experienced no difficulties during pregnancy, said it was the hardest thing in the world to hear.

Through testing and meetings with multiple orthopedists, the couple found out Evelyn suffers from a condition called pseudoarthrosis of the tibia, which is caused by a rare genetic, cancer-related disease known as neurofibromatosis Type 1, or NF1, which occurs in one of every 3,000 to 4,000 people worldwide, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Evelyn’s bone fragility was among NF1’s rarest symptoms. The disease has been aggressive, eating away at her leg bone. So far, Evelyn has had a broken tibia, a broken fibula and her legs are no longer equal in length.

Evelyn Theilen, of Smithtown, is held by her mother, Lauren Theilen. Photo from Theilen family.

The Theilens have sought treatment options that would allow their daughter to keep her leg, setting them on a journey across the state, and then the country.

“Most doctors we met would offer a surgery but with a very bleak outlook,” her father said. “Every time you do the surgery, you lose more leg bone. Most failed surgeries meant amputation.”

Lauren Theilen said it was sometimes difficult to even find somebody who was aware of their daughter’s medical condition at all.

Extensive research led them to the Paley Institute in West Palm Beach, Florida, a limb-saving and deformity-correction practice started by Dr. Dror Paley, whom Allon Theilen calls “the miracle man.” After several trips from New York to Florida and meeting with  Paley, a challenging surgery that involves a bone graft taken from both sides of her hips and a hollowing of her two leg bones in an attempt to fuse the leg was scheduled.

“Sitting in a waiting room full of parents in the same position spoke volumes to us,” Evelyn’s mother said. “I’m hopeful now, but also terrified.”

On Feb. 8, Evelyn, now a 14-month-old described by her parents as “feisty, happy, playful and out-of-this-world intelligent,” underwent the surgery. The final results won’t be known for another six weeks. The Theilens said the best outcome would be that her bone fully mends and she’ll need to wear a brace until she’s about age 18 to help stretch her damaged leg to equal length with the other. Alternatively, the bone won’t heal, the graft and tibia won’t fuse, her ankle becomes deformed and other abnormalities may occur.

“I think this is the most trying year we’ll ever have to go through,” Lauren Theilen said. “People always say, ‘Look at you guys. You’re so strong.’ To me, it kind of feels like we’re just going day-by-day, doing what we have to do. There are days when he falls apart and I have to pick up, and vice-versa. We kind of take turns being strong and being there for each other.”

The Theilen twins of Smithtown pretend to drive. Photo from Theilen family.

Allon Theilen set up a GoFundMe campaign Feb. 3, asking for a total $25,000 to help cover some of Evelyn’s medical costs. The family has  exhausted their life savings on “medical expenses, flights and hotels,” and his wife has been forced to put her job on hold. Even after health care insurance, the surgery costs about $10,000.

In 18 days, the page has raised $18,906 from family, friends and generous strangers. 

“That really blew me away,” said Allon’s sister, Andrea Morris, a Huntington resident. “I was overwhelmed by how many people came together for them.”

Evelyn’s father said despite what happens, he and his wife will never give up.

“We’ve dealt with a lot and keep our feet planted to the ground,” he said. “It sounds nonhumbling to say we’re very strong but that’s what everyone tells us, so we kind of have to believe them.”

The Theilen family’s GoFundMe page can be found at www.gofundme.com/evelyn039s-battle-with-nf1.

Members of Gentle Strength Yoga studio relax during a class. Photo from Christne Cirolli

kevin@tbrnewsmedia.com

In 2014, Andrea Petterson was in a dark place. The Sound Beach resident had recently left her job as a landscape manager at Stony Brook University, just months after she accused her supervisor of sexual harassment and discrimination. At the time, she was in the beginning stages of filing a lawsuit against the school.

“I was at my lowest,” Petterson said, looking back. “That job was my life, my identity and everything I was. Suddenly, I felt very unsafe.”

Andrea Petterson with one of the ornaments she made and sold. Photo from Christne Cirolli

That was, she said, until she found herself inside Gentle Strength Yoga studio, after a friend suggested she try and heal herself there. Owned and operated by John T. Mather Memorial Hospital nurse Christine Cirolli, the yoga studio opened in Mount Sinai in 2013, and moved permanently to Route 25A in Rocky Point in 2016.

Aside from offering regular classes, acupunctures and massages, the studio was designed to be a community-oriented refuge where “people can band together to help each other,” according to Cirolli.

“The second I stepped in, it just felt like home,” said Petterson, who was a student for two years before graduating from Long Island Yoga School in Great Neck and eventually becoming an instructor at the studio. “Christine really gave me an opportunity here to learn more about myself. She was the one that told me that ‘helping heals’ and that has stuck with me.”

This past Christmas, Petterson raised close to $3,400 by making and selling holiday ornaments in the studio, and then donated the funds to several families in need. She routinely teaches classes at Joseph A. Edgar Immediate School in Rocky Point and within Shoreham-Wading River school district.

She also said the studio has motivated her to start an organization that helps to empower young women.

Melissa McMullan, a longtime regular at the studio and a teacher in the Comsewogue School District, said the holiday fundraiser at the studio helped provide a happy holiday for one of her students, whose family lives in poverty. She referred to the studio as “a special place.”

“Christine really gave me an opportunity here to learn more about myself.”

— Andrea Petterson

“It’s the kind of place where people can come in and talk about what’s going on physically or mentally and everybody sort of works together to help each other,” she said. “At the studio, we learn that yoga is really the beginning of a lifelong practice of being connected with, and kind to members of our community.”

Cirolli, a Queens native and Suffolk Community College graduate, said she has been practicing yoga on and off since she was in high school, and always aimed for her studio to be inclusive for everybody.

“I feel blessed that people would trust me, that they are here in a place of caring and love,” Cirolli said.

She added that Gentle Strength hosts a free 12-step recovery yoga program for those affected by alcohol addiction.

“It’s just providing people with another tool to help in their recovery,” she said of the program. “It doesn’t require anyone to sign up or register, either, so if they wanted to come here and be completely anonymous, they can. I thought that was a really nice way to try and welcome people in here who might otherwise be steered away.”

A haven for Long Island’s injured wildlife

By Kevin Redding

Three weeks ago at a construction site in Elwood, a young red-tailed hawk was lying on the ground with its eyes closed. It had been hit by a car and its skull was fractured.

But today, that same bird of prey can be found perched inside a spacious flight aviary at Sweetbriar Nature Center in Smithtown, gliding from one branch to another and darting its head in every direction in search of its next meal. Dan’s Bird, as it’s known on the property after it was rescued by Daniel DeFeo, a Sweetbriar volunteer since 2015, will eventually be released back into the wild as one of more than 1,000 injured animals the nonprofit will rehabilitate this year. 

“As a wildlife rehabilitation center, we are about 50 percent successful with what goes back into the wild, where most other centers are at about 30 percent,” said Janine Bendicksen, Sweetbriar’s curator and wildlife rehabilitation director. “We can do everything a vet hospital can do except surgeries, as far as medications and setting bones. We’re also the only center where people can just walk in and drop animals off. It’s a real service to the public.” Whatever the site can’t do on its own, she added, is handled by the staff at Best Friends Veterinary Care in Nesconset.

All in a day’s work

On a recent sunny Saturday afternoon, Bendicksen — who has been at Sweetbriar for 18 years, is at the site five days a week and is in charge of teaching educational programs, fundraising for big events and running the summer camp and wildlife rehabilitation camps — made her rounds throughout the property, making sure to greet every critter along the way, including permanent wildlife patients like Einstein the screech owl, who has suffered a broken wing and leg and takes shelter among piles of towels and blankets inside a laundry room; Jack, a kestrel with a missing eye and a crossed beak due to exposure to the pesticide DDT; an old turkey vulture that was hit by a car in Pennsylvania, broke its hock and sustained a wing fracture; and an opossum that was found starving to death and is expected to be released in the spring.

There are also box turtles, mallard ducks, rabbits and chipmunks. A groundhog and a deer too. The site is licensed to take in almost any animal, Bendicksen said, except rabies vector species like raccoons and skunks.

Squeezed into a tiny wooden habitat, Bendicksen summoned two flying squirrels from inside a nesting box. Although they are nocturnal, she said these animals only slip into semihibernation during the day and can be woken up to eat and play. “These guys came from somebody’s attic,” she said. “Every couple of weeks we get another one because somebody uses a Havahart trap to catch them.”

Even though the nonprofit, which officially opened in 1986, has been rehabilitating wildlife for more than 30 years, Bendicksen said the program has grown in “leaps and bounds” over the last decade and each year the site takes in more and more. This is due to both Sweetbriar’s growing popularity in the community and people and developments “encroaching on animal’s habitats,” Bendicksen said.

The goal of Sweetbriar, of course, is to bring every animal back into the wild, and specifically back to exactly where they were found, but in many cases, the outcome depends on the specific animal and its situation. For instance, some injured animals can’t live in captivity and these — as well as animals that don’t recover from their severe traumas — must be euthanized.

“It’s the humane thing to do,” Bendicksen said. “Seagulls come in all the time and they don’t do well in captivity. While in cages, they get what’s called bumblefoot [inflammation on the soles of the feet], which they eventually die from.”

Not long after she explained this, William and Mary Krumholz of Smithtown brought in a box containing a seagull they found hobbling in the Costco parking lot.

“It looks like the wing is broken,” William Krumholz said. “It could hardly run away from me. It was only a matter of time before it got run over.”

After wrapping the seagull in a towel and doing some quick detective work in the rehabilitation room, Bendicksen deduced more than likely it was struck by a car, and found that the last digit of its wing was separated and hanging on by a part of the bone. She assured the Krumholzs that it would be taken to the veterinarian to be checked out further and told them about the inflammation concern with seagulls.

“But, if that’s the case, what you did do was save him from starving to death or being eaten or run over,” she said to them. “We’ll do our best.”

Mary Krumholz nodded her head. “I mean, that’s nice, but … It was only a car ride over here and I already feel bad.”

Bendicksen later said one of the most challenging parts of the job was to resist the urge to become attached to the animals that come in.

“It’s why we try not to give names to any injured animals we release, just the permanent ones,” she said, “because you become too close to the animals and it makes it very, very hard if you have to make a difficult decision. We wish we could release everything back where we found them.”

The human touch

People have been bringing animals to Bendicksen to be patched up since she was a young girl growing up in Hauppauge.

“There are little kids here who just stick their hands into cages and that would’ve been me — I was always told to be a veterinarian,” Bendicksen said. “My mom’s friends would call and say, ‘The cat just grabbed a baby bunny and it survived.’ I would always build little habitats for them and make sure they had a comfortable bed, even if it was just, like, a frog.”

Bendicksen grew up to be the owner of a children’s clothing business called Janine, which employed stay-at-home moms. In the late 1990s, however, she was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer, which forced her to give up everything for a while.

“I went through two years of hell and then had to kind of start my life over again,” she said. When she became cancer free, she came to Sweetbriar with her children for one of its volunteer picnics. She struck up a conversation with the site’s director, who, after finding out more about her, asked if she’d be interested in helping them curate the site.

After some extensive training, a licensing process and testing from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Bendicksen was a teacher on the site. It didn’t take long before she became director of wildlife rehabilitation. “This place saved my life,” she said. “What makes you happy as a child should be what you do as an adult. I’m extremely lucky.”

Val Timmerman, a Stony Brook University student and one of Sweetbriar’s 14 volunteers, said everything she knows she learned from Bendicksen.

“She’s so awesome and knows everything,” said Timmerman, who stumbled across Sweetbriar almost two years ago while searching for animal rescue facilities close by. “Being able to make even a small difference in the patient’s lives, making things a little bit better for them, is what I love. And, of course, releasing them, finding out that a possum or something we didn’t think was going to make it is doing so well now. It’s great.”

Bendicksen said without her volunteers, the site wouldn’t survive. “These people are near and dear to my heart,” she said.

DeFeo, who studies biology at Suffolk County Community College and hopes to be a zookeeper one day, is at Sweetbriar every Saturday between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. taking care of all the birds of prey on the property, preparing all their food, changing their water bowls and cleaning out their dirty cages.

“I’ve always loved animals,” DeFeo said. “Just going out there and saving an animal’s life — it’s such a beautiful feeling. And I always feel a sense that I will do anything to save that life.”

Before pursuing the animal field, DeFeo said he was an electrician. But he knew he had to call it quits after nearly suffering a severe injury.

“If I fell off a ladder and broke my back, I’d be miserable for the rest of my life,” he said. “But if I got my arm bitten off by an animal, I’d probably still be happy and go to work the next day. This is what I’m meant to do.”

How you can help

“The public needs to be better educated on what they need to be afraid of, what they shouldn’t be afraid of and what they should do when they find an animal,” Bendicksen said, adding that any and all residents who do come across an injured animal should call Sweetbriar before handling it or bringing it in.

Here are some helpful tips Sweetbriar staff members have assembled:

• Baby birds are often seen fully feathered but trying to fly, with the parents nearby. These are fledglings. If they look bright and alert, it is best to leave them alone. If possible, keep cats and dogs away from the area for a few days in which time the birds will learn to fly. The parents will continue to care for them even though they are on the ground. If you are not sure the parents are nearby and you are concerned, you may put the bird in a nearby bush or on a tree branch and observe from inside the house for a few hours. If the mother sees you in the yard she will not come near.

• If an adult bird can be caught, probably something is wrong and it needs help.

If you encounter any kind of turtle crossing the road, it is okay to help it along. However, please carry it to the side of the road in the direction it is heading. By putting it back on the side it is crossing from, it will start crossing the road all over again.

If an opossum is found smaller than 8 to 10 inches, it probably needs attention. Orphaned babies are often found looking for food near a dead mother, especially alongside roads. These animals rarely contract rabies because of their low body temperature.

• DO: Place the animal in a secure cardboard box with small holes placed on the side or lid. The box should be just big enough for the animal to stand and turn around, to prevent the animal from thrashing around and hurting itself. Place paper towels or a T-shirt on the bottom of the box.

• DON’T: Keep peeking at the animal or handling the animal. The more you look at an animal or handle it, the more you stress the animal and reduce its chance of survival. Resist the temptation to put an animal inside your shirt. Cute little squirrels are notorious for being covered with fleas.

Sweetbriar Nature Center is located at 62 Eckernkamp Drive in Smithtown. The center is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For more information, call 631-979-6344 or visit www.sweetbriarnc.org.

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Jake Nieto’s research findings have potential to reduce the need for painful kidney biopsies

Dr. Prakash Narayan and Commack High Schoo senior Jake Nieto. Photo from Commack school district.

By Kevin Redding

Most teenagers don’t spend their summer developing new scientific methods that have the potential to revolutionize medical care. But Jake Nieto, a senior at Commack High School, is no ordinary teen.

In 2016, Nieto, a then 15-year-old math and science whiz was looking to spend his summer break continuing research he had gleaned in his chemistry and biology classes. He told his Commack science teacher, Richard Kurtz, who connected him with Dr. Prakash Narayan of Uniondale’s Angion Biomedica Corp., a clinical stage organ restoration company that opens its doors to student researchers.

“He was very precocious. His knowledge and abilities were very advanced for someone his age. If I gave him a problem, it would keep him awake at night.”

— Prakash Narayan

In Angion’s labs, Nieto applied his academic strengths — advanced biophysics, statistical analysis, computation — to an in-depth, months-long project on kidney disease. Despite being the youngest person working at Angion, he often worked four days a week from 8 a.m. to sometimes as late as 5 p.m.

“He was very precocious,” said Narayan, the vice president of preclinical research at Angion. “His knowledge and abilities were very advanced for someone his age. If I gave him a problem, it would keep him awake at night. It’s not like if he couldn’t solve it, he’d let it go.”

Nieto said, as with everything in his life, he was driven by genuine curiosity.

“I just found it so interesting that I could take what I learned from school and finally apply it to actual problems,” he said.

Both of Nieto’s scientific research papers based on that summer’s findings were published by PLOS One, a peer-reviewed, open access scientific journal. The first paper,  published in October 2016, details a formula he came up with and dubbed the “Nieto-Narayan Formula” — that estimates the volume of cysts found in the kidney of a person with polycystic kidney disease.

In a second paper, published this January, Nieto outlined a better approach to determining the amount of scar tissue in the kidney of someone with chronic kidney disease with the aim to alleviate the use of biopsies — the painful process of injecting a long needle through a patient’s back to examine the kidney scarring. For this project, he modified the commonly used elliptical formula in order to obtain more accurate measurements and volume of a kidney.

“I was so excited,” Nieto said. “It was really awesome and humbling to think that something I worked on could potentially be read by other people who are in the field.”

He and Narayan are confident, down the line, that his research has the potential for clinical study and could become part of normal kidney monitoring.

Commack High School teachers Jeanette Collette and Richard Kurtz; Dr. Prakash Narayan, vice president of preclinical research at at Angion Biomedica; and Commack senior Jake Nieto. Photo from Commack school district.

“Jake’s research really opens up the door for noninvasive characterization of kidney disease,” Narayan said. “I believe it can revolutionize the diagnosis and will greatly reduce very painful kidney biopsies. And, of course, for any 15-year-old to walk to spend the summer in a facility here, when other 15-year-olds are doing whatever they’re doing, and achieve this —  I think that’s very remarkable. I’m very proud of him.”

Nieto’s grandfather Ray Ingram, a Queens resident, said he was not in the least bit surprised by this achievement.

“Since he was 4 or 5 years old, Jake was outside looking through a magnifying glass,” Ingram said. “He had a microscope, a telescope, a chemistry set — everything he touched, he took apart and figured out how it worked and figured out a way to improve it.”

At the high school, Nieto is a competitor on the Science Olympiad and mock trial teams. He is president of the Spanish honor society and science honor society, plays trumpet in the marching band, and tutors other students in science and math. While unsure what college he will attend, Nieto knows he wants to study physics and engineering.

When asked if he is ever able to rewire his mind off science, Nieto laughed.

“I try to still have fun and obviously be a normal kid when I’m with my friends,” he said. “But I have my moments where I’ll start looking at something and try to make a scientific connection and be that kind of annoying person. Whenever I see something, I really just want to know why.” 

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The Briarcliff building at 18 Tower Hill Road in Shoreham, was formerly the Briarcliff Elementary School until it closed in 2014. File photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

During a second public forum held by Shoreham-Wading River’s board of education Tuesday night, a grieving mother pleaded with administrators to “be brave, step out of the box and take a chance” by turning the beloved-but-shuttered school on Tower Hill Road in Shoreham building into a refuge for students that need one.

“We can do something really big here,” said Grace Shea McCarthy, the mother of Remy Kallie Jeanne McCarthy, who, as a 15-year-old freshman at the high school, took her own life Nov. 2, 2016. “My daughter was a very capable, talented, skilled person who, over time, had lost connection with her school and her peers. We need to do more to help these kids sooner.”

McCarthy, an employee at Brookhaven National Lab, asked the board to support a joint proposal by North Shore Youth Council and Tesla Science Center for student-oriented programs and services in the portable units at Briarcliff Elementary School, which was built in 1907 and closed permanently in 2014 as part of the district’s restructuring plan.

She explained that North Shore Youth Council — a Rocky Point-based nonprofit active in communities and school districts throughout the area, including Shoreham-Wading River, Mount Sinai and Miller Place — would be able to host cost-efficient after-school tutoring, recreation, social skill development and summer programs in the space; and provide students of varying ages with professional counseling in the areas of substance abuse, social isolation and depression.

“As a parent watching my child go through this district, I can absolutely tell you this school needs more of these programs,” she said. “We are going through a suicide epidemic — our students need opportunities to build their confidence through buddy systems.”

McCarthy said partnering these students with science and technology programs at the Tesla Science Center would be “incredibly beneficial,” and serve to reignite the passion for science among youth in the community. She addressed the annual costs of $95,000, plus any additional unexpected costs, to operate the school. Board members and residents expressed concerns over the pricey upkeep during the first public discussion about the property last month. Some proposed that the property be sold off to eliminate the costs.

“When I look at that amount of money to maintain such a spectacular building, such a historical landmark in our backyard, I believe we need to fight to keep it,” she said. “It’s not something we should just give away. To have that knocked down to have condos put up or something, that would be a crime.”

Residents spoke up in favor of the proposal.

David Madigan, a Tesla Science Center board member and a former Briarcliff student, urged the board last month to file covenants on the property so the building could never be taken down.

“This way, you can maintain the ownership of the building for future use and defray the costs,” Madigan said.

While Dennis Ryan, a Shoreham resident, said leasing the building was a good idea if the right group came along, he asked the district to not sell, but demolish the school, getting rid of all the extra upkeep costs and turn the 10-acre property into a park for the community.

“We talk about the budget and trying to get a nest egg — the value is in the land itself,” Ryan said. “Hold onto the property. We don’t need the money at this point. If something happens 10 to 15 years down the line and we need that money, then we know we’ll have it.”

At the top of the forum, Superintendent Gerard Poole presented the district’s evaluation and consideration of some of the ideas residents had during the first forum Jan. 9. These included selling the property, moving the two-floor North Shore Public Library that is attached to the high school to Briarcliff,
attaining historical landmark status and redeveloping the building as a residence for seniors.

Board president Robert Rose assured that the district will not be rushing into any
decision, continuing to weigh the options while promising to hold more public forums.

“We want to take our time and make the right decision,” Rose said.

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Rocky Point Middle School's Robo Eagles robotics team. Photo from Rocky Point school district

At Rocky Point Middle School, LEGO-building is serious business.

The school’s two robotics teams — Radical Robotix and Robo Eagles — will compete in the 14th annual FIRST LEGO League Long Island championship tournament in Longwood this March after taking home a total of three awards in the qualifying tournament Jan. 20.

Rocky Point Middle School’s Radical Robotic team. Photo from Rocky Point school district

“Both teams have worked very hard from the beginning of the school year and to be recognized for these efforts is outstanding,” club adviser Mark Moorman said. “I was thrilled that both teams qualified.”

During the high-stakes competition, held at Great Hollow Middle School in Nesconset, the Rocky Point students — grades 6 through 8 — squared off against 23 other robotics teams from across the region with programmable LEGO Mindstorm robots they started building in October.

Under this year’s theme of hydrodynamics, the students applied math, science and technology skills to build robots with the ability to complete water-related tasks, such as replacing water pipes and connecting water pumps, on a table-top playing field.

The teams had to present research projects identifying a problem and finding a solution related to the theme. During the tournament, judges evaluated the students based on teamwork and technical skills, as well as “gracious professionalism,” according to Moorman.

Robo Eagles:

Misha Zaslavsky

Leila Riedl

Zach Accetta

Alex Rosenberg

Marco Tanza

Felicity Monaghan

Oskar Chorzepa

As the results show, Rocky Point certainly made a splash.

The Robo Eagles received the Alliance Award for scoring the highest point total on the robot table and the Judges Award for “unique efforts, performance or dynamics.” The Radical Robotix took home a project research award for its desalination aviation life vest.

For the project, Radical Robotix determined that while each seat on an airplane is equipped with a life vest in case of emergency water landing, once a passenger is in the water, specifically seawater, he or she is left on their own to survive while waiting for rescue. The students developed a water bottle, attached to the vest, that would filter the salt and bacteria out of seawater and turn it into drinking water.

“We were so excited to win the project research award and qualify for the next tournament,” said Radical Robotix member seventh-grader Eve Hald. “It was fun getting to see our robot compete and to compete in the tasks that judges gave us.”

Radical Robotix:

Jake Bazata

C.J. McMillen

Sola Matsumoto

Eve Hald

Nick O’Shea

Maddy Knopke

Moorman said the two teams had a balanced mix of veteran robotics members and “newbies” — Radical Robotix has six members, Robo Eagles has seven. While he said members of the robotics club meet twice a week every other week and knew what to expect, it didn’t make the tournament any less chaotic.

“It seemed like when we were done with one aspect, like the Robot round, we had to move straight to another aspect, like the project presentation,” he said. “It was all happening very fast.”

Back at the middle school, Principal Scott O’Brien expressed his pride in the club’s performance.

“The students and advisers of the Rocky Point Middle School robotics teams work tirelessly throughout the year to compete in tournaments,” O’Brien said in a statement. “We are so proud of the robotics teams for qualifying for the championship tournament this March. Best of luck to both teams and their advisers.”

Plans for the new Rocky Point firehouse on King Road. Ground is scheduled to be broken in June. Rendering from Michael Russo/Hawkins Webb Jaeger

With an extra push from the town, Rocky Point Fire District is setting its sights on early June to begin construction of a more durable and up-to-date firehouse in the footprint of its existing one at 90 King Road. The $8.5 million project, approved by the public in a vote in August 2017, also includes the acquisition of a new aerial ladder truck.

During the Jan. 25 Town of Brookhaven board meeting, council members voted to waive the project’s site plan requirements and building fees, turning an administrative review over to its Department of Planning, Environment and Land Management instead of outside engineers. This reduces the overall cost to taxpayers and speeds up the “shovel in the ground” process, according to fire district officials.

“Every little bit helps,” said Rocky Point Fire District Vice Chairman Kirk Johnson, who was unable to provide the exact costs the fire district would be saving at this time. “It’s not astronomical, but there are significant costs, and those things add up.”

“The fire district is very fiscally conservative, but the first responders don’t have room, they respond to an enormous amount of calls and the building isn’t very energy-efficient. This needs to be done.”

— Jane Bonner

Fire district officials have been working alongside architect group Hawkins Webb Jaeger since last year to fine-tune the design of the new firehouse — which the project’s architect said will be made of natural stone as opposed to brick; consist of pitched roofs and a hidden flat roof for storage of mechanical equipment; and include a spacious meeting room as well as a “ready room” for responders, who currently have to put on their gear in the way of incoming and outgoing fire trucks.

The building will also be up to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards, the most widely used green building rating system in the world; include energy-efficient LED lights; and be equipped with better, more cost-efficient heating and cooling systems.

It was designed to have a “more residential feel” than the existing, decades-old building, according to Michael Russo, an associate architect at Hawkins Webb Jaeger.

“We felt this would be the bookend to the north end of the Rocky Point business district and something that works well for the edge of a residential community and the end of a North Shore downtown center,” Russo said.

Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) spoke of the benefits of the new design.

“It’s a very modest firehouse, very traditional looking, and it will blend in nicely in the community and downtown,” she said. “The fire district is very fiscally conservative, but the first responders don’t have room, they respond to an enormous amount of calls and the building isn’t very energy-efficient. This needs to be done.”

Russo and Johnson said upon breaking ground in June, they hope to complete construction of the new building’s apparatus bay by winter, so the fire vehicles can be stored and protected against freezing temperatures. During construction, fire district personnel will work out of portable trailers and possibly garages being offered up by community members.

Johnson said he estimates the project will take up to a year to complete. The fire district will be going out to bid for contractors in the coming months.

Town's 2018 capital budget of $9.5 million features Lake Avenue revitalization in St. James

A plan for what Lake Avenue would look like post-revitalization. Photos from the Lake Avenue renovation capital project report, prepared by the Smithtown Planning Department

By Kevin Redding

With the adoption of more than $30 million in  capital plans Tuesday, Smithtown officials hope to be looking at a robust future.

Smithtown Town Board approved its 2018 capital budget of $9.5 million — $8.8 million is bonded — and a proposed 2019-22 capital plan — totaling $20.8 million.

The majority of the 2018 capital budget funds St. James downtown business district improvements, with $4.6 million in bonds set aside for the revitalization of Lake Avenue, of which $2.4 million will fund water main replacement.

2018 Capital Budget

For 2018, town officials have set aside funding to completely revise the town code — $300,000 — and update the town’s master plan on a budget of $500,000. Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said these will serve as “blueprints for all downtown revitalization throughout Smithtown.”

We cannot move forward without modernizing the town codes, zoning and planning. It is the first big step in making downtown revitalization a reality.”
— Ed Wehrheim

“Without these two items, downtown revitalization is merely a concept,” Wehrheim said. “We cannot move forward without modernizing the town codes, zoning and planning. It is the first big step in making downtown revitalization a reality.”

Wehrheim said the town’s existing master plan was written in-house at least 10 years ago.

Bouncing off the success of a recent market analysis study by an outside urban planner of what was needed to revitalize downtown Kings Park — that broke down the pros and cons of different sections of the hamlet — the town will issue a request for proposals to bring in a new set of eyes to evaluate and suggest improvements to the existing plan.

“The master plan is essentially going to be that, but times 10 or 20,” town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo said. “It’s geared toward figuring out where the town is going to be decades down the line and the focus of progress for this new administration. It’s really the start of making this town more small business friendly and civic minded.”

Once the results of the evaluation are collected, Wehrheim and other council members will pick and choose what improvements work best for Smithtown.

“We want to hear what they think we need to move forward in the business districts and the rest of the town going into the future,” Wehrheim said.

While discussing the recodification plans, Councilman Thomas McCarthy (R) said, “This is going to bring things into the 21st century.”

“There are so many things, and this is just the beginning”
— Tom McCarthy

“It’s going to streamline things and help residents, help small businesses,” McCarthy said. “It’s been decades now and there’s no reason to make people have to — as I like to say — ‘spit blood’ just to get a permit. Right now they have to go to the board of zoning appeals and planning boards for things approved 95 to 100 percent of the time.”

2019-22 Capital Plan 

Among its planned projects for 2019-22, the town will look to fund $2.2 million in improvements at various town parks: Flynn Memorial Park in Commack to turn it into a premiere Long Island sports park; $500,000 in renovations to Gaynor Park in St. James that include new tennis and basketball courts, a playground with improved surfacing, installation of refurbished, handicap-accessible bathrooms; and new surfacing in the waterpark at Veterans Memorial Park in St. James.

The town also plans to add steps leading to the gazebo at Nesconset Chamber of Commerce, install LED lighting in Maple Avenue Park in Smithtown, repave and landscape the Bellemeade Avenue parking area and replace its deteriorating showmobile. New highway equipment will be purchased, including yard generators for Smithtown and Kings Park.

“There are so many things, and this is just the beginning,” McCarthy said.

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