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Kevin Redding

Mechanized mark landing craft similar to the model sought by Town of Brookhaven for highway department use. Photo from U.S. Navy website

By Kevin Redding

Town of Brookhaven Highway Department is hoping for a 68,000-pound gift this holiday season.

On Dec. 14, the town’s division of purchasing will publicly open and evaluate competitive bids from shipbuilding contractors to determine which one will replace the highway department’s outdated military-style landing craft with a more modern and enhanced version of it. The Landing Craft Mechanized Mark 6 is an ex-military steel vessel used often by the department to transport heavy equipment — such as backhoes, dump trucks and Bobcat bulldozers — and personnel to communities on Fire Island for emergency and maintenance services. The bid was issued Nov. 23.

Brookhaven’s specifications for the new vessel include up-to-date engines, electronics and new steering and propulsion systems. The outer dimensions are to be 56 feet long and 68,000 pounds, based on the current LCM-6, which has been operated by the town for several decades. The current model requires frequent repairs, and will be donated to the Brookhaven parks department, according to the highway superintendent, Dan Losquadro (R).

“For us, this is a very useful tool and from a disaster preparedness standpoint, in the event of another major storm, having a landing craft we can rely on to operate day in and day out, to move materials, is very valuable,” said Losquadro, adding that the vessel has the capability to operate in nonideal conditions and is designed to function just as well if a pier or infrastructure is damaged. “On the South Shore, in the event of a major storm, there’s a real possibility you might have flooding or roadway and coastal damage that would prevent you from getting to the shoreline. And certainly on Fire Island, you have no choice. You have to go by boat. It leaves us with very few options other than to have a piece of equipment like this. So it fills a very specific purpose for us.”

Losquadro said the landing craft has been utilized “basically every day” by the department since he was elected in 2013 to facilitate repairs on the boardwalks, concrete, sidewalks and crossovers in Fire Island towns like Ocean Beach, Cherry Grove and Davis Park. But it’s also critical in more dire situations, like evacuation assistance and repairs in the wake of nor’easters, snowstorms and fires.

“I essentially have to plan for my worst nightmare,” Losquadro said. “I’m putting in plans to have equipment ready for the scenarios I never want to have to deal with.”

Kristen D’Andrea, public relations officer within the department, said the vessel is stationed in the water so it’s ready for use 365 days a year.

“It’s ready to go at any time,” D’Andrea said. “And it’s something local fire departments can use. If there’s an emergency and the town receives a request from fire rescue and emergency services, the craft can definitely be used to shuttle fire equipment over to the island.”

Steven Brautigam, the Village of Ocean Beach clerk, said since Hurricane Sandy weather is closely monitored and extra safety precautions are taken. He considers the vessel a smart piece of machinery to have just in case.

“Anything to bring heavy equipment over here at a moment’s notice is very needed,” Brautigam said. “I think it’s a great thing for Brookhaven to have. It can help bring over supplies before or after a storm.”

The project will be funded by a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant totaling more than $5 million, which was awarded to Brookhaven in October for emergency operation upgrades. Other pieces of equipment the town plans to purchase with the grant money are a horizontal wood grinder, a knuckle boom truck and a self-loading concrete mixer.

Losquadro said there are a number of shipbuilding companies across Long Island and he’s anxious to see who bids and who ultimately gets the contract. He and the department will work closely with the contractors to ensure they build the craft exactly as the specifications outline.

“We want to get the best price we can for the best product,” he said. “It’s all driving toward enhancing our fleet of equipment to be more reliable than what we’ve had.”

Suffolk County sheriff-elect, Errol Toulon Jr. and his wife Tina. Photo from Toulon

By Kevin Redding

On the Saturday before Easter in 2003, Suffolk County sheriff-elect, Errol Toulon Jr. (D) sat in the den of his Lake Grove home and said to God, “If you give me a chance, I’m going to do something great.”

Toulon, who had dropped from 240 pounds to about 140 and could barely walk, was recovering from a Whipple procedure to remove a cancerous tumor on his pancreas. It had been his second battle with cancer in less than 10 years — in 1996, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma — an ordeal that was followed by MRSA, a type of staph infection, and pneumonia. Doctors and family members expected the worst.

A year later, in the spring of 2004, the Rikers Island corrections officer-turned-captain enrolled at Suffolk County Community College. He went on to receive his master’s degree in business administration from Dowling College and an advanced certificate in Homeland Security management from Long Island University.

Toulon, left, as a bat boy at Yankee Stadium, pictured with Yankees legend Reggie Jackson. Photo from Toulon

In the midst of his appointment as deputy commissioner of operations for the New York City Correction Department in 2014, Toulon pursued and completed his doctorate in educational administration and took leadership courses at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

On Dec. 4, after a last-minute campaign to be Suffolk County sheriff against opponent Larry Zacarese (R), Toulon, 55, became the first African-American elected official in a nonjudicial countywide position in Long Island’s history.

“I still don’t think I’m finished to be honest with you,” Toulon said, laughing. “I am very fortunate and I don’t take any day for granted.”

He said he didn’t even know the landmark aspect of his victory until the counting of absentee ballots was close to being completed. The race was too close to call after Election Day Nov. 7, leaving the tightly contested election hanging for nearly a month.

“I think that can help to show that any individual, no matter what ethnicity or gender, can achieve anything they want,” Toulon said. “But I don’t think, necessarily, the color of my skin will matter at all. I think my work experience and work ethic will show that those who voted for me made the right choice, and I think those that didn’t vote for me will feel I can do the job and have the best interests of the people.”

Those closest to him said despite the odds stacked against him, Toulon’s win makes perfect sense.

“He’s a rare breed of person — you couldn’t ask for a better man for the position,” said Ralph Grasso, a retired New York Police Department officer and friend of Toulon’s for 26 years. “Anything he puts his mind to, he achieves.”

Grasso was far from the only colleague to heap praise on the sheriff-elect.

“Errol’s always shown through his actions how great a leader he is,” said Keith Taylor, who worked with him in the department of corrections for two years. “When it came to officers who were victims of inmate violence, he always made sure to visit them in the hospital, and always without any fanfare. He’s dealt with a lot of adversities and always handles them with dignity, grace and strength.”

Meg Malangone, a registered Republican in Lake Grove who works in the business office at TBR News Media, said Toulon is the first Democrat she’s voted for in 40 years.

“Not only is he one of the most incredible individuals I know, I honestly felt he was the best man for the job,” said Malangone, whose son was friends with Toulon’s sons growing up. “Errol is a wonderful human being. He is a strong, kind, smart and gentle man. He is not afraid to make tough decisions and is thoughtful in his approach to problems and solutions. He is going to be a fantastic sheriff for Suffolk County.”

When he officially starts his new job in January, Toulon said he’s determined to manage the sheriff’s office effectively and utilize skills from his career in corrections to tackle what he considers “the big three”: gangs, the opioid crisis and working with the community to develop a strong re-entry program for those incarcerated to help with housing and jobs when they leave the jail. He said outgoing Sheriff Vincent DeMarco (C) has given him a tour of the facilities, he’s met with staff and he looks forward to working collaboratively with district attorney-elect, Tim Sini (D).

“There is nobody with the type of integrity he has,” said Keith Davies, Toulon’s campaign manager, who was admittedly nervous to start a full-fledged race two months before the election with a candidate he didn’t know. “But then I got to know Errol and I knew I was working for someone that is the right person to be in the position. He kept us motivated and working hard. He’s a good man.”

“There is nobody with the type of integrity [Toulon] has.”

— Keith Davies

Despite his lifelong career in law enforcement, Toulon said the reason he thinks he was elected, and had such large support from community members on both sides of the aisle, can be traced to his second life as a coach of various sports in the last 20 years.

An avid hockey fan who even created a program around the sport within the corrections facility, Toulon coaches ice hockey at the Long Island Gulls Amateur Hockey Association in Jericho and served as a roller hockey coach at The Sports Arena in St. James. He has also coached baseball for the Sachem Youth Advisory Group; soccer for Middle Country Children’s Soccer League; and basketball for Middle Country.

“I’ve tried to make sure it wasn’t about winning or losing with the kids,” Toulon said. “I thought that even the kid who probably wasn’t the best person on the team should’ve gotten an opportunity to play. We won or lost together. A lot of parents asked me to be their child’s coach each season and I felt very honored by that.”

But Toulon’s overall achievements can be traced further back to the 1960s and ’70s in the South Bronx, where he grew up with his younger brother, Anthony, and parents, Errol Sr. and Alma, and attended Cardinal Hayes High School.

“He was always a go-getter,” recalled Errol Toulon Sr., 78, a retired deputy warden of the New York City Department of Correction. “He always volunteered within the community, played baseball and just always gave it his all. We couldn’t be prouder of him.”

Toulon’s mother, 74, who worked in education, remembered her sons being extremely protective of her, not even letting her walk to the local tennis court by herself.

“They were like my guardian angels,” Alma Toulon said. “I’m so proud of Errol Jr. He always does anything anyone asks him to do. He is a wonderful kid … I still call him a kid, he’s 55.”

Toulon pointed to his parents, who both went back to school later in life to get their bachelor’s and master’s degrees, as his two biggest heroes, though he also credited another: Willie Randolph, the former New York Yankees second baseman and New York Mets manager. Toulon came to know Randolph well working as a bat boy for the Yankees in 1979 and 1980.

“I was a diehard Yankees fan, didn’t live too far from the stadium at the time and went for an interview in January 1979,” said Toulon, who fondly remembered being around players like Randolph, Catfish Hunter and Thurman Munson. “They all treated me like I was a valuable part of the team. And that really carried over to my own managerial style that every member of the organization — no matter where you are in the chain — is important to making the team as successful as possible.”

Toulon’s son, Justin, 28, who works in the film and television field in Georgia, called his father the hardest working and most driven person he knows and said Toulon instilled in him the importance of respect.

“I don’t think I’ve ever brought somebody to meet my father that hasn’t said afterward, ‘That’s a great guy,’” Justin Toulon said. “My dad always leaves that impression. You just respect him and he has this charming ability about him. People gravitate toward him.”

Speaking from experience on that front is Toulon’s second wife, Tina, who he met in 2014, and married a year and a half ago. His first wife, Susan, passed away 29 years into their marriage.

“I’m his No. 1 fan,” Tina Toulon said. “He just has this wonderful aura about him: that great smile and those great eyes, full of life. He has an incredible loyalty about him and I love how he connects with people. He wants to always leave things better than how he found them … so I know he can do this job well.”

Stock photo

Suffolk County shoppers, get your nickels ready.

In an effort to encourage residents to shop with reusable bags instead of plastic and paper “carryout” bags that harm the environment, the Suffolk County Legislature is rolling out a 5 cent fee on all disposable bags at a variety of retail establishments, from supermarkets to department stores beginning Jan. 1.

The new law, which was officially passed by the Legislature in September 2016, applies only to the single-use plastic or paper bags provided by cashiers at the end of a sale and used to carry goods from the store. There won’t be a fee, however, on bags found in produce sections for fruits and vegetables, frozen foods or on bags by pharmacies to carry prescription drugs, according to the law.

Cashiers are required to add the total fees to a customer’s receipt based on how many bags are used. Residents can avoid the fee by either buying a reusable bag — ones made of cloth or canvas, which are available in many retail stores — or shopping with a bag from home.

“Hopefully people will say ‘I’m not paying 5 cents’ and go with the other options,” said Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport), who wrote the legislation to reduce the influx of plastic bag waste that gets trapped in trees, blocks storm drains and causes significant damage to water supplies and wildlife. “We’re hoping to change behaviors. While we won’t change everyone’s, this will change a lot of people’s and that can make a big difference. I think once people start to not use the plastic bags, they’re not going to really miss them.”

Spencer’s bill began in March 2016 as a ban on all single-use plastic bags, piggybacking off an initiative adopted by the Town of Southampton, but it didn’t receive enough support. This revised bill was co-sponsored and pushed by five legislators, including Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue), Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and Bridget Fleming (D-Sag Harbor), and 140 out of 150 residents who weighed in on the initiative during a public hearing testimony.

As of Jan. 1, shoppers will be paying for paper and plastic bags at most retail stores, encouraging others to use reusable bags. Stock photo

The legislators also worked alongside a Suffolk County plastic bag working group, which consists of local scientists, educators, environmentalists, business people and government employees.

“We have to curtail the use of plastic bags,” Krupski said. “They’re everywhere. I would encourage people not to pay the fee. It’s all just a matter of changing your habits and keeping a shopping bag in your vehicle to have it at the ready. It’ll take time for people to get used to that, but like anything else, people will get used to it.”

A 5 cent fee on plastic and paper bags was adopted in Washington, D.C., in 2010 and the accumulated nickels have contributed a total $10 million to the Anacostia River Clean Up and Protection Fund, as of 2015.

As mandated by New York State, however, the fees collected in this bill will be retained by the stores. Not being able to apply the collection to an environmental cause convinced a Democratic legislator not to support the law.

“That 5 cent charge should go back into the environment,” said Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), who voted “No.” “Instead, the fees are going back into the pockets of the stores. The legislation needed work.”

Anker also said she received outcry from constituents over the concept of fees.

“A lot of the community, especially the senior population, did not want to pay extra for the plastic bags,” she said. “But I will say, plastic is a really harsh environmental pollutant.”

Spencer said he plans to revisit the legislation after a year to evaluate the financial impact it’s having and ask the state to allow funds to be used for environmental purposes.

“It would be great to do that, but only the state has that ability,” Spencer said. “The state may make that decision.”

Jay Peltz, general counsel and vice president of government relations at Food Industry Alliance, which represents 800 state supermarket chains, convenience stores and wholesalers, including Stop & Shop and King Kullen, which will be charging the fees, said it’s a current law where everybody wins.

“It will help the environment and it will help the stores,” he said. “It’s a thoughtful, productive law and is the only way to both reduce plastic bag distribution while incentivizing people to increase their use of reusable bags.”

He added that the fees may be used to help pay for higher minimum wages expected to be put in place in the coming year, but store owners are still weighing the options.


Survey: Shoppers still prefer plastic
By Desirée Keegan

A local survey conducted shows that just 5 percent of shoppers bring reusable bags.

The finding, coming ahead of a 2018 Suffolk County law banning the free use of plastic and paper bags at a vast majority of retail stores, was concluded after students from Northport, Brentwood, Huntington, Smithtown, East Islip and North Babylon, with member of St. Joseph’s College, surveyed 11,395 shoppers in November and December, in front of grocery stores, convenience stores and a pharmacies.

New Suffolk County environmental law prohibits plastic and paper bags in favor of eco-friendly reusable ones. Stock photo

The polling, organized by a county-created task force to help educate the public about the bill, found 71 percent of individuals use plastic bags, while the balance use paper, a combination, or no bag.

The survey will be repeated next year to analyze the effect of the law on consumer behavior, according to
Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment. She said she hopes between 60 and 70 percent of residents are bringing reusable bags by next year.

“Reducing litter, marine pollution and saving our oceans are worth changing our habits,” Esposito said.

While plastic bags drew the ire of environmentalists and lawmakers, the law also requires stores to charge for paper bags, as well as thicker “reusable” plastic bags, to prevent stores from circumventing the law, Spencer said.

County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport), the bill’s primary sponsor, said county residents should contact his office at 631-854-4500 for a reusable bag, especially if you cannot afford one.

“If you need a reusable bag, come see me,” Spencer said, adding he bought 1,000 reusable bags to give away.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We’re in awe of him,” she said.

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

— Heather Magill

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uniqua holds her two new teddy bears tightly. She received the gifts from members of Mount Sinai's Students Against Destructive Decisions club. Photo by Kevin Redding

Just one night at Mount Sinai High School helped to make the season bright for local families in need.

For Christmas, all 6-year-old Uniqua really wanted was an Elf on the Shelf toy, a gift her mom struggled to afford. But Moniqua McGee, who lives with her daughter at Concern for Independent Living in Medford, knew she had nothing to worry about. She had Mount Sinai high schoolers to rely on.

A family from Concern for Independent Living receive gifts from Mount Sinai children through Hauppuage-based nonprofit Christmas Magic. Photo by Kevin Redding

On Dec. 6, during the Students Against Destructive Decisions club’s Christmas Magic dinner in the high school’s cafeteria, a beaming Uniqua not only got her wish, but two new teddy bears and holiday-themed face paint, too. She even met Santa Claus and Rudolph.

“I’m grateful they’re doing this for the families and putting smiles on the kid’s faces,” said Moniqua McGee, who has been coming to the event the past five years. “It works every time.”

The McGees were just one of dozens of families from the Medford nonprofit enjoying the holiday spirit in the room. An 18-year partnership between the Hauppauge-based organization Christmas Magic and the SADD club, the Christmas soiree served as the ultimate payoff of a shopping spree by the students Dec. 1. Under the supervision of SADD club advisors John Wilson and John McHugh, they spent that day rushing around Smith Haven Mall and Walmart to buy gifts for more than 60 boys and girls from Concern for Independent Living, which provides housing and employment help for struggling families, based on wish lists they wrote to Santa. The school district also raised $8,000 for Christmas Magic.

Members of Mount Sinai’s Students Against Destructive Decisions club watch children open up presents. Photo by Kevin Redding

“I’m happy and proud to be part of a program and district that not only encourages, but fosters this type of activity,” McHugh said. “The students involved display the best we have to offer … we have grown our program every year and that makes me feel great.”

With all the gifts wrapped and labeled, every kid left the dinner with at least three presents given to them by Santa, played by rosy red cheeked wrestling icon Mick Foley, who also posed for pictures. Christmas tunes blared through the cafeteria’s speakers as families ate chicken, pasta and desserts, and SADD club members — some dressed up in costume — went around the room with little gift bags of extra toys for attendees. SADD club members also played games and watched “Elf” with the kids.

“It’s so nice to be able to see all the kids here and see them get the gifts we got for them,” said Allie Garrant, an 11th grader and SADD club member, who picked up a lacrosse stick and Rubik’s Cube for a 13-year-old boy. “Just seeing their faces — it’s a whole different thing. It’s like, ‘Wow, these are real people I’m helping’ and you get to see firsthand the difference you’re making.”

Renato Lugo, whose four children were ecstatic over their gifts, expressed his gratitude to those involved in the event.

Students dressed up to entertain children during a Christmas Magic dinner at Mount Sinai High School. Photo by Kevin Redding

“It’s a beautiful thing to have organizations like these that help out and take care of people in need,” said Lugo, who has been aided by Concern for Independent Living for six years. “The students bring joy and cheer and they make my kids very happy.”

His 12-year-old daughter, Elena, was ecstatic receiving a long-sleeve Unicorn pajama shirt from Santa.

“I think it’s really amazing I got the present I wanted,” Elena said. “And the food is amazing and everyone’s so happy. I love SADD. They’re really like another Santa.”

Kim Dellamura, who’s been at the nonprofit agency for six months, said the event allowed her 4-year-old daughter MacKenzie to have a Christmas.

“It feels good because I don’t know how much I would’ve been able to give her this year,” Dellamura said. “So this really helps out a lot. She loves it.”

For Lawrence Aurigemma, the event is a perfect reflection of what this time of year means.

“This season is all about peace and generosity,” said Aurigemma, a military veteran whose 14-year-old son received Pokemon cards. “These students are just fantastic. They go out of their way to help out the less fortunate people here. It’s a wonderful thing. They knew exactly what to get my son … he’s so happy.”

Smithtown resident and former WWE wrestler Mick Foley dishes out gifts to children. Photo by Kevin Redding

Also at the event was Christmas Magic founder Charlie Russo and representatives of Concern for Independent Living, including case managers Ella Cantave and Julio Villarman, who were excited to see their clients enjoying the holidays.

“It’s a very special day for them,” Cantave said. “It took a lot of effort to make it happen and to make it nice for them.”

As everybody in the room sang “Jingle Bells,” Santa arrived and joined in. Each kid’s name was called out to sit down with the big man in the red suit.

Foley, who has been a volunteer with Christmas Magic since 2000 and officially assumed the role of Santa for the organization in 2014, said he looks forward to the event all year round.

“It’s a great organization — they spread joy and happiness to so many of the less fortunate in the community, and it’s an honor to wear the red suit and represent Christmas Magic,” Foley said before turning his attention to the SADD club. “I make it a point to thank all of them because I think it’s wonderful that they get involved in volunteer work at a young age. They do a great job and it’s really easy for me to show up and get a lot of the credit from children, but the truth is, without them, absolutely none of this is possible.”

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

By Kevin Redding

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eric Stewart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PROGRAM:

Felix Mendelssohn:

“Heilig” (Holy) for double choir

Arvo Part: “Magnificat”

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Lee Zeldin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mount Sinai Students Against Destructive Decisions club members organize gifts that will be donated to children at Concern for Independent Living in Medford through the Hauppauge-based nonprofit Holiday Magic. Photo by Kevin Redding

Mount Sinai High School students took on the roles of Santa and his elves to make sure local children in need have gifts to open this Christmas.

In a continued collaboration with Hauppauge-based nonprofit Christmas Magic, 43 members of the school’s Students Against Destructive Decisions club embarked on shopping sprees at Smith Haven Mall and Walmart Dec. 1 to bring holiday cheer to underprivileged children. They set out to find gifts for more than 60 boys and girls from Concern for Independent Living, a nonprofit agency in Medford that provides permanent housing for homeless families, based on wish lists they wrote to Santa.

With $4,500 supplied by Christmas Magic, SADD club members bought more than 100 gifts — each child receives about three — from wireless headphones to action figures and dolls, to sweatshirts and diapers.

Members of Mount Sinai’s Students Against Destructive Decisions club unpack gifts to be donated after going shopping. Photo by Kevin Redding

Back at the high school, the students turned the cafeteria into a makeshift Santa’s workshop. They organized the gifts, piled them into garbage bags and sent them off on a big truck to be wrapped and delivered back to the school Dec. 6, where the district hosts a dinner for the children and their families, where club members join Santa Claus himself in presenting the wrapped gifts.

“I think this teaches the students compassion,” said John Wilson,  a special education teacher and the SADD Club’s co-advisor who said the district is in its 18th year of involvement with the program. “When they see some of the lists — and there’s a jacket or something they take for granted — I think it humbles them and makes them appreciate what they have.”

In one letter, which included a drawing of a smiling snowman and a Christmas tree, a young boy asked Santa for a tech watch and a lightsaber. In another, a girl asked for a pair of boots and a unicorn onesie.

“I love getting the lists,” said Julie Pfeiffer, an 11th grader and SADD club member, who picked up wrestling action figures and Roblox toys for a 7-year-old boy. “We get these lists from them, in their own handwriting, and it’s so sweet. We’re able to give them what they want, directly. It warms my heart so much.”

High school senior Ruchi Thaker bought a sports kit and learning toys for a 1-year-old boy as well as a My Little Pony toy and a bracelet making gift set for a little girl. Junior Rebecca Muroff tracked down a specific brand of hoodie and phone case for a 15-year-old girl.

“You just feel good about doing this,” said Emma Wimmer, a senior who bought a Nike sweatshirt, a pair of sneakers and pants for two teenage boys.

Margaret Kopcienski, a junior and president of SADD Club, said this is her favorite event of the year and said prior to the Dec. 6 dinner that she looked forward to meeting the children at the high school.

“We’re able to give them what they want, directly. It warms my heart so much.”

— Margaret Kopcienski

“It’s really magical seeing how happy they are,” Kopcienski said. “It’s a great time and really cool to see the result of all our hard work and how much joy the presents bring to them.”

The school district will also be reimbursing Christmas Magic more than $7,500 raised during its Turkey Trot 5K and Fun Run Nov. 25, an annual fundraising event run by SADD co-advisor and history teacher John McHugh. Last year, upwards of 11,000 kids across Long Island were gifted through the nonprofit.

“It’s an amazing feat that the students and staff at Mount Sinai make this happen every year,” said Charlie Russo, who founded Christmas Magic in 1990 out of a lifelong passion to give back to those less fortunate. “It just speaks volumes as to where the district is and where their community service efforts are. I can’t praise them enough.”

Russo said Christmas Magic has been working alongside Concern for Independent Living, one of about 70 agencies involved, since the nonprofit was formed.

Concern for Independent Living was formed in 1972 and has been recognized as the largest nonprofit provider of supportive housing for individuals and families in need on Long Island. Ralph Fasano, the organization’s executive director, said Mount Sinai students have helped families and kids get through the holidays for years.

“All the families come from low-economic brackets and oftentimes there’s not enough money to buy kids gifts,” Fasano said. “When these kids get things they’ve wanted for years — gifts they never thought they’d ever have — it restores some hope for them.”

By Kevin Redding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos courtesy of Huntington Historical Society

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By Kevin Redding

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

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

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

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

— Gordon Brosdal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Rob Catlin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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