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Middle Country Public Library

Former newspaper adviser Edward Wendell, center, is pictured with MCPL director Sophia Serlis-McPhillips and Comsewogue Public Library director Debbie Engelhardt.

By Karina Gerry

Middle Country Public Library librarians Stephanie Vecchio and Carol Gray look through issues of The Quadrangle from the 1970s. Photo from MCPL

A retired Newfield High School teacher’s forgotten files turned out to be a treasure for Middle Country Public Library.

Edward Wendol donated original issues of The Quadrangle to the library last month in hopes of preserving a unique piece of history. The Quadrangle, the Newfield High School paper, was supervised by Wendol during 1970-76. Wendol kept the papers all these years in a file in his attic, where he admits he forgot about them until he stumbled upon them one day.

“With the popularity of items being digitized today, I thought this would be the perfect item to be digitized at the Middle Country Public Library [in the district] where I worked,” Wendol said. “I thought it would be the most appropriate place to bring them.”

During his 27 years with the school district, Wendol worked as an English teacher and volunteered to serve as the adviser to The Quadrangle after having a positive experience at his own high school newspaper.

“I had students that were with me their entire high school career,” Wendol remembered fondly. “I think several of them may have even ventured into the journalism aspect.”

Wendol, who has served as a trustee on the Comsewogue Public Library board since 1972, Debbie Engelhardt, director of the Comsewogue library, and Sophia Serlis-McPhillips, director of MCPL, met in December at the Middle Country library so Wendol could hand over his original editions of the paper.

Copies of Newfield High School’s The Quadrangle, above, were donated to Middle Country Public Library in December by Edward Wendol.

“I thought it was absolutely incredible that Mr. Wendol kept all those papers from way back when,” Serlis-McPhillips said. “To have the foresight to do that and the fact that he wanted to give them to the library, I just thought was tremendous that he cared enough about working at Newfield and working at Middle Country school district.”

While the library’s website has a digitized photo collection of the old pictures they’ve received in recent years, this is the first time, in Serlis-McPhillips time at the library at least, that they have been given any type of periodical or newspaper.

“We’re just in the process of cataloging them and putting them on our website so that anyone can share them,” Serlis-McPhillips said. “You know it’s interesting to go back and look at the ads and the events that they were doing, and it kind of gives you a picture of history.”

With his donation, Wendol’s biggest hope is that past students are able to see their work.

“The reason why I brought it to Middle Country where the school district is located is to see if there are students who still live in the school district,” Wendol said. “If they have access to the public library and are willing to say, ‘Hey, let’s see what you have regarding my old high school newspaper at my old high school that I attended.’”

Susan Delgado and her husband, John, stand in front of St. Cuthbert’s food pantry in Selden. Photo from Tracy LaStella

One woman’s passion for helping others has benefited many who are in need.

For the past 15 years, Susan Delgado has headed up the food pantry at St. Cuthbert’s Episcopal Church in Selden, and at 79 years old, she has no plans for slowing down.

The Delgados with their children, Paul, David, Tracy and Dan, who they raised in Selden after moving to the area 50 years ago. Photo from Tracy LaStella

Christina Rundberg, the church’s vestry clerk, said when the church decided to offer a food pantry, Delgado soon took over as coordinator.

“The food pantry has become her pride and joy and her baby,” Rundberg said.

Delgado and her husband John can be found working in the food pantry a few times a week, according to Rundberg. Susan Delgado coordinates pickups with drivers from the food banks Long Island Cares and Island Harvest, picks up food with her husband at various locations including Bethel Hobbs Community Farm in Centereach and ShopRite in Selden and stocks the shelves.

“I don’t know where she gets the energy,” Rundberg said.

The pantry that was initially opened only Fridays from 6 to 7 p.m. is now open on the same day from 10 a.m. to 12:15 p.m as well. Rundberg said the additional hours were added when Delgado was worried about people walking and riding bikes at night, especially during the winter months, and she decided it would be helpful to open it to the public on Friday mornings, too.

Rundberg, who volunteers in the pantry Friday nights, said it’s open to anyone in need, not just to congregants. When it comes to holidays, the vestry clerk said Delgado always ensures there are enough food items, so clients can have a Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter dinner. She also helps to raise funds and items for a local battered women’s shelter, coordinates an adopt-a-family program during the winter holidays to buy families in need gifts and helps to collect backpacks filled with school supplies for children in need before the school year starts.

Father Charles Schnabel, a retired priest who helps with church services, said he’s always impressed when laypeople keep a church going, and Delgado is no exception. He said there’s hardly a time he doesn’t see her there working.

“She is very well focused on this area of ministry, and it’s so needed today.”

— Father Charles Schnabel

“What I see in Sue is a woman of great faith and dedication, and it’s rooted, I think, in her faith and membership at St. Cuthbert’s,” he said, adding she’s emblematic of the church’s congregants.

He described Delgado as a quiet, unassuming person, who at the same time isn’t afraid to stand up and speak at services to inform church members about what is needed at the pantry, whether it be food, toiletries and even toilet paper. The priest said she sees those who stop by the pantry as more than clients, and he remembered one time when she made a plea to the church members and was near tears.

“She is very well focused on this area of ministry, and it’s so needed today,” he said.

Delgado’s daughter, Tracy LaStella, said in addition to volunteering at the pantry, her mother works full time for a local IRS office in its mail room. The pantry, the daughter said, on average serves 342 households and 274 individuals per week.

“Every time I go there I can’t even believe how many people need the help and that [the church is] able to help them and give them food,” LaStella said.

She said she always thought of food pantries as only having canned foods, and she’s amazed at the quality and variety of foods that are available at the St. Cuthbert’s food pantry.

She said her mother has also partnered with Middle Country Public Library, where LaStella serves as assistant director for youth services. Members of the teen advisory council there have helped stock the shelves of the pantry before Thanksgiving and make tote bags for the families to use to pick up food.

LaStella said people come up to her in the library all the time and tell her about her mother — and father as well.

“It just warms my heart that they’re doing such great work for the community that they live in, and we all grew up in, too,” she said, adding her mother has four children and seven grandchildren.

The daughter said talking about her mother’s good deeds makes her teary-eyed.

“From what I can remember as a child, she was always helping neighbors,” LaStella said. “She was always helping her sisters. If she grew up in this day and age, she probably would have been a social worker. She has a really big heart. She would give her coat off her back for somebody.”

First time exhibitor Angelique Velez, owner of Breakups to Makeup

By Heidi Sutton

The Middle Country Public Library in Centereach hosted its 18th annual Women’s EXPO Oct.4. Thousands came out to kick off their holiday shopping at the one-day event which was presented by the Middle Country Library Foundation and the library’s Miller Business Resource Center.

More than 80 women entrepreneurs were given the opportunity to introduce their products, which included pottery, candles, baked goods, fall crafts, children’s books, clothing, jewelry, soaps and much more. 

This year’s event’s lead sponsor was Bank of America and was also sponsored by Campolo, Middleton & McCormick, LLP of Ronkonkoma. Volunteers from Bank of America helped make sure the day ran smoothly.

“We had a great turnout with over 2,300 shoppers,” said Elizabeth Malafi, coordinator of Adult Services and the Miller Business Resource Center. “Year after year the best thing about the EXPO is the people. We are lucky to have amazing volunteers, entrepreneurs and shoppers who make it such a special day.”

Vendors interested in participating in next year’s event are encouraged to visit www.womensExpoli.org.

Photos by Heidi Sutton

Jim Ward, MCPL librarian, Sophia Serlis-McPhillips, library director, county Legislator Tom Muratore and Kevin MacLeod, DeLorean owner, in front of one of the cars used in the movie 'Back to the Future.' Photo from Middle Country Public Library

The Middle Country Public Library will go ‘Back to the Future’ in style Tuesday, July 24 as part of its Under the Stars program. The library will host one of the original DeLorean time machines used on the set of the 1985 hit film. Kevin MacLeod, who owns and maintains the DeLorean, will greet attendees as the character Doc Brown from the movie and share original blueprints and other special items used in the movie.

This program is free and open to the public. Bring lawn chairs and meet in the library parking lot. Showtime is 8 p.m. Support for MCPL Under the Stars is sponsored by Suffolk County Legislator Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma).

For information about upcoming MCPL Under the Stars events, call 631-585-9393, or go online at www.mcplibrary.org.

The Middle Country Public Library will once again host the Women's EXPO on Oct. 5. File photo by Heidi Sutton

By Kevin Redding

There’s an unattributable quote out there that says, “Behind every successful woman is a tribe of other successful women that have her back.” It wouldn’t be surprising to learn its source was referring to a certain annual event at the Middle Country Public Library in Centereach.

On Thursday, Oct. 5, for the 17th year in a row, the library will host a diverse group of women entrepreneurs — from artists to chefs to designers to craftspeople and beyond — during its Women’s EXPO, a one-day event where they can all network with colleagues, showcase and sell their work at the library and spread the word about their products.

“The expo’s really always been about seeing a group of women supporting women,” said Elizabeth Malafi, coordinator of Adult Services and the Miller Business Resource Center. “Our planning committee is made up of professional women. We select exhibitors who are women looking to grow their businesses and make new connections. Before and after the exhibit, we try and facilitate those connections.”

Malafi said shoppers this year should expect a total of 82 vendors, roughly 25 of whom will be brand new to the EXPO. And whereas last year, somewhere around 2,300 people squeezed into the library, this year’s goal is to break 2,500.

“It’s going to be a nice balance of women that people come to see every year and also newbies,” she said. “That way the new people can be guided by the people that have been here for a while and those who have been here awhile get a nice, new perspective of somebody who might be starting out.”

Malafi continued, “I think ultimately people should come out to support women entrepreneurs and the economic engine of Long Island. We need to keep our money local so we’re supporting where we live. This is a great opportunity to do that while also shopping for the holidays.” Meet some of the vendors at this year’s EXPO:

Maria Castilla

Maria Castilla

Coram’s Maria Castilla has come a long way since making clothes for her Barbie dolls when she was young. Now, as owner of ImuGifts, her home-based business, Castilla designs unique handmade bags, jewelry and sewn accessories, none of which are remade, her website boasts.

“I love getting to make something spectacular and super unique for someone that nobody else is going to have,” Castilla said. “Sometimes you buy something at Target or a retail store and it’s not made in America or not made by your neighbors. This is something special I want to share with the community.”

Castilla was raised in Bogota, Columbia, and came to the United States when she was 10 years old and, although she always had a love for art, she followed in her father’s footsteps by studying hotel management and tourism in college. After several years in that industry, she said, she felt burnt out and was in need of a creative outlet. She began to make her own products, like soap, and then taught herself to sew through YouTube videos around 2013. Channeling her childhood hobby of making jewelry, she delved into organic handmade beadwork, and soon a business was born.

“I work full-time so this business is mostly during off hours and weekends,” said Castilla, who works for a nonprofit helping mentally disabled people function in the community. “It’s awesome to have the opportunity to have the flexibility to work 9 to 5 and then come home and do what I love to do. And my husband is amazingly supportive and helps me do pretty much everything.”

Of the EXPO, Castilla said, “It’s the most awesome thing ever … it’s nice to know there’s something like this on Long Island geared toward women empowerment and creativity.” Visit her website at www.imugifts.com.

Suzette Montalvo

Suzette Montalvo in front of her Puerto Rican food truck

Suzette Montalvo, the owner and chef of a booming Bay Shore-based Puerto Rican cuisine food truck called ANEWYORICANTHING LTD., took a giant leap of faith in 2015 by quitting her office job to pursue her dream full time. And it’s paying off. Montalvo, who was born in Spanish Harlem and grew up in Queens, was always surrounded by her mother’s traditional Puerto Rican cooking and soon honed her own skills in the kitchen, eventually selling heritage-style seasonings and drinks at farmers markets in 2012.

After 20 years as a purchasing agent at a building supply company, Montalvo, at 50 years old, decided enough was enough. “I hated my job and I was always trying to figure out what I wanted to do when I grew up,” she said with a laugh. “So I took a chance on my dream. I bought a food truck and just focused on making this a business I could live off of. I know I’ve made a good decision.”

Suzette Montalvo

Montalvo even recently appeared as one of four competitors on a food truck-oriented episode of the Food Network’s “Chopped.” Although she wound up on the chopping block, Montalvo said the experience was worthwhile. “It was such a huge opportunity,” she said. “I could never have imagined that’s where I would’ve ended up. It’s all really bizarre to me how everything’s been coming about.”

Among the many delicacies Montalvo and her staff of family members — her husband and three children — serve up to the hungry public are tripleta sandwiches, rice and chicken, empanadas, yucca and coquito, “the Puerto Rican eggnog.”

“I love feeding people, it makes me happy,” Montalvo said. “People are loving what I’m bringing to the table here. And Puerto Rican food trucks on Long Island — there are no others.” For more information, visit www.anewyoricanthing.com.

Deborah Urbinati

Deborah Urbinati at her restaurant, The Fifth Season

No matter what state a restaurant’s in, there’s a good chance that Deborah Urbinati, the owner of The Fifth Season restaurant in Port Jefferson, has worked there at some point. She grew up in Lake Grove and got her first restaurant job at Red Lobster in Stony Brook when she was 18 and, soon after, became a server at Red Robin when it was still in the Smith Haven Mall.

“It really helped with my future career because I was taught in a really good way how to be efficient and work with a team,” Urbinati said of the early gig.

She eventually moved to Colorado in 1994, where she worked in restaurants and served as a bartender, was promoted to management, coordinated schedules and bounced between a number of eateries. In Maui, Hawaii, she worked at the Hard Rock Cafe and then was a bar manager in Cannon Beach, Oregon, where she met her husband, the chef at The Fifth Season.

“I’ve just picked up a lot of knowledge through my travels and now I’m able to bring it here and do what we do at the Fifth Season and it’s really cool,” she said, describing the Fifth Season’s menu as “contemporary food with American ingredients.” She runs the front of the house, which includes everything from answering the phone to organizing private events to keeping inventory of the alcohols and overall making sure the flow of service stays up to her standards.

“I’m the conductor,” she said. “I’m really good at what I do because I love what I do. I don’t ever walk into the restaurant thinking, ‘Oh my god, I own this.’ I walk into the restaurant and say, ‘Oh yeah, this is where I am and this is where I’m supposed to be.’” Visit www.thefifth-season.com.

Loretta Giuliani

Loretta Giuliani with some of the signs she makes from home.

Northport resident Loretta Giuliani once carried a badge; now she carries wooden signs. After retiring as a New York City police detective with 20 years under her belt, Giuliani rekindled her artistic roots with Just 4 You, a small, home-based business launched last year wherein she builds, sands and paints custom wooden signs, each decorated with beautiful art or quotes.

“The signs vary in different styles,” Giuliani said, specifying that some are large, others are small, and sometimes she repurposes old kitchen cabinet doors for them. “I try to recycle wood into all different kinds. I’ve also recently starting going to people’s homes and hosting parties, teaching them how to paint and helping them choose designs and create their own signs.” She also said she often builds custom pieces for weddings and baby showers. “It’s a wide gamut of everything. Anything goes.”

Giuliani grew up in Brooklyn and said she was inspired artistically by everything around her, from graffiti in the subway to exhibits in museums, but most of all by her older brother, a fellow artist.

“Art was just always around me growing up,” she said. “It was always a big interest for me.” That interest eventually landed her in New York Institute of Technology as a graphic arts major. She said a friend of hers urged her to take the police exam to gauge how she did and, after she passed it, she wound up taking the job.

While Giuliani said being on the police force was a good job, she’s happy to be exploring her creative side again. “I love meeting and speaking with the different people, getting a feel for what they want, and seeing their face when they see the finished product,” she said. For more information on Giuliani’s signs, visit www.facebook.com/just4youbyloretta.

Admission to the 17th annual Women’s EXPO, which runs from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., is free. Lunch will be served in the EXPO cafe, catered by Fifth Season Restaurant of Port Jefferson. The library is located at 101 Eastwood Blvd., Centereach. For a complete list of vendors, visit www.womensEXPOli.org. For more information call 631-585-9393, ext. 296.

All photos courtesy of MCPL

Local residents receive crochet circle instructions and create works of art to be displayed at Middle Country Public Library’s Centereach location this September as part of Carol Hummel’s global project. Photo from MCPL

By Jill Webb

This summer, the Middle Country Public Library is giving the community a chance to not only admire the beauty of nature but to create something new and exciting within it.

Artist Carol Hummel brought yarn-bombing to the Middle Country Public Library with her Crochet It! project, making circles that will be part of an installation on display in September. Photo from The Long Island Museum

Crochet It! is being hosted by the library as a community-driven art collective in which trees will be wrapped with thousands of colorful crocheted circles. This project will be creating two separate art installations to be displayed at the library for the public to enjoy.

Tracy LaStella, the library’s assistant director for youth services, beamed recalling the nearly 100 people who showed up for the June kick-off, where the library went through its first four boxes of macramé for the trees. Since then, she’s seen people of all ages and backgrounds become participants.

“This is our third drop-in, and they just keep on getting bigger and bigger,” LaStella said.

Carol Hummel, an artist well known for her large-scale installations and global projects, attended the Middle Country Public Library’s kick-off to offer two instructional workshops and will return in September to start the decorations she refers to as “artwork by the people, for the people.”

Since 2004, Hummel has been traveling to do community crocheting projects, also known as yarn-bombing. This is Hummel’s third time doing an installation on Long Island — her first was in Oyster Bay, and the  second was at Stony Brook’s Long Island Museum after being noticed at a gallery showing in the area.

After the installation at The Long Island Museum, Hummel said the staff told her that they still get 10 people a day, at least, that stop and come to The Long Island Museum to look at the trees. “And then they get exposed to the place,” Hummel said.

Participants not only get pleasure from creating the pieces but also get to enjoy them  after they are installed.

“It exposes people to a kind of art — contemporary art — that is different than going into a museum and looking at a painting on a wall,” Hummel said.

Local residents receive crochet circle instructions and create works of art to be displayed at Middle Country Public Library’s Centereach location this September as part of Carol Hummel’s global project. Photo from MCPL

Hummel’s role in Crochet It! is planning, designing and figuring out logistics, like how much of each yarn color is needed. Then, the project is turned over to the library’s volunteers to produce pieces, which Hummel and her team will put together in September.

The artist said she enjoys working with Long Islanders, saying that they get many people involved.

Participants have the choice to work individually or attend the drop-in crochet sessions hosted at the library. The Crochet Socials Drop-in Sessions will have instructors present and will be taking place until September.

Instructor Corin LaCicero, 38, walked around the July 12 session, offering assistance to anyone who needed help.

“It’s fun to see them learn, and when they get it they get really excited,” LaCicero said of the participants. She explained that after a few weeks they’re learning how to create things like chains and circles.

LaCicero was taught to crochet by her mother and grandmother at 8 years old. Having the hobby passed down leads her to emphasize the benefits of group sessions.

“Some people might have different techniques than others,” she said. “You might have someone come who’s left-handed and it’s hard to teach, and someone else can help with that.”

Local residents receive crochet circle instructions and create works of art to be displayed at Middle Country Public Library’s Centereach location this September as part of Carol Hummel’s global project. Photo from MCPL

The trees will be adorned with orange, blue, yellow and purple yarn in the Nature Explorium at the library’s Centereach building, where the drop-in sessions are held. “We must have over a thousand circles done already, and we need thousands because we’re doing two large trees on the property here,” LaStella said. “My office is just filled with the circles.”

Marianne Ramos-Cody, of Selden, sat in on a drop-in session July 12 for the first time with her two young children nearby.

“I’ve crocheted before, but nothing like this,” Ramos-Cody said as she demonstrates the circular pattern of the crocheting with her son by her side. “He wants to learn, but I gotta learn first to show him.

The library is offering Crochet It! kits to be picked up for any participants to start their work. The kit includes all of the materials necessary for making the circles.

The Decentralization Program, a regrant program of the New York State Council on the Arts, has given the necessary funds for the project to take off. The Huntington Arts Council administers the project, which will integrate nature and art into the community.

Community involvement is one of the beneficial aspects of the project, and drop-in crochet sessions will be Aug. 9 and 22 and Sept. 6 and 12 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Centereach location at 101 Eastwood Blvd.

“It’s always nice to experience something that’s so inspirational to everybody who’s working on it,” Hummel said.

She’s excited to be one of the first artists to go viral with yarn-bombing.

“People always say ‘aren’t you afraid people are going to copy you?’ I want them to copy me — I think it’s great,” Hummel said. “Spread joy and art around the world — that’s the best thing you can expect.”

Scenes from Centereach's Class of 2017 commencement ceremony June 25. Photo by Greg Catalano

By Jill Webb

Leading Centereach High School Class of 2017 are valedictorian Demi Lambadis and salutatorian Kelly McLaughlin.

Lambadis divided her time between a busy academic schedule, student government involvement and extracurricular activities.

Since seventh grade, Lambadis has had it in the back of her mind that becoming valedictorian was “more of a personal goal as opposed to anything external.”

Demi Lambadis

She  graduates with 10 AP classes under her belt, along with three additional college-level courses. Her extensive AP course load has earned her recognition from the College Board as an AP Scholar with Honors.

In addition to academic success, Lambadis has served  as both the president and vice president for her class. She was also acting vice president of the school’s Leaders’ Club.

Agnieszka Taciak, an AP Environmental teacher at Centereach  whom Lambadis was close with, said she’s proud of the dedication her student continued to give to her curriculum.

“There’s no secret to it — she simply does work, and is very proud of the quality of the work,” Taciak said. “And she’s very humble about the approach to work.”

Dance is one of Lambadis’ favorite hobbies, and this year she’s once again on the road to nationals. She noted she also placed at every regional and national dance competition she entered.

Taciak recalls one instance where Lambadis’ work ethic stood out to her. The teacher had given an assignment over the same weekend her student had to travel to a dance competition.

“I was reasonably expecting that she would have to be asking for a time extension,” Taciak said, but was surprised when instead, Lambadis came into school that Monday smiling with the assignment ready in hand.

For students looking to be a future valedictorian, Lambadis said, “the main thing to focus on is to not worry about everyone else, and to worry about yourself.”

Come September, Lambadis will be a freshman at Lehigh University, studying biomechanical engineering.

Kelly McLaughlin

Salutatorian Kelly McLaughlin, like Lambadis, has completed an extensive amount of AP courses, finishing with 11, and adding four college-level classes onto that list.

Outside of academics, McLaughlin had a busy schedule. She balanced her time between serving as  president of her school’s National Spanish Honor Society and as an active member of the National Junior Honor Society.

Laura Melfi speaks very fondly of McLaughlin’s presence in her AP calculus class, regarding her as sometimes being a secondary teacher.

“Kids would ask her questions ‘Kelly, how’d you do this? What’d you do?’ if I was busy helping someone else,” Melfi said.

In the future, McLaughlin hopes to become a math teacher, citing her teachers, including Melfi, as inspiring her to take that career path. Melfi said she feels McLaughlin possesses the traits needed to be an effective math teacher.

“She doesn’t let her intelligence make her feel like she’s better than anybody else,” Melfi said. “She will help everybody and anybody.”

McLaughlin also sets aside time to give back to her community by volunteering as a tutor for students at the Middle Country Public Library. Her volunteer experience has landed her some tutoring jobs, usually in math and science.

McLaughlin said she enjoys being able to help out.

“For me to make someone understand it — that feels really good that I have that impact on them,” she said.

This experience will be handy as McLaughlin goes off to study mathematics and education SUNY Geneseo.

Attention job seekers! Middle Country Public Library, 101 Eastwood Blvd., Centereach will host a Job Fair on March 7 from 1 to 4 p.m.

Presented by the Suffolk County One-Stop Employment Center, representatives from over 40 businesses are scheduled to attend, including ACLD, Amneal Pharmaceuticals, BJG Electronics, Castella Imports, Catapult Staffing, Comfort Keepers, Developmental Disabilities Institute, DiCarlo Distributors, Dollar Tree, East End Bus Lines, East End Disabilities, Eastern Suffolk BOCES, EOC of Suffolk, Express Employment Pros, FREE, FJC Security, Goodwill, Home Depot, Home Instead Senior Care, HW Staffing, Ideal Home Care, Interim Healthcare, LI Cares, LIRR, Lowes, New Vitality, NRL Strategies, NY Life Insurance Co., NYS Civil Service, Options for Community Living, Precious Lambs Childcare, Prudential, Right at Home, SCO Family of Services, South Shore Home Health, Suffolk County Water Authority, UCP of Suffolk, Urban League Mature Workers Program, US Postal Service, Utopia Home Care and Windowrama.

All are welcome and no registration is required. Bring copies of your resume and dress to impress. For more information, call 631-585-9393.

Robert Montano performs at the Middle Country Public Library last weekend. Photo from MCPL

By Kevin Redding

Middle Country Public Library stands as one of the busiest and most admired institutions not just on Long Island but in the country. A “dynamic community hub” that’s constantly offering up unique programs and services to benefit residents of all ages, the library also provides visitors with impressive decor and hallmarks, like the aquarium and outdoor “girl and cat” bench. This is all due in large part to the Friends of Middle Country Public Library, a noncommercial organization made up of loyal volunteers who strive to keep the library strong and the community happy — which they’ve been doing since they started more than 20 years ago.

Grace Miller performs at the Middle Country Public Library. Photo from MCPL
Grace Miller performs at the Middle Country Public Library. Photo from MCPL

Currently made up of 155 active members, the Friends serve as “ambassadors” to the library. Whether it’s getting the word out about programs or hosting fundraising events and membership drives to raise money for purchases that the library wouldn’t normally be able to afford as a taxpayer institution, the group utilizes its spirit and volunteerism to help enhance the library any way it can.

“Generally, we don’t raise money for a specific project,” said Kathryn Sekulo, a former president of the Friends of Middle Country Public Library, who takes care of group membership. “What we do is we raise money and really look for guidance from the library staff, like what they would like to see in the library. We have some really great support from the staff, so we work closely with them. We really bridge a gap between the library and the community and supply funding that they can’t.”

The Friends’ hard work has helped enrich the library’s overall appearance, contributing many things like a custom-made dollhouse to sit in its early childhood area, a Chase Waterfalls display to hang on the wall, matching dragonfly benches to adorn the outside fountain area and a Yamaha grand piano for the Centereach branch. Most recently, the group provided the library with a mural in the Heritage Area in Centereach, iPads for the children’s department, a new fish tank and iPods for the Music and Memory program — which helps patrons that have Alzheimer’s. A majority of its funds come from two book sales held in April and November of each year — which normally raises a combined $4,000 — and an annual garage sale that occurs on the first Saturday in August — which normally raises over $1,000.

With help from sponsors King Kullen and the Allstate Foundation, the Friends have also established and funded the Island Idol contest, a full-fledged music concert and competition that takes place every summer wherein local teens entertain a crowd of hundreds with their range of talents, get evaluated by a panel of judges and have the opportunity to go home with a $500 prize. On Oct. 16, in recognition of National Friends of Libraries Week, the Friends kicked off a series of activities with 13-year-old Robert Montano playing piano in the library’s lobby. Once a month, as part of the group’s Sunday Sounds events, the Friends reach out to local school districts in search of pianists, guitarists and singers looking for a venue in which to play. On Nov. 10, a fundraiser Laughter for a Cause will be held at McGuire’s Comedy Club in Bohemia and all proceeds will go toward the needs of the library.

“They’re very committed; they’re very loyal to the library and they really have the best of intentions,” said Sophia Serlis-McPhillips, the library’s director. “Their goal is to help us and to help provide and extend our services and our resources — and they really do that. They are like the true definition of a Friends group. We’re definitely grateful for the relationship that we have with them.”

Founded in 1994, the Friends were just a small group of local patrons who loved the library and came forward to help when it needed it most. According to group founder John Hoctor, there was a pack of angry residents at the time who were bent on reducing taxes and going after public institutions — complaining especially about the library — as taxes have always been its main source of income. They were extremely disruptive and resorted to picketing, Hoctor offered his help to Sandra Feinberg, the library’s director from 1991 to 2012. He had read up on Friends groups, which had existed within different libraries throughout the country, and worked to ensure that Middle Country Public Library had its own.

“[The library] has been very important to me. That’s why I’ve been involved all this time. It’s such a wonderful place, and I want to give back.”

—Donna Smosky

“The library is such an important part of the Middle Country community,” said Hoctor, who currently serves as vice president of the library’s board of trustees. “We don’t really have a town hall or a village center, so the library became the community center of Centereach and Selden and the Middle Country district. It’s a way to share resources, whether it’s books, computers, video, DVDs … there are lots of outreach programs. The Friends group is there as a place for very positive encouragement to show that we have a strong library and the wherewithal to take care of all the patrons in the community.”

Donna Smosky, a former elementary school teacher who served as president of the Friends for many years, and currently helps develop their quarterly newsletter, feels great pride for what the group has accomplished as “cheerleaders” for the library. She says that Middle Country Public Library is a jewel and that not many people realize it’s received national recognition, with librarians coming from all over the country to learn about programs that have been developed there with hopes of replicating them elsewhere.

“[The library] has been very important to me,” she said. “That’s why I’ve been involved all this time. It’s such a wonderful place, and I want to give back. It was important to me when my children were small. Every single person here has a story about how this library has impacted their lives. In fact, I have a whole notebook of stories that members have written about why they love it. These people have become great friends over the years, as we share a love for the library. There’s something for everybody here.”

The Laughter for a cause event will take place at 8 p.m. on Nov. 10. Tickets are $20 per person, and you must be 18 or older to attend. The Friends’ fall book sale will take place on Nov. 4 and 5.

By Heidi Sutton

The community was given an opportunity to kick off their holiday shopping at the 16th annual Women’s EXPO last Thursday, Oct. 6. The one-day event, which was held at the Middle Country Public Library in Centereach, drew an estimated crowd of more than 2,400 people who came out to support local women in business.

Presented by the Middle Country Library Foundation and the library’s Miller Business Resource Center, the occassion gave more than 80 women entrepreneurs the opportunity to introduce their wonderful products, which included wine, candles, baked goods, handbags, fall crafts, clothing, jewelry, teas, jams, pottery, soaps and much more.

“Once again we were impressed by all the successful women we meet through the EXPO,“ said Elizabeth Malafi, coordinator of the Adult Services and the Miller Business Resource Center at the library. Vendors interested in participating in next year’s event are encouraged to visit www.womensExpoli.org.

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