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Port Jefferson Station

Gov. Andrew Cuomo. File photo by Erika Karp

Homeless people living in Suffolk County might soon find a roof over their heads in Port Jefferson Station.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced May 10 that $25.6 million has been awarded to four housing developments on Long Island to create 239 affordable homes.

There is $8.1 million set aside for construction of six two-story buildings on vacant land off Route 112 in Port Jefferson Station, north of East Grove Street and south of Washington Avenue. Phase One of the project would create 77 units, while a potential second phase would add an additional 31 apartments, according to Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) speaking during a May 22 Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association meeting. The site plan application for the project was listed as
“in-review” in Brookhaven documents as of April 30, though the property is already properly zoned for the requested use and it doesn’t require any variances, according to town spokesperson Kevin Molloy. The Port Jeff Station project would include 45 units for homeless individuals, half of which would be reserved for veterans, Cartright said.

“Our biggest concern, besides the tax part that they’re not bringing any kind of revenue to our community, is also the amount of kids that may come out of this facility.”

— Sal Pitti

The May 10 announcement ignited a strong reaction from the Port Jefferson Station community both on social media and at the May 22 meeting. Civic association President Sal Pitti said he, Cartright and representatives from Concern for Independent Living Inc., the nonprofit agency seeking to construct the facility, met in March to discuss the potential project, concerns of the community and the agency’s efforts to gain tax exempt status for the project from the state. Cartright and Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) both said May 22 they were caught off guard by the governor’s announcement about the funding.

“As soon as I found out anything about it, I ran into the supervisor’s office asking him what he knew about it and wanted to make sure that I had all the information necessary,” Cartright said. “Immediately afterwards we contacted the civic association … it was news to us as well.”

Pitti said he thought the organization had been less than forthcoming about its plans, suggesting Concern for Independent Living initially didn’t mention the potential second phase, which is also not referenced in Cuomo’s announcement.

“Our biggest concern, besides the tax part that they’re not bringing any kind of revenue to our community, is also the amount of kids that may come out of this facility, because more kids in our school district means more taxes on top of the taxes we’re already paying for that location,” he said.

Elizabeth Lunde, Senior Associate Executive Director for Concern for Independent Living said leadership of the civic association had been invited to visit one of the organizations other facilities, and the invitation remains on the table.

“Concern for Independent Living is a local organization that has been providing quality housing in Suffolk County for decades,” she said in an email. “We were founded in 1972 and our first office was located in Port Jefferson Station. We currently operate over 1,000 units of affordable rental housing that has made a very positive impact in Suffolk and Nassau Counties as well as Brooklyn and the Bronx.”

Several attendees of the May 22 civic meeting expressed displeasure about the project, suggesting Port Jeff Station already has its fair share of facilities for homeless people.

“Homeless families need a place to live — our community is a very giving community.”

— Edward Garboski

“Homeless families need a place to live — our community is a very giving community,” civic association Vice President Edward Garboski said May 22. A resident at the meeting responded, summing up a sentiment seemingly shared by most of the attendees: “We don’t want to be the only community giving.”

The Port Jefferson project is receiving only a small part of more than $200 million the state is awarding to build or preserve more than 2,800 affordable apartments across New York, according to a press
release from Cuomo’s office. The governor called the $200 million investment a “giant step forward to increase access to homes for families, seniors and our most vulnerable men and women across the state.”

RuthAnne Visnauskas, commissioner of New York State Homes and Community Renewal program, said the investment would address the crisis of homelessness among other benefits.

“By delivering affordable homes to Long Island, we continue to grow its economy,” she said in a statement.

Romaine said the town is concerned about the governor’s announcement and suggested other ways he thought the money could be better used. He also instructed concerned residents to start a petition and direct it to Cuomo’s office.

“We’ve been begging the state of New York to give us some money to fix up zombie homes, and to make them available to first time home buyers and veterans,” he said. “We’d like that money going toward that housing, instead of building something new, how about we rebuild some of the neighborhoods that we lost during the Great Recession to foreclosures and zombie houses. How about giving homes to our veterans and first-time home buyers who are leaving the area.”

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Kota, a therapy dog used to comfort patrons at Moloney’s Family Funeral Homes, owned by Peter Moloney, pictured with daughter Erin Moloney, who rescued Kota while in Arkansas. Photo by Chris Mellides

By Chris Mellides

Joined by his closest family, an elderly man sits amid a solemn ceremony, overcome with sadness over the loss of his wife of 72 years.

The 94-year-old World War II veteran pauses during service at the Moloney Funeral Homes’ Center Moriches location long enough to spot a Labrador-Weimaraner mix named Kota, who slowly approaches him.

Peter Moloney, owner of the funeral homes and Kota’s personal handler, gives the grieving man a treat for Kota, which the docile dog gladly accepts before gently resting his head in the man’s lap.

“The man came into the funeral home with his family and his daughter and he was brokenhearted at the loss of his wife,” Moloney said. “Kota provided him with a sense of comfort and he was very appreciative.”

Kota, a therapy dog used to comfort patrons at Moloney’s Family Funeral Homes. Photo by Chris Mellides

The owner explained the thought process behind having Kota on-hand in the right situations.

“Pets are known to reduce stress and anxiety and take people to another dimension in the grief process,” he said.

Moloney’s daughter, Erin, rescued the dog while she was studying at the University of Arkansas, and when Kota was introduced to the family one Thanksgiving Erin’s father knew that Kota would be a perfect candidate as a therapy dog.

Aptly nicknamed “Kota the Comfort Dog,” the young canine travels with Moloney wherever he is needed and has made appearances with his owner across all seven family run funeral homes located throughout Suffolk County, including in Port Jefferson Station.

“He’s a wonderful companion and he’s provided tremendous comfort to families that have encountered him that have a fondness for pets,” Moloney said. “He’s not for everybody, and I would never introduce him to a family without at least having some type of conversation surrounding pets and animals. We would not want to invade someone’s privacy [who] perhaps was afraid.”

While Kota is currently the only certified therapy dog to be used for support in funeral homes on Long Island, according to Moloney, dogs like him have long since been used for similar purposes.

Therapy dogs have been implemented for those in need of comfort as far back as the 1700s, primarily for those people suffering from mental health problems, said Mary Burch, American Kennel Club spokesperson and director of the Canine Good Citizen program, which is used as a prerequisite for many groups that use therapy dogs.

“In the 1970s there were several large organizations that registered therapy dogs and currently, there are hundreds of organizations across the country that register therapy animals,” Burch said.

The AKC spokesperson said facilities tend to contact therapy dog organizations that have “tested dogs and determined where they are best placed.”

A quiet toy breed might be better utilized in a hospital setting where it can be placed on a bed, while larger sporting breeds might do well in a residential program for teenage boys, according to Burch.

“He loves to be petted and he’s very obedient. So, with those characteristics, I felt that he was a very good candidate to assist families within our funeral homes in providing comfort.”

— Peter Moloney

“In a funeral home, a dog would be needed that can provide comfort while remaining under control in this quiet setting where people are upset and in emotional pain,” she said.

Moloney said he saw the success funeral homes throughout the country have had when employing therapy dogs and that a friend in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, used a grief therapy dog with triumphant results, so Moloney thought he’d try to do the same on Long Island.

Kota is certified through Sublime K9 Dog Training, a Wantagh-based organization that among other things, provides dog obedience training and therapy dog services.

“He’s been certified and has passed the test, an obedience test, and needs to be calmer in crowds and he’s passed all of those requirements,” Moloney said. “Kota gets groomed on a regular basis so he’s clean and he’s very well maintained and he has all of his shots. We keep him up to date of course.”

Anne Moyer, associate professor in the Department of Psychology at Stony Brook University, said while more conventional forms of therapy generally involve interaction with a skilled professional, there is evidence suggesting animal interaction can be beneficial.

“Animals are considered useful as facilitators because they create a sense of safety, perhaps because they are nonjudgmental and do not require verbal interactions to connect with,” Moyer said. “Humans form emotional bonds and attachments to animals and these can be therapeutic.”

Kota has been visiting Moloney Family Funeral Homes where he has provided comfort since February and will typically work with families for 20 minutes at a time. Moloney said he is confident his dog will become a fixture at his funeral homes for the foreseeable future.

“Some people have aversions to pets so you know we’re very careful with our approach in introducing him to families,” Moloney said. “But he loves to be petted and he’s very obedient. So, with those characteristics, I felt that he was a very good candidate to assist families within our funeral homes in providing comfort.”

Suffolk County Department of Social Services Commissioner John O’Neill and PJS/TCA Vice President Sal Pitti field resident questions at Comsewogue Public Library May 22. Photo by Alex Petroski

A viral video of a lewd act in public and rumors about a large-scale new development project are probably why most attended the meeting, but emotions set the tone.

Anger, passion, fear and compassion flowed like a river during a nearly three-hour meeting of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association at the Comsewogue Public Library May 22. It was the civic’s scheduled meeting for May, but the regular members acknowledged this was an out-of-the-ordinary community gathering.

Earlier this month, a cellphone video of two people, believed to be homeless, having sex at a Suffolk County bus stop in Port Jefferson Station spread not only across the community, but the country. As a result of that incident, and in an effort to ascertain the facts about an announcement made by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) office May 10 that he was allocating about $8 million in funding for a large-scale affordable housing apartment complex for the homeless in Port Jeff Station, the civic association invited leaders from across local government to attend and field resident questions and concerns.

“This is how it starts,” civic association President Edward Garboski said at one point during the meeting, as tensions rose among the approximately 200 people who crammed into The Richard Lusak Community Room at the library. “None of these people are going to give you a solution to this problem tonight. Most of the people in this room have never been to a civic meeting. This is how it starts. We invited all these people here. They’re going to hear us speak. We continue to fight — together.”

“None of these people are going to give you a solution to this problem tonight. Most of the people in this room have never been to a civic meeting. This is how it starts.

— Edward Garboski

The discussion began with Suffolk County Department of Social Services Commissioner John O’Neill answering questions for about an hour. O’Neill was pressed with questions about the concentration of shelters for the homeless in the Port Jefferson Station area, oversight of the locations and curfew rules, and how the locations are selected. He said it was against the law to publicize the location of homeless shelters, though he said if he were legally allowed he would compile a list by zip code. He said the shelters in most cases are privately owned, and if they are compliant with state and federal regulations, they are approved with no consideration taken regarding volume of like facilities in the area. O’Neill also said checks are done regularly at all county shelters to ensure they are in compliance with regulations.

“The argument with the homeless is they need help, we know this,” PJS/TCA Vice President Sal Pitti said. “Everybody here in one way, shape or form has collected food, done something for a homeless individual. I think our biggest issue is the lack of supervision at these locations.”

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Suffolk County Police Department 6th Precinct Inspector Patrick Reilly also attended the meeting and fielded questions from the attendees.

“I live in Port Jefferson Station as well, so I’m not coming from another community saying ‘Oh, it’s not that bad,’” Cartright said. “I love where I live, but there are issues and we need to deal with them. It’s a complex
issue and it doesn’t happen overnight. We are committed — I can say that for each of us that are sitting here today — to trying to make a difference and coming up with solutions.”

One suggestion that emerged from the meeting is the necessity for a 24-hour hotline to contact the county DSS when issues occur in the community. Currently the hotline only operates during business hours. Reilly said he believes a viable answer to reduce crime in the area, especially in the vicinity of Jefferson Shopping Plaza, would be the installation of more police surveillance cameras. Residents were also repeatedly urged to call the police when observing illegal activities, and to stay engaged with civic association efforts to foster a strength-in-numbers approach.

Many of the elected officials said they plan to be back at the association’s next meeting July 24 to unveil plans for revitalization in the area near the Port Jefferson Long Island Rail Road station.

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Bridge of Hope Resource Center founder Celina Wilson is planning to turn a family owned home on Roe Avenue into a shelter for at-risk girls ages 16 to 21. Image from Google Maps

As the old cliché goes, it’s impossible to know when opportunity will knock, just be ready to answer the door when it does. Opportunity knocked for Celina Wilson about 30 years ago, both literally and figuratively. She went on to dedicate her life’s work to the opportunity that was standing at her front door.

The Port Jefferson Station resident founded Bridge of Hope Resource Center with her husband, George, in the late 1990s, a nonprofit dedicated to strengthening communities through family communication. The organization for years has been holding seminars, forums, workshops and other similar events to educate the community and arm parents with strategies for connecting with teens and young adults. Wilson and the organization’s overarching ethos is that education and prevention are the best means for keeping kids from falling victim to the ills lurking in society, like drug addiction and depression. In 2018, Wilson is hoping to advance Bridge of Hope’s mission a step further.

Wilson’s in-laws lived in Port Jefferson Station for about 30 years, but 10 years ago, after her husband’s mother died, her father-in-law, John Wilson, decided to move out of the longtime family home on Roe Avenue. The home was left to Bridge of Hope to use as an asset, sheltering families in crisis who had a hard time finding a place to live. Wilson said the only stipulation was the tenants needed to find work and contribute to the rent. Over the course of the last decade, Wilson said three or four families have stayed at the home.

Now, she plans to repurpose it to serve as a shelter for at-risk girls between 16 and 21 years old. The shelter — which will be called John’s House, to honor Wilson’s late father-in-law — will be a place for girls who run away from home or pose a risk of doing so due to conflicts with parents or guardians. While at the home, those staying in the five beds will be supervised and subjected to counseling and other programs in an effort to restore open lines of healthy communication with parents.

The inspiration for the home was several decades in the making for Wilson.

She was living with her now-husband’s family in the same Port Jeff Station home about 30 years ago, she recalled, when a 16-year-old boy knocked on her door. Even though it was 10 p.m., the then-21-year-old answered.

“He was wondering if he could sleep in our house,” Wilson said. “He was tired. He had a fight with his mom, and I’m figuring, ‘He must have knocked at plenty of houses. Why ours?’ We didn’t understand. But he asked us, ‘Please, just for the night, can I just come in?’ What went through my mind was, ‘If we don’t let him in, he’s going to be in the street and who knows what?’”

In the morning, Wilson remembers waking up wanting to hear more of his personal story, but by that time, he was already gone.

“What went through my mind was, ‘If we don’t let him in, he’s going to be in the street and who knows what?’”

— Celina Wilson

“I realized then, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s so many young people out there, I wonder what his mom was thinking, if she knew he was somewhere safe,’” she said. “The story repeats itself if we fast forward, but it’s
different today because of what our young people are facing.”

Wilson said the home will be funded by donations and some money from the New York State Office of Children and Family Services, which will also help in placing some of the girls in the home, though space will be available to accommodate the weary traveler like the one who knocked on her door 30 years ago.

“We feel the house is going to be a place where families can send their teens and work on situations that they themselves cannot work on in the home, and prevent them from running away,” Wilson said. “The goal is to reunite that youth back with their family.”

She said the length of stay for occupants will be determined on a case-by-case basis, with an eye toward sheltering those most in need, though she estimated many will be allowed to live there for up to 18 months. Each of the tenants will be expected to participate in counseling sessions and work toward agreed-upon goals, all while Bridge of Hope will be maintaining contact with the families to try to rebuild lines of communication. Wilson said the organization will follow up with the tenants even after they leave the home to make sure they stay on track as they grow up and prepare for independence.

One representative from the resource center will live permanently at the home, who Wilson referred to as the “house mom,” though aides, case workers and other specialists will also be on hand on a rotating basis seven days a week. She said tenants will be supervised at all times and expected to be at the home unless they’re at school, work or an organized activity.

She said admittance into the home will have nothing to do with demographics, as family conflict is common among all segments of society.

“It could be anyone’s child that is out there on the street,” Wilson said. “It could be my child.”

One community member who was helped by Wilson and Bridge of Hope said she sees the organization’s founder as the perfect person for an initiative like John’s House.

“She made things happen for me,” said the woman, who asked to remain anonymous. She said Wilson and the
center worked with her for five years, assisting in finding work and getting her life on track while dealing with a physical disability. “She’s right for these kids. A lot of young people don’t have a place to go.”

She called Wilson a good person and a woman of her word, adding she wished the founder would run for political office.

Wilson said she contacted the Suffolk County Youth Bureau, an entity under the county executive’s purview dedicated to ensuring effective management of county funds for youth services, for assistance in
establishing policies for her initiative. She said the organization also conducted an inspection at the house, which will undergo minor renovations prior to her October target date for opening.

Though members of the bureau’s leadership declined to comment on the dealings with Bridge of Hope, one of its responsibilities includes monitoring and evaluating youth programs, research and planning; information and referrals; and training and technical assistance for community-based youth organizations, according to its website.

Wilson said she sees John’s house as a fitting tribute for the man it’s named after, who migrated to the United States from Jamaica in the Caribbean. He worked for years as a custodian at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital.

“He left such a legacy here and abroad that we thought it appropriate to call it John’s House because he lived a life of service, kindness and love to his fellow man,” she said.

To donate to help Wilson’s cause, visit www.gofundme.com/xtzv6n-hope-for-her.

Developer to get financial assistance from Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency

The location of the future senior residential community The Vistas of Port Jefferson off North Bicycle Path in Port Jefferson Station. Photo by Alex Petroski

What is currently an open field on North Bicycle Path in Port Jefferson Station will soon be home for some.

A new 244-unit residential rental complex for senior citizens proposed

27 acres of vacant land on the west side of North Bicycle Path, north of Comsewogue High School, has been greenlit. The Brookhaven Town Industrial Development Agency announced in an April 26 press release it had approved an application for economic incentives with Benjamin Development Co., operating as The Vistas of Port Jefferson LLC, which will also be the name of the new community. The IDA is tasked with selecting projects that “promote the economic welfare and prosperity of the Town of Brookhaven by assisting in the acquisition, construction, reconstruction, and equipping of commercial and industrial facilities.”

As part of the financial assistance agreement between the agency and developer, The Vistas of Port Jefferson will make payments in lieu of property taxes for 13 years, starting with a $52,000 installment in year one, jumping to about $90,000 in year four, and concluding with a $1,516,043 payment in the final year of the agreement. In total, the company will pay about $8 million in lieu of higher town property taxes during the 13-year agreement. The total cost of the project is expected to be about $65 million.

The area boxed in red represents the location of the future senior residential community The Vistas of Port Jefferson off North Bicycle Path in Port Jefferson Station. Image from Google Maps

Lisa Mulligan, chief executive officer of the IDA, declined to comment on the agreement in a phone interview beyond what the agency offered in a press release, though she said the ball is in the court of attorneys on both sides to officially close the deal, which she said she fully expects to take place.

A request for comment to Benjamin Development Co. was not returned.

“As a result of IDA assistance for the development of this project, hundreds of new construction jobs will be added to the region,” the company’s application to the IDA stated. “The project development will also benefit local/regional firms through purchases from suppliers, subcontractors, etc. Finally, the project will create new full-time jobs and 245-plus new residents that will assist in the stimulation of the local economy through daily household spending.”

The project is expected to create more than 400 new construction jobs as well as 24 new permanent positions, according to the IDA press release. The Vistas of Port Jefferson will offer 64 two-bedroom townhouses, 36 one-bedroom units, 144 two-bedroom apartments with a clubhouse and a sewage-pumping facility. Construction is expected to take about two years. The facility is billed as a community for tenants age 55 and up. Fifteen percent of the units will be designated as affordable housing, available to prospective tenants earning less than 80 percent of the area’s median income, which was about $90,000 per household from 2012 to 2016, according to the United States Census Bureau.

Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said in an emailed statement through Legislative Secretary Carolyn Fellrath the town IDA is a separate entity from the board and does not seek input from councilmembers in making decisions.

“This proposed project has generated concern in the community,” Cartright said. “The re-zoning of this parcel in 2010 pre-dates my tenure. However, based on the community concerns raised to my office, I am not sure the decision to re-zone this parcel to Planned Retirement Community would be granted if this application were before this town board today.”

Eric Swanson and his parents lead the Pleasantville and Shoreham-Wading River boys lacrosse teams out onto the field during the Lax Out Cancer fundraiser games April 28. Photo by Bill Landon

By Desirée Keegan

Cindy Swanson, of Shoreham, said she thought she’d never be so closely affected by cancer, but that changed when her 2-year-old son Eric was diagnosed with a rare form of the disease in March 2017.

Eric had a large tumor in his jaw, with additional bone lesions attacking his clavicle, elbow and C7 vertebrae. He was diagnosed as a multisystem Langerhans cell histiocytosis cancer patient — which affects one in 200,000 children — as the disease was attacking his lymph nodes and skin.

Eric was one of four beneficiaries of the Shoreham-Wading River 10th annual Lax Out Cancer event, which features lacrosse games, a dinner and raffle, the proceeds of which are donated to local families struggling as a result of the deadly disease.

The 2018 Lax Out Cancer fundraiser beneficiaries Port Jefferson Station’s Jackson, Miller Place’s Blake and Shoreham’s Eric. Photo by Bill Landon

“It’s very heartwarming,” Swanson said of the community support she received, especially at the April 28 event. “You always think that something like this is never going to happen to you, but it does happen to you. Things like this — it’s amazing, just the support for the kids to feel special.”

Eric is currently in the midst of 52 weeks of chemotherapy at Stony Brook University Hospital. Noted as a kind, caring kid with an infectious smile, the Shoreham resident loves playing with trucks and learning about dinosaurs, according to his mother. His favorite thing to do is pretend to be a fireman. He was walked out onto the field by two of them during the opening ceremony.

“I think that it’s a wonderful thing for the community to get together and help families in need, and we all know what these families are going through — they need all the help that they can get,” said Shoreham-Wading River Wildcat Athletic Club President Ed Troyano. “I think that it’s really a testament to this community when they give their time and contribute to the cause. When you look around today, you see the commitment and their time to put an event like this together — I’m grateful for all of the volunteers who do this year after year. I’m humbled by it.”

Blake Doyen, a 15-year-old Miller Place lacrosse player; 11-year-old Jackson from Port Jefferson Station; and 13-year-old Kaelyn McCandless from Lindenhurst were the other beneficiaries of the Shoreham-Wading River boys lacrosse game against Pleasantville, and the girls lacrosse game against Rocky Point. The boys junior varsity squad also faced off against the junior varsity team from Pleasantville.

“It’s huge to participate in the Lax Out Cancer event,” senior Shoreham-Wading River lacrosse player Tim Cairo said. “Pleasantville is a great team, and for them to come all this way for the cause today is great.”

Blake was diagnosed with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia in February, an aggressive acute leukemia that progresses quickly and affects the lymphoid-cell-producing stem cells, in particular, a type of white blood cell called T lymphocytes, which make antibodies that help fight infection. He has started intensive chemotherapy at Stony Brook hospital, where he will receive treatment for the next three years. Blake is an energetic and enthusiastic teen who, although not able to return to school or play lacrosse for the remainder of the year, is determined to fight this disease until he wins, so that he can get back to doing all the things that he loves, according to his family.

“You always think that something like this is never going to happen to you, but it does happen to you. Things like this — it’s amazing, just the support for the kids to feel special.”

— Cindy Swanson

Jackson, a second-time beneficiary of the event, taking part in it last year, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia — a type of cancer of the blood and bone marrow with excess immature white blood cells — in December of 2013. He finished his treatment and was in remission, but cancer returned. He had to undergo intense chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant, according to his family, and is struggling with complications from graft-versus-host disease, a condition that occurs when donor bone marrow or stem cells attack the recipient. Jackson, noted as a lover of sports, superheroes and video games, was in the hospital from December until March and will continue his chemotherapy treatment for the next two years.

Kaelyn has been fighting brain cancer for the last two years. She has received the maximum dose of radiation and chemotherapy, but her last two scans have shown something has returned at the tumor site. Doctors are in the process of planning their next course of action on the youngest of seven children.

“I’m thankful that I can be a small part of this — to be able to give back to the community,” Shoreham-Wading River head boys lacrosse coach Mike Taylor said. “I am very happy that we are continuing such a significant event. I feel so fortunate to have such a special group of parents, and a supportive community. It is very important to me to have our athletes involved in and understand the importance of being a concerned and productive community member. It is my goal as their coach to develop these young men into strong leaders, students, employees and family members through athletics and community service events.”

Former Lax Out Cancer proceed recipients also attended the event. So far, $1,540 has been raised of the $5,000 goal through a GoFundMe page. Visit to find out more about the recipients and to donate.

Bill Landon contributed reporting

By Rich Acritelli

Legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi once said: “The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will.”

Former Port Jefferson Station teacher and coach Tom Hespos holds the words of Lombardi near and dear to him, even reciting them to his former business class students at Comsewogue High School. A three-sport athlete, Hespos had the honor of playing for Lombardi in 1964 before being cut from the Packers’ training team.

Tom Hespos playing for C.W. Post. Photo from Rich Acritelli

Raised in North Bergen, New Jersey, the quarterback and linebacker gained local success for more than his skills on the gridiron. He played baseball and basketball and was coached in the Babe Ruth League by his father, who was also a noted semiprofessional pitcher for the Jersey Blue Sox. Hespos’ mother was known for playing competitive softball.

During his senior year at St. Joseph of the Palisades High School, he captained his football team and performed well, but didn’t see as much time behind two of northern New Jersey’s top quarterbacks. Hespos turned down the chance to toss his mean curveball for the Boston Red Sox and headed to what was then called C.W. Post on scholarship where he played football and majored in business administration.

As a freshman, Hespos blossomed to 6’2’’, 205 pounds and quickly found the Pioneers wanted to take advantage of his passing skills. He took over as starting quarterback his sophomore year and was known for his 80-yard passes downfield.

During a 1964 contest, C.W. Post upset Northeastern University, defeating them 31-10. It was in that game Hespos, then a senior, made history, becoming the first quarterback in school history to reach 400 passing yards in a single game. He completed 22 of 30 passes and threw four touchdowns in the win. By the end of his collegiate career, he also amassed more than 2,000 passing yards, also a first. That year he was selected to the All-Eastern College Athletic Conference Small College Team and the Little All-America Team. He was named the team’s Most Valuable Player in 1963 and 1964 and was captain in 1964. Hespos was the first quarterback to lead C.W. Post to a victory over arch-rival Hofstra University in 1963.

Hespos was said to inspire his team to achieve the Hofstra win, but he credited his teammates.

“They made few mistakes, accepted a team-first mentality,” he said. “I appreciated the big linemen that the coaches placed on the offensive line to adequately protect me.”

For years, Hespos held all of the quarterback records for the Pioneers, that is, until Glen Cove-native Gary
Wichard entered the picture. Wichard was a two-time All-American, professional quarterback for the Baltimore Colts and  was a famous sports agent, who was said to be the inspiration for the main character in the movie Jerry Maguire. 

“They call it coaching, but it is teaching. You do not just tell them … you show them the reasons.”

— Vince Lombardi

Following his senior season, Hespos received letters from professional American and Canadian football organizations inquiring about signing him to a free agent deal. He ended up choosing the Packers, and signed with a modest bonus before being invited to training camp.

Lombardi, a Brooklyn native and former member of the Fordham University football team coached football and basketball at St. Cecilia High School, where he also taught Latin and physics, not far from Hespos’ roots in North Bergen. The coach attended every meeting between the offensive coaches and the quarterbacks, and Hespos recalled the stature of this respected teacher, noting he was “demanding,” and that he expected all his players to “produce.”  

“He had an agile memory that knew everything about every player that was on the field,” Hespos said.

The Port Jefferson Station teacher threw passes next to future Hall of Famer Bart Starr. One of seven quarterbacks invited to train, he was ultimately cut behind Starr’s backup Zeke Bratkowski.

After he left Green Bay, Hespos played for a minor league football organization within the Atlantic Coast League. He was signed by the Jersey City Jets, which had former players that also had professional experience in United States and Canada.

Like at C.W. Post, Hespos was a key member of his squad and helped it win a league championship.  After injuring his shoulder for a second time, Hespos was forced to put his football career behind him. By 1969, he began working at John F. Kennedy High School on Jane Boulevard in Port Jefferson Station. Well before this school received the name Comsewogue Warriors, Hespos coached the Spartans in football, baseball and basketball. In the early 1970s, he was hired to coach football in Sea Cliff for North Shore High School. While this was a long distance from his regular job, this position allowed Hespos the opportunity to coach with his teammates from C.W. Post, who he’d also formed with in a doo-wop group called Spider and the Webs. The group performed in the same venues that also featured The Times and The Duprees. In 1965, they sang at the World’s Fair in Flushing Meadow. Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller recognized the spirit of the group with a certificate.

During Hespos’ three years with North Shore, he helped lead the team to three league titles and a county championship.

Tom Hespos wearing his old Spiders & Webs T-shirt. Photo from Rich Acritelli

In 1975, Hespos began coaching Comsewogue’s varsity baseball team, which instantly became one of the most competitive teams in the county. By 1982, his program reached the pinnacle of excellence with a 27-4 record and winning the state title. Over seven years, Hespos’ teams, which won five league titles, a county title ad Long Island crown before the state nod, regularly won more than 80 percent of its games.

Following the state win, Hespos left coaching to begin Greenway Lawn Sprinklers, which serviced homes from Port Jefferson Station to Montauk and Orient Point.

Hespos’ athletic prowess was further awarded when he was inducted into six halls of fame, including the Hudson County, New Jersey and C.W. Post athletic halls of fame. His 1982 baseball team is also recognized on the Comsewogue Wall of Honor.

“They call it coaching, but it is teaching,” Hespos said recalling the words of Lombardi. “You do not just tell them … you show them the reasons.”

He said even before meeting his acclaimed Packers coach he was moved to become a teacher from some of his former ones.

“I will always remember the coaches and the mentors I had back then,” he said. “The coaches I had at St. Joseph challenged me, motivated me and inspired me.”

Hespos moved to Wading River before heading down to Port St. Lucie, Florida, where he still lives. He is a father of two and grandfather of six, and enjoys fishing, playing golf and watching the New York Mets at their minor league baseball complex.

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College.

CVS on Nesconset Highway in Port Jefferson Station. Image from Google Maps

A Port Jefferson Station pharmacy was robbed at gunpoint April 3, according to Suffolk County police.

Three armed men allegedly entered CVS located at 4331 Nesconset Highway in Port Jefferson Station at about 3:40 a.m. Tuesday, April 3, with guns and wearing ski masks, restrained at least one employee and stole money and narcotics from the store, police said. No one was injured during the robbery, police said. Suffolk County Major Case Unit detectives are investigating the incident.

Anyone with information about the robbery is asked to call 631-852-8555 or contact Crime Stoppers at 800-220-TIPS (8477). All calls will be kept confidential.

Taking the lead of demonstrations started by people barely old enough to drive during the days of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement, North Shore students marched Saturday. Their messages were clear in their rhetoric delivered over a sound system from the bed of a pickup truck and on homemade signs: lives lost to gun violence are no longer acceptable, especially in schools, and politicians who do not agree are going to have organized and audible opposition.

A local incarnation of the March for Our Lives, a movement started by survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that left 17 people dead in Parkland, Florida, Feb. 14, took place at the intersection of Routes 347 and 112 in Port Jefferson Station March 24. While thousands stomped through Washington, D.C., and countless other areas across the globe, several hundred gathered locally, thanks to the organizing efforts of students from Miller Place, Port Jefferson, Ward Melville and other area high schools, to call on politicians to take action to prevent gun violence in schools and communities. Activist organizations The North Country Peace Group, Long Island Rising, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Building Bridges in Brookhaven assisted the high schoolers in setting up the demonstration.

Calls for legislative action in speeches and on signs ranged from all-encompassing bans of “assault style” weapons seen abroad, like in Australia; to the more incremental policy changes being discussed in state houses and on the federal level, such as raising the minimum age to purchase firearms from 18 to 21; to bans on modifiers that make semi-automatic weapons function like automatic weapons; stronger background checks; and longer waiting periods for purchases.

“We are infused with a passion for change — change that we hope will drain the stagnant pool of corruption in our nation,” Miller Place High School student Jake Angelo said to the crowd. “We are the hope for our country’s future — the generation of awareness, the generation of calling ‘B.S.’ and the generation of change.”

Nearly all of the student speakers directed their remarks at U.S. 1st Congressional District Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and the National Rifle Association, the powerful lobbying arm whose political contributions are often criticized as the deterrent to advancing gun legislation by those who lean to the political left. Zeldin received nearly $10,000 in campaign contributions from the NRA during his reelection campaign in 2016, according to campaign finance watchdog OpenSecrets.org.

“Change does not happen when the leaders deem it so,” Ward Melville High School student Scott Egnor said. “Change happens when every day folks say that enough is enough. Change happens when every day folks draw the line. Change happens when we vote Lee Zeldin out. We will take this movement, by Americans, for Americans, and we will bring it to the doors of the capital. We will not stop until Congress is more afraid of our voice than the NRA checkbooks.”

A spokeswoman for Zeldin Katie Vincentz said in an email the Congressman has and will continue to meet with those on both sides of the gun control debate, when asked if he planned to meet with any of the NY-1 students behind the Port Jeff Station march. She said Zeldin supports banning bump stocks, fixing the National Criminal Instant Background Check System and “ensuring lunatics manifesting violent criminal intentions to murder with firearms have access to none,” among other changes widely regarded as incremental gun control steps. She did not say whether or not he would support a ban on assault-style weapons when asked.

“The more people of all ages participating the better,” Vincentz said when asked how Zeldin viewed the activism of students in his district and beyond.

A speaker who identified herself as Ariana, a sophomore at Longwood High School, also invoked Zeldin during her remarks.

“Why should 15 year olds have to discuss the possibility of dying at the hands of a mass shooter?” she said. “Why should we be discussing dying in school, a place where we’re supposed to be safe and protected? And what can we expect from politicians like Lee Zeldin? Apparently only prayers and condolences. Congress is not taking the necessary steps to keep students like me and my friends safe — or the 5 year olds in kindergarten, or the 11 year olds in middle school. That’s why we are here. We cannot wait for the adults in Congress to continue to let the NRA call the shots when it comes to our safety. These politicians are not listening to us because we are supposedly too young to know what’s good for us, but apparently their silence is what’s best. Or perhaps the issue here is special interests and the money they receive is more important to them than our lives.”

Many of the parents of student speakers and participants in attendance expressed how proud of their children they were.

“It’s honestly the most proud that I’ve ever been of them,” said Kathy Podair, whose daughter Emma and frienf Alyssa Anderson, Smithtown High School West students, were among the marchers. “I’ve raised them to be strong women and to speak out against things that are wrong and that need to change. To see them take that initiative and stand up, I feel like I did a good job. I’m very proud of them today.”

She called sending a student off to high school in today’s world “terrifying.”

“They had a lockdown drill last week,” she said. “We got an email from the superintendent in the morning letting us know that there will be an unannounced lockdown drill today, and they came home from school and told me they were in the choir room when it happened, in a room that doesn’t have a lock on the [glass] door, and they said ‘we were sitting ducks if this was real.’ There were 150 kids in this room and they said ‘there’s nowhere safe for us to hide.’”

Port Jefferson High School students Ben Zaltsman and Matt Pifko, who helped organize an indoor assembly that took place March 14 on the day a national walkout was scheduled, along with classmate Gavin Barret, also spoke during the event. The trio said they were inspired by the solidarity they felt from seeing so many of their peers in attendance. The students helped establish a station in the high school that will remain open at which their peers can get assistance in writing letters to elected representatives.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) were also among the attendees.

“It is amazing to see the passion, the dedication, the commitment of these students — no fear,” Hahn said. “It is wonderful. They are focused, they are determined, they are smart and they’re getting things done already. And we need to follow their lead.”

A smaller group of counter protestors stood across the street on Route 347 holding signs in support of the Second Amendment, with several Suffolk County Police Department officers and their cars positioned on the median to separate the two groups, though no violence and minimal interaction occurred.

A package of gun control bills passed the New York State Assembly in March and will require passage by the Republican-majority state senate before becoming law. All of the students asked said they intend to vote in the next election, or the first one after their 18th birthday. Organizers from the various activist groups had a table set up during the march to help register attendees to vote.

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Go Fund Me pages set up to aid future of Staff Sergeant Dashan Briggs' family

A helicopter crash in western Iraq hit close to home.

Port Jefferson Station Staff Sergeant Dashan Briggs was among those killed in the crash March 15. The 30-year-old was one of seven airmen on board carrying out a mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, an American-led mission to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria, according to the United States Department of Defense. The DOD said the cause of the crash is under investigation.

Sergeant Dashan Briggs. Photo from 106th Rescue Wing Facebook

Briggs was one of four assigned to the National Air Guard 106th Rescue Wing at the Francis S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base in Westhampton Beach on board the Sikorsky HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter that crashed. He was a full-time military member with the wing and a special missions aviation flight engineer, according to a post on the Rescue Wing’s official Facebook page. Briggs was previously deployed to Afghanistan as a munitions system specialist with the 106th maintenance group, as well as to Texas and the Caribbean for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

“I looked up to him very much, just because of the type of man he was — one of the realest people you’ll ever meet,” said Andre Galarza, a close friend, former roommate and Riverhead High School classmate of Briggs’ who set up a Go Fund Me page to raise money for his fallen friends’ widow Rebecca, 2-year-old son Jayden and 1-year-old daughter Ava. “As a person, he was one of the strongest people I know.”

Galarza called Briggs a warrior, a genuine friend always willing to offer a helping hand and a true leader. He said his goal in setting up the fundraiser, which collected nearly $12,000 as of midday March 19, was to help Briggs’ family with future expenses.

“I know with him being in the [Air National Guard], I’m sure they have a process of how they take care of the widow, but for me, I know folks always say, ‘If there’s anything I can do to help’ — I know deep down in my heart this is the right thing to do,” Galarza said.

“I looked up to him very much, just because of the type of man he was — one of the realest people you’ll ever meet.”

— Andre Galarza

Another fundraiser with a similar goal was established by Dusti Napolitano at the request of those who served with Briggs, including her husband, who is currently deployed in Iraq.

“He needs to be honored — he was an excellent man,” she said in a phone interview. “They want to make sure that his children have money available to them if they need anything that their dad would have otherwise provided for them in the future.”

Captain Michael O’Hagan, public affairs officer for the 106th Rescue Wing, said during a media briefing that at this time, the crash does not appear to be the result of enemy activity. Briggs’ body, along with the others in the crash, will be returned to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware in the coming days ahead of burial with full military honors, O’Hagan said. He added that the wing has a team of professionals dedicated to helping the families through the grieving process.

“The 106th Rescue Wing specializes in worldwide personal recovery of pilots, military personnel and civilians by air, land and sea during combat and peacetime,” O’Hagan said. “First, on behalf of the men and women of the 106th Rescue Wing, and our extended family, I want to offer up our most sincere, deepest condolences for all those affected by this horrific tragedy, most especially, the loved ones and families of our fallen. Our hearts and prayers and support go out to them through this difficult time. This is where we live and serve. Our hearts are broken.”

“They want to make sure that his children have money available to them if they need anything that their dad would have otherwise provided for them in the future.”

— Dusti Napolitano

Captain Andreas O’Keeffe, 37, of Center Moriches; Captain Christopher Zanetis, 37, of Long Island City; and Master Sergeant Christopher Raguso, 39, of Commack were the others from the Rescue Wing involved in the fatal crash, according to the DOD. Master Sergeant William Posch, 36, of Indialantic, Florida, and Staff Sergeant Carl Enis, 31, of Tallahassee, Florida, both assigned to the Air Force Reserve 308th Rescue Squadron, also died in the crash.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) mourned the fallen service members in a statement.

“These fallen airmen are the best of who we are,” he said. “There are no words that fully describe the profound sorrow and immense gratitude that consume our community today. There are no words to describe the emptiness this loss leaves in the heart of every Long Islander. There is, however, no shortage of ways to describe these seven service members — selfless, heroes, patriots and everything we aspire to be as a people, as a nation and as Americans.”

Visit https://www.gofundme.com/in-loving-memory-of-dashan-briggs or https://www.youcaring.com/rebeccabriggs-1134709 to donate to Briggs’ family.

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