Tags Posts tagged with "Port Jefferson Station"

Port Jefferson Station

by -
0 637
The director of the Echo Arms Adult Home in PJS said they are lacking funds to help support their residents. Photo by David Luces

As census data suggests the number of Americans ages 65 and over is projected to nearly double from 52 million in 2018 to 95 million by 2060, some argue there has been an increased need for more assisted/senior living facilities. 

In New York State, licensed assisted living facilities receive government funding known as SSI, or Supplemental Security Income, which helps pay for services for seniors, including room, board, 24-hour supervision, medication assistance, case management and personal care assistance. New York State also supplements the federal SSI with additional payments through its Supplemental Security Program (SSP). 

“For lower-income and disabled individuals there are no other choices for them.”

— Harry Katz

Some local assisted care directors say the money is too little to care for an increasing demographic.

Harry Katz, administrator of Echo Arms Adult Home in Port Jefferson Station, said he runs one of the largest facilities in Suffolk County that exclusively accepts SSI/SSP individuals. 

“If SSI doesn’t change it will jeopardize a number of facilities on Long Island like mine,” he said. “For lower-income and disabled individuals there are no other choices for them.”

Though facilities in the state have said it has become increasingly difficult to pay for care of lower-income elderly, as the state has not increased its supplemental payment income for facilities in 12 years. 

Empire State Association of Assisted Living, a nonprofit organization whose stated goal is to strengthen New York State’s assisted living network, said due to the state not increasing the amount it will restrict senior’s access to this type of care. Currently, there are over 12,000 seniors living in SSI adult care facilities across the state. 

ESAAL serves more than 280 licensed assisted living residences, adult homes and enriched housing programs throughout the state. Some other locations in Suffolk County include Fairlawn Adult Home in Northport, Atria South Setauket and Maryville Assisted Living in Smithtown.  

According to ESAAL and Katz, the current SSI rate is less than $45 per day, which barely covers one half of a shift of one aide employed by an assisted living facility. 

Katz, who oversees 13 other employees at his facility, said he believes the state should increase funding so he and others can continue to provide these valuable services to seniors. 

“These are their homes, I’ve had residents who have lived here [Echo Home] for close to 20 years,” he said. 

Katz and others have reached out to elected officials to help their cause, but he said Albany remains stagnant in trying to increase funding.   

Back in 2018, current Democratic U.S. Rep. Anthony Brindisi, while then a state assemblyman, introduced a bill (A6715B) that would increase the SSP that adult care facilities receive. In order to ensure that these services continue to be available to low-income SSI recipients. The bill passed both the Assembly and Senate but was ultimately vetoed by Gov.Andrew Cuomo (D). ESAAL is requesting that NYS increase the current SSI rate to $61 in the 2020-21 state budget. 

The administrator said it is also about educating people on what their organization does every day, as well as what kind of services these facilities provide. 

“These are a vulnerable group of people, these homes are providing a very good function,” he said. 

Katz said for many facilities like his, the increase of operation costs, wages and other factors in addition to the current SSI funding has made it difficult for some operators to continue to run its services. 

“Many facilities unfortunately are moving in that direction, he said. “The edge is coming closer for us, if nothing happens.”                                              

by -
0 452
Bob Rodriguez and his wife Wesam Hassanin. Photo by David Luces

For Bob Rodriquez, owner and brewmaster of Po’Boy Brewery, located at 200 Wilson St., Building E, in Port Jefferson Station, it’s all about making his customers feel like family and keeping them on their toes with the constant variety of beer and cider options. 

Rodriguez shows how brewing is done. Photo by David Luces

Rodriquez said he had a dream to open up a brewery of his own for quite some time, first beginning home brewing as a hobby in his garage. As he got better at the craft, he began entering his own creations into competitions and racked up a number of awards along the way. 

For the past two years, Rodriquez has amassed a dedicated group of customers.

“It is a life changer, it definitely took over our lives,” he said. 

What makes Po’Boy stand out from other breweries is that it releases a new cider weekly and a new beer every two weeks. 

“It’s fun for me, I get to create new recipes and people come back to see what’s new,” Rodriquez said. 

The owner said everyone, for the most part, finds out about new releases the day of. They send the new menu to a customer email list and share it through social media. Even the bartenders find out the same time the customers do. 

Rodriquez enjoys making new creations. 

“I wake up — OK, I want to make this,” he said. “Let me see if I have the ingredients, if not I’ll get it and then in the next couple of days I make it. I like to keep it a surprise for everyone.” 

Behind the tasting room are three tanks that Rodriquez uses to make his new creations. From there, it goes to the breweries cold room which is the final step before it gets put on tap for customers to enjoy. 

“Not to mention the ‘sick’ beers and ciders — you can’t go wrong with that.”

— Bob Rodriguez

While big companies may use a full automated system and more man power, Rodriquez does it all by himself. 

“It’s a lot of work, it’s a lot of physical labor — you sweat,” he said. 

Wesam Hassanin, Rodriquez’s wife and bar manager at the brewery, said most places you go to they’ll have their mainstays, and only once in a while they will add another option. 

“We have a lot of regulars, they come in often, so we want to keep it fun for them,” she said. “It’s all [Rodriguez’s] ideas, he’s like a mad scientist,” she said. 

While the business has taken off for the couple, as of now they only operate the brewery from Wednesday through Sunday. Both of them have jobs working at Stony Brook Hospital. Rodriguez has been a nurse practitioner for the past 25 years while his wife works as a senior administrator in the surgery department. 

“I said I’d go part-time when I hit 25 years and that has made it a little easier — opening up this place was much more difficult to do than getting my doctorate in nursing,” Rodriquez said jokingly.

Since Po’Boy opened in January 2017, the menu has grown from eight to 16 beers and ciders on tap. Last December, they began distributing to local businesses including Prohibition Kitchen among others. 

“What I really love about it is the people that come here, the atmosphere and the comradery is really awesome,” Keegan Johnson, a bar regular from Setauket said. “Not to mention the ‘sick’ beers and ciders — you can’t go wrong with that.”

Johnson praised Rodriguez’s craftsmanship. 

“I appreciate the craft — you see someone that really enjoys what they are doing,” he said. “You can tell he loves what he does, he loves making people happy.”

Po’Boy Brewery has created a large following in a short amount of time. Photo by David Luces

Po’Boy has been recognized islandwide as it was one of News 12’s fan-picked winners in its Brewery Battle poll. Regulars come from all over Long Island, and even beyond.

Yolanda Ramos, of Brooklyn, said she and friends make the drive down to Port Jeff just to come to Po’Boy. 

“We all walk in strangers and we walk out making so many new friends,” she said.  “It’s just a beautiful place.”

Ramos said she started enjoying ciders because of Rodriguez. 

“I was never a cider person until I came here,” she said. 

Johnson said Rodriquez takes it to another level and dubs him “the chemist.” 

“He understands what people like,” he said. 

Rodriquez is proud of what he able to cultivate over the past two years. 

“This is something they can identify with: This is Port Jeff Station, this is Po’Boy,” he said. “They feel like they are a part of this.”

Selden residents lay out candles to spell Jenna’s name on the Newfield High School football field. Photo by Kyle Barr

On the green turf football field at Newfield High School, the Selden community, also swaddled in different shades of green, laid out candles in the grass. The crowd came together like a tide. As they stepped back, the candles spelled out the name “Jenna.” Underneath her name, the flickering yellow and green electric candles and tealights also framed a heart.

Community members hold candles at the Aug. 31 vigil. Photo by Kyle Barr

Jenna Perez, 17, a Selden resident who worked at the Five Guys in Port Jefferson Station was killed Aug. 24 while crossing Route 347 southbound at around 9:25 p.m. She crossed around 300 feet west of Terryville Road, police said. The driver who hit her sped off, and police said they are still searching for that person.

“She was one incredible kid from the day I met her,” said Scott Graviano, the Newfield High School principal. “A very quiet spirit, but always with a smile on her face, always saying hello. And with that sweet, soft quiet personality, she gained the love of support and respect of this entire community.”

For the hundreds of community members looking for ways to heal, remembering Perez as the loving and outgoing high schooler was the best way to deal with their pain. Wearing green, Perez’s favorite color, friends, family, faculty and more from the community held glowing electric candles while the sky slowly darkened Aug. 31. Several friends spoke for her, talking and remembering her fun-loving personality.

“She lived a short life but clearly left a significant imprint,” said Asia Austin to the crowd gathered at the vigil. “As someone who has been grieving recently, I want those to understand that we should not follow down that road in thinking we have no purpose … with support from family and friends, you will find yourself and you will be OK.”

Community members hold candles at the Aug. 31 vigil. Photo by Kyle Barr

Donna Austin was her guardian for the past three years, taking care of Perez and her twin sister Janell in Selden. She had met the twins in 2008 when they were 8 years old living in the Bronx as she went there to take care of one of their relatives. Austin would eventually run a community center out of the building where the Perez family lived, and the twins would always be there to decorate her offices for whatever holiday came up. When their grandmother died, she took both sisters in to live with her back in her hometown of Selden.

“Jenna’s face would have lit up, and she would have been smiling, looking at all of her friends who had come to her like this,” Austin said.

Their caretaker said Jenna thrived in Selden, making innumerable friends and rising higher at Five Guys. She was set to take up her first supervisor training sessions at Five Guys on her birthday Sept. 6. Austin said she had been extremely excited and proud. 

Naziyah Dash, one of Perez’s high school friends, said she has been heartbroken since she learned of her friends death.

“Your story will always be cherished,” she said. “I will keep you alive in my heart.” 

The community is helping monetarily with three separate GoFundMe pages that have been set up in  Perez’s name. The first, which is donating funds to twin sister Janell, has reached close to $9,500. The other two GoFundMe pages are for funeral expenses.

Newfield High School Principal Scott Graviano speaks at the Aug. 31 vigil. Photo by Kyle Barr

“The Newfield community is an amazing place — deep rooted, full of love and support, and that’s evident here tonight,” said the principal. “Janell, we love you very much as a community, I hope you know that. We will continue to love and support you.”

An additional memorial service will be held Sept. 14 from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Church on the Sound, 335 Oxhead Road in Stony Brook.

A funeral for Perez will be held at Ortiz Funeral Home, 524 Southern Blvd. in the Bronx Sept. 11 from 4 to 9 p.m. Burial will be at St. Raymond’s Cemetery in the Bronx Sept. 12 with a time still to be determined.

File photo

Newfield High School students are mourning the loss of a classmate.

On its website, Middle Country school district shared the news of the death of senior Jenna Perez, 17, who was the victim of a hit-and-run accident that occurred Aug. 24 along Route 347 in Port Jefferson Station.

“It is with a heavy heart that I inform you of the tragic loss of one of our own,” Principal Scott Graviano said in the statement. “Jenna Perez, scheduled to start her senior year at Newfield, was killed in a hit-and-run accident last night in Port Jefferson Station.”

The high school started providing grief counselors Aug. 26, according to the statement.

“Please keep Jenna, her twin sister Janell, her family and friends in your thoughts and prayers,” Graviano added.

Perez, of Selden, was crossing Nesconset Highway southbound, approximately 300 feet west of Terryville Road in Port Jefferson Station, when she was struck by a vehicle believed to be traveling westbound on the roadway at around 9:25 p.m. Aug. 24, according to Suffolk County Police Department. The driver fled the scene in the vehicle.

Perez left work at Five Guys and was walking to Taco Bell when she was hit, according to SCPD officials. Where she was crossing there is no light or crosswalk, and it’s possible she was hit by more than one vehicle.

The high school senior was pronounced dead at the scene by a physician assistant from the Office of the Suffolk County Medical Examiner.

A GoFundMe page In Memory of Jenna Perez has been set up to help her family with burial costs. On that page organizer Emily Keuler describes the Newfield student as “a beautiful, hardworking, intelligent teenager who strived to create a good life for herself, despite obstacles that may have come her way.” As of Aug. 28, nearly $7,500 had already been raised, surpassing the $5,000 goal.

“She did not deserve the fate she suffered at the hands of someone so careless and negligent in their actions,” Keuler wrote in the post.

Another GoFundMe page Justice for Jenna Perez was set up by Jose Ortiz on Aug. 27. According to information posted on the page, the funeral will be held at Ortiz Funeral Home in the Bronx and information would be posted once dates are confirmed.

According to a post by Ortiz on the page, Perez was an employee for more than two years with the Five Guys franchise and training for a management position.

“She enjoyed photography, taking pictures of her dog, her favorite pastime, and did volunteer work for peers with special needs,” Ortiz posted. “Her perspective was a glass half full mindset and she was loved by many.”

Detectives are asking anyone with information on this crash to call the Major Case Unit at 631-852-6555.

Tracy Kosciuk is running against Valerie Cartright for Brookhaven Council District 1. Photo from Kosciuk for Brookhaven Facebook

By Leah Chiappino

Tracy Kosciuk, who identifies first as a wife, mother and nurse, is challenging town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) for Brookhaven Town Council in the first district. And Kosciuk lives right down the street from the incumbent.

Kosciuk said she has been drawn to political participation since childhood, as she watched her grandmother, an active Democrat, become president of her local Democratic club. 

“I got to see how politics ran,” she said.

Having once been a Democrat, she is now challenging Cartright on the Republican ticket. 

“I did not leave the Democratic party, the Democratic party left me,” she said. “It’s just not the party I grew up with … I want to help make a difference and make things better and work across party lines.”

Still, she said her focus is on local issues.

Past legal history between candidates

Despite initial claims of a cordial relationship, when Cartright moved into her home in 2005, she inherited a lawsuit upon buying the property based on its property lines. The suit had been filed in the New York State Supreme Court, but ended in 2008 with the judge siding with Cartright.

Cartright had this to say about the lawsuit:

“My first interaction with my new neighbor Tracy was surrounding a baseless lawsuit over property boundaries. Having to deal with an inherited lawsuit commenced by my next-door neighbor was an unfortunate situation and I would not wish that experience on anyone moving into a new neighborhood,” she wrote via email. “I am thankful that the lawsuit was not representative of what I had to look forward to in my future years in Port Jefferson Station. Over the years, many of my other neighbors showed themselves to be welcoming, accepting and loving toward me and my family. The many positive interactions and relationships with other wonderful neighbors is what helped keep me here and led me to serve as councilperson of this amazing community.”

Kosciuk did not return multiple calls for comment.

“There are issues such as the opioid epidemic, tax increases and revitalizations that need to be done and have not been done, plaguing my area such as the opioid [crisis] that are not being addressed properly and resolved,” she said. “[Cartright] may have intentions to do things but they have not been done.” 

Given the fact Kosciuk grew up in Coram, and has lived in Port Jefferson Station for 25 years, the challenger says she has deep roots in the local community. She is an active member of the Comsewogue PTA, having had all of her three children attend Comsewogue schools, as well as the Drug Task Force Committee, Port Jeff Station/Terryville Civic Association and a self- initiated member of the neighborhood watch. 

Most notably, Kosciuk has been a registered nurse for over 30 years, after receiving her degree from Suffolk County Community College. She currently works in maternal care at St. Charles Hospital and has been a past representative for the New York State Nurses Association and the local union president for the last five years. She has traveled to Albany to lobby for improved working conditions. 

“I know how important it is to be someone who represents something and allows members of my union to have a voice, so I know how important it is for the council district to be able to have a voice,” the challenger said. “Our district has not gotten the accountability it deserves.”

Her main initiative is to increase the effectiveness and transparency of the town council. Though she plans to continue her current role as a nurse upon election, she promises the same 24/7 attention she gives to her nurses, even pausing in the interview saying she “doesn’t like to leave my nurses hanging if they need something.”

She said she plans to help streamline the tax grievance process and have elderly residents call her office to walk them through any questions they may have, as well as advocating to get them any tax relief to which they are entitled. 

As her husband is a Suffolk County police officer, she says she understands the impact of crime, especially in Port Jeff Station. Kosciuk feels that the drug epidemic is contributing to this, and that prevention education is one of the best ways to alleviate the issue. 

Kosciuk added that she believes she can help to make progress of revitalization projects throughout the district she said have been pushed aside, while remaining fiscally responsible.

She cites environmental preservation as an important issue for her and promises to ensure the maintenance of local parks as well as collaboration with the “experts’ such as Stony Brook University and Department of Environmental Conservation in order to help combat erosion as well as rust or “red” tide algae, which has appeared in Port Jefferson Harbor and Conscience Bay and is known to suffocate fish and shellfish.

Kosciuk says she faces few challenges in the race. 

“While campaigning, I have found that a lot of the same concerns that I had that caused me to want to run for town council are the same issues throughout the entire council district,” she said.

by -
0 991
File photo

Police arrested a residential community security guard for allegedly assaulting a visitor Wednesday, Aug. 14.

Suffolk County Police said John Ruggiero, while working as a security guard at The Ranches at Mount Sinai condominium complex, located along Route 25A, allegedly denied entry to a 68-year-old man who was attempting to visit a friend Aug. 14 at around 2:55 p.m. The two men exchanged words followed by a physical altercation, during which the 68-year-old man sustained serious injuries. Police did not release the name of the other man involved in the fight.

Police could not say who provoked the incident or threw the first punch.

The visitor was transported to Stony Brook University Hospital where he was listed in serious condition. Ruggiero, 50, of Port Jefferson Station, was treated and released from St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson for injuries sustained during the fight. He was charged with assault 2nd degree and is scheduled to be arraigned Aug. 15 at First District Court in Central Islip.

Will Ferraro, a Selden resident, is running against Ed Romaine for town supervisor. Photo from Ferraro’s campaign

For Will Ferraro, a Selden resident running for Town of Brookhaven supervisor in elections this fall, his campaign is about making solutions. 

“I’m running for working class and working poor people who feel like this current administration isn’t listening to them,” he said.    

Ferraro said he is campaigning on a platform of fixing and repairing town roads as well as addressing issues with the town’s recycling system and the Brookhaven landfill. 

“There have been roads that haven’t been paved in years. People are sick of a supervisor who just points the finger to the highway superintendent,” he said. “On the recycling issue, he points to China and says there is nothing wrong with the landfill. My campaign is about solutions.”

“People are sick of a supervisor who just points the finger to the highway superintendent.”

— Will Ferraro

Ferraro and Ed Romaine (R), who is finishing his third term as supervisor, will look to secure a four-year term in the upcoming elections, a result of Brookhaven residents voting last year to add term limits to three per seat, but also double the term length for the town supervisor and other positions like the highway superintendent. 

The challenger was against the increase in term length and co-funded Brookhaven Action Network, which helped organize and lead the “Vote No on Prop 1” campaign against the terms extensions. Despite being ultimately unsuccessful, it proved to be a motivating factor for Ferraro’s decision to run. 

This will be Ferraro’s first time running for elected office, though he says his experience working in Albany as a legislative analyst for the New York State Assembly has helped in the transition.  

“You don’t really know what to expect until you’ve actually done it,” he said. “You’re out there on your own.”

If elected, Ferraro said he would restore curbside pickup of recyclable glass on a monthly basis, make road infrastructure the top budget priority and create a task force that would expand air quality and toxicology tests in areas surrounding the landfill. 

“People feel like their concerns are not being heard,” he said. “This town and administration is run by one party.”

Ferraro, who grew up in Port Jefferson Station, works for the New York City administration for children’s services, has a bachelor’s degree in government and politics from St. John’s University and a master’s degree in public policy from Stony Brook University.   

So far, the Selden resident acknowledged he has raised far less than Romaine in political donations, but said he hopes to raise more than  $100,000 for his campaign. Ferraro acknowledges that Romaine has more campaign contributions but hopes that residents will take to his message. 

“You have to go out there and connect with them. I want to show them how passionate I am about this community,” the Selden resident said. “This administration has not been challenged — I’m not afraid to go after his [Romaine’s] record.”  

Ferraro said the feedback and responses he and staffers have gotten from residents have been positive. 

“Knocking on doors in neighborhoods you see the level of frustration residents have toward the current administration,” he said. “We have people that really believe in our message and want to see change and believe that time is now.”

Ferraro believes Romaine can be beaten. 

“I will provide leadership and a new beginning for the town — I want people to understand that I will be a candidate that answers to residents,” he said. “And I will call out what needs to be called out.”

by -
0 378

Students will walk through security vestibules come first school day

Workers construct the vestibule in Terryville Road Elementary School. Photo by Kyle Barr

With $32 million in the Comsewogue school district’s pocket from a recently passed bond, school buildings are seeing various amounts of renovation and reconstruction throughout
the district.

The Terryville Elementary cafeteria flooring is being replaced. Photo by Kyle Barr

Phase I is a $5.8 million chunk of the $32 million, which voters approved 768 to 315 back in 2018. Work is well on its way this summer, with projects going on in all six of the district’s educational facilities, many of which focus around the same theme, security vestibules.

“They are security traps, so there is a staging area between the two doors,” said Susan Casali, associate superintendent. 

Vestibules are being installed in each of the six buildings, though they’re not uniform in shape and design, having to mold around the current entrances. In the Terryville Road Elementary School, the building’s office is being moved closer to the entrance to allow for windowed access into the vestibule, “like you would see at a bank,” Casali said.

A new addition to the parking lot at Terryville Elementary. Photo by Kyle Barr

This works with the school’s Raptor Visitor Management System, a web-based monitoring software designed to track visitors and electronically check them against public databases. In addition, all employees now use lanyards that can be scanned at the schools’ front entrances to gain access to
school buildings.

All vestibules are expected to contain bullet-resistant glass. It was something that school officials said was part of the planned bond project during committee even before the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, last year. That particular shooting set off a wave of calls for increased school security. If the glass is not installed by the time school starts Sept. 3, the district plans to install it before Jan. 1, 2020.

“We wanted to really increase our security,” Casali said. 

New refrigerator equipment is being installed at several Comsewogue schools. Photo by Kyle Barr

Other than the vestibules, this year’s part of the bond project includes repaving the parking lots and replacing sidewalks at Terryville Road Elementary School and Boyle Road Elementary School. At Terryville, the work has created an additional parking lot for school staff on the north end of the lot, as well as replacing the cafeteria flooring for asbestos abatement. This accounts for a large portion of Phase I funds, with work at Terryville and Boyle costing a combined total of $2,733,435.

All elementary schools will see new kitchen equipment, including a new kitchen walk-in cooler at Terryville and gas conversion and cooled condenser, replacing an old freezer and refrigerator at Boyle Road, Clinton Avenue Elementary and Norwood Avenue Elementary. Norwood will also be getting a replaced kitchen ceiling and serving line reconfiguration. The high school kitchen and cafeteria ceilings are also being replaced with new lighting where the kids will sit and eat.

Associate Superintendent Susan Casali demonstrates the ID system. Photo by Kyle Barr

In addition, doors throughout the district with knobs are being replaced with levers that are American Disabilities Act-compliant.

Phase II, taking more than twice that of Phase I from bond funds at over $11 million, will mostly go to reconstructing sidewalks and roads at the high school and Norwood. The project is also expected to add a batting cage to the high school’s upper gym, renovate the JFK Middle School auditorium, replace Terryville’s roof and replace waterless urinals and sinks throughout the district.

Additional information and pictures about phases I and II of the bond projects can be found at www.comsewogue.k12.ny.us/school_board/bond_status_updates_summer_2019.

A peek into the closed garden along Terryville Road, currently covered in weeds. Photo by Kyle Barr

Overgrown with weeds, the lone park on Terryville Road in Port Jefferson Station looks forsaken. Where students once grew plants for harvest, now the only thing cultivated there are weeds.

A peek into the closed garden along Terryville Road, currently covered in weeds. Photo by Kyle Barr

Though that could change, if local civic leaders manage to get the community involved.

“One day, I said to myself, maybe we can get this going again,” Sal Pitti, the president of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association said.

The community garden, as it’s known, is owned by the Comsewogue school district, though it has been unused for years, according to Pitti.

The civic has asked community members for aid in repairing the garden, located just north of St. Gerard Majella Church on the other side of the street. The garden already contains an existing greenhouse, planter boxes, a gazebo and shed, though they have been unused for several years.

Susan Casali, associate superintendent at Comsewogue, said the property had been taken care of in the past by the Comsewogue Youth Center for years, but suddenly ceased operations several years ago. She added the district is looking forward to having the community revitalize the small patch of greenery along Terryville Road.

“The school district is very excited to have the community revitalize the garden and we have spoken to Sal and Ed about what we can do to help make the project a success and beautify the community,” she said.

Pitti and the civic are looking for a rotating cast of aid, with the civic president saying he did not wish for “the same five people to be doing the work every two weeks.”

The garden has been mowed enough to keep the grass from getting too long, but vines currently strangle the garden’s surrounding fence. On the inside, the greenhouse stands intact along with flower boxes, but those have similarly been surrounded by weeds.

Ed Garboski, the vice president of the civic, posted to the Comsewogue Community Group Facebook page asking if any community members would be interested in volunteering. Jennifer Dzvonar, president of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce, said she would look into ways her group could help, while Rob DeStefano, school district board member, said he would look into getting Cub Scout Pack 354 families involved in aiding the project. Other community members mentioned getting local Girl Scout troops on board as well.

While Garboski expects they will gather enough interest and volunteers for the initial cleanup, what they truly require is people dedicated to weekly maintenance.

“Our future hope is to create a location our kids can use for school-related activities of all capacities, as well as a place our senior community members may relax,” Garboski said.

Once the project is up and running, Pitti said they could potentially donate the food they produce to local churches for soup kitchens or other such outreach programs.

Those who are interested in assisting in the project can visit the civic’s website at www.PJSTCA.org and send an email with one’s information and availability.

Players and professionals work with children with special needs

Lacrosse players and professionals help young people with special needs. Photo by Michael Gargiulo

By Leah Chiappino

Sensory Solutions of Long Island, along with Middle Country Boys Lacrosse located in Port Jeff Station, sponsored their first All Inclusive Lacrosse Clinic, a program that pairs special needs children with an experienced player, July 30. The event was what the organization hopes to be the first of many, and is meant to not only teach lacrosse skills, but to build friendship and camaraderie. 

In a statement, the Inclusive Lacrosse League said their mission was to create an inclusive environment “that grows friendships as well as encourages the acceptance of all children. We are hoping to build the foundation where children with disabilities can increase their confidence and social skills through lacrosse, as well as create lifelong memories and positive experiences for all involved.”

With more than fifty children and fifty volunteers, the field at James D. McNaughton Memorial Park in Centereach was split up into stations, one to teach ground ball, another to teach passing and two to teach shooting. Volunteers consisted of high school lacrosse players, coaches, professional players and even some younger kids that play regularly. 

Jeff Reh, a two-time all-American Division I champion at Adelphi University and special education teacher, is president of the program. Having coached lacrosse, he partnered with Regina Giambone, one of four owners of Sensory Solutions, along with Michael Gargiulo, Larry Ryan, and Michelle Boschto, to launch the clinic. He has ideas to expand the program, which include possibly starting a league, or taking the children to Major League Lacrosse and Premier Lacrosse League games. He says the group received such a positive response, they had to cut down the capacity of participants. 

“Once we know what to expect and how to run things, this will grow and grow,” he said 

There are plans to start fundraising to help expand the program, for which the equipment was donated by Maverik Lacrosse. 

The coach says the work is worth it because of the impact it will have on building relationships for the special needs population. 

“The kids are going to really enjoy getting out of the house and meeting somebody,” he said. “Lacrosse is second. It’s really about the music and hanging out with their friends. They really just want to be part of something.”

Troy Reh, Jeff’s nephew and a player for the Chaos, a Premier Lacrosse League team, volunteered for the event. 

“I’m excited to see their smiles on their faces, and how happy they are to be out here,“ he said.  

Justin Reh, Troy’s twin and New York Lizards lacrosse team player, added, “These kids don’t get to do this every day and for us in our family to be able to give back is very special to us.”

Whitney Wolanski, a parent of one special needs child participating in the program, as well as another child who is volunteering, praised Giambone for her efforts. 

Lacrosse players and professionals help young people with special needs. Photo by Michael Gargiulo

“Regina is amazing, and I can’t say enough nice things about her,” she said. “My son would never get to experience this otherwise. It’s an incredible opportunity for not just the special needs population but for children who don’t have special needs, because if they’re not part of a JV team or varsity team, there aren’t a lot of opportunities for them to play either.”

Sensory Solutions of Long Island offers not only occupational, physical and speech therapy for the special needs population but also social groups, Zumba classes, art and music. 

“It allows kids to have an outlet in a fun, safe space that is not overwhelming for them,” Gargiulo said. 

Giambone added that the lacrosse clinic will help build bridges for the special needs community. 

“It’s going to help integrate the community because a lot of these kids cannot play sports competitively, and this gives them an opportunity to connect with professional players and the varsity lacrosse team,” she said. “We want to teach awareness and empathy, and at the same time give the kids a good experience.”

Ryan explained that the clinic could begin a wider impact in order to help integrate the special needs population. 

“I hope that those without special needs learn to interact with those who do have special needs and gain a little more understanding so when they see a classmate that’s struggling, they’re going to be more apt to help.”