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Port Jefferson

Port Jefferson restaurants Ruvo and Old Fields are back open after sustaining serious damage during a Sept. 25 flood. Photos from Facebook

The skies opened and dumped buckets of water on Port Jefferson Village Sept. 25.

The area was hit with more than 4 inches of rain during the evening into the night, according to the National Weather Service, leading to severe flooding and leaving behind devastating damage. Two Main Street restaurants — Ruvo East and Old Fields of Port Jefferson — sustained significant damage that night, causing emergency evacuations and significant periods with their doors closed while feverish-paced repairs took place.

“I definitely have the best staff in all my restaurants,” said Joe DiNicola, owner of Ruvo. The restauranteur said the possibility of closing the doors to the establishment for good was a distinct possibility, but after weeks of hard work around the clock that possibility went away Oct. 11. “We bonded together and decided we were going to reopen it. Since then that’s been our common goal.”

The restaurant reopened Thursday afternoon. DiNicola said the building was inundated with about three feet of water as the rain poured down Sept. 25. The repair job required the reupholstering of most if not all of the restaurant’s furniture, “gutting” and redoing four bathrooms, a new roof, plumbing and electrical work, and more. He said his staff was all retained through the reconstruction process and nobody missed a paycheck. He said he encouraged his staff to take time off, making sure no one was putting in full seven-day work weeks, though many were there up to six days per week, and DiNicola said he was logging 15-hour days and beyond during the cleanup effort.

“We’ve had water in the past — a little bit,” he said. “This was an event that it was an anomaly. I just don’t understand. It was just rain.”

DiNicola said water poured into Ruvo from the roof, through drains and eventually in the front door. About 20 cars were totaled in the parking lot, he said. The Port Jefferson Fire Department — which sustained substantial damage itself at the Maple Place firehouse — had to assist people in exiting both Ruvo and Old Fields that night, in addition to helping stranded residents out of about a dozen cars. DiNicola and Old Fields owner David Tunney both heaped praise on the fire department for the work they did that night.

“Thank you to all first responders, village workers, volunteers, our staff, and to you, our loyal customers, thank you for all of your support,” Ruvo posted on its Facebook page Oct. 12.

Old Fields, which is just on the other side of Wynn Lane on Main Street north of Ruvo, was able to reopen Sept. 28, according to Tunney, who said he was thankful the situation here was not worse, sending his condolences to those experiencing recent storms in Florida and the Carolinas.

“It has been frantic,” he said. “We worked really hard and diligent to get back open. The water came in quick.”

Tunney’s restaurant was closed for two days, compared to nearly two weeks for Ruvo, though he said the job required a team of about 30 people working to clean and sanitize the soggy eatery. He said even in the moment on the night of the flood, he was able to keep things in perspective, joking that he told a member of his staff who asked if they needed some more rags, “no, get some tequila.”

This post was updated Oct. 16 to correct the date Old Fields reopened.

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Recent tragedies have shown just how good and inspired our community can be if everyone bands together behind a cause.

On Sept. 30 Boy Scouts from Troop 161, based in Shoreham, were hit by an alleged drunk driver while hiking in Manorville. While four young men suffered injuries, 12-year-old Andrew McMorris, a student at Shoreham-Wading River’s Albert G. Prodell Middle School, was pronounced dead the morning after he was hit.

The news quickly spread on social media, and the community rose rapidly to the occasion. Red ribbons still fly across Long Island from mailboxes, street signs and even entrances to Suffolk County parks. A GoFundMe to support the troop has already raised close to $19,000, and the wakes and funeral for the young man were packed by those wishing to pay respect.

We’ve seen this groundswell of community activism in other places in response to hard times elsewhere. On Sept. 25 Port Jefferson Village was inundated with water that in some places reached as high as 4 or 5 feet following intense rain. Port Jeff’s Theatre Three saw the worst of that damage, as the flooding destroyed props, costumes, play scripts, books and thousands of dollars in electrical equipment, not to mention structural damage to the old building. Yet again we saw the community step up to aid its local theater. Galvanized by news stories and online crowd funding campaigns, dozens of volunteers came to the theater to aid in the cleanup, and theater personnel reported it started receiving thousands of dollars in donations the morning right after the flood, which have continued.

The rise of online connectivity can prove a useful tool in times like these, yet still there is a pervading sense that the world is becoming more insular. With election season right on the horizon and with tensions rising, we kindly remind people it’s OK to be a good neighbor even in not-so-tragic times.

We in the news business know just how powerful and stimulating a community coming together can be. Yes, reporters are people too, and it’s hard not to be heartened, even in the face of mind-numbing tragedy, to drive to work every day with countless red ribbons lining both sides of the road like a landing strip.

Imagine if it didn’t take tragedy to excite such fervor in the local community. Two childhood friends in Commack have worked to bring Commack Day back to Hoyt Farm after a near-30-year absence. The lifelong friends and Commack natives James Manikas and Dean Spinato got the community involved by posting the idea to local Facebook groups, driving their support through connectivity.

There are so many issues that Long Island currently faces, from the threat of nitrogen in coastal waters, rising sea levels and a lack of affordable housing, yet we at TBR News Media watched how well the community can come together to get things done in times of need. It would be great to see the community come together more on an average day.

Recent tragedies have shown just how good and inspired our community can be if everyone bands together behind a cause.

On Sept. 30 Boy Scouts from Troop 161, based in Shoreham, were hit by an alleged drunk driver while hiking in Manorville. While four young men suffered injuries, 12-year-old Andrew McMorris, a student at Shoreham-Wading River’s Albert G. Prodell Middle School, was pronounced dead the morning after he was hit.

The news quickly spread on social media, and the community rose rapidly to the occasion. Red ribbons still fly across Long Island from mailboxes, street signs and even entrances to Suffolk County parks. A GoFundMe to support the troop has already raised close to $19,000, and the wakes and funeral for the young man were packed by those wishing to pay respect.

We’ve seen this groundswell of community activism in other places in response to hard times elsewhere. On Sept. 25 Port Jefferson Village was inundated with water that in some places reached as high as 4 or 5 feet following intense rain. Port Jeff’s Theatre Three saw the worst of that damage, as the flooding destroyed props, costumes, play scripts, books and thousands of dollars in electrical equipment, not to mention structural damage to the old building. Yet again we saw the community step up to aid its local theater. Galvanized by news stories and online crowd funding campaigns, dozens of volunteers came to the theater to aid in the cleanup, and theater personnel reported it started receiving thousands of dollars in donations the morning right after the flood, which have continued.

The rise of online connectivity can prove a useful tool in times like these, yet still there is a pervading sense that the world is becoming more insular. With election season right on the horizon and with tensions rising, we kindly remind people it’s OK to be a good neighbor even in not-so-tragic times.

We in the news business know just how powerful and stimulating a community coming together can be. Yes, reporters are people too, and it’s hard not to be heartened, even in the face of mind-numbing tragedy, to drive to work every day with countless red ribbons lining both sides of the road like a landing strip.

Imagine if it didn’t take tragedy to excite such fervor in the local community. Two childhood friends in Commack have worked to bring Commack Day back to Hoyt Farm after a near-30-year absence. The lifelong friends and Commack natives James Manikas and Dean Spinato got the community involved by posting the idea to local Facebook groups, driving their support through connectivity.

There are so many issues that Long Island currently faces, from the threat of nitrogen in coastal waters, rising sea levels and a lack of affordable housing, yet we at TBR News Media watched how well the community can come together to get things done in times of need. It would be great to see the community come together more on an average day.

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Capping off a week of school-spirited events and a parade complete with floats from each grade level, the Earl L. Vandermeulen High School Royals football team took the homecoming win against Bayport-Blue Point, 34-16, Oct. 6.

Many spectators were in town to celebrate their 40 year high school reunion and joined in the festivities by riding in the parade and cheering on the Royals. Others lined the streets of Port Jefferson Village as the students and Disney-themed floats, student-musicians led by music teacher Mark Abbonizio, families, board of education members, teachers and administrators shared their royal pride.

Port Jeff schools' 2018 Wall of Fame honorees Heather West-Serignese, third from left; Elizabeth Schwartz accepting on behalf of her mother Honor Gracey Kopcienski, fourth from right; and David Okst, second from right, pose with high school principal Christine Austen, left, and the students who introduced them after the Oct. 5 ceremony. Photo by Alex Petroski

Some of Port Jeff’s best and brightest had their day in the sun as part of the school district’s homecoming weekend.

Port Jefferson School District welcomed three new honorees to its Wall of Fame during an Oct. 5 ceremony in the high school library. The 2018 inductees are Heather West-Serignese, a 1999 graduate who became a chef and was the winning contestant on the cooking show “Hell’s Kitchen,” in addition to her work establishing a support group for mothers suffering from postpartum depression; David Okst, a 1985 graduate who excelled in high school and at Penn State University as a student and track & field athlete and has since volunteered his time to coach several high school athletic teams; and Honor Gracey Kopcienski, a Port Jefferson High School graduate who died in September 2016 at 84 years old, and was the organist at Infant Jesus R.C. Church in the village for more than 50 years, known for her compassion, kindness and dedication to serving the community.

The Wall of Fame was created in 1996 with the goal of honoring former students and faculty members for achievements in their chosen field who were part of the school community for at least two years and have been out of the district for at least five. Honorees must be nominated by another member of the school community.

“They all possess a passion for community service and they have all dedicated their lives to helping others, and I think that is a very important point for our graduates and our students that are sitting here,” high school principal Christine Austen said during the ceremony.

Heather West-Serignese

West-Serignese described herself as someone who overcame many challenges growing up, including learning disabilities and battles with depression. She studied at The Culinary Institute of America after graduation and earned an associate’s degree from Suffolk County Community College. She excelled professionally in the kitchen, winning Season 2 of Gordon Ramsey’s “Hell’s Kitchen” in 2007 and later becoming the head chef at a casino in Las Vegas.

Heather West-Serignese. Photo by Alex Petroski

In 2016, she and her husband John had their first child, Jackson, which led to a period suffering from postpartum depression. In June 2017, the couple lost their second child when she was 22 weeks pregnant.

West-Serignese and her friend Emily Ciancarelli, who also suffered from postpartum depression, started East End Play Dates in 2017, a group meant to help moms deal with the condition by getting out of the house and arranging play dates with others sharing the same experience. The organization achieved 501(c)(3) nonprofit status and has helped more than 8,000 moms since its inception.

“It’s kind of awesome because I had severe problems in high school with learning, and a lot of teachers were very supportive, but at the same time there were kids that you knew weren’t going to succeed and I was probably below that line,” she said. “I was told even in college that I wouldn’t amount to much and I got bullied a lot in high school, and I got bullied a lot in college, and then to kind of come back as one of the successful people, it’s kind of like a ‘told you so.’”

She said she struggled through her school years and embraces that she can be held up as an example for people achieving success even when it seems unattainable early in life.

“When I was in high school I was put at risk for almost committing suicide because things were difficult — things were really hard,” she said. “I’ve been there, I’ve been at that low point where I thought that I wasn’t going to accomplish anything, and I thought that anybody would care, but now looking back, I’m looking back at all the things I would’ve missed out on. Nothing was perfect. It was really, really hard — but if you want something it’s completely possible.”

David Okst

David Okst. Photo by Alex Petroski

During high school, Okst was a member of the National Honor Society and a stand out performer on the track. He continued both of those trends while at Penn State University, and upon graduating, returned to the community where he joined the Port Jefferson Fire Department, a role he has filled for more than 20 years. He currently volunteers his time as a coach for boys varsity cross country, winter track and spring track.

Five years ago, Okst made a substantial contribution to Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, which went toward expanding the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit.

The runner turned firefighter and coach called the induction an incredible honor.

“I think sometimes when we come to school to work or teach or coach we don’t realize sort of the impact we have on kids,” he said. “Every day the things we say and do, even the mood we’re in, you know the kids see all that. I just love being around the kids, seeing them every day, seeing the crazy things they say, the ridiculous things they do, it’s really a lot of fun for me, and I would never trade that for anything.”

Honor Gracey Kopcienski

Kopcienski was awarded with the recognition posthumously, as her daughter Elizabeth Schwartz, pictured below, attended to accept the honor on her behalf. She and her husband Johnny, who also went by Alfred and was also a graduate from the high school, were community members through and through, having married in 1952 and producing eight children and 24 grandchildren.

Her more than five decades at Infant Jesus made her a pillar in the community, contributing her musical talents to hundreds of weddings, funerals and Masses. She was also generous with her gifts, teaching music and accompanying countless children and local performers. She played for the Manhasset Glee Club, Port Jefferson Choral Society, Southold Town Choral Society, Choral Society of Moriches, SUNY Stony Brook, and master classes given by the opera singer Eleanor Steber in her Belle Terre home, according to Schwartz.

Elizabeth Schwartz. Photo by Alex Petroski

Kopcienski was also generous beyond her musical talents, actively supporting the Port Jefferson Rotary Club in charitable efforts, as well as donating a piano to Infant Jesus Parish Center and contributing funds for another at her old high school. She was also a regular contributor and supporter of Hope House Ministries.

“My mother Honor and her husband Al were the kind of people that never said ‘No’ to a need in the community,” Schwartz told the students attending the ceremony. “And when you walk by someone who’s homeless and think, ‘somebody should take care of that;’ or you see somebody who is struggling with mental illness and you say, ‘somebody should take care of that;’ or when you hear about famine in other countries and you say, ‘somebody should take care of that;’ those somebodies were my mother and my father, and I hope today, that being on the Wall of Fame, you’ll walk by that every day and think, ‘I want to be that somebody.’”

She summed up what the day honoring her mother was like.

“Being here is a validation of the importance of people every day giving back to community, and that’s how I feel coming back here,” she said. “This is the way we want to be — this is who we want to be as a society, and I’m hoping that a little bit of that will be left with Honor’s picture behind.”

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Port Jefferson’s boys golf team defeated Mount Sinai on the links 8-1 Sept. 27 at Willow Creek Golf & Country Club in Mount Sinai, moving its record to 4-1 this season. The Royals will be back in action Oct. 4 at 3:30 p.m. at Port Jefferson Country Club against Longwood.

Theatre Three suffered damaged to costumes, props and other mechanical equipment, though productions went on a mere 72 hours after the storm. Photo by Kyle Barr

Though the floodwaters have receded a week later, cleanup and questions still remain.

Port Jefferson Village was hit with more than four inches of rain in about an hour during the evening Sept. 25, and while village trustee Bruce D’Abramo joked Port Jeff might have been prepared to handle a 100-year storm, it wasn’t ready for the “200-year storm” it sustained. The extreme rate of rainfall resulted in flash flooding that inundated Main Street, trapped motorists in cars, washed out those dining out in restaurants and soaked auditioning actors at Theatre Three. The theater and other businesses like Ruvo East on Wynn Lane and Old Fields of Port Jefferson a block over experienced high water marks of about four feet. Old Fields was closed for a few days after the storm while Ruvo remained closed for renovations due to the flooding as of Oct. 2. Port Jefferson School District’s two instructional buildings also were affected by the flooding, according to its website, and officials are in the process of determining what aspects of the damage are covered by insurance.

Theatre Three suffered damaged to costumes, props and other mechanical equipment, though productions went on a mere 72 hours after the storm. Photo by Kyle Barr

A furious volunteer effort ensued to get Theatre Three up and running in time for its Sept. 28 productions.

“We managed to get everything ready for Friday night and ran the entire weekend,” said Jeffrey Sanzel the theater’s executive artistic director.

Bradlee Bing, who serves on Theatre Three’s board of directors and was one of its founding directors in 1973, said cleanup efforts were undertaken by dozens of volunteers and staff in the 72 hours between the storm and Friday night’s productions. Work was done around the clock, spearheaded in large part by Brian Hoerger, the theater’s facilities manager, who Bing called the “champion” of the cleanup effort for his organizational and leadership role.

“As dark a day as it was, the sunshine and light of the volunteers really rejuvenated our energies and enthusiasm for what we’ve [been] doing these past 50 years,” Bing said. “The number of people that came down, multiple dozens of people that committed their time to putting everything back in order. The support of the town and community was overwhelming.”

He said restaurants donated food to help keep volunteers going, and The Home Depot and Lowe’s donated supplies to help remove the tons of mud and other remnants of the flood. He said much of the theater’s electrical wiring was destroyed. Sanzel said some other important items sustained major damage, including an HVAC unit, the boiler, costumes, a large chunk of props used in annual productions of “A Christmas Carol,” all of the props from the touring show “From the Fires: Voices of the Holocaust,” along with “many, many other things.”

“We’ve experienced in the past certain types of flooding in Port Jefferson,” Bing said. “This last one was the worst flooding event we’ve ever experienced. Wednesday morning was a mud disaster in the theater.”

Theatre Three suffered damaged to costumes, props and other mechanical equipment, though productions went on a mere 72 hours after the storm. Photo by Kyle Barr

New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) indicated he’s seen severe flooding in Port Jeff in the past during nonhurricane weather events, but this particular storm raised his eyebrows for a number of reasons. The storm occurred during low tide and flooding was not due to tidal waters, meaning had it occurred during high tide it’s possible tidal floodwaters would have combined with the flash flooding to cause water levels to reach in the ballpark of 10 feet instead of the four to five feet that actually occurred, Englebright said.

“When you put a layer of sand on top of a living marsh and then build housing and buildings on it, and rename it from Drowned Meadow to Port Jefferson, and hope nobody would notice, nature will come back and bite you from time to time,” he said. As the chairman of the Assembly’s Committee on Environmental Conservation, Englebright indicated storms like this one could become more frequent. “That’s a kind of a preview of what’s going to happen if we don’t seriously address climate. The big flood is still in the future, but the signposts all point toward continuing sea level rise. So I’m concerned.”

Englebright suggested in the meantime serious consideration be given to raising future structures constructed in the village above ground level.

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Most passengers on the Long Island Rail Road probably have one wish — to get to their destination quicker. This desire has been uttered for decades on the Port Jefferson line where commuters headed to the Big Apple or Nassau County need to change trains since tracks are only electrified west of Huntington, with diesel fuel powering all trains east.

While we’re more optimistic than ever that the wish may be granted, we must admit we’re only cautiously optimistic.

While the Long Island trains may never reach speeds of those in Japan, China and France, which travel at more than 200 mph, officials and community members are working harder than ever toward the goal of electrification. Both the Metropolitan Transit Authority and state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) have appropriated funds to support a study of the feasibility of electrifying the line, and a group of community members, informally called the North Shore Business Alliance, is advocating for the study by not only lobbying elected officials, but also presenting the benefits to civic associations and chambers of commerce along Suffolk County’s North Shore. There are a lot of people on board to move things forward.

Electrifying the rails means more than getting in and out of the city quicker, it also means living on Long Island and community would be more appealing. Hopefully, it would keep people here and draw more to the area. It would make commuting to work in the city easier, where salaries tend to be higher and opportunities more abundant. For those traveling east, it would decrease the time for traveling to Stony Brook University.

However, as we have said before, we are cautiously optimistic. While the study will look at how much faster trains can go, it will also look to see if electrification makes sense financially, something we Long Islanders need to understand. The winding nature of the Port Jeff line presents a set of logistical troubles as well. There is still a possibility electrification may not make economic sense, which stands to reason as it has been discussed for generations. In 2000, one study estimated it would cost $500 million to electrify the Port Jefferson line from Huntington to the end.

There’s also a change some communities may not welcome as they may foresee problems that might arise from faster trains, one being that many towns may not want more people living in their areas, citing traffic problems and perhaps more multihouse units being constructed or development.

But back to the positive side of the coin, faster trains may actually mean less cars on the road especially on the Long Island Expressway and Northern State Parkway as more may find taking the train easier. There will also be those who now live on the North Shore who opt to take trains out of Ronkonkoma but now can head to the station closer to their home.

We may not know what the feasibility study will turn up but moving it forward will increase the odds of one day either riding a faster train or finally putting the dream to rest.

Port Jeff Superintendent Paul Casciano and board President Kathleen Brennan. File photos by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski & Sara-Megan Walsh

Port Jefferson and Northport-East Northport school districts, as well as the Town of Huntington, were dealt a blow in the legal battle against Long Island Power Authority in August. But, it doesn’t mean they are going down without a fight.

Port Jeff board of education voted unanimously — 6-0 with board President Kathleen Brennan absent — during a Sept. 24 special meeting to file an appeal of New York State Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Emerson’s Aug. 16 ruling that LIPA “made no promises” to the Town of Huntington, Northport-East Northport and Port Jefferson school districts not to challenge the taxes levied on its power stations.

Huntington Town Attorney Nick Ciapetta said the municipality formally filed its appeal of Emerson’s decision the following day, Sept. 25.

The judge’s ruling dismissed the third-party lawsuits brought forth by Huntington and the two school districts which alleged LIPA broke a promise by seeking to reduce the power plant’s taxes by 90 percent. The resolution passed by Port Jeff school board authorized its legal counsel, Ingerman Smith, LLP, to file the appeal.

“We do think her decision was incorrect, and clearly we do recommend that the board consider filing a notice of appeal in this proceeding,” said attorney John Gross of Ingerman Smith, LLP, prior to Port Jeff’s Sept. 24 vote.
Northport-East Northport’s board trustees had previously voted to pursue an appeal at their Sept. 6 meeting.

Gross, who has been hired to represent both Northport and Port Jeff schools, said the districts

will have six months to perfect appeals. During this time, the districts’ legal team will prepare a record including all exhibits, witness depositions, and information gathered from the examination of about 60,000 pages of documents. He said a brief outlining the  legal arguments against Emerson’s decision will be crafted prior to submitting the appeal.
LIPA will be given several months to prepare a reply, according to Gross, prior to oral arguments before a four-judge panel in New York State Appellate Division of the Supreme Court. Further appeals are possible following that decision. Gross said the process could take more than a year.

Meanwhile, Huntington Town, Northport-East Northport school district, LIPA and National Grid have agreed to pursue non-binding mediation relating to the case, which begins Sept. 26. Gross said while Port Jeff is not a party to the mediation, it will be monitoring the outcome because the process could establish a pattern of resolution for its case. He also said the district can withdraw its appeal at any time, but once that occurs it cannot rejoin the process.

“Legal actions taken by the Town [of Brookhaven], [Port Jefferson] Village and school district to generate an equitable solution to the LIPA tax assessment challenges are intended to protect its residents and children against exorbitant property tax increases; especially in a very short interval of time,” Port Jeff school district said in a publicly released letter Sept. 12 prior to passing a resolution authorizing the appeal. “Please know, that the district fully understands that the decision about engaging legal counsel is one to be made with great care, as it always carries a financial implication while never guaranteeing a verdict in one’s favor.”

Library director open to hosting it again, though no plans currently in place to do so

Drag Queen Story Hour takes place at Port Jefferson Free Library Sept. 22. Photo by Amanda Schleisner

A Port Jefferson Free Library event aimed at promoting inclusion and diversity achieved its goal for some but also inspired the opposite reaction from others.

The library hosted an event entitled Drag Queen Story Hour Sept. 22, during which a drag queen trained by children’s librarians reads picture books, sings songs, and leads children ages three to eight in craft activities. The event took place at the PJFL and about 100 people attended, according to library Director Tom Donlon. The organization, Drag Queen Story Hour, has chapters across the United States and conducts the events in an effort to “capture the imagination and play of the gender fluidity of childhood and gives kids glamorous, positive, and unabashedly queer role models. In spaces like this, kids are able to see people who defy rigid gender restrictions and imagine a world where people can present as they wish, where dress up is real,” according to its website.

I think you’re going to be on the right side of history, and I’m glad to be here to see it.”

— Kyleen Burke

The library promoted the event on its online calendar as “a program that raises awareness of gender diversity, promotes self-acceptance, and builds empathy through an enjoyable literary experience.” During the event in Port Jeff Sept. 22, several protestors stood outside the library holding signs and verbalizing their opposition to exposing children to the message promoted by the event.

Donlon said the board of trustees got the idea from a patron of the library who said they had heard of the events taking place elsewhere.

“We liked it because the program was just about diversity,” he said. Donlon added the goal was not to get into gender or sexuality. He said in the lead up to the event he received many calls both in favor and against, though the program filled up completely in just five days.

“We kind of knew that people were going to be upset,” he said. “I was a little dismayed people saw it as an indoctrination.”

Donlon added he was disappointed people who elected to protest or oppose the event “co-opted” it to promote their own agenda. The social media buzz leading up to the event and the subsequent protests likely led to what Donlon and board President John Grossman each characterized as an unusually large turnout for its monthly public board meeting at the library Sept. 24, during which several community members spoke in favor of and against the program.

“I don’t know a lot about living in this community as an adult,” said Kyleen Burke, a 2008 graduate of Port Jeff schools who said she has just recently moved back to the community as an adult. “I was thrilled to learn about this program because going to school in Port Jeff schools, it was a really small district, and I watched kids who diverted from the norm in any way get bullied and not feel represented here unfortunately, even though this is, in large part a really loving, really beautiful place to grow up. So embracing this opportunity totally blew my mind of what this community could be, and represents just a tremendous opportunity to continue to embrace every single kid, and to make this a welcoming space despite what the norms might be. So thank you for wading into this water and for standing up for unpopular people. I think you’re going to be on the right side of history, and I’m glad to be here to see it.”

Others stressed their concerns about the event didn’t come from a place of hate or discrimination.

“I understand all kinds of positions, and we love people, but please don’t mess around with the kids.”

— Ruben Cruzate

Ruben Cruzate, who said he participated in the protests, said his picture and contact information had been circulated on social media, leading to harassment and attacks, he said.

“The reason I’m here is because I’ve never experienced such hate and intolerance,” he said, attributing his experience following the protests to members of the LGBTQ+ community. “I understand all kinds of positions, and we love people, but please don’t mess around with the kids.”

Children’s librarian Margaret Smith said during the meeting the event was a “joyful” occasion featuring sing-alongs and stories about inclusion.

“Thank you for your courage and for sticking with this program that was proposed, investigated and was planned,” she said.

Smith and Donlon each said the library plans to hold “story hour” events with people from other walks of life on a monthly basis going forward. While no date has been set, Donlon said the library is open to hosting Drag Queen Story Hour again if the community is interested.

This post was updated Sept. 25 to remove mention of Ruben Cruzate as a resident of Port Jeff. This post was updated Sept. 26 to remove a quote from Theresa Bendel at her request.

Three young boys battling cancer have long been fascinated with police, and Sept. 19 they got the opportunity to immerse themselves in the lives of law enforcement officers.

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart and Chief of Department Stuart Cameron swore in Zachary Cote, 9, and Jesse Pallas, 11, of Miller Place, and Sean Hughes, 10, from Port Jefferson as SCPD officers for the day during a surprise ceremony at police headquarters in Yaphank. Sean’s brother, Kyle, 8, also joined for the day’s events.

“It’s hard to put into words what our kids go through every day, but when we see a child smiling and this excited, its these things that will stick with them,” said Fariba Pallas, Jesse’s mother.

Each held up their hand as Hart asked them to repeat the words to be sworn in. Once she reached the end, she smiled and said, “Welcome to the department boys.” Already used to repeating what she said, they repeated her again, “Welcome to the department boys,” the young officers said in tandem.

“Just to see the smile on [Sean’s] face, he’s a very happy boy today.”

— Melanie Hughes

The swearing in was a surprise for both the kids and their parents. The adults thought their children would be meeting for a tour of the police department, but instead the kids got to join the ranks of the adults in blue.

Pallas said her son has been in the hospital for nearly half his life after being diagnosed with leukemia in 2011. She said being sworn in as an officer was a big moment for him.

Pallas asked her son who’s his superhero. “Police,” the young man shouted.

“He wants to be a police officer every Halloween,” she said.

The families originally met at an event hosted by the Thomas Scully Foundation in 2017, a nonprofit founded with the mission of brightening the lives of kids fighting cancer, and both the parents and kids bonded over their shared experiences. Melanie Hughes, Sean and Kyle’s mother, said that the kids did not have to talk to each other about their experiences, because they all know without having to say.

“It’s really sad to see kids go through what they have to go through to fight for their lives,” Hughes said. “Just to see the smile on [Sean’s] face, he’s a very happy boy today.”

The idea came about from county police Sergeant Patrick Kelly, who met the kids and their families during the annual Long Island 2-day Breast Cancer Walk in Shirley. The officer was so humbled by their enthusiasm for local police he decided to do whatever he could to make a special day for the kids, he said.

“Once the word got out everyone stepped up to the plate and wanted to be a part of this,” Kelly said. “These kids are unbelievable. They’ve gone through more in their lives than I could even imagine of going through.”

“These kids are unbelievable. They’ve gone through more in their lives than I could even imagine of going through.”

— Patrick Kelly

After the swearing in ceremony, the kids were taken outside to experience a number of police department activities, including working alongside detectives from the Identification Section; meeting with Emergency Service Section officers; and checking out Highway Patrol cars and a police helicopter. The Suffolk County K-9 unit brought out a number of their dogs for the kids to meet. Officer Brendan Gayer, a member of the K-9 unit, had quite a lot of experience with the kids, especially Jesse who has had a long standing passion for the dogs, collecting baseball cards with the names and pictures of the unit’s many hounds.

“I met Jesse years ago, and he approached me, and he was infatuated with my dog,” Gayer said. “He just loves them.”

At the end of the day, the kids were presented with a proclamation followed by a walk-out ceremony usually reserved for retiring high-ranking members of the department.

All three of the young cancer patients have long been enamored with the police department. Zachary’s father Glenn Cote said ever since his child was little he would make “awooga” sounds every time a police car passed by.

“As long as he’s been able to talk he’s looked up to the police department,” Cote said. “This is a really special day for him to be around a bunch of people that he wants to grow up to be.”

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