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Smithtown

Hurricane Harvey caused devastation across Texas and neighboring states last week. Stock photo

By Alex Petroski, Rita J. Egan, Kevin Redding, Desirée Keegan and Sara-Megan Walsh

Hurricane Harvey ripped through the Gulf of Mexico and the eastern coast of Texas as a Category 4 storm, dumping historic floodwaters on the region and leaving hundreds of thousands of people displaced from their homes, injured or worse. About 1,700 miles away several efforts to raise money and accumulate food and supplies for those affected sprung up across the North Shore this past week into the weekend. Business owners, nonprofits, citizens and even kids pitched in to try to help in the early stages of getting victims back on their feet.

Port Jefferson

Tara Higgins, Kate Higgins and Joseph Higgins, owner of Tara Inn in upper Port, during a fundraiser Sept. 4 at the pub to benefit victims of Hurricane Harvey. Photo by Alex Petroski

In October it will be 40 years that Joseph Higgins has owned Tara Inn pub on Main Street in upper Port. When Higgins heard of the devastation in Houston and the surrounding region as a result of Hurricane Harvey, he said it resonated with him in a way that left him feeling like action was required. The pub owner decided to hold a benefit Sept. 4, Labor Day, to raise money for people affected by the massive storm. In addition to the sale of raffle tickets and Harvey relief T-shirts donated by Port Jefferson Sporting Goods, Higgins pledged to donate 100 percent of the bar’s food and beverage sales from the day to a group providing aid for victims in the region.

Tara Inn amassed more than $15,200 in sales and donations during the course of the day, which will be donated to the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization which was created to honor the memory of Siller, who was a firefighter killed in the line of duty Sept. 11, 2001. The organization is asking for donations to help Harvey victims on its website, and 100 percent of the money raised will go toward supplies and helping those affected.

“Forty years ago I had eight kids, my wife and I didn’t have two nickels to rub together, and I said, ‘God, help me raise these kids,’ and he did,” the 86-year-old Higgins said during the event, while seated near the pub’s front door with a container for additional donations. “And I can’t thank God enough for all he has given me and that’s why we give back. I’ve had a great life, and I like to give back. There have been times in my life where I had an opportunity to do something good and I didn’t do it, and I always regret that. Every time something comes along that we can do for somebody else, I want to do it.”

Tara Inn was filled with guests and volunteers throughout the day, including two of Higgins’ daughters.

“This is the family business, and we’ve done fundraisers in the past, and we just thought it was our small contribution to people that have been really devastated,” said Tara Higgins, whom the bar was named after. “Our customers are very loyal and really step up when we do fundraisers.”

Bubba Davis, a Port Jefferson Village resident for 78 years, was among those in attendance for the fundraiser at Tara Inn.

“This family here, they’ve always done that — they’re fantastic people,” Davis said.

Higgins’ wife of 65 years, Pat, was also at the pub for the event.

“He has the biggest heart in the world,” she said of her husband. “We feel so sorry for all the poor kids.”

In addition to the Tara Inn fundraiser, an emergency clothing drive will be hosted Sept. 9 at the Avalon Park barn in Stony Brook from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. by Knead 2 Feed, an organization that works with Port Jeff elementary school students to help the homeless. The organization, which was founded by former Port Jeff resident Jane Parker, features about 40 kids from the local area ranging from 5 to 14 years old who typically meet once a month to fulfill their mission of collecting goods to donate to a homeless shelter in Manhattan. This month their meet up will be the clothing drive.

“It’s a great group of kids who we’re really just teaching how important volunteering is and just trying to inspire them to be altruistic and help other people,” Parker said in a phone interview. She added the group has plans to drive a U-Haul truck to Texas in the coming weeks to deliver the bounty from the clothing drive.

Port Jefferson high school graduate Shaughnessy Harrison and her team at Keller Williams Realty Homes & Estates also collected donations of supplies to fill a truck  headed to Texas Sept. 7.

STAT Health Urgent Care centers, including the one in Port Jefferson Station, also accepted donations of supplies and nonperishable foods through Sept. 4, which were loaded into a truck and driven to Texas this week.

Setauket

Eric Cohen, president of True View Window Cleaning and Power Washing, with donations he collected and plans to drive to Texas to donate to Hurricane Harvey victims. Photo by Rita J. Egan

A few days after Hurricane Harvey left devastation behind in its wake in southeastern Texas, a Setauket business owner sat in his office surrounded by boxes and bags of much-needed staples.

Eric Cohen, president of True View Window Cleaning and Power Washing, said he was watching news coverage of the hurricane with his 12-year-old daughter Jamie when she turned to him and said, “That’s not going to happen to us Daddy, right?”

The Port Jeff resident said he started explaining to her there was no need to worry because volunteers would bring the flood victims food and help rebuild their houses. It was then he said he realized he needed to do something.

“I figured she’d grasp it better if I did something than explain it,” Cohen said.

The business owner decided he would collect food, toiletries and clothing, load up a truck and transport them to one of the drop-off centers in Texas. He said this is the first time he has organized a drive like this, but as soon as he made the decision to do so, he posted on social media and called clients. In the days that followed, dozens of people stopped by with donations, and a few of Cohen’s clients have helped store items in their offices.

This past weekend, he loaded a 24-foot enclosed trailer with cases of water, granola bars, Ramen noodles, canned goods, diapers, toothpaste, deodorant and blankets.

Cohen said he’s excited and the donation drive has been satisfying, but he is a bit nervous about the trip. Before choosing a day to drive down, he was monitoring the weather, availability of gas in Texas and safety issues. Cohen plans on posting updates about the trip on his business Facebook page, www.facebook.com/trueviewcleaningservices.

“I kind of have butterflies in my stomach thinking about the trip down,” Cohen said. 

His daughter said she thinks Cohen’s volunteer mission is cool.

“It’s nice because we have a lot of things that they used to have, and now they don’t have anything, and now he’s going to help them,” Jamie said.

In addition to Cohen’s Hurricane Harvey relief drive, Alchemy Martial Arts and Fitness of Setauket, located at 254 Main St., will be accepting donations for flood victims until Sept. 16. All contributions will be dropped off at U.S. Rep. Tom Souzzi’s (D-Glen Cove) office in Huntington.

The school owner, Nick Panebianco posted on Facebook he was approached by 7-year-old student Josh Rossler who asked: “What are we doing to help with what’s going on in Texas?”

“He really impressed me today, and I hope all my students can take this act as an example of how a martial artist holds themselves in and out of the classroom,” Panebianco wrote. 

The board of Jefferson’s Ferry life plan community in South Setauket was moved to donate $5,000 to the LeadingAge Hurricane Harvey Disaster Relief Fund after a photo of La Vita Bella Assisted Living Home residents awaiting rescue in waist deep water appeared in various news outlets. LeadingAge represents organizations serving older adults in 38 states, and in the past members of LeadingAge donated $1.3 million in total for victims of hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Wilma and Sandy.

“Seeing the footage and photos from Houston, particularly of some of our most vulnerable populations, quickly moved us to action,” George Rice, chair of Jefferson’s Ferry’s board of directors, said. “Knowing that LeadingAge would target 100 percent of our donation to help seniors in need made it easy to help.”

Mount Sinai

Mount Sinai Fire Department volunteers box up assorted items to be shipped directly to shelters in Houston. Photo by Kevin Redding

A cardboard sign spray-painted with the words “Help Texas” greeted residents who stopped by the Mount Sinai Fire Department over the weekend.

In an effort dubbed “Help Us Help Texas,” volunteer firefighters collected hundreds of items — including cases of water, pet food, nonperishable foods, diapers, contractor bags and paper towels — from members of the community, who dropped the goods off to the firehouse on Mount Sinai-Coram Road Sept. 2 and 3.

As residents pulled into the parking lot with vehicles full of much-needed supplies for those suffering in the wake of the storm, all members of the department from junior firefighters to chiefs helped carry them in, while other volunteers got to work boxing them up to be delivered to shelters in Houston.

“It’s so encouraging that everybody can get together and do what needs to be done under these types of circumstances,” said safety officer Dan Desmond, who has been a volunteer with the Mount Sinai department for 30 years.

Desmond said he wasn’t surprised to see so many people stopping by to help.

“There’s nothing stronger than the bond that Long Islanders have,” he said. “Whether it’s for somebody in Alaska or down in Texas, if somebody needs help, Long Island’s going to come together.”

Adam Thomas, an 11-year volunteer who organized the event, said he immediately sprung into action because he has friends who serve as firemen near Houston. As he and other Mount Sinai volunteers couldn’t make the trip to Texas, he thought of the next best thing.

Through Facebook, emails, phone calls and word of mouth, Thomas promoted the donation drive in the week preceding it.

With a direct contact on the scene in Houston, Thomas was also able to compile a specific list of supplies for residents to contribute. Rather than clothing or cash, the most crucial supplies included batteries, flashlights, cleaning supplies, mops, hygiene products, masks, goggles and bug spray.

“My friends down there, they’ve been working all night, and sent me a text saying, ‘We need mosquito sprays’ because they’re getting slaughtered by them — they have fire ants all over the place too,” Thomas said.

As another car full of items pulled in, Thomas said the initiative felt wonderful.

“It’s not just me doing it, it’s everybody that’s helping,” he said. “I wouldn’t be able to do it without them.”

Department lieutenant Rob Pobjecky, who helped Thomas get the event off the ground, pointed to another storm’s relief effort as inspiration.

“I think that the outpouring of help that we got from around the nation with Hurricane Sandy really helped spawn this idea that we can give back and help others in their time of need,” Pobjecky said.

The lieutenant said  the event was evidence of social media being put to good use.

“I’m not the biggest fan of social media, but in instances like this, I think it’s when it really is tremendous,” Pobjecky said.

As one resident dropped off water, baby wipes, cat food and paper towels, she said of her donations: “It’s the least we can do, right?”

Wading River

The New York Air National Guard 106th Rescue Wing, based in Westhampton Beach, traveled to Texas to help with rescues.

The group rescued nearly 300 people by boat and helicopter as of Aug. 29, military officials said, though the number has grown substantially since then.

Wading River’s Ryan Dush, a 32-year-old staff sergeant, was one of about 140 members of the 106th Rescue Wing to help in Texas.

Dush’s rescues included an airlift of an extended family of nine, including a 1-month-old child. The family members, three of whom were adults, were inside of a partially submerged pickup truck. Dush led the group members to the roof, where he strapped them into harnesses that hoisted them 60 feet up to the helicopter.

According to Capt. Michael O’Hagan, the helicopter was already filled to capacity when the group was spotted.

“A male was spotted waving for help,” he told CBS News. “It turned out to be a family of nine.”

Dush can be seen in a video on the 106th Rescue Wing’s YouTube channel holding the infant as he was pulled back up to the helicopter.

It hit home for Dush, because he’s the father of a 1-year-old girl.

“It was definitely an emotional rescue, going after an infant that was that small,” Dush told CNN. “I rescued another infant today. It’s an amazing feeling to come out and help people in their time of need.”

In multiple YouTube videos on the channel and elsewhere, family members can be seen smiling and waving to Dush, mouthing “thank you” as they are dropped off at the George R. Brown Convention Center in West Houston, which is serving as a shelter.

“We as a New York wing are very well-acquainted with this type of a disaster, having lived through Hurricane Sandy only five years ago,” O’Hagan said. “We remember that in our time of need others came from around the nation to help us out, so we’re happy to do so. Everyone that’s here is a volunteer. This is the very definition of what we do as the Air National Guard — these things we do so that others may live.”

Smithtown

A Smithtown-based charity has sent volunteers down to Texas to make sure man’s best friends aren’t forgotten in a time of need.

Volunteers from Guardians of Rescue, a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that works to protect the wellbeing of all animals and come to the aid of those in distress, have been rescuing pets affected by Hurricane Harvey and reuniting them with their owners.

“The Guardians have been taking rescued animals to the Montgomery Animal Control where Best Friends have set up an emergency intake shelter to care for animals displaced from the hurricane and flooding, and to get them reunited with their owners,” Guardians of Rescue posted on their Facebook page Sept. 6. “And while we didn’t rescue the dogs in the video, we did get to witness the happy moment of a woman who had just picked up her dogs that had been brought into the shelter.”

In addition, the Smithtown Fire Department joined others across Long Island in collecting donations for Hurricane Harvey victims at their main fire house on Elm Avenue through Sept. 6. All donations will be packed up on a tractor trailer for delivery to Houston residents.w

In Saint James, Sal’s Auto Body also opened its doors as a drop location for non-perishable and other donations for Hurricane Harvey victims.

Huntington

Halesite Fire Department coordinated with two Huntington business owners to serve as a drop-off point for donations to Hurricane Harvey victims through Sept. 6. Photo from Dom Spada

Two Huntington auto-shop owners found themselves unable to stand by without taking action after watching televised news broadcasts of the widespread flooding in Houston. It struck a painful reminder of Hurricane Sandy, five years ago this fall.

“I was watching the news with my wife, that morning, and my kids were very upset,” said Huntington resident George Schwertl. “We’re sitting here right now very comfortable and as we saw on the news, it’s a mess down there. We have to help.”

Schwertl, owner of Schwertl Auto Body in Islandia, and Andre Sorrentino, owner of PAS Auto Body in Huntington, coordinated as massive donation drive for the victims of Hurricane Harvey in coordination with Dom Spada, second assistant chief of Halesite Fire Department.

Halesite firefighters are particularly sympathetic to the damage flooding can cause, Spada said, given the area’s flooding in past storms and rescue missions of stranded automobile drivers.

“Water can be a nasty thing and wreck havoc on people’s homes and their lives. We had to do something,” Spada said. “We know how water can be, as we’ve had it with our own residents. We know what they are going through and it’s probably at least 10 times what we have gone through.”

Halesite’s Fire Chief Greg Colonna sent out a mass email to local residents Aug. 30 calling for donations of nonperishable food, toiletries, hygiene products, water, blankets and dog food to be dropped off to one of the participating businesses, the firehouse or one of its sister fire districts — Dix Hills, East Northport or Huntington Manor — by Sept. 6.

Schwertl said he and Sorrentino originally rented five Sprinter vans to be driven by local volunteers down to Houston Sept. 7, but that number had grown to eight trucks and tractor trailers, and was still growing.

“We’ve had a great turnout everywhere with the businesses, the fire departments,” Schwertl said. “It’s an incredible turnout, to see everyone coming together. People are volunteering to drive down with us, they are volunteering and offering trucks.”

The group has been coordinating with a legislative aide from U.S. Congressman Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) who previously lived in Texas, Suffolk County Legislator Chad Lupinacci (R-Huntington Station), and state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) to get the specific locations of shelters in need of supplies, according to Schwertl.

“We want to be positive that when we get there they will take the donations and it will go into the right hands,” Sorrentino said.

The convoy of trucks and trailers driven by a mixed volunteer of retirees, construction workers, servicemen from Hauppauge to Huntington plans to depart late Sept. 7 for Texas.

A Huntington nonprofit has collaborated with the Town of Huntington to make sure that all of Hurricane Harvey’s victims, big and small, are getting aid so desperately needed.

Little Shelter Animal Rescue & Adoption Center of Huntington reached out and made arrangements with an animal rescue group in Rockwall, Texas, to accept shelter dogs and cats for adoption to make more room for more four-legged refugees.

“We are giving more room for the shelters down there so they can do the right thing, take in and reunite pets that they are still finding in the floods right now,”  Little Shelter executive director, David Ceely, said.

Ceely said Sept. 1 that the plans were underway to arrange transportation of approximately a dozen shelter animals up to Delaware where they will be handed off, and driven the rest of the way to New York with their expected arrival on Labor Day. The animals were then going to be split up for lodging with five dogs and three cats going to stay at Little Shelter, according to Ceely, while the Town of Huntington’s Animal Shelter was going to accept three to five dogs.

“Town municipal shelters don’t normally do this type of thing,” he said. “For Huntington Animal Shelter to do this is groundbreaking.”

The plans to transport these animals hit a speed bump earlier this week, according to Huntington spokesman A.J. Carter, who said the transportation of the animals was delayed due to legal issues with getting health certifications needed to allow pets to travel across state lines.

If the legal issues can be sorted, Ceely said the animals will be required to be put under a two-week quarantine period for medical and behavioral screening before being put up for adoption.

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Smithtown Town Hall. File photo

Two elected Republican officials will face off against one another in the Sept. 12 primary to see who will get the party line in this November’s election for Smithtown town supervisor.

Incumbent town Supervisor Patrick Vecchio (R) is being challenged by Councilman Ed Wehrheim (R) who received the Smithtown Republican Committee’s official nomination at the party’s convention May 30.

Pat Vecchio. File photo

Patrick Vecchio

Vecchio, 87, is the longest-presiding town supervisor in the history of New York state. First elected in 1977, he announced his intention to seek re-election to his 14th term in May.

“For 40 years I’ve stood on these steps to be sworn in [and] you may be wondering why,” Vecchio said in May. “I do it because I love to help people and truly love what I do, and each day that I go to work has been a pleasure. [Sure], there have been times I’ve thrown the phone book on the floor and slammed the telephone down, but I still love what I do and want to continue working with these people to make this the best town, not only in Suffolk County but maybe in New York state.”

Under Vecchio’s leadership, Smithtown stands as one of the most fiscally stable municipalities in the county with a triple-A bond rating. There was no tax increase on residents in 2017, and it’s predicted that there won’t be a tax hike in 2018 either.

The Town of Smithtown was also the first municipality in the state to pass the Local Waterfront Revitalization Program, giving credit to Vecchio’s environmental record. The supervisor has also passed several initiatives to provide affordable housing for senior citizens.

Ed Wehrheim. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Ed Wehrheim

Wehrheim has served on the town board since April 2003 when he was first appointed by Vecchio to fill the seat left by state Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-St. James). He now seeks to unseat the man who appointed him.

“I believe people are ready for a new beginning, and that’s across the gamut,” Wehrheim said.

The councilman has served as the director of parks, building and grounds in the Town of Smithtown managing an $8 million budget and frequently works with other departments.

However, he said over the last eight-to-10 years he’s seen a gradual deterioration of the parks and community spaces within the town.

“We need to begin to levy our triple-A bond rating and low debt to begin to upgrade our parks and recreational facilities,” Wehrheim said.

If elected supervisor, his other goals including bringing greater transparency to town government and the implementation of a business advisory council to aid in the creation of new development plans. Much of this, Wehrheim said could be possible with recent state funding given to the town.

“We need an energetic, full-time town board to begin to wisely use that money to improve Smithtown wisely,” he said.

Go vote

Polls will be open for Sept. 12 primaries, 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Town of Smithtown residents are eligible to vote in the supervisor race if a registered Republican, are at least 18 years old, have lived at the current address at least 30 days before the election, and not been in prison or on parole for a felony conviction.

To double check if you are registered to vote, check on the state’s website at voterlookup.elections.state.ny.us/votersearch.aspx.

The 265-year-old Arthur House, located on the corner of New York Avenue and Main Street, has historic ties to Long Island’s Culper Spy Ring. Photo by Kevin Redding

A neglected, pre-Revolutionary War house on the corner of New York Avenue and Main Street in Smithtown and other historically significant structures in the area could help boost the town’s future, according to a Smithtown historian.

Smithtown scholar Corey Victoria Geske urged for Supervisor Patrick Vecchio (R) and town council members to draft a resolution to start a Town Hall National Register Historic District in the downtown area at the Aug. 8 town board meeting, which, according to her, would serve to benefit the region’s economy. 

She asked the resolution be expedited by the Town Planning Department in cooperation with the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities as well as the community.

The proposed historic district, which Geske first proposed to the board about eight months ago, would center on the town hall building — built in 1912 by St. James architect Lawrence Smith Butler — and include the 106-year-old Trinity AME Church on New York Avenue, the 105-year-old Byzantine Catholic Church of the Resurrection on Juniper Avenue and the 265-year-old Arthur House.

The Arthur House is located at the corner of New York Avenue and Main Street in Smithtown. Photo by Kevin Redding

The Arthur House is the only Revolutionary War-era house on the Route 25A Spy Trail, Geske said, and currently sits on the grounds of the Smithtown Central School District. It’s a property she has pushed in the past to be included on the National Register of Historic Places.

Geske informed the board that the house, built in 1752, was once inhabited by Mary Woodhull Arthur, the daughter of Abraham Woodhull — better known as Samuel Culper Sr. — George Washington’s chief operative during the famous spy ring. The intelligence he provided helped win the American Revolution.

Her recent call for the historic district coincided with the July 27 bipartisan legislation introduced by Congressman Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) and Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) designating the Washington Spy Ring National Historic Trail. The trail runs through towns and villages in both Nassau and Suffolk counties, including Smithtown along Route 25A.

“Let Smithtown lead the way in a big way by capitalizing on its own special history and world-class architecture added to the heritage now being recognized at the state and national levels for all towns along the Route 25A Washington Spy Trail from Great Neck to Port Jefferson,” Geske said at the board meeting. “The Washington Spy Trail wouldn’t exist if not for the father of Mary Woodhull Arthur of Smithtown, a true daughter of the American Revolution.”

She also noted The Ward Melville Heritage Organization and North Shore Promotion Alliance were granted funds from the state to install signs along the trail in May.

The Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities has listed the Arthur House as endangered for more than 10 years. Photo by Kevin Redding

Geske said registering the Arthur House would be beneficial to the town as it could bring about possible grants from the state for the restoration and stabilization of old properties and promote more tourism in that area.

“The Arthur House was on the SPLIA’s endangered list over 10 years ago and it’s a building that’s been proposed for demolition,” she said. “These are the buildings that have been cast off in the past. [But] they actually could become the cornerstone for revitalizing downtown Smithtown. The history can actually bring to life a new future for downtown, it would be amazing.”

Sarah Kautz, director of preservation for SPLIA, said she hopes the town will involve its vast history into the downtown revitalization efforts. The town’s comprehensive revitalization plans came to the conclusion its historic buildings were an important component, according to Kautz, but did not provide concrete plans to address them.

“The town has never really incorporated preservation in a systematic way that would bring it into the wider plan for revitalization,” Kautz said. “The Arthur House is important because it’s an early property and is part of Smithtown’s really interesting early history going back into the 18th century. We would love to see a real clear approach for how those historic properties are going to fit into the revitalization and there’s a great potential for them to do so.”

The town board is in the process of evaluating Geske’s proposal, according to Councilman Tom McCarthy (R).

“We’ve asked the planning department to see how feasible it is … we’ll have to look at the pluses and minuses, do due diligence, but it could be a benefit to the township as a whole,” McCarthy said. “We have so much history [and] it’s very important to preserve it but now we have to look at everything surrounding it. We don’t want to shoot from the hip.”

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Students of all ages were able to learn about local history and engage in hands-on projects through the Smithtown Historical Society’s summer programs. Photo from Marianne Howard

By Marianne Howard

The Smithtown Historical Society was fortunate to be able to provide children of all ages an opportunity this summer to step away from the screens, iPads and TVs to take an active role in volunteering and participating in its programs, camps, and daily activities this summer.

The historical society offers a Portals to the Past summer camp for children ages 6-to-12 for nine weeks throughout the summer. Cooking, sewing, drawing, painting and helping on the farm are all a part of the regular camp offerings. This year, Melissa Clemens,  director of education, created a junior educator program which bridges the gap between the camp years and the college years to create a well-informed core of teens to act as ambassadors in their schools and communities to promote an interest in history and education. The first training session in June had eight teens who spent the summer learning all about the historical society and their community. These 13- and 14-year-olds will continue to assist the society at various events throughout 2017.

Students of all ages were able to learn about local history and engage in hands-on projects through the Smithtown Historical Society’s summer programs. Photo from Marianne Howard

The society had two college-age interns volunteering with its education department this summer: Robert Rock, a Smithtown resident attending Williams College who has not declared a major; and Jacqueline Michels, a Hauppauge resident attending Providence College as a history and secondary education major. The two students tackled every task given to them and were able to make headway in some of the historical society’s newest projects. Rock assisted at all of the public programs this summer from goat yoga and movie night to the community barbecue. He also initiated a butterfly garden and helped to oversee its planting by volunteers from the Smithtown Youth Bureau at the end of August.

Michels worked diligently to draft a new field trip curriculum for the society’s Obadiah Smith building in Kings Park and reworked the “Long Island Kids: Then and Now” field trip program, which was offered for the first time last year.

“It’s great to see that the future of museums is in great hands,” Michels said. “Based on my time at Smithtown Historical Society this summer, I feel that SHS presents a community-building mission to the public. The organization works to bring together Smithtown residents over their shared local history through community events and programs. This summer, I’ve watched the Smithtown Historical Society make efforts to reach out to Smithtown residents of all ages to bring them to the historic buildings on their property and to bring local history out to the public.  All of their efforts build community by bringing together the residents of Smithtown to experience their shared history.” 

Rock also agreed that increasing involvement of younger members of community is essential. 

“I see the historical society as continuing to provide these programs for public involvement but increasing the involvement of younger members of the community,” he said. “As SHS has made a strong, and so far successful effort to further the involvement of this group through programs such as goat yoga, history happy hour, the movies on the lawn, and yoga on the lawn, I see this trend as continuing to mark the society’s path.”

Marianne Howard is the executive director of the Smithtown Historical Society. For more information on the society, its events or programs or on becoming a member, visit www.smithtownhistorical.org or call 631-265-6768.

A scholarship has been launched to honor the memory of Northport resident Scott Martella who died in 2016. File photo

By Sara-Megan Walsh

A Smithtown family is hoping to honor the life of their son by providing others with an educational opportunity to follow in his footsteps.

Stacy and Stephen Martella announced the creation of the Scott Martella Memorial Scholarship Fund in partnership with The United Way of Long Island in memory of their son, who was killed a year ago.

Scott Martella was a Smithtown student who worked with local politicians. File photo

Scott Martella, a Smithtown native and Northport resident, died in a three-car crash on the Long Island Expressway Aug. 21, 2016.

“Scott believed in the awesome power of public service,” his parents said in a statement. “We hope to keep his legacy alive by giving future leaders the same chance Scott had in pursuing a college education.”

The memorial fund aims to provide scholarships to low-income students who will be attending college and whose studies may include international or public relations.

In conjunction with the scholarship fund, Smithtown Central School District announced it will be creating a series of service learning projects for students that will run from October 2017 to May 2018. This will be done in partnership with the United Veterans Beacon House, a nonprofit partner agency of United Way, to work together on a host of activities such as painting, planting a garden, landscaping and more.

Scott Martella, who was 29 when he died, is widely remembered for his career in public service and his involvement in New York State government and politics. Martella got started when, at age 22, he became the youngest board of education member elected in Smithtown school district’s history in 2009.

From 2011 to 2015, Martella  served as Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) Suffolk County representative before being promoted to Long Island regional representative. In June 2015, he started working as the director of communications for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D).

“Scott believed in the awesome power of public service. We hope to keep his legacy alive by giving future leaders the same chance Scott had in pursuing a college education.”

— Stacy and Stephen Martella

“Scott was clearly one of the most engaging people that I’ve come across in government,” Bellone said in an interview. “Beyond the fact that he was smart, talented and hardworking, he had that something extra special that he was able to make that connection with people.”

In addition to the scholarship fund, Martella’s parents and Bellone hosted a Back-to-School Drive this month to provide supplies for underprivileged students. They said their goal was to prepare 5,000 backpacks for homeless or at-risk children.

“One of the last major events [Scott] did before he died was put together this Back-to-School Drive with Long Island Coalition for the Homeless,” Bellone said. “It’s obviously sad to think that he’s gone, but this was also a way to carry on his legacy of public service, a very appropriate way to carry on his legacy of public service.”

Charitable contributions to The Scott Martella Memorial Scholarship Fund can be made online at www.scottmartella.com or www.unitedwayli.org/ScottMartellaMemorialScholarshipFund.

All donations made by check should be written out to include The Scott Martella Memorial Scholarship Fund on the envelope as well as the memo section. Checks should be made payable to United Way of Long Island, 819 Grand Blvd., Deer Park, NY 11729.

 

Huntington and Northport residents could cruise into a different era at the Hecksher Park ballfields in their choice of classic cars Aug. 27.

The Northport Centerport Lions Club hosted the 54th annual Robert J. Bohaty Memorial Lions Classic auto show featuring dozens of classic cruisers dating back to the 1930s. This year’s show was dedicated to the Lions’ past district governor Howard Wilson and past president Clinton Strait.

Attendees had the opportunity to look, but not touch, Ford Roadsters, Chevy Coupes, a Chevelle SS Convertible, Ford Thunderbirds and even a Crown Victoria that previously served as a police squad car.

Proceeds from the show provide monetary support to the Cleary School for the Deaf in Nesconset, Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind in Smithtown, and the Lions Eye Bank for Long Island, a part of Northwell Health.

Donated funds are also used to support local Cub and Boy Scouts, food pantries, little leagues and aid victims of natural disasters.

H.E.L.P. International student-athletes boast new uniforms donated from Smithtown school district. Photo from Kimberly Williams

By Desirée Keegan

Athletes in the Smithtown school district have something in common with students in Uganda thanks to the efforts of several educators from across Long Island.

Carisa Eye, a Smithtown High School East varsity field hockey assistant coach and Nesaquake Middle School lacrosse head coach, is the latest educator to get inspired to give uniforms to the H.E.L.P. International school in Masese, Uganda.

Smithtown physical education teacher Carisa Eye helped send over the most recent batch of uniforms to Uganda. Photo from Kimberly Williams

“The things we take for granted over here like uniforms, that are so easily available to us in our school district, are things that kids don’t get in other parts of the world,” Eye said. “The little things go a long way. It makes you feel good to see these kids in our jerseys, and it shows it doesn’t take much to make someone’s day. I want my athletes to understand that.”

Eye originally asked Smithtown administration to coordinate a donation to send to Ghana, after a friend and former Smithtown student, who teaches in the William Floyd school district, asked for help through Facebook. Eye was able to collect a boxful of uniforms with the help of Smithtown athletic director Pat Smith, but her friend could only take some of what she was given. She came across another Facebook post, a press release regarding Smithtown West marine science teacher Kimberly Williams and the work she’d done with her sister-in-law Carolyn Ferguson, and Eye asked Smith to connect her to Williams.

“We do have a bunch of older uniforms we don’t use, and this is a great way of putting them to use for a good cause,” Smith said. “It’s really nice to see some of our teachers wanting to get on board and we hope the kids, who know what we’re doing, can appreciate what we have here.”

The athletic director hopes the district can continue its involvement with H.E.L.P.

“Seeing the photos they look like a team — they were arm-in-arm and you can tell it made such a difference,” he said. “It’s a great thing for us to be involved in. If we can continue to do this for underprivileged kids, we will, and I hope we can.”

While the idea originated with Ferguson’s former Rockville Centre assistant superintendent Delia Garrity, who helped form the school in Uganda with her husband Peter in 2010, she said she was thrilled to hear of the spread of generosity.

Some of the Smithtown uniform donations from physical education teacher Carisa Eye went to students in Ghana. Photo from Carisa Eye

“It’s all word of mouth, which is amazing,” said Ferguson, a Rockville Centre physical education teacher. “The reach has been incredible.”

Garrity, who just returned from one of her trips to Uganda, said her student-athletes’ transformation has been palpable since being outfitted in the gear.

“When we began our athletic program, our children wore whatever clothing they had — which was not much,” she said. “They played with bare feet and kicked a dilapidated soccer ball. A soccer ball was used for volleyball with players hitting the ball over an imaginary net. When we received donations of athletic supplies and uniforms from Rockville Centre and Smithtown schools, among others, our kids were over the top with joy.”

She described some of the changes she’d seen in the young athletes since they were given the uniforms.

“They have more confidence, more belief in themselves as a team, more motivation to practice and a stronger work ethic,” she said. “Our teams win most local tournaments in soccer, volleyball, netball and track and field. Other schools do not want to play against H.E.L.P. Primary in the opening rounds of any tournament because it’s become a powerhouse.”

H.E.L.P. International school’s soccer team in Uganda received the first Smithtown uniform donation in 2015. Photo above from Delia Garrity

The idea of Smithtown contributing to the cause began when Ferguson was talking with Williams during a Christmas dinner. Also in charge of equipment and uniforms in her district, Ferguson detailed how she’d helped Garrity collect jerseys since 2013. Moved by her sister-in-law’s involvement, Williams asked for a donation from Smith, and the first batch was sent over from Smithtown in 2015.

“I think if someone is getting rid of something it should go somewhere before the garbage,” Williams said. “When resources are so limited, there’s always someone who needs it, and I work hard to make sure my kids understand that. Whether it’s uniforms or composition notebooks.”

Ferguson said the jerseys mean more to the children in Uganda than just the ability to play sports.

“Wearing the same uniform gives them pride and it encourages them to keep going,” she said. “That sense of community that perhaps they don’t normally have.”

Eye said the program also gives her pride in where she grew up and now works.

H.E.L.P. International student-athletes boast new uniforms donated from Smithtown school district. Photo from Kimberly Williams

“I love my teams and I love my town,” she said. “Smithtown has always been supportive, especially of athletics, so it didn’t surprise me when I sent an email and they got back to me right away. They’re always willing to help.”

She said she was moved seeing photos of the smiling faces of Ugandan children donning the red and blue.

“It makes me cry,” Eye said. “They wash their uniforms and lay them out to dry on rocks like prized possessions. I’m going to try to keep donating every year and have my teams participate.”

Williams already handed over another box to Ferguson that has been sitting and waiting on her dining room table. Ferguson will pass the donations, which came from one of William’s former students who teaches in Maryland, over to Garrity to take on her next trip, and the cycle will continue.

“It’s connecting kids through the uniforms,” Williams said. “Smithtown is developing the whole athlete — not just their sports abilities. That makes me thrilled to be part of this.”

For more information on H.E.L.P. International or to find out how to get involved, visit help-uganda.com.

This version corrects the URL for the H.E.L.P. Primary School’s website.

Councilman Tom McCarthy hopes to win another term on the board. File photo

One lifelong Smithtown resident, business owner and longtime public servant is looking to continue to serve the community he loves.

Town Councilman and Deputy Supervisor Tom McCarthy (R) who first ran in 1997, is looking to win yet another term this November to serve on the town board.

“I felt like people in the town needed a local business person to listen to their problems and to treat them like customers,” McCarthy said in a phone interview of why he first ran for a seat on the board two decades ago. Although he retired in 2007, McCarthy at one point owned seven car rental dealerships throughout Smithtown and Huntington.

McCarthy was raised by his parents in Nesconset, who moved to the area in 1938.

“I loved growing up there,” he said. “It was fabulous. It’s a wonderful life. People always envy you when you say you live in the Smithtown area.”

Throughout his tenure on the board McCarthy has worked to develop and progress revitalization efforts in downtown Smithtown and the surrounding hamlets, expand commercial properties and conserve and improve green spaces and local parks.

Currently McCarthy has his hands in multiple projects, including planting more than 100 trees in areas throughout Smithtown, rebuilding the business district in St. James with infrastructure upgrades, working to purchase the administrative building from the Smithtown school district and more.

Many residents of Smithtown were upset when they heard the school district intended to sell the New York Avenue building to a development company that would establish an apartment complex there. When that plan fell through, McCarthy presented an alternative.

“You have 13 acres of playing fields there,” he said. “You can’t afford to lose that. I want to preserve those fields and come up with a downtown green and park, to give downtown Smithtown an identity.”

The councilman is also working to develop sewers with money from New York State, which the town was able to acquire this past year.

“All of these projects would not be possible without the financial stability the supervisor has given us,” McCarthy said of Smithtown Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R). “He has given me the ability to run with the ball.”

Vecchio had nothing but praise for the work McCarthy has done.

“Tom is a solid, hard working member of the town council,” Vecchio said in an email. “It is for that very reason that I have appointed him deputy supervisor over these many years.”

As for why the residents of Smithtown should continue to put their trust in him, McCarthy said his background is exactly why.

“I’m the only business man on the town board, and running for the town board,” he said. “The people of this town have given me a wonderful life, and I have more to give back to them.”

One protestor comforts another during a protest in Smithtown July 27. Photo by Jill Webb.

By Jill Webb

In a show of unity, North Shore residents resoundingly condemned President Donald Trump’s (R) intentions to ban transgender people from the military this past week.

Individuals gathered in front of the U.S. Army Recruitment Center in Smithtown in disapproval of President Trump’s announced ban July 27.

The ban stemmed from a series of tweets President Trump put out July 26, citing his reasoning for the transgender ban being that the military “cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”

Trump’s declaration of the ban on Twitter led the Long Island Transgender Advocacy Coalition to come out to Smithtown to oppose the ban in a peaceful demonstration. The group advertised the demonstration via Facebook as a way for the transgender community and their allies to speak up for transgender service members.

Juli Grey-Owens, executive director of LITAC led the demonstration with a loudspeaker in hand, chanting in solidarity with the transgender community.

The goal of the demonstration, according to Grey-Owens, was to put transgender soldiers in the spotlight.

“To make people aware of the fact that there are Americans that are supporting our transgender troops — that’s important,” she said. “Number two, it’s to make people aware of the fact that the transgender community is constantly under duress, constantly being discriminated against and this is just one more thing.”

The aim of LITAC is to advocate for the transgender community, often through forums, demonstrations, and putting on informational sessions that Grey-Owens refers to as transgender 101s.

The Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act, passed in 2003 makes it unlawful for anyone in New York State to be discriminated against in employment, housing, credit, education and public accommodations because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation.

A protestor shows support for transgender military members. Photo by Jill Webb.

But the law isn’t as clear for transgender individuals. SONDA does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and expression — but it does apply when a transgender person is discriminated against based upon his or her actual or perceived sexual orientation, according to the New York State Attorney General’s office.

Specific counties and areas, including Nassau and Suffolk County have taken matters into their own hands and passed more specific anti-discrimination legislation for sexual orientation.

Grey-Owens said that LITAC’s objective is to step in at any time the transgender community is being discriminated against.

The executive director, along with many of the other attendees of the demonstration, was aggravated with Trump’s accusations against the expenses of transgender health.

“One of things that they found is the number is so small in comparison to the defense budget, that it is a point zero something of the actual cost,” Grey-Owens said. “The army spends more on Viagra — ten times more on Viagra — then they will on transgender health costs.”

One of the best ways to help the transgender community, according to Grey-Owens, is to unite with them.

“If you take look at the crowd that’s here now, there are way more cisgender people [someone who’s gender identity matches the sex they were assigned to at birth] than transgender people here, and that’s made our voice louder,” she said. “People are adopting our cause as their cause. If they’re interested in helping out, this is how you help us: expand our voice.”

One participant, Edna White, said that she was in attendance in support of her transgender family and friends. She stressed the negative effects of the segregation.

“Taking a serious defense of our country — that shouldn’t be separated,” she said. “We’re already separated enough in war as it is, so to do that is really disheartening for me.”

Heather Sacc, another protestor said she found Trump’s sudden tweets against the transgender community very alarming.

“There’s 6,000 trans people in the military that have risked their lives,” she said. “The military didn’t ask for this. It’s just [Trump] woke up in the middle of the night and decided ‘oh that’s what I’m gonna do.”

A protestor shows support for transgender military members. Photo by Jill Webb.

Jay Gurecio attended the demonstration representing the LGBTQ+ visibility coalition, a group she is a co-founder of. Gurecio said she felt betrayed by Trump going back on his claims he would support the LGBTQ+ community during his campaign.

Trump tweeted in June 2016, thanking the LGBT community.

“I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs,” he said.

Guercio believes he has not kept to his promise.

“For him to go back on something that was implemented a year ago, that trans-people were allowed to serve and were allowed to get their surgery and their hormones covered, it’s just outright wrong,” Gurecio said.

Gurecio thinks the message Long Island should take from the demonstration is there is an LGBT community that will do everything in their power to stand in solidarity with each other.

“We’re peaceful, this isn’t angry, this isn’t something that’s even violent in any which manner,” Gurecio said. “I want people to understand that we just want to live our lives, and that we want the same rights as everyone else.”

The following day protestors continued to berate Trump during a visit he made in Brentwood to the Suffolk County Police Department.

Patricia Rios was holding a sign saying she voted for Trump and regretted her decision.

“Once he comes for the ‘T’ [talking about Transgendered] he’s going to come for the L, the G and the B,” she said. “So we’re here to protest that.”

Dr. David Kilmnick, CEO of LGBT Network, a Long Island LGBT advocacy group said more than just transgender military members rights were ignored this week.

“We found out… Trump was coming here, and timing would have it that he tweeted that he was going to ban transgender folks from serving our country and serving our military,” he said. “That wasn’t the only thing he did to the community this week — which was big enough. His attorney general filed a court brief saying that Title VII doesn’t protect LGBT people from discrimination from the federal government. Having Trump here on Long Island, having Trump as president is an embarrassment, a disgrace. He doesn’t represent the values of our country of equality and justice.”

A Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll released July 28 showed a large portion of the county disagrees with Trump on this position.

According to the poll, 58 percent of adults agreed transgender people should be allowed to serve while 27 percent said they should not.

Currently it’s unclear if Trump’s announcement will lead to real policy change, as the

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford said last week the current military policy would not be changed until the White House issued further guidance.

Additional reporting contributed by Kyle Barr and Victoria Espinoza.

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A photo in ‘Kings Park’ of a family at a clambake on the Nissequogue River, which is present-day San Remo, circa 1900. Photo from Joshua Ruff

By Jill Webb

Before it was Kings Park, the suburban hamlet in Smithtown was known as St. Johnland, a utopian Christian community founded as a haven for poor members of the Protestant working class and orphaned children.

In the newest installment of the Images of America series, you can learn all about the history of Kings Park — which just celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2016.

The co-authors of “Kings Park,” Smithtown historian Bradley Harris, the Director of Collections and Interpretations at the Long Island Museum Joshua Ruff and the Executive Director of the Smithtown Historical Society Marianne Howard came together and selected more than 180 vintage photographs to be featured in the book, along with captions detailing the images relevance within the history of Kings Park.

Howard set aside time from supervising the day-to-day activities at the Smithtown Historical Society to contribute to the book and said it took two years to compile images.

She noticed in her research that most small, American towns all underwent the same transformations from colonization to industrialization. The unique aspect to every small town is the people and resources they contribute which Howard said is what is highlighted in the book.

“I hope that the people from Kings Park see people and places that they know in the book,” Howard said in a phone interview. “That’s what they should be excited about — seeing how their own community transformed the history here in this part of Long Island.”

The book’s chapters are titled St. Johnland, The Kings Park Psychiatric Center, Early Kings Park, Churches and Schools, and Building Modern Kings Park. The book’s authors divided the chapters based on personal interest and selected the photos collaboratively.

Ruff, who has been a consulting curator for the Smithtown Historical Society for over 10 years, said the image-centric format is an “immediately accessible and terrific way of connecting” with the community of Kings Park and those who are interested in its history.

But Howard, Ruff and Harris were not the only ones putting in the research — the community was also able to participate. The authors said they were grateful to receive private collections of photographs from residents that are featured in the book.

“When we thought that we were finished with what we had, other people were coming forth with their photographs that had something a little bit different that we wanted to share with everybody else,” Howard said. “What’s great about Smithtown is that many people have a strong connection to the town and have lived here for either their whole lives or are third or fourth or fifth generation Smithtown residents.”

In completion, the authors “really felt like it was a good balance of architectural and social history,” Ruff said.

One section Howard finds particularly interesting displays how the wave of immigration brought on by the Kings Park Psychiatric Center shaped the town, along with how the town dealt with — and is still dealing with — the after-effects of its closure in 1996.

The caption a photo of the hospital’s Building 93 describes it as “now obsolete, unsafe and a magnet for vandals.” It goes on to describe the building as a “decaying symbol of a past age,” which makes residents wonder when the buildings on the grounds will finally be demolished.

Howard noted Kings Park has received funding for downtown revitalization. The proposed plan hopes to reshape Main Street by initiating “the economic strength of the community and provide a center of activity for residents to enjoy,” according to the action report prepared by Vision Long Island, Inc., the group hired to create the revitalization plan. The action report said the fate of the psychiatric grounds has yet to be determined.

“I think the community has grown enormously over the last 100 plus years and the book really shows how it’s evolved,” Ruff said. “The community has grown into this large multi ethnic suburban community that now has plans in place for major downtown changes in the next couple of years that will help to continue the changing evolution of the place.”

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