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Stony Brook Children’s Hospital

Pediatric nurse specialist and Centereach resident Lisa Rendina helps Stony Brook Children’s Hospital take part in “Take a Pop, Share a Smile" campaign

Cancer survivors Aubri Krauss, Erin Ersoy and Delaney Unger enjoy ice pops from the Stony Brook Children's Hospital's new freezer containing a lifetime supply. Photo by Kyle Barr

For the young cancer patients at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, one of the worst side effects from chemotherapy, beyond the pain and the nausea, is mouth sores. The best way to soothe the pain, according to 12-year-old cancer survivor Delaney Unger, is with ice pops.

Husband and wife Frank and Lynn Antonawich, assistant director of nursing at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, and pediatric nurse specialist Lisa Rendina at the unveiling of Frankie’s Freezer. Photo by Kyle Barr

“When I had mouth sores, I had to tell my dad right away, because I knew they would get worse if I didn’t treat them right,” Delaney said. “Sometimes using other stuff would make [the pain] worse, so I would usually eat ice pops.”

Stony Brook Children’s Hospital announced Thursday it would be taking part in the nonprofit American Childhood Cancer Organization’s Take a Pop, Share a Smile campaign that donates a lifetime supply of freezer pops to hospitals for its cancer patients. The hospital will be receiving a total of 2,000 ice pops to start, and the ACCO will keep the freezer consistently stocked every year.

To hold the new bounty of ice pops is a new freezer named Frankie’s Freezer, which was dedicated in memory of Francis “Frankie” Antonawich, a 25-year-old who died in February from Hodgkin lymphoma before he could realize his dream of becoming a pediatric oncology nurse.

“I think he would have been thrilled about this, because he really loved kids,” Antonawich’s mother and assistant director of nursing at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Lynn Antonawich, said. “He not only felt that he could help a child, but also the parents of those children who would feel helpless.”

Frankie’s Freezer was named after 25-year-old Frankie Antonawich, who died from Hodgkin lymphoma in February. Photo from the Antonawichs

His father, Frank Antonawich, told an audience of Girl Scouts and families at a press conference May 3, trying to hold back tears, that the disease never stopped his son.

“Frank was a very active young man — it never stopped him going to work, going to the gym — he even continued to volunteer as a wrestling coach at his alma mater, St. John the Baptist Parish,” the West Islip resident said.

Stony Brook Children’s Hospital pediatric nurse specialist Lisa Rendina, who had worked with the family before and during Frankie Antonawich’s treatment, decided she wanted to get involved and contacted the ACCO, which donated the freezer too.

“As a mother, my heart broke for Lynn, and I wanted to do something to honor Frankie,” she said. “We just wanted to bring Frankie’s story to life.”

Rendina is the leader of Girl Scout Troop 105. Her troop, along with other members from Girl Scouts Service Unit 45 from Centereach, attended the unveiling. The Scouts wrote inspirational phrases all over the freezer like “No one fights alone” and “The one who falls and gets up is so much stronger than the one who never fell.”

The event also honored three cancer survivors from Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, including Delaney, 12-year-old Erin Ersoy and 10-year-old Aubri Krauss, all of whom are Girl Scouts from Centereach. The parents of the three girls agreed that ice pops were one of the simplest ways to deal with the mouth sores, while also aiding in hydration and nutrition.

The freezer donated by nonprofit American Childhood Cancer Organization’s “Take a Pop, Share a Smile” campaign was named “Frankie’s Freezer” in memory of Francis “Frankie” Antonawich. Photo by Kyle Barr

“I remember what happened with my daughter and mouth sores, it was terrible,” said Delaney’s father Berk Unger of his daughter who finished her final treatment last August. “Ice pops were the only thing that helped.”

Lynn Antonawich  said her son was in such severe pain following a stem cell transplant that he couldn’t eat.

“They were thinking of tube feeding him,” she said. “And he was a 24-year-old man. I couldn’t imagine what the pain must be like for a kid.”

Those who work in the children’s hospital said one of the most important things young patients need is to feel like their lived are as normal as possible.

“Anything helps,” Lynn Antonawich said. “From donations of gifts, such as iPads and game systems, they are able to take part in a more normal life like they would at home.”

Maddie and Joseph Mastriano and friends present a check for $20,000 to Stony Brook Children’s Hospital after their 2017 Three Village Kids Lemonade Stand event. Photo from Laura Mastriano

Two Stony Brook teens have perfected how to turn lemons into lemonade for a worthy cause.

Maddie Mastriano, 17, and her younger brother Joseph Mastriano, 14, started off just wanting to sell lemonade outside their home one hot August day in 2013. At the time, the pair never imagined their venture would grow, or how it would grow.

The first year they thought of splitting the few dollars raised between friends, but their mother suggested donating it to charity. Since then the Mastrianos and their friends have raised $36,000 for Stony Brook Children’s Hospital with their Three Village Kids Lemonade Stand — $20,000 of that amount from this past summer alone.

Laura Mastriano said her children caught the fundraising bug after the first time they handed over the money to Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, so they decided to make it a yearly tradition.

Siblings Joseph and Maddie Mastriano are the founders of the Three Village Kids Lemonade Stand. Photo from Laura Mastriano

Formerly known as the S-Section Kids Lemonade Stand, the booth attracted hundreds of residents from all over the school district and even local celebrities to their home in 2016, according to Mastriano. The event was moved to the grounds of R. C. Murphy Junior High School, where Joseph is a student, in 2017, and 500 people attended over the course of another hot August day. Besides lemonade, the kids have expanded to offer food, activities and live music. Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) presented them with a proclamation, and celebrity chef Barrett Beyer of “Hell’s Kitchen” made an appearance and even some gourmet lemonade for attendees.

Mastriano said it was necessary to move the lemonade stand to the school grounds due to its growing popularity, and it made sense because of the number of student volunteers from the Three Village Central School District. Maddie and Joseph approached school board trustee Inger Germano about the idea, who said she thought it was a good plan, and the district agreed to host it.

“We thought this would be a great opportunity to get more children involved, not just from the S-Section [neighborhood] but from the Three Village community and the school,” Germano said. “I think it was the right move.”

Courtney DeVerna, 7 years old, has been volunteering at the stand for the last three years, having visited the stand with her mother Lisa since she was 2. As soon as Courtney understood it was a fundraiser, she wanted to help and even practices her lemonade pouring before the event.

“It’s really fun and exciting because you’re waiting to do it for a while, and it’s for a good cause,” said Courtney, adding she looks up to Joseph and Maddie. “We’re giving the money to the children’s hospital, which makes me more excited.”

The siblings are always coming up with new ideas, according to their mother, so to help reach the pair’s 2017 fundraising goal of $20,000, the brother and sister solicited the help of sponsors, including fast-food chain Chick-fil-A. The idea came to them after noticing that many fundraisers partnered with local companies.

Recently, Maddie, Joseph and friends participated in the Three Village Holiday Electric Light Parade to promote their fundraising venture. Joseph said during the school year they work on their website, research ideas on how to make the next event better, ensure everyone who helped is thanked and sign community service letters for the 150 student volunteers.

“We know how busy everyone is, and we are so thankful and glad they helped,” he said.

Maddie and Joseph pose with Mr. Met at this year’s lemonade stand. Photo from Laura Mastiano

Maddie, who is a senior at Ward Melville High School, said she plans on continuing the tradition even though she will be away at college next year. The siblings have already set a new goal, hoping  to eventually raise $100,000 in total for the Stony Brook Children’s Hospital.

“Next year Joseph will take on a bigger role in the planning while I am away, but I know he has things under control and actually has really great ideas already,” Maddie said. “We will do whatever we have to do to make sure this community tradition is an annual tradition. We are thankful for the community, for the support and for the opportunity to come together to turn lemons into lemonade together for the Stony Brook Children’s Hospital.”

Their mother said they each bring different talents to the table. Maddie hopes to major in communications when she attends college, and Joseph is good with numbers.

“That’s where they complement each other,” their mother said. “He’s business, and she’s the communications part of it. It’s pretty fun to see that.”

Joan Alpers, director of Child Life Services at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, said Joseph and Maddie are creating a legacy in their district.

“Both of them are outstanding, mature, bright and polite kids, and very humble for everything that they do,” Alpers said. “They’re so professional to groups and the community. They’re able to pull off putting together something that is much larger than most people their age could pull off.”

Their mother said she and her husband Joseph still can’t believe how popular the Three Village Kids Lemonade Stand has become.

“I have to say that I am beyond proud and blown away by all their efforts,” the mother said. “It really was a small lemonade stand that has grown into a beautiful community tradition, and it’s something that I am not only proud of, seeing what they’ve accomplished, but proud of what all of these kids in Three Village have been able to do. It’s contagious wanting to do good for others, and I think that starting so young really has infected others to want to do good for the kids in the hospital. It’s a pretty incredible thing.”

For more information, visit the website, www.threevillagekidslemonadestand.com. The next Three Village Kids Lemonade Stand is scheduled for Aug. 8, 2018.

Joseph and Maddie Mastriano, co-founders of Three Village Kids Lemonade Stand, held the fifth annual fundraising event at R.C. Murphy Junior High School. Photo by Rita J. Egan

By Rita J. Egan

Thirteen-year-old Joseph and 17-year-old Maddie Mastriano turned lemons into lemonade and then turned a lemonade stand into an annual fundraising event that has raised thousands for Stony Brook Children’s Hospital.

The Three Village Kids Lemonade Stand event was held on the grounds of R.C. Murphy Junior High School in Stony Brook Aug. 2. What started as a simple lemonade stand in front of the Mastrianos’ home one hot day five years ago has turned into a summer event that draws hundreds from the local community to show their support.

Maddie said when she and her brother set up their first lemonade stand, neighborhood children helped them out. They sold lemonade for 50 cents, and at the end of the day, they weren’t sure how to split the few dollars they made amongst 16 kids. Their mother suggested giving the money to a charity, and they decided to donate the money to the children’s hospital since it was in the area.

Volunteers set up the lemonade stand. Photo from Three Village Kids Lemonade Stand

Through the years, the lemonade stand, formerly known as the S-Section Kids Lemonade Stand, began to draw more customers when neighbors discovered through word of mouth that the Mastrianos were donating the money. After serving nearly 500 customers last summer, the family approached the Three Village school district this year to see if the annual event could be held at one of the school’s properties, and the district agreed.

While their first lemonade stand enlisted the help of various neighborhood children, this year’s event included more than 100 volunteers from the school district.

“It’s amazing to know that all those people want to help out with this cause,” Maddie said.

Among the volunteers were the siblings’ cousins Sierra Edwards, 14, Savanna Edwards, 11, and Zoie Mastriano, 11. The girls were helping out at the T-shirt table, and they all said they were amazed at what their relatives had accomplished.

“I don’t know any young kids who have done something like this before,” Zoie said.

At press time, the Mastriano siblings raised more than $19,000 towards their 2017 goal of $20,000. In addition to local residents attending their Aug. 2 event, donations were accepted on their website, and the siblings solicited the help of sponsors. Maddie said they noticed various fundraisers that partnered with companies so she and her brother decided to approach local businesses.

Maddie said it feels good to give back. It’s something she and her brother have learned from her parents who she said are always helping out wherever they can and have been a good influence.

While the event has turned into more than selling lemonade, with corporate sponsors, the Setauket Fire Department on hand giving demonstrations, and the Ward Melville alumni band SWIM performing, the siblings said they enjoy donating their time. Maddie said they think of the children in the hospital who don’t have the chance to enjoy their summer vacation like they do. 

“This is our way of giving back,” Maddie said. “We give them one day of ours to possibly give them summers in the future.”

The Mastriano siblings receiving a proclamation from Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine and Town Clerk Donna Lent. Photo from Three Village Kids Lemonade Stand

The Mastrianos estimated that 400 people stopped by throughout the day including Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine and Town Clerk Donna Lent, presenting them with a proclamation; celebrity chef Barrett Beyer of Hell’s Kitchen, making gourmet lemonade; Mr. Met, greeting guests; and Stony Brook University men’s basketball and women’s soccer teams. Three Village Central School District Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich and board Trustee Inger Germano also stopped by.

County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), who grew up in the Three Village school district, has attended the event for the last few years.

“It has been exciting to see it grow and evolve, from block to neighborhood to community event in such a short time,” Hahn said in an email. “This annual event highlights the generosity of spirit within the Three Village community and the compassion of its organizers and volunteers. It is reaffirming to see children and teenagers work so enthusiastically, and with such empathy, to try and ease the suffering of others.” 

Joan Alpers, director of Child Life Services at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, attended the event and delivered a short speech. She said the funds the children raised will go towards programs such as horticulture therapy, art therapy and music therapy for children plus relaxation sessions for stressed parents.

Alpers said she is amazed by Joseph and Maddie’s work and the community’s support of the children.

“I just think it’s really phenomenal that kids did this one year but then had the resources to do it again and to grow it each year,” Alpers said. “That takes skill, dedication and a special human spirit for a young person.” 

Maddie and Joseph’s father Joseph Mastriano, who was volunteering at the event, said he is proud of his children.

“It teaches them lessons they don’t necessarily learn in school,” the father said. “They went out on their own and solicited different businesses. I think it’s a good experience for them all around.”

Next year’s lemonade stand is scheduled for Aug. 8, 2018 at R.C. Murphy Junior High School. For more information about Three Village Kids Lemonade Stand or to donate, visit www.threevillagekidslemonadestand.com.

Volunteers at last year’s Three Village Kids Lemonade Stand event. Photo from Three Village Kids Lemonade Stand

The fifth annual Three Village Kids Lemonade Stand will take place Aug. 2 from 2 to 6 p.m. With permission from the Three Village Central School District, this will be the first year that co-founders, siblings Maddie and Joseph Mastriano, will have the lemonade stand on the grounds of R.C. Murphy Junior High School instead of in front of their home.

The organizers anticipate visits from celebrity Chef Barret Beyer from the television series Hell’s Kitchen, team members from the Stony Brook University men’s basketball and women’s soccer teams and the Long Island Rough Riders. There will also be a performance by the local student band Swim.

Sales from the lemonade stand benefit  Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. Last year 70 student volunteers from the school district were on hand to help out, and customers included members of the New York Islanders, the Long Island Ducks and local legislators.

In addition to lemonade being available, the day will include games and activities for all ages and raffles.

Rain date is August 3. R.C. Murphy Junior High School is located at 351 Oxhead Road, Stony Brook. For more information or to make an online donation, visit www.threevillagekidslemonadestand.com.

7-year-old uses Disney award, projects to continue to brighten lives of pediatric patients

Kayla Harte poses by character Band-Aid boxes she collected from students at W.S. Mount Elementary School for pediatric patients at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. Photo from Three Village school district

She may only be a 7-year-old, but Kayla Harte already has a huge heart. For the last two years, with the hopes of cheering up young patients, the second-grader has been a frequent visitor to Stony Brook Children’s Hospital’s pediatric oncology department.

Kayla’s mother, Robyn Harte, said when the W.S. Mount Elementary School student started visiting the patients, she would bring homemade get well cards and care packages. She began drawing cards with Minion characters from the film “Despicable Me” on them after she heard they were some of the children’s favorite characters, and she would always be looking for new things to bring them.

Kayla Harte with other donations she received as part of her Band-Aid and toy drives. Photo from Robyn Harte

“Every time we would go and deliver the items she would see that they would be so well received,” her mother said. “The coordinators would tell her how much the children would appreciate it and enjoy it, and it really motivated her to do more.”

During the summer while watching television, Kayla saw a commercial for the Disney Summer of Service grant through Youth Service America and asked her mother if she could apply for it. In November Kayla was one of 340 young leaders in the country awarded a $500 grant.

The money was given to Stony Brook Children’s Child Life Services Department, and Kayla and Director Joan Alpers decided it would be used to buy character bandages and musical toys for the patients. The young volunteer planned to match the grant by starting a project called Friends for Child Life, and she felt that boxes of Band-Aids as well as toys would be easy for people to bring to her, especially her fellow students.

“It makes me feel like she has this gift that she wants to give to other children, and she’s so genuine about it,” her mother said. “She really wants to help other children. She wants to make them feel better. It’s just such a lovely thing for me. It makes me feel really proud and very inspired.”

To kick off her character Band-Aid and musical toy drives, Kayla first asked friends and family members by emailing or texting them a video she and her mother created. Before she knew it, she received approximately 70 boxes of bandages and six musical toys. Her Girl Scout Troop 337 also donated items, and during Random Acts of Kindness Week at her school, fellow students joined the cause and she received close to 100 Band-Aid boxes that week, according to her mother.

“It makes me feel like she has this gift that she wants to give to other children, and she’s so genuine about it.”

— Robyn Harte

Kayla said she was excited when she heard she received the grant, and she’s happy with the amount of donations she has been receiving, especially since she is three-quarters of the way to her goal of 200 character Band-Aid boxes and 40 musical toys.

“I can’t wait to see the happy people at the hospital,” she said.

Even though her project for the Disney grant ends March 31, she plans to continue the drives on a smaller scale. The second-grader, who wants to play for the Mets one day, said once you start volunteering your time it feels so good that, “you can’t even stop doing it.”

Her mother said she and Kayla’s father, Dennis, are proud of how she ran with the project.

“I’m really proud of her,” she said. “I think she’s setting a really good example for other children her age to let them know that you don’t have to be a teenager or a grown-up to make a difference.”

'I Spy A Dragon Fly' by Rita Swanteson will be on view at the Port Jefferson Village Center through Nov. 17. Image from Mac Titmus

By Rita J. Egan

The North Shore Art Guild is exhibiting for a cause. From Nov. 3 to 27, the organization will present Artists United in the Fight Against Cancer, at the Port Jefferson Village Center. The exhibition will benefit the Stony Brook Cancer Center’s Art Therapy Program. Mac Titmus, president of The North Shore Art Guild, said 30 percent of the event sales will go toward the program. With a decline in federal and state funding, the raised funds will help the cancer center avoid cuts in the program.

‘Street Artist,’ oil on canvas by Joe Miller
‘Street Artist,’ oil on canvas by Joe Miller

The center offers therapeutic programs to provide relief from pain, fatigue, boredom and stress for both children and adult patients. Titmus said the guild invited both members and nonmembers to submit work for the exhibit demonstrating the theme Through the Eyes of a Child. The guild president said when it comes to shows such as this one the group looks for a broad theme for the artists to work with. “We always try to think of a theme that is going to inspire the artists, and being that this is something to do with young children in the oncology unit, we try to visualize how the world would look through the eyes of a child,” he said.

The show, juried by local accomplished artist Linda Louis, will feature 98 pieces from 67 artists. According to Titmus, the artwork was chosen from 118 submissions, and the selection represents a mixture of mediums including watercolors, acrylics, photography, mixed media and more.

Healing through art therapy

Stephanie Condra, a licensed creative arts therapist who works with oncologists and bone marrow transplant patients at Stony Brook, said art therapy is instrumental in allowing patients to express their feelings during treatment and hospitalization as well as providing important coping skills. “It can be very psychotherapeutic in nature. It can do a lot of processing of thoughts and feelings of fear and anxiety and anger, as well as actively in the moment give something very positive to focus on,” she said. According to the therapist, in addition to creating art, this type of therapy provides other creative choices including working with a patient using guided visualization, playing music or even talking in imagery and metaphor. Condra said patients can experience a lot of anxiety when it comes to their treatment and future. “I think that’s one of the great benefits of art therapy, that they get much more of a choice and control in what is going on in that moment, when a lot feels out of control with the treatment.”

Finding the words through art

Joan Alpers, director of Child Life Services at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, agrees with the benefits for patients when given a choice with art, and she said therapists who work with pediatric patients also offer games and playing with objects. “It’s both providing different kind of choices to people where choices of course are being taken away, and it’s also providing the opportunity to kind of normalize an experience, where, of course, necessarily medicine and medical protocol take first stage.”

Alpers said communicating through art is an important tool when it comes to pediatric patients. “Sometimes what happens is children just don’t have the words for things. They just don’t have the capacity to tell us how they are feeling or what’s going on or put it in words. But they certainly can make us a picture or show us in their play,” she said.

Children stand in front of one of the art pieces that will be on view at the PJVC through Nov. 27.

In addition to the guild’s exhibit on the second floor of the Village Center, Alpers and Condra said on the third floor artwork from pediatric patients will be on display in the hope that art lovers will be able to relate to the need for such a program. “Kids are filled with life even when they are sick, and kids want to paint and make and do, even while they are dealing with their treatments for cancer and devastating illnesses,” said Alpers, adding, “A lot of the work that we’ll show from the kids is bright and airy and beautiful, because that’s what kids need to be and do in order to create hope, in order to make a pleasant day out of a difficult day.”

Making a difference

Titmus said even though cancer can be a difficult subject, the guild has a goal in addition to raising money when visitors come to the exhibit. “We’re hoping that they understand a little bit more about art therapy,” he said. The art guild president said the goal is to donate $20,000 to the cause. In addition to the funds raised with event sales, the guild, which includes 140 members, has already begun raising money for the art therapy program through private donations and sponsorships by reaching out to local businesses and corporations. Artists also paid an entrance free of $10 for members and $20 for nonmembers to be considered as part of the show, and these fees will also go toward the donation.

The exhibit, which is presented in cooperation with Stony Brook Cancer Center, the Village of Port Jefferson and the Port Jefferson Conservancy, will feature a reception on Nov. 12 from 4 to 7 p.m. where many of the artists will be on hand. Raffles will be sold to raise additional funds and among the prizes are four one-day passes to Disney World and a chef’s dinner from Ruvo East in Port Jefferson. Both Condra and Alpers feel that events such as this help patients by acknowledging their journeys, something that is important to those suffering from cancer. “When they hear that there are people in their own community that are there behind them, I think that’s extremely valuable and extremely important in terms of their care, their hope and their resilience,” Alpers said.

The Port Jefferson Village Center, 101A E. Broadway, Port Jefferson is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. except holidays. For more information, call 631-802-2165 or visit www.northshoreartguild.com.

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Steven Matz talks with Stony Brook Children’s patient Rachel Dennis. Photo from Greg Filiano

Three Village baseball star Steven Matz of the New York Mets brought holiday cheer and big smiles to the faces of dozens of Long Island’s youngest Mets fans: pediatric patients at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital.

Steven Matz poses with Stony Brook Children’s patients Nicholas Reinoso, left, and Anmol Jaswal, both displaying their Mets-themed colored drawings, which Matz autographed. Photo from Greg Filiano
Steven Matz poses with Stony Brook Children’s patients Nicholas Reinoso, left, and Anmol Jaswal, both displaying their Mets-themed colored drawings, which Matz autographed. Photo from Greg Filiano

The Mets pitcher spent time talking to the children and encouraged them to keep getting better and to finish all their treatments. Patients like Nicholas Reinoso, 9, of Bellport, shared artwork with Matz – colored drawings of Mr. Met and other Mets-themed images.

“It’s great to see these kids at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital and take time to learn about them,” said Matz. “That’s what it is all about this time of year.”

He signed their drawings and chatted with patients in the pediatric floor playroom and in some of their hospital rooms in the acute care and intensive care units.

“It was cool to meet him,” said Anmol Jaswal, 21, of Blue Point, a college student who attends Long Island University.

Zachary Cottrell gets a bedside visit from Steven Matz at Stony Brook University Hospital. Photo from Greg Filiano
Zachary Cottrell gets a bedside visit from Steven Matz at Stony Brook University Hospital. Photo from Greg Filiano

Decked out in her tennis sweat suit, Anmol mentioned to Matz that it was her birthday the day before and talked about her tennis game and hopes to play for Long Island University. He wished her a happy birthday and said he would root for her.

Matz also visited the hematology and oncology clinic at the Stony Brook University Cancer Center, signing autographs and visiting with children undergoing chemotherapy.

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