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Stony Brook Community Church

Donna Smith, director of education at Three Village Historical Society, welcomes every fourth-grade class in the Three Village school district to the Setauket Elementary School’s auditorium. Photo from Three Village Historical Society

The Three Village area is filled with history and no one knows this better than educator Donna Smith.

A former four grade teacher at Setauket Elementary School and the current director of education at the Three Village Historical Society, Smith has gone above and beyond to ensure that residents of all ages are educated on the importance of the area’s history. In addition to her work with the historical society, she is also an active member of Stony Brook Community Church, where her co-lay leader Gail Chase described her as “an energizer bunny,” who just keeps going and going. 

Smith’s daughter, Kerri, credits her mother’s energy to being young at heart. Describing her mother as her best friend, she said Smith, who grew up in Stony Brook and still lives in the hamlet, loves connecting with the community, especially when it comes to sharing her knowledge of local history.

Smith dresses as Alice Parsons. who went missing in Stony Brook in 1937, for the 2018 Spirits Tour. Photos from Three Village Historical Society

The subject was often a point of conversation in the Smith home, where Kerri, who is now a history teacher, said she and her brother Brendan heard many history stories from their mother and father, James. Kerri Smith said she feels her mother developed her passion for the subject growing up with a father who was passionate about education and giving back to the community.

“I think it was just growing up here and having a fascination with understanding our roots and sharing that with other people,” her daughter said.

Beverly Tyler, TVHS historian, has known Smith since the 1990s when she invited him to talk to her fourth-grade students. One of her projects involved the children choosing a historic house in the community and learning more about it. They would often ask the homeowners questions, but when they weren’t available, they would talk to Tyler — or if they chose a church or library, someone associated with the entity.

During her tenure with the school district, Smith and Tyler worked together on a countrywide/local history manual project called Pathways through the American Association for State and Local History.

Smith was about to retire from teaching when her husband died in 2005, so she decided to remain with the school district for another few years. For the 350th anniversary of the Town of Brookhaven, Tyler said she invited all fourth-graders in the town to the Village Green to be part of the reenactment of Native Americans signing over their territory. The day inspired the Founders Day program, where Smith and Tyler joined forces with town historian Barbara Russell. Tyler said Smith was instrumental in convincing the school district that the program was important.

The duo later added a walking tour of various historical properties in the area to the project and, for a period of time, the auditorium of Setauket Elementary School was opened for all to view the Vance Locke murals depicting local history.

This summer, the American Association for State and Local History presented an award of excellence to the historical society for the program.

“The person who really coalesces this together was Donna,” Tyler said. “She’s the teacher. She’s the one who knows how to ask the right questions, how to pose things and do it in a way that would reach the kids.”

Smith continues to educate through her work at the historical society with in-school programs that at times can have 50 children on the Woodhull walking tours, where Tyler and Smith teach one class each.

“She’s been very instrumental in being the person who really helps to coordinate this whole activity with the kids in the school, and has gotten the educational program going in the Three Village Historical Society,” he said.

Donna Smith, right, with her daughter on Culper Spy Day. Photo by Micheal Rosengard

The local historian said Smith took history programs used by the society in the past and narrowed them down to the activities she knew people wanted. In conjunction with Betsy Knox, a librarian at R.C. Murphy Junior High School, Smith and Tyler worked with a history club at the school toward an updated Founders Day program geared at the junior high school level. They also work with high school students, using original historical documents and encouraging them to be active in the discussions.

“Without Donna it would have been impossible to do any of these programs,” Tyler said, adding she has an incredible grasp of teaching methods.

The historian said Smith worked with him on the book “Discover Setauket, Brookhaven’s Original Settlement,” and he said she was instrumental in producing the book and getting it to a point where it was more effective.

In addition to her work on the educational side of the historical society, Smith assists at many of its events and has played characters in the society’s annual Spirits Tour as well as at Culper Spy Day.

Chase agreed that Smith is impressive when it comes to history.

“She has certainly made that come alive, and she takes those responsibilities very seriously,” Chase said. “It’s a pleasure to watch her in action when she gives her talks about the local history and her involvement with the Culper Spy story.”

Chase said Smith’s passion for community extends beyond history with her church work, and added that she’s known the educator since the 1960s. As a co-lay leader, Smith sits in on every committee, and is co-chair of the church council and the church’s annual Apple Festival. In the past, she has also contributed to the church community as a Sunday school teacher and superintendent. 

“She had and has a very active life in the church and is very important to us,” Chase said.

Chase described Smith as outgoing, welcoming and loyal in her friendships.

“She really takes pleasure in doing things for other people, especially welcoming new members of the church,” Chase said. “If anyone is ill or having a tough time, she will often make them a dinner. She’s just a terrific person.”

 

Stony Brook Community Church held its annual Apple Festival on church grounds Sept. 22. The event included live entertainment, craft and antique vendors, a bouncy house, face painting and more. Attendees also had the chance to try out an old-fashioned apple press and buy apple treats.

Matthew Seyfert, right, approached his pastor Chuck Van Houten about his Eagle Scout project, constructing blessing boxes, for local churches. Van Houten reached out to other pastors to see if other houses of worship would be interested in receiving one. Photo from Dave Seyfert

By Rita J. Egan

Blessings have been popping up more and more at churches in the Three Village area thanks to a Stony Brook Eagle Scout.

Matthew Seyfert recently achieved the rank right before his 18th birthday. The Ward Melville senior completed a project where he and other Scouts assembled seven wood structures like the Little Free Libraries found all over Long Island. Called a blessing box, Seyfert said the cabinets will provide spots at seven local churches where congregants can add an item that may be needed by others. The member of Setauket Troop 70 said he completed his project just in time, since boys have until they turn 18 to reach the pinnacle of the program.

Blessing boxes during assembly. Each Scout had a different job during the project including painting and drilling. Photo from Dave Seyfert

“It felt really good, because even though I was a little pressed for time when I started my project, I tried to pick a project that I really didn’t do as a requirement just for completion,” he said. “[It’s] something that would have a larger impact on my community. It meant a lot to me.”

The Eagle Scout said he was watching the news when he heard about a blessing box in Texas, and thought it was a good idea to create a cabinet for his own place of worship, Stony Brook Community Church, among others. The Scout said church members typically fill the cabinet with items like school supplies at the beginning of the academic year, and socks and gloves or nonperishables in the winter.

When he approached the Rev. Chuck Van Houten, Seyfert said the pastor of Stony Brook Community Church was enthusiastic about the project, and reached out to other church leaders through the Three Village Interfaith Clergy group to see who else would be interested in one.

Van Houten said he was impressed with Seyfert’s endeavor, but added he wasn’t surprised, noting how involved the high school senior has been in the church, and the leadership qualities he possesses.

“I thought it was a great idea, especially since one of the main missions or ministries of our church right now is feeding people in the local school district,” the pastor said.

“I thought it was a great idea, especially since one of the main missions or ministries of our church right now is feeding people in the local school district.”

— Rev. Chuck Van Houten

Once a month church members purchase food for a local food pantry, according to Van Houten, who said the Stony Brook Community Church box will mainly be used to house nonperishables. He said the best part is that people can drop off or pick up items every day, all day, unlike a pantry where dates and times can be limited. In the next few weeks, the Seyferts will join Van Houten in finding a place in front of the church for the blessing box, and he hopes that all community members will use it in the future.

Seyfert said while a few church councils were concerned maintaining a blessing Box may be a big responsibility, he explained it would be on a stand and easy to move, adding it’s up to the congregation what they want to fill them with and how often.

The Scout’s father, Dave, said he was proud of his son for coming up with the idea, especially because financial situations can change dramatically with sickness or job loss, and said the need is greater than many would think in the Three Village area. The pair put together a prototype back in November before moving forward.

“I thought it was a well thought out project and well executed,” David Seyfert said.

The Rev. Gregory Leonard of Bethel AME Church in Setauket stands in front of the church’s blessing box. Photo from Dave Seyfert

Matthew Seyfert said future Eagle Scouts need to supervise the projects more than build them, so he got together some fellow Scouts and gave each boy a job based on age. While some did prep-work, others painted and others drilled. His father said local businesses Ace Hardware in Setauket, Riverhead Building Supply, Home Depot, Lowe’s and Omega Moulding Company donated supplies. Seyfert decided they would have roofs in colors that matched each church, after Setauket Presbyterian Church asked what color the boxes would be.

They’ve been placed at six locations so far, including Stony Brook Community Church, Setauket Presbyterian, Bethel AME Church, Caroline Church of Brookhaven, All Souls Episcopal Church and Setauket United Methodist Church. The Scout said he hopes to find a home for the seventh one in the near future. He said he has mixed feelings about the project being over.

“It was a relief, but it was also kind of sad because we were working on it for so long, that it was weird to not be focused on it,” Seyfert said. “But it felt really good to now finally implement them.”

The Eagle Scout project has left him with some advice for other boys looking to achieve the feat.

“Choose something you’re interested in so it’s not as much work,” Seyfert said. “Also, start early. It’s a lot of planning. You really can’t start without planning.”

The show must go on. Despite the rain and chilly temperatures Sept. 30, the Stony Brook Community Church held its annual Apple Festival on church grounds. As usual, the event was filled with apple dishes, homemade soups and chili, cider and barbecued food. Attendees were also able to purchase goods from various vendors. Last but not least, apple pies and Apple Festival merchandise were available to purchase and bring home to remember the day.

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The annual apple festival organized by members of the Stony Brook Community Church is a child-friendly event. Festival-goers shopped, dined, enjoyed music, played games, created art, watched demonstrations and learned about volunteer opportunities in the community. An annual event spanning more than 50 years, it is a family affair.

The 12th Annual Vintage European Sports Car & Motorcycle Display was held on the front lawn of the Stony Brook Community Church on Saturday, Aug. 13. In spite of record high temperatures, the free event attracted a nice crowd who admired over 30 European cars and motorcycles and enjoyed live music by The Barking Men and refreshments. The oldest car on display was the 1926 Bentley 3-litre, with 18 documented owners during its lifetime, including several in New Zealand. The 1947 Morris-Garages MG-TC won the People’s Choice award for Best Car in Show. All proceeds went to the outreach mission of the church, especially the scholarship program of its annual Children’s Performing Arts Camp.