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Veterans Dan Guida, Gary Suzik and Joseph Cognitore during a visit to Rocky Point High School to commemorate Veterans Day. Photo by Rich Acritelli

By Rich Acritelli

This week marks the 63rd anniversary of the first Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 1954, as declared by President Eisenhower, an annual remembrance of national service.

“On that day let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom,” Eisenhower said.

Many North Shore residents have served at home and abroad to protect the freedom of the United States. Just recently, proud veterans from VFW Post 6249 in Rocky Point were interviewed by members of the Rocky Point High School History Honor Society about their years in uniform.

The first veteran to be interviewed was Gary Suzik, who is a resident of Rocky Point. The native of Michigan’s upper peninsula grew up playing football, hockey and downhill skiing and still has a touch of his Mid-western accent. He served in the U.S. Navy for four years and was stationed on the USS LaSalle, where he helped guide the landing craft. As it turned out, this was one of the last ships to be built locally at the historic Brooklyn Navy Yard. Suzik said he is immensely proud of his duty on a vessel that saw naval missions for more than 40 years in every corner of the world. The ship and crew even helped retrieve the Gemini capsule, a spacecraft carrying two astronauts, after it landed from an early space mission.

Suzik participated in operations in the Mediterranean Sea, where he visited ports in Italy and France. He was also deployed to Cuba and the Caribbean during the Dominican Civil War in 1965. It was common for this ship to carry about 400 sailors and 500 to 600 Marines who  utilized landing crafts to assault enemy forces in hot spots around the globe. Suzik mentioned how the ship had the honor of carrying Admiral John McCain Jr., who is the father of senator, noted Vietnam veteran and prisoner of war John McCain (R-Arizona). Veterans Day is a special moment for Suzik as he recalls not only his memories, but that of his father who fought during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II and other family members who were also in the military.

Dan Guida grew up in Nassau County and currently lives in Wading River. His mother had nine brothers, of which seven served in the military during World War II. Since his youth, Guida said he learned the importance of national service from stories that were presented to him by his uncle. After high school, Guida was granted a temporary military deferment in order to attend St. John’s University in Jamaica, Queens, but a short time later, he decided to leave school and was drafted into the Army. With some college behind him, Guida was accepted into the Army Officer Candidate School and became a second lieutenant. Today around the post, many of the VFW members cheerfully refer to him as “Lieutenant Dan,” a reference to the film “Forrest Gump.”

From 1967 to 1968, Guida served in Vietnam with the I Corps. As an officer, he was responsible to direct tanks, armored personnel carriers and the trucks that operated within the northern areas of South Vietnam, not too far from Da Nang and the demilitarized zone. Guida recalled the tanks didn’t function well within the terrain of Vietnam through the heavy rains that saturated the grounds and made it difficult for American armor to gain enough traction in the mud. He shared interesting insights into the buildup to the war with the students.

Later, Guida utilized the GI Bill to attend Nassau Community College and Hofstra University, where he majored in accounting. He held a job as an accountant for a good part of his life and he still happily holds financial responsibilities today for Post 6249. The Wading River resident said Veterans Day is a moment that our citizens should be thankful for the sacrifices that past, present and future veterans have made toward the security of this nation. Guida said he saw that gratitude as he entered the high school before the interview. He had a big smile on his face when a younger Rocky Point student personally thanked him for his service.

Rocky Point resident and local commander of VFW Post 6249, Joseph Cognitore was also asked about his time in the service by the students. While Guida saw the earlier part of the war, Cognitore, who was drafted into the Army, endured the latter phase of fighting in Vietnam. From 1969 to 1970, he was a platoon sergeant that served in the air cavalry that transported soldiers by helicopters into various areas of the country. 

Cognitore was tasked to conduct “search and destroy” missions against the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army who were situated in caves, tunnels, jungles and mountains. He also fought in Cambodia against an enemy that utilized the strength of the Ho Chi Minh trail to move troops and materials through the country to attack American and South Vietnamese forces.

Cognitore said it took a long time to put the war behind him. During the Gulf War in the early ’90s, he joined the VFW and rose to be its commander and to hold prominent leadership positions within the local, state and national levels of the organization. He said he is constantly reminded of his combat tours through injuries to his legs that have left him hobbling for years.

Cognitore views every day as Veterans Day. Each day he answers countless emails and telephone calls to help men and women that have served at home and abroad. Recently, Cognitore helped spearhead a golf outing that has raised over $200,000 to help the Wounded Warriors. One of the most important qualities the students were treated to during the interview was the camaraderie the veterans have toward each other, a dynamic likely strengthened by Post 6249’s daily mission of helping every veteran.

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College.

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner is up against Coram resident Democrat Mike Goodman to represent the 2nd Council District Nov. 7. Photos by Kevin Redding

Coram resident Mike Goodman is running against incumbent Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) because he said he thinks he could bring positive changes to the town — ones that will streamline services, create more jobs, keep young folks on Long Island and make transparency changes with lasting effects.

An English major from St. Joseph’s College, who also studied religion and computer science, the Democrat challenger said he takes major issue with the lack of job creation and affordable housing in the town.

Flooding in Rocky Point has been a cause for concern in relation to sewers on the North Shore. File photo from Sara Wainwright

“My brother is a recent graduate, he’s a really smart, great, hard-working guy and it’s hard for him to find a place to live here, and I’ve seen all my friends leave for the same reason,” he said. “I want to put a stop to the brain drain. There are a lot of companies that don’t come here because it takes so long to deal with the bureaucracy of the town. I’m personally affected by a lot of these problems.”

Bonner, who is running for her sixth term at the helm of the 2nd Council District, said during a debate at the TBR News Media office in October she didn’t know if it’s her 27-year-old opponent’s age or inexperience but he lacks knowledge of affordable housing issues.

“To say you want more affordable housing, it’s a lofty and noble goal, it just has to make sense where you put it,” she said.

She also pointed out the flaws in fulfilling some of her opponent’s goals in her district, specifically constructing walkable downtowns and affordable housing complexes.

Coram resident Mike Goodman is running for political office for the first time. Photo by Kevin Redding

“Sewers are very expensive and with that, developers are going to want density,” she said. “Density doesn’t work if you don’t have mass transportation to have these walkable downtowns, to have trains and expanded bus system, but also the county cut the bus system in the districts that I represent and the current legislator wrote a letter to not bring sewers to Rocky Point and Sound Beach. We don’t have expanded gas lines in Rocky Point either, and the seniors in the leisure communities are struggling with getting heat. As the closest level of government to the people that’s responsible for the least amount of your tax bill, we are great advocates to other levels of government to help the residents out because we’re the ones that end up cleaning up the mess.”

Goodman also suggested more housing attractive in price and environment to millennials, and Bonner pointed to the current project proposed for the site next to King Kullen in Mount Sinai, but also pointed to issues with affordable housing.

Stimulating job creation was a goal raised by both candidates.

Bonner said 500,000 positions could be created if Brookhaven wins the bid to bring an Amazon headquarters to the Calabro Airport in Mastic and the site of former Dowling College.

“Something that takes 45 days to get cleared with any other town takes two years to do here,” Goodman said in response. “I don’t think Amazon of all companies wants to deal with a town that’s bragging about recently getting computers. If we want to deal with the tech sector, if we want to have good paying jobs in manufacturing or technology, instead of the more and more retail I see happening, we need to attract big businesses here, and that happens by streamlining bureaucracy.”

Millennial housing was a topic for discussion, which there are plans to construct in Mount Sinai. Image top right from Basser Kaufman

The Newfield High School graduate pointed to his software development background at Hauppauge-based Globegistics, and side business building websites and fixing computers, as evidence of his abilities to cut administrative “red tape.”

“I would like a publicly-facing forum,” he said, referring to a ticketing system like JIRA, a highly customizable issue-management tracking platform. “Everyone can see all of the issues that have been called into the town, who in the town is working on it, how long it will take to get done and what it’s going to cost. I think town contracts should be made public so people can see who is getting the work done and how much they’re being paid, so people aren’t just getting family members jobs.”

Bonner emphasized many of hers and the town’s efforts in streamlining services, managing land use and implementation of technology, but also noted her and her colleagues’ desire for transparency.

“I think it is an overused expression, because I don’t know any person I work with on any level of government that doesn’t advocate for transparency; gone are the days of Crookhaven,” she said. “We’ve become more user-friendly, we aren’t as archaic as we used to be.”

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner is seeking her sixth term. Photo by Kevin Redding

Bonner has a long list of accomplishments she said she’s proud of playing a part in during her 12 years on the board. Bringing single-stream recycling to her constituents; refurbishing and redoing most of the parks and marinas; and working on a land use plan for the solar farm at the old golf course grounds in Shoreham that will generate about $1 million in PILOT payments for 20 years were some of the examples she noted.

She said she is also looking forward to improving handicap accessibility at town parks.

“When you’re walking in a particular park you see maybe a park needs a handicap swing and think about where in the budget you can get the money for it,” Bonner said. “The longer you’re at it there’s good things you get to do, they’re very gratifying.”

Goodman said he’s hoping to just create a better Brookhaven for the future.

“I’m running to make the town I’ve always lived in better, and not just better now, but better 10, 20 years from now,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of things that can be done better, I want to do the work and I think I’m qualified to do the work.”

The current councilwoman said she hopes to continue to improve and build on the things already accomplished.

“The longer you serve, the more layers you can peel back in the onion and you see problems that need to be solved,” Bonner said. “With length of service you can really get to the root of the problem, solve it significantly and hopefully, permanently.”

By Desirée Keegan

The North Shore is losing one of its most powerful lobbyists.

The North Brookhaven Chamber of Commerce announced its dismantling this month, as the result of president Jennifer Dzvonar stepping down. Currently no members or outside businesses leaders have stepped up to take her place.

North Brookhaven Chamber of Commerce President Jennifer Dzvonar, also owner of Bass Electric in Port Jefferson Station, with her husband William. File photo

Dzvonar did not return requests for comment, but Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point), who represents the territory that’s home to most of the area businesses involved in the chamber, said she was shocked, but not surprised, knowing the Port Jefferson Station’s Bass Electric owner has a family of young children.

“It’s very time consuming,” Bonner said of being a chamber leader. “I’m surprised no one else stepped up to the plate, but I understand the quandary they’re in. Volunteerism on any level really, really does cut into your personal life. It’s a lot of balls to juggle and I know, because I’m a serial volunteer. I have a lot of respect for people who put their family first.”

Losing the 17-year-old business network, a local organization of businesses whose goal is to further the interests of businesses, means losing a go-to organization for new small businesses owners seeking help. The towns it covers also lose a local advocate fighting on behalf of the business community in the community it serves. It is not only a welcoming committee but it also helps promote business in the area. The dismembering of the chamber will result in less funding and support for tourism and trade, and the loss of a large scholarship program for local high school seniors — including those who reside in Wading River, Shoreham, Rocky Point, Sound Beach, Miller Place, Mount Sinai, Port Jefferson Station and Terryville.

“People will miss new business owners wanting to get involved with the chamber, not having a go-to person,” said Bonner, whose comments were also echoed by Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station). “But as council people we will, as we always do, make our doors open to help with the process.”

The future of the train car

The breaking down of the North Brookhaven Chamber of Commerce leaves the future of the historic train car at Memorial American Flag Park on the corner of Route 112 and Route 347 in Port Jefferson Station in question, but executive director Mike Poveromo said residents needn’t worry.

Despite the dismantling of the chamber, Poveromo, although he refrained from providing specific details just yet, said a Port Jefferson Station-Terryville Chamber of Commerce will be emerging, and taking with it, the responsibility of using dues to pay for what was once the chamber of commerce’s office.

“The train is one of the first electric trains and one of the two remaining of its model on Long Island,” Poveromo said. “The train car is a 1914 baggage/passenger car, that was in use from Jamaica Station to Grand Central Station. In my opinion, it is not only a chamber office, it is a community landmark.”

At the park is also a 20-feet wide, by 30-feet long American flag. A remembrance piece from the World Trade Center is also encompassed into the foundation circle.

“The picnic tables provide visitors and residents the opportunity to enjoy the area when taking a break when shopping, driving and visiting our area,” he said. “I am not concerned when the north Brookhaven chamber closes, since a new chamber is being formed, and will continue its ongoing effort in this respect.”

Mike Poveromo, general manager of Family Times Event Rentals in Mount Sinai and executive director of the chamber, said he knows a thing or two about how demanding the position can be. He joined the then-Miller Place-Mount Sinai Chamber, a small group of 30 local merchants, and eventually moved from membership director to president in 1997. He then served as president of the Council of Dedicated Merchants Chamber of Commerce from 1998 to 2004, which is when the chamber grew to include Sound Beach and Rocky Point. His business was also active in the Port Jefferson Station and Shoreham/Wading River chambers.

“Some of the first local merchants who welcomed me, like Mike Allen of Janitorial Plus and Paul Houghton of Miller Place Sea Food made a lasting impression,” Poveromo said. “They convinced me to become the volunteer membership director. But being a volunteer officer or director of any chamber of commerce is a demanding undertaking, especially in this time in history when both residents and business owners feel they do not have enough time in their day for personal, meaningful and beneficial relationships.”

The executive director recalled what to him was the first significant program established to connect business owners with the community — the Music and Arts Festival at Mount Sinai’s Cedar Beach. It was also the place to raise funds to support the scholarship.

“The chamber membership grew quickly, the business and residential community grew rapidly once the four-lane highway was in place [on 25A],” Poveromo said.

Poveromo said he is worried about the future of the area businesses.

“The days of when your doctor knew you, your whole family, your pharmacist helped you personally, your local butcher, baker and dentist that had your family covered is gone,” he said. “Today it is all about fast food, cheap service and instant gratification.”

He said he feels the dismantling of the chamber is a huge mistake.

“I cannot answer the question of why no member business owner or director hasn’t stepped up to the plate to bring the NBCOC into the future, but it could be they feel they could not afford to volunteer their personal time and expertise away from their business and family,” he said. “With no serious candidate willing to take over, I understand and support the chamber’s decision to dismantle, and this will open up new opportunities for individual town business leaders to open a chamber of commerce and promote their community as a great place to live, work, raise a family and open a business.”

Currently, a Port Jefferson Station-Terryville Chamber of Commerce is in the works, but no merchants have stepped up to fill the void in the other hamlets.

“It is a loss to hometown recognition for small businesses embedded for years in the fabric of the community they serve,” Poveromo said. “Today’s new small business start-ups must find innovative ways and the means to become part of the community fabric. They are choosing to open and invest their time, money and talents in the American dream, and the chamber of commerce is a great resource. New chamber leaders must find solutions to show and prove to residents the value of shopping locally at small business locations where owners are making a direct investment in the towns they chose to open a business.”

Melinda Murray, on left, and Karen Acompora, on right, who are the founders of Copiague-based Heart Screen New York, gave Shoreham-Wading River Girl Scout Jordan McClintock, at center, a $400,000 grant to help with her Gold Award project. Photo by Kevin Redding

A Shoreham-Wading River senior showed a lot of heart this past weekend by making sure her fellow students and community members got theirs checked out.

Jordan McClintock, a 17-year-old Girl Scout, saw the culmination of a two-year Gold Award project Saturday, Oct. 14, as Albert G. Prodell Middle School’s gymnasium became a mini medical center fully staffed with cardiologists, physicians and nurse practitioners from hospitals across the state, bringing with them life-saving equipment. The medical professionals provided more than 400 registrants — between the ages 12 and 25 — with free, all-day heart screenings in an effort to raise awareness about sudden cardiac arrest, the leading cause of death in young athletes.

A volunteer shows a girl how to use an AED machine. Photo by Kevin Redding

With help from a $400,000 grant by Copiague-based Heart Screen New York, McClintock’s event allowed students from Shoreham-Wading River and beyond to get thorough cardiovascular screenings, which included an electrocardiogram test, a blood pressure reading and final consultation with medical professionals. Pediatric cardiologists were available in case further testing was needed and students were given hands-only CPR and automatic external defibrillator training after their exams.

As heart screenings are not generally covered by health insurance, the event also made it possible for parents to evaluate a crucial component of their children’s health without spending up to $1,000 per exam.

“This is amazing,” said Maureen MacDowell, whose son, a cross country runner at the school, was screened Saturday. “It’s a huge deal that the girl who organized this did so. It’s definitely worth having.”

Marlene Baumeister, the mother of a football player, said other school districts should use the event as a model for their own heart screenings.

Tony Zajac, a Shoreham-Wading River parent and coach, called the program excellent.

“It’s very educational for these kids and more in-depth than I thought,” Zajac said. “It gives them feedback on their own heart health while teaching them how to potentially save somebody else’s life.”

Sudden cardiac arrests claim the lives of more than 2,000 people under 25 in the country every year, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, and yet they are not included in most routine physical exams or pre-participation sports physicals. One out of 100 students that attend a heart screening will discover an underlying heart condition.

“If I can save one life with early detection, my work for the past two years will have been all worth it.”

—Jordan McClintock

“If I can save one life with early detection, my work for the past two years will have been all worth it,” said McClintock, an aspiring pediatrician. “I’m really hoping it initiates some conversations among my peers and their families.”

The Girl Scout developed her project as a freshman after she got her own heart screening done at St. Francis Hospital in Roslyn, which was offered in partnership with Heart Screen New York, based on her family’s history of cardiac problems.

It was through the procedure, which she referred to as “painless” and “relieving,” that McClintock began her years-long correspondence with Karen Acompora, the co-founder of Heart Screen New York.

Acompora lost her 14-year-old son to a sudden cardiac arrest during a high school lacrosse game in 2000 after a ball struck his chest between heartbeats. She and Melinda Murray, a Queens-based mother whose son collapsed on a basketball court and died from an undetected heart condition, formed Heart Screen New York together as a way to detect heart trouble in local youths and prevent as many deaths as possible.

Heart Screen New York hosts only two screenings per year due to the expenses and resources needed for each one.

“I thought it was an amazing program and would be great if I could bring it to Shoreham,” McClintock said. “Out here we’ve never really had anything like this that’s free and promotes cardiovascular health in student-athletes and the community in general. I was very inspired by Karen’s story.”

McClintock’s perseverance paid off, literally, early last year when Heart Screen New York representatives informed her Shoreham-Wading River would be the site of their October 2017 screening.

A young boy is shown how to perform CPR. Photo by Kevin Redding

“I think the screening is certainly opening a lot of eyes in the Shoreham community and Jordan’s done such a nice job of advertising and promoting the event,” Acompora said. A founder of another group called the Louis J. Acompora Memorial Foundation, in memory of her son, the Northport mother hopes heart screenings will eventually become a mandatory part of physicals. In fact, she and Murray have been pushing legislation for years to make electrocardiograms part of student-athlete’s preparticipation screening process.

“There’s a lack of knowledge on the part of individuals who feel it’s too costly to do heart screenings, but how do you put a price tag on life?” said Murray, whose 17-year-old son Dominic died in 2009, exactly three years after his father died from a massive heart attack. “We’re really proud of Jordan. It’s having a great impact at the school and is really spreading the awareness of the importance of heart screenings.”

Among the volunteers at the event was Shoreham senior and baseball player Jack Crowley, who, two years ago, at 15 years old, was declared medically dead after a line drive hit him in the chest. Crowley’s heart stopped and he was unable to breathe. He was brought back to life from the shock of an automatic external defibrillator — which Heart Screen New York had pushed to make available in as many locations as possible.

“They’re the reason I’m here,” Crowley said. “Get a heart screening. It’s so much better than learning the hard way that you have an issue.”

Senior volleyball player Lindsay Deegan said of the screening: “This is something I never would’ve thought of doing this before, so it’s cool to know what’s going on.”

McClintock is expected to receive her Gold Award during a ceremony in Spring 2018.

“Girl Scouts pledge to help people at all times, and Jordan’s stellar work truly exemplifies that promise,” said Yvonne Grant, President and CEO for Girl Scouts of Suffolk County. “Jordan’s Gold Award project is an inspiring and extraordinary way to bring awareness.”

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.

20th Street renamed Thomas Lateulere Street in memory of firefighter, good neighbor

Wading River Fire Department unveiled the new Thomas Lateulere Street sign on 20th Street Aug. 30. Photo by Robert Quaranta

By Kyle Barr

Under the newly-placed sign that says Thomas Lateulere Street high above their heads, family, friends, neighbors and volunteer firemen of the Wading River Fire Department could only remember the man the street was named after as a modest, kind and gentle soul who gave everything he had to the fire department and the community.

“It was great of the fire department to honor him like this — I never expected it, and the crowd that came, never,” Thomas Lateulere mother Joann said as she walked back to her house on the street now named after her son. “They all came to honor him, which was wonderful.”

Family memebrers, friends, members of the Wading River Fire Department and Riverhead Town were on site for the renaming of 20th Street as Lateulere Street, in memory of Thomas Lateulere, an ex-chief of Wading River Fire Department who lost a battle with cancer in 2016. Photo by Robert Quaranta

Volunteer firefighters, public officials, neighbors and friends of Thomas Lateulere, a commissioner and ex-chief in Wading River who died last July after a battle with cancer, all came to honor the man as his name was dedicated to the street where he grew up.

“He worked up until the last day he had to go to the hospital and he died,” said Latuelere’s former girlfriend Raegin Kellerman. “He was still there training students, and he was just a good man, a very good man. He loved it, too, it was a passion for him. He just enjoyed training his members on all these new advancements. He was all into new technology, new medical care and he did his research on everything. He just really loved them, it was a family to him.”

Lateulere had worked with the Wading River Fire Department and EMS for 35 years. He started when he was a young teen as a junior for the department, and he moved up through the ranks until he reached commissioner and chief. He was also one of the first paramedics to work with Suffolk County’s medevac helicopters, which are used to transport those in need of medical attention to a hospital.

“He was a really caring guy, cared about the members down here,” said current Wading River Fire Chief Kevin McQueeney. “He was the kind of guy that if your son was hurt, you wanted him to show up on the call — you knew that he was the best of the best. He is missed down here; he was a guidance down here.”

Neighbors who lived close to Lateulere said they felt safe with him nearby. Many of them knew him as “Tommy.”

“Almost everybody on this street had to call an ambulance at some time or another,” said Wading River resident and neighbor Chris Hopkins. “He heard it on the radio and he was there within two minutes He personally came twice in the middle of the night when I needed an ambulance, he was in my house within a minute taking charge of everybody, even telling the ambulance people to take good care of me. Everyone up and down our street he was there for. He was a shy fellow, but he was amazing; he was so amazing.”

Members of the Wading River Fire Department honored former chief Thomas Lateulere during a street-renaming ceremony. Photo by Robert Quaranta

Few roads have been dedicated to individuals, so Riverhead Town Highway DepartmentDeputy Superintendent Mike Zaleski said that it would be a nice way to remember the man who touched the lives of so many.

“I would say we might have dedicated fice streets to individuals, and I’ve been with the town going on 24 years,” Zakesji said.”It has to be very noteworthy, somebody special,. It’s well deserved here.”

Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said the steet renaming was the least the town could do.

“I mean he’s a 35-year volunteer and commissioner of the fire department, EMS worker and trainer — there are very few people in the world who excel at that level, especially to protect life safety,” Walter said.

Kellerman said that the street sign should also serve as a call for more people to volunteer their time to the local fire department and EMS, showing how the service of the men and women on call all day ever week does not go unoticed, and how the dedication and service can affect and save lives.

“They’re out at 2 or 3 in the morning helping people, and the rest of us are sleeping,” she said. “The ambulances, the fire departments, we need volunteers, we need volunteers to keep people safe.”

The name Thomas Lateulere is an addition to 20th street, so that maps will not be affected or changed, and so that the renaming doesn’t lead to confusion. Lateulere might have appreciated that — just another small sacrifice for even the smallest greater good.

“I think he would be shy and embarrassed by it, all this hoopla,” Hopkins said. “But I think he would secretly be quite proud.”

Students at Little Miss Sew It All at The Shoppes at East Wind in Wading River model handmade clothes created with the help of shop owner Melissa Stasi-Thomas. Photo by Jill Webb

By Jill Webb

Fourteen years ago Melissa Stasi-Thomas was a Girl Scout troop leader who would teach her scouts how to sew. Now, she’s putting on weekly fashion shows as the owner of Little Miss Sew It All.

Students at Little Miss Sew It All at The Shoppes at East Wind in Wading River model handmade clothes. Photo by Jill Webb

Little Miss Sew It All is a sewing studio located in The Shoppes at East Wind in Wading River. The studio focuses on teaching sewing to children and young adults, with no experience necessary, and offers assistance to those within a range of skill levels.

Erin DeBianco who was searching for a creative outlet for her daughter Skylar, 5 at the time, stumbled across Little Miss Sew It All and had no idea how it would effect her daughter’s life.

“It really opens their minds for creativity purposes, but it also really is teaching a skill that they can carry with them,” DeBianco said of what the studio has done for Skylar, now 9. “She developed a love for sewing, and even had a mini sewing studio installed in her bedroom.”

Skylar takes the lessons she’s learned at Little Miss Sew It All into the classroom, too.

“She had an old skirt that didn’t fit her anymore, and she had a recycling project to do for school, and she made the skirt into a pocketbook,” DeBianco said. “She added the straps, and sewed the bottom shut so it would hold something. Her mind is working like that now because she goes to Little Miss Sew It All. They teach them how to repurpose things and change what doesn’t fit you into something else.”

Students at Little Miss Sew It All at The Shoppes at East Wind in Wading River model handmade clothes created with the help of shop owner Melissa Stasi-Thomas. Photo by Jill Webb

Stasi-Thomas has come a long way with sewing. After another troop leader asked if she could teach her girls, she went troop to troop teaching the scouts how to sew pajama bottoms. Then, one girl raised her hand and asked her “what else can I make?”

That question inspired her to start a sewing class on her dining room table. At first, it was just six fifth-graders.

“I stayed on my dining room table for eight years,” Stasi-Thomas said. She opened up the shop, originally located in East Moriches, eight years ago. In October 2016, she closed her East Moriches studio to dedicate her time to her new location in Wading River.

The youth classes, called SEW U, operate in four-week sessions for an hour and a half. Beginner’s classes are broken into instruction basics on machine and hand sewing procedures, along with project construction. Experienced students will introduce design and skill drill instruction into their class. There is also an adult program, All Sewn Up, which offers basic instruction on sewing to adults.

Stasi-Thomas also added open sewing hours to her studio, called Stop-N-Sew, allowing participants to stop in and do projects ranging from $15 to $20. They are available everyday over the summer from 12 to 6 p.m. excluding Fridays.

Fridays are when she and the girls have a little fun. Project Funway, for children ages 6 to 16, offers a chance for participants to not only design and sew their own outfits, but model them in their own fashion shows.

Students at Little Miss Sew It All at The Shoppes at East Wind in Wading River model handmade clothes created with the help of shop owner Melissa Stasi-Thomas. Photo by Jill Webb

“We were sewing for so many years and the kids were making such fantastic things and the only people who ever really saw it was [when] they went home and brought it to their parents,” Stasi-Thomas said.

This is her eighth year of Project Funway, and the theme is Bohemian RapSewDy.

The camp starts with an introduction to the theme and explanation of what to create.

“This year, I told them that they are going down the runway barefoot with flower headbands,” she said. “They get that image in their head.”

The students are given choices of which ensemble they will construct: a romper, dress or halter-top with harem pants. Experienced students have more leeway to alter the ensemble choices. On the second day, Stasi-Thomas runs through machine safety and operation. The next three days are dedicated to garment construction, and leads to a photo shoot and fashion show.

“It’s much like you see on Project Runway, sometimes there’s just fabric flying,” Stasi-Thomas said comparing her classes to the popular Bravo and Lifetime reality show competition.

Everything at Little Miss Sew It All revolves around the student’s vision.

“They make suggestions on whether things should be longer or shorter or tighter. … Pick the blue instead of the pink,” she said. “It’s great to just sit and watch what they’re doing.”

Students at Little Miss Sew It All at The Shoppes at East Wind in Wading River model handmade clothes created with the help of shop owner Melissa Stasi-Thomas. Photo by Jill Webb

At the July 28 fashion show, best friends Katherine McCann, 12, of Moriches and Gwen Posanti, 12, of Shirley, walked down the runway in their newly-created ensembles. Gwen, who is in her sixth year at the studio, said she loves the program.

“It’s a great way to express yourself, because you get to make your own outfit and then you get to show it to a crowd,” she said. “It just feels so nice to have everybody cheering for you.”

Lorraine Mathes, of Holbrook, has been sending her daughter to Little Miss Sew It All for two years.

“Miss Melissa makes the whole program,” she said. “She’s amazing with the kids.”

One of the best parts of the studio, according to Stasi-Thomas, is watching the growth of her students over the years, providing them with a skill that can last a lifetime.

“It’s the working with your hands — I just feel is important for everybody,” she said. “Even if you’re going to go into the computer field, you have to kind of grasp your ability to create something.”

File photo

By Desirée Keegan

The Suffolk County Police Department Highway Patrol Bureau, assisted by the New York State Police, arrested 14 people and seized one vehicle during an overnight sobriety checkpoint in Port Jefferson Station June 30.

Police officers from the SCPD highway patrol were assisted by New York State Troopers in conducting a sobriety checkpoint at the corner of Route 112 and Hallock Avenue. The checkpoint was conducted as part of an on-going July 4th holiday enforcement operation for the prevention of injuries and fatalities associated with driving while ability impaired by alcohol and drugs.  A total of 716 vehicles went through the checkpoint.

The following people were charged with driving while intoxicated:

  • Sandra Ventre, 50, of Port Jefferson
  • Robert Paddock, 28, of Stony Brook
  • John Young, 40, of Centereach
  • Jeffrey Gerlin, 57, of Centereach
  • Megan Dichtl, 26, of Wading River

The following was charged with driving while ability impaired by drugs:

  • Nicholas Cappelletti, 31, of Centereach

The following was charged with driving while ability impaired by a combined influence of alcohol and drugs and seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance:

  • Justin Maldonado, 24, of New Jersey

The following was charged with seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance:

  • Justin Wienckowski, 23, of Commack

Ventre’s vehicle was seized due to a prior DWI conviction. The individuals were be arraigned at First District Court in Central Islip July 1. Additionally, six individuals were arrested for unlawful possession of marijuana and issued field appearance tickets and will be arraigned on a later date.

When two Mount Sinai moms whose sons fall on the autism spectrum noticed a lack of support and resources in Suffolk County to help families affected by the disorder, they took to Facebook to form “a little support group” — made up of 12 moms in a living room.

A year and a half and 1,500 members later, the nonprofit Suffolk Aspergers/Autism Support and Information has blossomed into a haven for those dealing with disabilities, enriching the lives of special needs families through essential services and programs, as well as emotional and financial support.

“We’ve literally become an autism family,” said SASI co-founder Priscilla Arena, whose 10-year-old son was diagnosed at a younger age. “We feel a great sense of responsibility to every single parent and child and doing the right thing by all of them. I’m doing this not just for my son, but for everyone’s children because we need to do this.”

Shoreham resident Alonna Rubin, on right, and her son Jack, who has autism, during Suffolk Aspergers/Autism Support and Information’s Blue Party fundraiser.Photo by Kevin Redding

While the group grows at an exponential rate, as does autism diagnoses throughout Long Island. Its founders, Arena and Stephanie Mendelson, took their outreach for autism to whole new heights June 8 with their first annual Blue Party fundraiser.

In a grandiose ballroom at The Inn at East Wind in Wading River, hundreds of local residents, business representatives, elected officials and celebrity guests dressed in blue, the official color of autism awareness, danced the night away to live music and took part in casino gaming, raffles and auctions all in the name of SASI and autism.

Sponsors of the gala included Sky Zone Trampoline Park in Mount Sinai, Powerhouse Gym in Miller Place and Investors Bank in East Northport. An international theme was represented by cuisines from different cultures because, as Arena said, “Autism doesn’t discriminate based on race or socioeconomics.”

All funds raised went toward a physical office for the nonprofit, as its members currently meet once a month at Mather Hospital, and the expansion of the nonprofit’s numerous programs for families, including their Life Skills program, a 12-week program that teaches teenagers and young adults how to be independent — everything from tying their shoes to reading off a menu and paying bills.

Mendelson, whose eight-year-old son Jacob struggles with motor skills, speech delay and overwhelming anxiety as a result of his autism, said she realized early on that he wasn’t meeting the milestones his twin sister was. When she and her husband got the diagnosis, she said she felt a mixture of relief and profound sadness.

“We felt alone with everything that was occurring with our son, and heard about the group … he now has friends he can relate to. We’ve learned a lot … it’s incredible and I don’t feel like I’m alone.”

— Lisa Gerstein

“My instinct was to wrap him in a cocoon and protect him,” Mendelson told the room. “I realized at that moment that it was my job to be his advocate, his coach, his teacher, his biggest fan. I felt overwhelmed and scared at the idea of his outcome and future resting on my shoulders … nevertheless, we began our journey and immersed ourselves in the world of autism.”

After she met Arena at a business meeting in late 2015, the two shared a desire to provide families a place to go where they didn’t have to feel as lonely and isolated as they did.

Part of the $7,000 donated to the advocacy program will help parents struggling to get proper services within school districts and raise awareness and acceptance among regular kids. The group does not yet know the grand total raised during the event, but the goal was $50,000.

“We want to be the autism resource center in Suffolk County, a central resource for parents no matter what their issue is,” Mendelson said. “And if we don’t know, we can find somebody who does.”

Monica Nichols, who serves as parent liaison at New York Therapy Sensory Gym & Speech and Language Center in Port Jefferson Station, which provides programs and social skills groups for those with autism, said connecting with other parents helped her most when her own child was diagnosed.

“By far, for me, the most valuable resources have been other parents, because it’s really from other parents where you learn what’s out there in a more meaningful way than what a doctor can tell you — it’s what makes it special,” Nichols said. “[SASI] has been a big shift, they’ve really done a great job at outreach and membership and making each individual family feel part of a bigger family.”

When Lisa Gerstein, of Centereach, first joined the group in its beginning stages, things got better quickly.

“We felt alone with everything that was occurring with our son, and heard about the group … he now has friends he can relate to,” Gerstein said. “We’ve learned a lot in terms of what to do with dealing with the school district and what to ask for … it’s incredible and I don’t feel like I’m alone.”

Suffolk Aspergers/Autism Support and Information founders Stephanie Mendelson, on left, and Priscilla Arena, on right, with former World Wrestling Entertainment competitor Mick Foley at SASI’s Blue Party fundraiser. Photo by Kevin Redding

Daniel Korcz, a 22-year-old college student with autism, who hopes to mentor young people on the spectrum, said the nonprofit has brought him a lot of happiness. “It’s pretty amazing that there’s an organization to help people like me, who are smart kids that are on the spectrum,” the Islandia resident said. “It provides them support and assistance that they might need.”

Among some of the entertainment of the evening were TKA, a Latin freestyle trio prominent in the 1980s and early 1990s, and former Anthrax singer Dan Nelson, who performed Beatles and Elvis songs with his band “Dan Nelson and The Downfall.”

World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. Hall of Famer Mick Foley, of Smithtown, showed up to the fundraiser willing to help in any way, as the cause hits him close to home. His 16-year-old son Mickey is on the spectrum.

“This is an issue that kind of chose me, so I readily agreed to be part of this,” Foley said, adding he hopes this is a big success for the group.

Discussing his experience as a parent of an autistic child, he said he wished he’d been more aware.

“I look back at the videos when he was much younger and realize I should’ve known a long time ago,” he said. “I think it’s important that people become aware and acceptance is incredibly important. Learn as much as you can, find a great support group and don’t feel like it’s the end of the world because it’s not. Being the parent of a child with autism is definitely a struggle, but it’s also a great adventure.”

By Desirée Keegan

Runners gathered to honor a local leader and mentor, while raising funds in support of Miller Place athletics.

The 21st annual Joe Keany 5K and 1-mile runs commenced June 3, with North Shore runners grabbing first-place finishes while paying homage to a former Miller Place track runner.

“Joe Keany would go and mow the lawn and go around the neighborhood looking to do chores and do you know what he did with the money? He rode his bike down to the Smith Haven Mall and donated it to the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon,” said Jackie Rose, the event’s organizer and emcee. The telethon raised money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. “We’re running for good character, we’re running for acts of kindness.”

Rose added that when Keany was in college, he and a friend rode their bikes from Cortland to California and back, donating the money made in support of his endeavor to charity.

“In his honor, the track team and the school decided to start this race,” Rose said. She said Keany was a captain of Miller Place’s track team, and garnered a myriad of accolades.

Over 400 runners registered for the races, and the money raised will benefit the Miller Place Athletic Booster Club, which funds the senior awards dinner and four scholarships.

Last year, the event raised around $7,500, according to booster club president Steve Liantonio. This year, Rose said, the booster club has far surpassed that, raising close to $10,000.

“We couldn’t do it without the local businesses who get involved and support us,” the six-year president said.

Rocky Point resident Scarlett Stevenson, who ran with her dad Brett, was the winner of the 1-mile run.

“I really love racing, and since I’m doing it with my dad, it’s a really fun experience,” the 11-year-old said. “I love running. I always run at school.”

First across the 5K finish line was Wading River’s Keith Steinbrecher, who finished in 17 minutes, 16.65 seconds.

The Shoreham-Wading River graduate also competed in 2009 and 2010, and is a currently a senior at Merrimack College. He said he enjoys the course — especially the hill on Cedar Drive — and the Miller Place atmosphere.

“It’s a good crowd,” he said. “I enjoy coming out to support the local community.”

Shoreham’s Connor McAlary, a senior on the cross-country team at Quinnipiac University, said he trains daily, and looks forward to the event. He finished right behind Steinbrecher in 17:16.67.

Senior Brendon Murphy and freshman Danelle Rose were the male and female recipients of the Joe Keany Cup, given to the Miller Place student or alumni that finishes first.

“We have repeat runners young and old,” Rose said. “It’s nice to see.”

Rose was also the first female to cross the finish line last year, and subsequently, was the Joe Keany Cup winner then too. The two are current varsity track and field and cross-country athletes.

“It’s our mission to instill that charitable kindness into the students of Miller Place and surrounding areas,” Rose said. “We hope they go out and follow in the footsteps of Joe Keany.”

Bill Landon contributed reporting

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