Authors Posts by Kimberly Brown

Kimberly Brown

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Middle Country Central School District honored 9/11 with a performance by their fifth grade class, who sign languaged to the song “God Bless America.”

Music teacher Rebecca Schaarschmidt overcame the digital divide that was created due to digital learning. The students have been practicing their sign language since the end of last year and were very excited to perform for their peers in the first, second, third and fourth grade on Friday, Sept. 10 at Oxhead Road School.

“It took them about three or four practices to really get it down,” Schaarschmidt said. “Then we picked it up again when school started, and really only had two days to pull the whole thing together.”

Making sure that all fifth graders were able to participate, Schaarschmidt combined students who were in person last year as well as the students who attended school virtually. She was able to teach the sign language both virtually and in-person. 

“The students were very restricted last year, we had to be six-feet a part in order to sing together and we just didn’t have the space for that,” she said. “So, I was trying to think of a creative way to have the students be able to make music without using their voices which is why I decided to go ahead and teach them the sign language.”

Growing up in the Middle Country School District herself, Schaarschmidt remembers performing a 9/11 memorial with her choir during high school every year. Wanting to translate that tradition into the elementary school, she decided to teach the fifth graders how to perform.

“I think learning about 9/11 in schools is really important because it’s a part of our history,” she said. “These kids were not alive when it happened, so I wanted them to know what happened on that day and who the heroes were as well as who was able to help protect our country.”

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Photo by Kimberly Brown

To commemorate the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and give remembrance to those whose lives were taken by the tragic events, Rocky Point High School welcomed veterans and survivors of the attack to speak to the senior class early Tuesday morning.

Students and teachers filled the auditorium as members from the Rocky Point VFW and Suffolk County Police Department were brought in to share their stories. 

The students they spoke to were not alive when 9/11 happened, which is why Social Studies teacher Rich Acritelli, who led the event, believed having an assembly on the matter was dire. 

“The big thing with this assembly is so we don’t forget,” Acritelli said. “It’s that there’s always that sense of respect towards the people that were lost and for the family members.”

Photo by Kimberly Brown

Guest speaker ESU officer Owen McCaffrey reflected on what it meant to be an American, and how helpful people were to each other during that tragic time. 

“Everyone was an American citizen,” McCaffrey said. “It didn’t matter what you looked like, the color of your skin or how you were dressed — everyone was working together because we were all American citizens.”

Suffolk County Acting Police Commissioner, Stuart Cameron recalled what it was like for the SCPD after the attacks had taken place, noting that the New York City Police Department even reached out to them for help. 

The SCPD sent out hundreds of officers to Ground Zero. 

“The most difficult aspect was that my phone was ringing off the hook with members of our department volunteering to go help their brother officers in New York City,” Cameron said.

Unfortunately, many of the officers who volunteered to help later passed due to medical complications, mostly being cancer related. 

“9/11 is not one day,” Cameron said. “It’s the days, weeks and months after it. You know the saying, ‘it’s the gift that keeps on giving,’ well 9/11 is the event that keeps on taking. It truly has taken away some of our greatest heroes.”

Photo by Kimberly Brown

Another guest speaker, Phil Alverez, whose brother, former NYPD detective, Luis Alverez passed from complications of cancer from working on Ground Zero. 

Phil said Luis wasn’t interested in people knowing his name, rather, he wanted people to know the message, which was to get victims and first responders assistance for the damaging health effects Ground Zero caused. 

“I was fortunate to have Luis around 15 years after the attacks, even though he was dealing with stage four cancer,” he said. “I got to hold him and hug him and tell him that I love him, and at the end of his life, I got to say goodbye to him — 3,000 families that day didn’t.”

Joe Cognitore with members of the Rocky Point VFW Post 6249. Photo from Joe Cognitore

 Commemorating the 20th anniversary of 9/11 has had a big impact on Joseph Cognitore, a Rocky Point resident who is  commander of the local VFW Post 6249. 

On the day of 9/11, he was working at the Coca-Cola distribution center in Hauppauge when he and his co-workers heard two planes had hit the World Trade Center towers. 

At first thought, he figured it was something similar to the Empire State Building accident in 1945 — when a B-52 bomber crashed into the building in thick fog.

As the September 2001 morning progressed, TV announcers said loud and clear that this was an attack on America. Feelings of anxiety, frustration and pent-up emotion overcame Cognitore, bringing back his memories of Vietnam.

“I vividly remember the quiet and serenity of all the people just milling around, not knowing what to do,” he said. “The whole area was quiet and full of blank stares and disbelief.”

Some of Cognitore’s high school friends who worked in the World Trade Center, as well as fire department personnel, perished in the attacks. 

One of his friends with whom he graduated and played ball with, Peter Ganci, held the rank of chief of department for the New York City Fire Department and was last seen on the day of 9/11. 

“I didn’t know it at the time, but later that day I found out he had passed,” Cognitore said. “When the towers fell he was with Mayor Rudy Giuliani. He told the mayor to go one way, but he wanted to go back with his men the other way, and that’s when he perished.”

As a veteran who works on legislative committees for the VFW on state and national levels, Cognitore has been pleading with U.S. Congress to pass the defense budget. However, he said the budget never gets passed or is pushed to the side.

“We need to get better security and better defenses, and I’m not confident that’s happening,” he said.

Despite this obstacle, Cognitore believes it’s extremely important for younger generations to learn the history of 9/11. Every year he makes an appearance at Rocky Point High School, along with other guests, to discuss the tragic day as well as honor servicemen.

“I know when I was in high school and went to assemblies we laughed and giggled and didn’t pay too much attention to what was going on,” he said. “The assembly they do at Rocky Point High School you can hear a pin drop. I mean the tension is there.”

When the commander was a child, his grandfather would take him to various monuments around Long Island to pay respects to America’s fallen heroes, and said this memory has stuck with him his whole life.

“I always remember going with my grandfather to monuments and it had such an impact on me as a child,” Cognitore said. “I think what my grandfather did with me should still carry over to other generations because it taught me about respect.”

Photographer Bolivar Arellano was on the scene when the World Trade Center’s south tower was imploding. Photo by Bolivar Arellano

When 9/11 happened, I was only three years old, and at such a young age, I had no idea what was going on in the world — the only thing that mattered to me was my stuffed animals and food. 

As I grew up in elementary school, I was always reminded every September about the attacks with an assembly my district put together. 

We always were given little American flags to place outside the front yard after the presentation was over. 

I was born in a time where it was no longer safe to walk around by myself like it used to be. I remember my mom telling me about her time as a young child, and how she’d walk all around the neighborhood with her close friend Sue Hill from morning until dusk, no cellphone, no contact, relying on complete trust in her community and town. 

Kimberly Brown

However, when 9/11 happened, that trust broke completely. I asked her why I wasn’t allowed to do the things she did as a kid, and she told me that “times have changed.”

I didn’t always see the big picture as to why things were the way they are, because it’s the environment that I grew up in. It’s something that I’ve been accustomed to since I was born, but as I grew older and moved onto middle school I started to understand more.

I’m not sure exactly what age I was when I found out why my next-door neighbors, Timmy, and his brother Tommy weren’t around anymore, but I remember they were dedicated to their jobs as firefighters and were always very friendly to me and my family.

My mom had told me that Timmy rushed into the North Tower while Tommy, who was a Battalion Chief, led his men into the South Tower. Both of them tragically died whilst trying to evacuate 25,000 people from the World Trade Center.

When Timmy was younger, he planted pine trees next to our house that continued to grow for decades after his death. To me, it served as a memorial, remembering how free-spirited yet brave these two brothers were.

To some people around the country, 9/11 is a distant memory, but for me, it has been prevalent in my community since the day it occurred. Neighbors, friends and family members, all have people they hold dear to their hearts, serve in our local fire and police departments. 

In one way or another, regardless of age, 9/11 has touched everyone in some form. It truly is one of the most important events of our American history to remember, as well as commemorating our brave service members who gave their lives to save others. 

Kimberly Brown is a reporter with TBR News Media and a recent graduate of Stony Brook University.

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Frank Tepedino

On the 20th anniversary of 9/11, former New York Yankee and St. James resident Frank Tepedino recalled his experience during that fateful day.

At the time, Tepedino, who also played for the Atlanta Braves during his sports career, served as a firefighter for the New York Fire Patrol for almost 20 years. It just so happened he was off patrol on the morning of 9/11, residing in his home on Long Island.

His son, who worked for the New York City Fire Department, informed Tepedino of the attacks around 8:45 in the morning.

“At first, I thought a pilot had a heart attack or something and I thought how unusual it was,” Tepedino said. “Everything started to click once the second plane hit.”

Tepedino was called into work immediately after the attacks due to the World Trade Center being a commercial building, which is what the FDNY responds to specifically.

Jumping into his vehicle around noon, he remembered all the roads being closed off making it especially difficult to get near the city. By the time Tepedino made his way to the atrocity at nightfall, he couldn’t believe what his eyes were seeing.

“I remember when they were filming ‘Godzilla’ in the city and seeing all the spotlights,” Tepedino said. “When I got to the World Trade Center it looked just like that, like a movie set. It didn’t look real. There were spotlights everywhere because the power was out.”

Being stationed in Manhattan for 20 years, Tepedino became very acquainted with the FDNY. They were only 15 minutes away from the station and often spent time together at softball games and other functions.

From the FDNY alone, 343 members died from the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Another victim was NYFP firefighter Keith Roma who was only 27 years old. Tepedino said they did not find Roma’s remains until December 2001.

“We were there for a good two, three weeks working 12-hour shifts,” Tepedino said. “Everything was coordinated very specifically considering something like this had never happened before.”

One of the jobs Tepedino had following the aftermath of 9/11 was to sweep the debris and clearing the manhole covers so the scuba team could go under the buildings to look for more survivors.

“As time goes by, things are put on the back burner, but you have to look at the history of what has happened because what we’re trying to do is protect the people who cannot protect themselves,” Tepedino said.

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SPAC will hold a benefit to raise funds to save the theater. Photo by Kimberly Brown

The Smithtown Performing Arts Center is in need of being saved.

Local elected officials and community leaders gathered at the theater Sept. 8 asking for local residents to help pitch in money to save the building. The owner of the building, Ken Washington, put it up for sale last month.

State Sen. Mario Mattera, left, joined other local elected officials and community members to talk about the importance of the Smithtown Performing Arts Center in the town. Photo by Kimberly Brown

Not only is the SPAC a place for entertainment, as well as education, but it also serves as a sentimental piece of history to the community. The theater itself was built in 1933 and aged well into its years making it 90 years old. It has become a well-known staple and has brought in families from all over the Island.

“This is like the hub of our downtown revitalization,” said state Sen. Mario Mattera (R-St. James). “This is history. This is history we need to make sure is secured and that will still be here for our families — our young, our middle-aged and our seniors.”

Mattera also pointed out that the educational acting programs for 17 and 18 year olds are extremely vital in this day and age. He said coming to the Smithtown Performing Arts Center is one of the few ways to get young people off their phones and learn about art and history. 

“The only way the surrounding businesses will survive is if this theater remains a hub,” said Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R). “If it does not, and it’s sold for other purposes, you will see millions of dollars in expendable income leave Smithtown and go to other places such as Patchogue, Babylon or Northport.”

Currently, a GoFundMe is set up for community members to donate to. The goal is to reach $400,000, with $6,300 raised as of Sept. 8. The board members of the Smithtown Performing Arts Center are very confident they can reach their goal as long as donations are placed and fundraisers are successful.

The Smithtown Performing Arts Council made an offer of $1.3 Million to purchase the historic theater at the time the property was listed, but are currently awaiting a decision on the matter.

With the support of the Smithtown Performing Arts Council, a nonprofit organization, a benefit performance with some of Long Island’s most talented artists will be held on Sept. 18 at 6:30 p.m. All are welcome to come and donate to the cause.

To donate to save Smithtown Performing Arts Center, visit www.gofund.me/93a0c9fe.

SBU President Maurie McInnis, SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras, Graduate Student Organization speaker Helena Van Nieuwenhuizen, Undergraduate Student Government President Manjot Singh, Kevin Law from the Stony Brook Council, and Dean of Students Ric McClendon join SBU mascot Wolfie to cut the ribbon. Photo by Kimberly Brown

Updated. The student union is currently closed due to damage after Hurricane Ida.

Stony Brook University officially opened the newest addition to its campus, the remodeled Stony Brook Union center, Wednesday, Aug. 25. With performances from the Seawolves Marching Band for the ribbon-cutting celebration, as well as free drinks and food, students were eager to explore the 177,000-square-foot building.

“We want students to consider this as a resource, to relax, to study, to learn, to perform, to meet new people and pursue new interests,” said Maurie McInnis, president of SBU. “There is so much to be discovered in this impressive space.”

The renovations for the Stony Brook Union center took three years to complete at $63.4 million. The finished building has three levels that include student services, an IT help desk, comfortable studying sections with couches and powered stations, as well as collaborative spaces.

SBU President Maurie McInnis. Photo by Kimberly Brown

“As we are fully reopening our campuses, we are feeling a renewed energy and optimism from everyone around,” said Jim Malatras, State University of New York chancellor. “Our students deserve this and it matches the outstanding education they receive from this university, one of the best in the world.”

The Stony Brook Union will be a central location for faculty and staff offices that will provide easy access for students to use at their convenience. Some of the new offices include Student Community Development, Student Engagement and Activities, Fraternity and Sorority Life, and Commuter Student Services. 

“I’m excited to see the new opening of the student union because I think it’s a great place to go to get some studying in, but also for socializing at club events,” said Jessie Lin, a SBU student.

The lower level of the building includes expanded space for the Stony Brook Food Pantry and resources such as the Interfaith Center, Club Hub, Esports Club and the Science Fiction Forum. 

With more than 26,000 students attending the university this year, the Stony Brook Union center will provide a large, welcoming space for undergraduates to enhance their studying practices. 

“Seeing the student union being built from my freshman year to now being fully completed as a senior gives me nostalgia,” said Tania Thomas, a SBU student. 

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Over 100 Long Islanders gathered at Stony Brook University Hospital and alongside Nicolls Road Wednesday, Aug. 25, to protest against the updated COVID-19 vaccine mandate recently put in place for hospital and long-term care workers.

The first dose will be required by Sept. 27 with limited exceptions for those with religious or medical exemptions. According to data from New York State, new daily positives are up more than 1000% over the last six weeks.

About 80% of the positive cases are linked to the new Delta variant. However, protesters felt this new mandate is unfair, and that medical workers should be allowed to have a choice as to whether or not they want to be vaccinated.

“It’s not in the Constitution that the government can mandate anything medical,” said Barbara Luvin, a Freeport resident. “This mandate does equal communism, because you shouldn’t be forced to do anything. It’s a matter of freedom for your own body.”

Many medical care workers are being terminated from their jobs due to not being compliant with the vaccine mandate.

Commack medical care worker Diane Eder expressed her frustrations, saying she will be terminated from her work on Sept. 24 due to her opposition to receiving the vaccine.

“Let me make it clear that I am not against vaccines,” Eder said. “I’ve been in the medical field for 40 years, but I’m going to be terminated because I won’t get vaccinated. We don’t know what the future holds for people who get the vaccine, and I know that I do not want it. All I’m asking for is to wait another year or two.”

Signs including “Last Year’s Heroes, This Year’s Unemployed” and “Nurses For Medical Freedom — We Have The Right to Choose” were held high as protesters with megaphones shouted to the crowd from the second floor of the parking garage.

It wasn’t only medical care workers who came to the protest, but also friends, families and other local residents who disagreed strongly with the new mandate.

“It should be people’s personal decision, and it shouldn’t be mandated by the government — that’s the bottom line,” said Kimberly Riegel, a Miller Place resident. “If people want to get it, that’s fine, but if I don’t want to get it. I shouldn’t have to, and I don’t think that’s an argument that we should have to dispute.”

A statement from Stony Brook Medicine said, “Stony Brook Medicine follows all state and DOH guidelines regarding immunization against COVID-19. COVID-19 vaccines have proven highly effective at preventing serious illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19. They are important tools to keep patients, patient-facing health care workers, and the wider community safe as we observe a rise in COVID cases in New York State, driven by the Delta variant.”

 

Article was updated Aug. 31 with a statement from Stony Brook Medicine.

Photo by Kimberly Brown

A new all-natural dog food store called Natural Hounds is making its mark in the Port Jefferson Village scene. 

St. James resident Conor Wooley, 23, is not only the owner of Natural Hounds, but also doubles as the chef, creating new concoctions for nutritious dog food that includes meats, vegetables and grains.

He co-owns the store with his longtime friend, Rick Orlandi, who is also a St. James resident, and started their business venture back in 2018, operating out of the house of Wooley’s mother. 

Trying to make as many appearances as possible at farmers markets and fundraisers, Wooley and Orlandi were determined to establish credibility for their business and build a clientele. 

“The first year everyone was just kind of looking at us thinking, ‘Am I really going to buy dog food from 18-year-olds?’ So that was kind of a challenge, but then they kept seeing us come back year after year,” Wooley said.

The concept Wooley and Orlandi like to explain to their customers is their belief that there is no “dog food” and “people food” but more so only good food versus bad food. Their ingredients are outsourced from restaurant suppliers on Long Island and designed to be biologically appropriate for a dog to eat.

There are four wet food recipes for sale right now, namely turkey, beef, pork and lamb. The newest addition of crunchy biscuits and chicken jerky treats have been added to their menu, but Orlandi said there are more options available in store. Customers can opt for delivery for convenience as well.

“Comparing our brand to dry food brands is like comparing McDonald’s to a steakhouse. I never understood why other brands make their food so expensive. I always try to give value to the customer and will not have someone pay a ridiculous amount of money for dog food,” Orlandi said. 

Mentioning how some customers have expressed their gratitude for Natural Hounds making their pups healthy again, Wooley recalled a customer who was preparing to put her dog down due to poor health until she was introduced to the company. 

“We had a lady come in the other day and told us she was going to put her dog down, who was an old Yorkshire terrier,” Wooley said. “She gave him our original recipe and two weeks later he was much healthier and more mobile. So it’s nice to hear things like that and makes getting up at 6 a.m. to cook 500 pounds of dog food worth it.”

Wooley stressed that despite the saying “You are what you eat” is corny, it is also extremely true. When feeding animals an unhealthy diet, can change their personalities and their energy levels. 

“It’s the truth if over the course of 10 years you’re feeding your dog something bad and their body isn’t functioning optimally, then they’re going to be in a much different spot than if you were to feed them natural meals.”

The business is looking to expand to other locations and thinking about adding a cat food section. 

Holly Signoretti picks out a book at the Book Revue in Huntington village. Photo by Kimberly Brown

After 44 years of business, countless celebrity guest appearances and thousands of loyal customers, Huntington village’s independent bookstore, Book Revue located on New York Avenue, will be closing its doors by Sept. 30.

Photo by Kimberly Brown

Due to the pandemic, the well-known store had to shut down business for three months, but even when the owner Richard Klein was able to reopen, it struggled to get back on its feet again. 

“We lost our events, where authors, politicians, celebrities and athletes would come in, and that was a very big part of our business, and we lost it,” he said. “It all came back very slowly, so we fell behind on the rent.”

According to Klein, he spoke with one of the landlords during the course of the pandemic asking to give the store a chance as the fall season approached, hoping business would pick back up. 

“I told him I’d start paying in September for the rest of the year, not full rent but more than half, and if the fall came back with decent business then I’d start paying additional rent and paying back the debt,” he said. “He told me that sounded OK and would discuss it with his partners.”

Unfortunately, the person Klein spoke with died two months ago, leaving the son to take lead on most of the decision-making. 

Photo by Kimberly Brown

Despite having a payment plan worked out before the broker’s death, suddenly the remaining landlords demanded Klein pay the money he owed immediately. 

“I gave them a starting proposal, and they didn’t give me anything back, telling me it was unacceptable, and that the money was needed now,” Klein said.

The building’s landlords did not respond with a comment before press time.

With outcries of disappointment and anger from local book shoppers, a GoFundMe was set up to attempt to save the beloved store but was later taken down. 

Klein said even if the community was able to fundraise the debt money, the landlords were changing the rent to a 75% increase, which is impossible for the business to keep up with. 

“I’m really sad because I love this place,” said Kathleen Willig, a Seaford resident. “There are no independent bookstores on Long Island — it’s all Barnes and Nobles. I really think independent bookstores are the charm of so many cities and states. It truly feels more personalized.”

Reminiscing on the impact Book Revue had on people’s lives while growing up around town, made regular customers disappointed to see it go.

“My mom used to bring me here and now I bring my daughter here, so to me it’s part of my childhood and I think it’s what holds the town together,” said Michele Lamonsoff, a Huntington resident. 

Photo by Kimberly Brown

While some customers said they will miss the comfort of reading unique novels, others who work in the field of education relied on the store for classroom work. Plainview resident and social studies teacher Nicole Scotto said her favorite part of Book Revue was the history section.

“As a social studies teacher, I always enjoyed browsing through Book Revue’s extensive collection of history books and finding used books on niche topics with the previous owners’ handwritten notes in the margins,” Scotto said.