Authors Posts by Melissa Arnold

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Johnny Cuomo

Reviewed by Melissa Arnold

Johnny Cuomo has worn a lot of hats over the years. He’s a musician, storyteller, nature lover, teacher, husband, father, and each role has had a profound impact on his life. The 46-year-old Mount Sinai resident is full of stories and lessons he’s learned while working with all kinds of children.

Most recently, he’s been focused on how important it is to treat others with compassion in his new book, Katy Didn’t. When a new bug arrives at school, the other bugs won’t accept him — that is, except for Katy the katydid, whose kindness makes all the difference. The book shares a powerful message within an easy-to-grasp and vividly illustrated story. It’s also a great read for young bug lovers, who will be thrilled with the variety of insect characters.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Cuomo about his latest venture.

Did you grow up on Long Island? What was your childhood like?

Yes, I grew up in Stony Brook. Interestingly, when I was a kid I was more interested in sports, like skateboarding, wrestling, and martial arts. I was also very interested in making music, which is a major part of my life today. My artistic interests were focused mainly on singing and playing instruments.

Did you always dream of being a writer?

Not quite. I’ve been able to do a lot of traveling throughout my life, and one of my favorite things is to learn about the folk tales of different places and cultures. I also got to work closely with Native American children on a reservation in California for two summers when I was in my early twenties, and that was very formative for me. Working with those children was what led me to go back to school.

What did you choose to study?

I got my undergraduate degree in education from Dowling College, and then I went on to do a Master’s in history at Stony Brook University.

So how did you start writing?

As a songwriter, I tend to write a tune and then think about lyrics that could go with it. That process forces me to write mini stories. Many years ago, I actually wrote a short story called Moonglow, something I’m still proud of. It gave me a foray into the publishing world. I also put together a CD sharing some original folk tales that I had written, based on the stories and cultures of the people I’d lived with.

Where did the idea for ‘Katy Didn’t’ come from?

Even after I began teaching, I was still really grounded in nature. I’m an avid birdwatcher and the natural world is a daily part of my life. If you’ve ever seen or heard a katydid during the summers here on Long Island, you know they have a very rhythmic chirping. Some people even say it sounds like a repetition of, “katy-did, katy-didn’t, katy-did, katy-didn’t.” I always thought that was clever, and one day I started to wonder if I could work that into a story for kids — that Katy didn’t do something hurtful, even when everyone else was doing it. I ended up having a dream about some of the characters and storyline. I created about 95% of the framework for the story within a week of that dream.

Tell me a bit about the illustrator. How did you find one another?

A good friend of mine has a brother named Benjamin Lowery who is an artist. We became friendly about 10 years ago. I got lucky — it turned out that Ben was working on his portfolio and was looking for stories to illustrate. He heard that I was putting this new story together and asked if he could be a part of it. It was really exciting that we both found something we needed in each other and the timing was perfect. I gave him general themes, and then he sent me sketches. He had an amazing sense of knowing what we needed. When I saw the first full-color picture he created, I said, “This is fantastic — just go for it!” We’ve really enjoyed this process and looking out for each other.

How did you publish the book? Did you pursue self-publishing or find an agent?

It was a touch-and-go process. We had an agent for a while, but it didn’t work out, and we sent it to some publishers, but that didn’t work out either. They gave great feedback, but it wasn’t quite what they were looking for. Finally, we connected with Peter Pauper Press, and they said they were going to share the book at their board meeting because they had a great feeling about it. A few days later, they sent us an email that said, “Katy did it!” It was great. They’ve been a really wonderful, straightforward company to work with. The deadline was just before all the pandemic shutdowns began, so we were very fortunate to get it published when we did.

What message do you want kids to take away from reading your book?

I want kids to know that whenever they go somewhere new, there will always be a person out there ready to welcome them. You may face struggles and tough times, but there will always be at least one person willing to help you through it and support you with a positive outlook, even if everyone else is ignoring or teasing you. It’s also an encouragement to be that person for others, whether you’re visiting the park, at someone’s house or meeting someone from a different town.

Is there a recommended age group?

Kids from age 3 to age 8 will get different things from the book, whether that’s their interest in bugs, early reading, or the message about how to treat people. It’s worth noting that the bugs in the book are drawn in a cute, but scientifically correct way, so there are so many things you can teach and do with it.

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Katy Didn’t is available at many online retailers, including Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Target. For more about the book, visit www.facebook.com/katydidntbook or www.johnnycuomo.com. Teachers and librarians are welcome to contact Cuomo for information about online or in-person educational events by emailing [email protected]

Book Revue in Huntington will welcome Johnny Cuomo and Benjamin Lowery at 7 p.m. on Oct. 15 for a free, online event featuring readings, music, conversation and more. Registration is required by visiting www.bookrevue.com or by calling 631-271-1442.

By Melissa Arnold

It’s been a long year of Netflix binges and Zoom meetings for all of us, and these days, nothing feels better than getting out a little. You don’t have to go far to find interesting places to explore, either.

Most Long Island locals are probably familiar with the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum and Planetarium in Centerport, with its sprawling grounds, elaborate mansion and impressive collection of marine life. But be honest: When was your last visit? If it’s been a while — or even if it hasn’t — their 70th anniversary year is the perfect time to stop by.

“The Vanderbilt is unique, a don’t-miss slice of American history. When you take a guided tour of the mansion and its galleries, it’s a time machine trip to a remarkable era of privilege,” said Elizabeth Wayland-Morgan, executive director of the museum. “At one point in the past, there were more than 1,200 mansions on Long Island’s Gold Coast. This is one of the few that remains.”

The Vanderbilt Mansion as we know it today had relatively modest beginnings. William K. Vanderbilt II, a son of the famed Vanderbilt family, had just separated from his first wife in the early 1900s. “Willie K.,” as he’s affectionately known, was looking for a place to get a fresh start, away from the public eye. So he came to Centerport and purchased land, where he built a 7-room, English-style cottage along with some outbuildings.

The cottage, called Eagle’s Nest, was eventually expanded into a sprawling 24-room mansion in the Spanish Revival style. From 1910 to 1944, Eagle’s Nest was Vanderbilt’s summer hideaway. He and his second wife Rosamond hosted intimate gatherings of Vanderbilt family members and close friends, including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, legendary golfer Sam Snead, and the Tiffanys.

Of course, that was just the beginning. According to Killian Taylor, the museum’s curatorial associate, Vanderbilt developed a fascination with all kinds of animals, the sea and the natural world from a young age. He had the opportunity to travel the world on his father’s yachts as a child, and longed to see more as he reached adulthood.

“Later, Willie K. inherited $20 million from his late father. One of the first things he did was purchase a very large yacht and hire a team of scientists and a crew,” Taylor explained. “With them, he began to travel and collect marine life, and by 1930, he had amassed one of the world’s largest private marine collections.”

With the help of scientists and experts from the American Museum of Natural History, Vanderbilt created galleries at the Estate to showcase his collections which contains more than 13,000 different marine specimens of all kinds and sizes, from the tiniest fish to a 32-foot whale shark, the world’s largest taxidermied fish, caught off Fire Island in 1935.

After Vanderbilt died in 1944, Rosamond continued to live in their Centerport mansion until her death in 1947. The 43-acre estate and museum – which remain frozen in time, exactly as they were in the late 1940s – opened to the public on July 6, 1950, following instructions left in Vanderbilt’s will. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.

The museum also features a 3,000-year-old mummy, which Vanderbilt purchased from an antique shop in Cairo, Egypt, Taylor said. The mummy even had an X-ray taken at nearby Stony Brook University Hospital, where they determined the remains are of a female around 25 years old.

“She doesn’t have a name out of respect for the fact that she was once a living woman with her own identity,” Taylor added.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought its share of difficulties to every business, and while the museum has had to temporarily close some of its facilities, including the mansion’s living quarters and planetarium, they’ve also added new opportunities for visitors.

“Like many other museums, we had to get creative virtually very quickly,” said Wayland-Morgan. “Our Education Department created the ‘Explore’ series for children — fascinating facts about the lives of birds, butterflies, reptiles, and fish, with pictures to download and color. The Planetarium astronomy educators produced 11 videos on topics including How to Use a Telescope, Imagining Alien Life, Mars, Black Holes, and Fitness in Space. We’ve received very positive responses.” The planetarium also offers online astronomy classes.

The museum is also offering new outdoor programs on the grounds, including walking tours, sunset yoga, a popular series of bird talks by an ornithologist James MacDougall and are currently hosting the third annual Gardeners Showcase through September. On Fridays and Saturdays, movie-and-picnic nights are a popular draw at the outdoor, drive-in theater.

Even without a specific event to attend, the grounds are a perfect place to wander when cabin fever strikes.

“The best reason to visit right now is to stroll the grounds and gardens and visit the open galleries. We’ve also become a very popular picnic destination with a great view of Northport Bay,” Wayland-Morgan said. “We plan to reopen the mansion living quarters and planetarium later in the fall.”

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum is located at 180 Little Neck Road, Centerport. As of Sept. 17, hours of operation are from noon to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The mansion’s living quarters and the planetarium are currently closed. Please wear a mask and practice social distancing. Admission is $8 for adults, $5 for children under 12, and $7 for students and seniors. Children under 2 are admitted free. For questions and information, including movie night passes, visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org or call 631-854-5579.

A rendering of the Dominick- Crawford Barn. Image from TVHS

By Melissa Arnold

Since 1964, the Three Village Historical Society (TVHS) has worked hard to preserve and share the community’s past with future generations. You’ve likely seen the historical society members and volunteers at local events, like the annual Spirits Tour, Culper Spy Day, Prohibition Night, or the Candlelight House Tour during the holidays.

The society is also dedicated to protecting local historic properties of all kinds. Recently, they were awarded a $350,000 grant from the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation to be used to rebuild, restore, and repurpose the Dominick-Crawford Barn, a historically significant building from circa 1847. The barn will have a new home in the field neighboring the historical society’s headquarters. The meadow is currently used to host a farmer’s market every Friday through September.

The pre-Civil War barn was originally located just inside the boundaries of Old Field. It was in poor condition, suffering from the lack of upkeep and long-term exposure to the elements. But TVHS member president Steve Hintze saw potential in the wooden structure.

“The Village of Old Field planned to demolish the barn, but we felt it was historically significant because it was one of the last of its time,” said Hintze, who served as historical society president in 2007.

The barn also serves as an example of two different eras of construction. According to Hintze, You can still see the markings of traditional hand saws, but the work of circular saws is also evident — a method that was still very new at the time. The finished structure was a blending of the old and the new.

It’s been a long road to earn the funding to support the project. Early on, Hintze reached out to Assemblyman Steve Englebright, who guided the society toward a $300,000 grant from the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York. This additional grant from the Gardiner Foundation will allow construction to move forward with a barn raising this fall.

Of course, such an old structure would need to be entirely rebuilt to meet the requirements of modern safety codes. The historical society chose to use the old timber for the exterior while shoring up the interior with stronger materials. In this way, the barn is getting the best of both worlds.

“It gives us greater structural stability while honoring the original look,” explained Steve Healy, current president of the historical society.

Acquiring the barn also has practical advantages for the society, where space has always been at a premium.

“We always seem to be short on space, and it was one of those things where we were looking for something new and the barn really fit the bill. We’re very happy about it,” said Healy.

In the recent past, the historical society could only allow groups of 25 people at a time into its exhibit space inside its headquarters at 93 Main Street in Setauket. This limit forced them to turn away larger groups, most notably schools that hoped to visit on a field trip.

Once completed, the new two-story, 35-by-50-foot space will be able to accomodate more than 200 people, Hintze said.

It will include teaching facilities, interchangeable exhibit space and archives. The center will allow the Society to supplement the archival space currently being used at the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket and provide accessible, climate-controlled storage for the society’s many historical artifacts.

“We are always being offered historical documents and artifacts from the community, so this will give us an opportunity to brush the dust off our archives and share them,” Healy explained.

And as the area recovers from the pandemic, the historical society is looking forward to hosting future large events, including auctions, summer camps, and even hoedowns at the barn.

“We’re excited to bring the community together for historical and educational opportunities of all kinds,” said Hintze. “When you start a project from just the seed of an idea and eventually see it come to fruition, it’s a great feeling.”

For more information about the Three Village Historical Society, visit www.tvhs.org.

Dr. Adam Gonzalez Photo by John Griffin/SBU

By Melissa Arnold

It’s been a rough year for all of us, that’s for sure, but no one has felt the sting of the COVID-19 pandemic more keenly than those who have contracted the virus.

As of Aug. 6, more than 43,000 Suffolk County residents have tested positive for COVID-19, and many more have faced the virus without an official diagnosis. Its symptoms can vary widely, from mild fatigue and chills to flu-like illnesses or even respiratory distress requiring hospital care.

The virus is unpredictable, and dealing with symptoms along with a quarantine, lengthy recovery and uncertain long-term effects is daunting. It’s only natural that many will experience tough emotions along the way.

Stony Brook Medicine is now offering a virtual support group for past and present COVID-19 patients. The weekly sessions will give patients a space to discuss their experiences and feelings while learning healthy coping mechanisms.

The support group is hosted by the Mind-Body Clinical Research Center at the Stony Brook Renaissance School of Medicine. Under the direction of founder Dr. Adam Gonzalez, the center focuses on the integration of mental and physical health for overall wellbeing.

“We wanted to see what we could do to support these members of the community who had COVID-19 and shared that they were feeling anxious, isolated and afraid of transmitting the virus to others,” Gonzalez explained. “Our goal is to provide a telehealth platform for patients to come together and bolster one another, exchange information, and learn skills to cope with stress brought on by their illness.”

Leading the group is Jenna Palladino, a licensed clinical psychologist and clinical assistant professor of psychiatry. Palladino is hopeful that participants will feel comfortable opening up about their struggles with COVID-19 in the company of others who know what it’s like.

“Research supports the idea that sharing your story helps you to work through the emotions related to it. And talking to others experiencing similar feelings helps to normalize the experience,” Palladino said. “It’s important for people going through COVID-19 to know that they’re not alone.”

The initial group is expected to run for 12 weeks, covering topics like coping with isolation, deep breathing, managing anxiety, muscle relaxation and mindfulness, to name a few.

Palladino is also leaving plenty of room for participants to ask questions and discuss topics that interest them, allowing the group to better meet their specific needs and concerns.

Gonzalez added that the support group will act as a pilot program for researchers seeking to understand the experiences of people living with COVID-19. They’ll collect data at the beginning and end of the program to see how patients are doing, if the support group was beneficial and how it can be improved.

While the initial group is limited to 10 patients, Palladino and her team are prepared to quickly begin additional groups if there is an interest, she said.

The virtual COVID-19 support group will be held from 6 to 7 p.m. Thursdays via the free Microsoft Teams video conferencing platform. The group is limited to 10 participants at a time. Registration is required to attend by calling 631-632-8657. For more information and resources, visit www.stonybrookmedicine.edu/COVID19support.

By Melissa Arnold

After a long, eerily quiet spring that forced the majority of public places to close, life is getting back to normal on Long Island. Slowly but surely, area libraries are opening their doors to patrons eager to browse and borrow.

“At 10 a.m. on July 6 when the first person walked through our doors and said, ‘It’s good to be back,’ I felt wonderful,” said Carol Albano, director of the Harborfields Library in Greenlawn. “One of our regular patrons walked over to our new book area and put her arms out and said, ‘I just want to hug all the books.’”

It’s a sigh of relief shared by librarians around the Island, especially given that when they closed their doors in March, there was no telling how or when they’d be able to open them again.

“Closing the building during the New York State shutdown felt surreal; it was new territory for everyone involved,” recalled Debbie Engelhardt, director of the Comsewogue Public Library in Port Jefferson Station. “The staff and I immediately set about establishing work-from-home stations so we could maintain strong services, programs, and communication with the public and with each other in our day-to-day operations.”

Throughout history, libraries have continually needed to broaden the scope of their services to keep up with the community’s habits and interests. For example, in addition to books and periodicals, libraries offer community programs, tutoring, music, movies, video games, museum passes, audiovisual equipment and much more.

During quarantine, many libraries made their first foray into the world of livestreaming and video conferencing. From read-alongs and book discussions to cooking demos, yoga hours and gardening lessons, library staff continued to bring people together in socially distant ways.

And while this technology will remain a part of the new normal — e-book borrowing numbers are higher than they’ve ever been in Suffolk County, and many events remain virtual for now — the libraries are thrilled to welcome patrons back to their brick-and-mortar homes.

Of course, things are going to look a little different, and local libraries have new rules and policies in place to keep everyone safe. Here’s a breakdown:

Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket is the oldest library in Suffolk County to provide service from its original location. Managing a collection of more than 200,000 items isn’t easy, and director Ted Gutmann said they started planning for reopening almost immediately after the shutdown.

“It was quite an interesting time,” Gutmann said. “It was all I thought about for weeks — how we were going to reopen safely and what it might look like. The state had certain parameters that all public places had to follow, so we used that as a guide as we planned.”

So far, they’ve opted for a conservative approach, allowing patrons to browse and check out materials, but limit activities that promote lingering. Patrons are asked to limit their visit to under 30 minutes. Public seating, some of the computers and all toys in the children’s library have been temporarily removed. Visitors can move throughout the aisles between the book shelves, but should follow directional arrows on the floor similar to those in use at grocery stores. Staff will offer assistance from behind plastic shields.

“Right now, we don’t want to encourage people to spend an extended time here for their own safety,” Gutmann explained. “They are welcome to browse and borrow, then bring their things home to enjoy.”

At the Comsewogue Public Library, reopening has occurred in phases with extensive planning throughout. It’s all been worth it, Engelhardt said,

“Opening the doors again felt like great progress. It was exciting, a big step toward more normalcy,” she said. “Our experience in reopening the building was overwhelmingly positive. We worked hard on our reopening plan, which met all state safety requirements and was approved by the county.”

Curbside pickup of borrowed materials will continue, as it’s a convenient, preferred option for some, but Engelhardt noted the number of in-person visitors has grown in recent weeks.

“Most come in to pick up items they’ve requested, and many are excited to once again enjoy browsing the shelves. Other popular draws are our computers, copiers, and fax services,” she explained.

Some changes: The lounge and study area furniture isn’t available right now, and clear plastic dividers are in place at service desks.

“Other than that, we have the same great circulating collections in print and online, from the traditional (think hot summer bestsellers and movies) to the more innovative (hotspots, Take and Make crafts, Borrow and Bake cake pans),” Engelhardt added.

At Harborfields Public Library, reopening plans began back in April as the staff met for regular Zoom meetings with other area libraries. “Step one was to develop a building safety plan — we met with our head of maintenance and went over each aspect of the building, from the mechanical systems to the physical layout of the furniture and library materials, to ordering personal protective equipment for the staff,” Albano said.

At this time, there is only one chair at each table, every other computer has been removed, and toys and games were temporarily taken out of the children’s area. 

You’ll also find plastic shields at the service desks, and that public restrooms have been installed with automatic faucets and automatic flushing toilets, Albano said.

“All areas of the library are open to the public, including all library materials. The only exception is the public meeting rooms are closed, because at this time we are not holding any in-house programming or meetings,” she added. “Computers are still available in the adult, teen and children’s departments, and soft seating and tables are in each department as well.”

As for borrowed materials, there’s no need to worry about catching COVID-19 from a library book, DVD or CD. Once materials are returned, they are kept quarantined for 72 hours.  Research from the global scientific organization Battelle has shown the virus is undetectable on books and similar items after just one day.

So rejoice, bookworms, and browse to your heart’s content. Your local librarians are ready to welcome you back — masked up, of course.

Individual library policies, event schedules and hours of operation vary and are subject to change — contact your local branch for the most current information. For contact information, database access, and to borrow electronic media including ebooks and audiobooks, visit www.livebrary.com. Please remember to wear a mask and practice social distancing while visiting any library.

All photos by Heidi Sutton

Above, a painting of Frank Melville Memorial Park in Setauket by artist John Koch at a previous Wet Paint Festival. Photo courtesy of Gallery North

By Melissa Arnold

It’s been a tough season for the plethora of local events that have either been canceled, postponed or restructured. Thankfully, technology like livestreaming and video chat have made it possible for some events to go on as scheduled, albeit a bit differently.

For the past 16 years, the Wet Paint Festival has given Three Village residents and visitors an up close look at the creative process of local artists as they work. The event was founded to honor the memory of beloved Long Island painter Joe Reboli, who died in 2004.

But inviting artists and community members to gather for creative fun and conversation doesn’t exactly fit in this quarantined, socially distant time. So what to do?

It’s been a baptism by fire of sorts for Ned Puchner of Gallery North in Setauket, which has sponsored the event from its beginnings. Puchner, who became the gallery’s executive director in December, was looking forward to his first Wet Paint Festival. Now, he’s been called upon to dream up an alternative.

“It’s been one of those unique experiences where you get to know people really fast,” Puchner joked. “But I’ve also learned very quickly how much support there is here for the arts and the art community, even despite the pandemic and its challenges. It’s been very encouraging for me to see that outpouring.”

Originally founded by former Gallery North director Colleen Hanson and the Reboli family, the Wet Paint Festival invites artists from Long Island and beyond for a relaxed weekend of plein air (outdoor) painting. The artists paint at the same location from vantage points of their choosing, allowing each put their own spin on well-known scenes and landmarks.

In the past, the festival has been held at West Meadow Beach and the adjoining Old Field Farm, Frank Melville Memorial Park, the Stony Brook railroad, the Thompson House, and Avalon Park & Preserve, among other places.

This year’s event will celebrate each artist’s originality as Wet Paint goes virtual. Painting sessions will be either livestreamed online or pre-recorded from a location the artist selects, whether it’s their own backyard or a public spot. During each session, the artist will talk about their creative process and take questions from viewers, just as they would in person.

To accommodate for the new format, the artists will paint for an entire week, from July 18 through July 25. The completed artwork will then be on display on the Gallery North website throughout the month of August.

The virtual festival is the latest in Gallery North’s ongoing effort to provide engaging online experiences during the pandemic.

“We had the Wet Paint Festival completely planned and were starting to gather sponsors and registrants when we had to close the gallery on March 14. When we closed, we decided to postpone the event, not realizing how long we would be unable to function and be outside,” Puchner explained.

“As time went on, we took it as an opportunity to get creative not only with Wet Paint, but with everything we do,” he said. The gallery began to share daily art activities, host “virtual open studio” events, film screenings, lectures, and opportunities to give and receive feedback on work in progress. As the staff grew more comfortable with video chat platforms such as Zoom, they knew they had to find a way to present the Wet Paint Festival, too.

Angela Stratton of Selden has enjoyed painting at the festival for the past 15 years, and while she’ll miss the connection and camaraderie of the typical event, she’s excited to see what comes of the online version.

“I’m the kind of person that likes to be outside anyway, so getting to paint at the same time is really a double treasure,” said Stratton, an oil painter. “Of course, there can be issues with painting outdoors ­— the sun goes in and out, it can be windy, it can rain — but it gives you the real depth of color you just can’t get from a photo.”

Stratton is still up in the air about where she’ll be painting, but she enjoys the challenge provided by the Old Field lighthouse.

Annette Napolitano, a realist painter who works in both watercolor and oil, would normally go out once a week to paint with a group of friends. She’s participated in Wet Paint for several years now.

“The first time I did the festival, I was so excited to be with the other artists, all of us working in the same place. The world is so big, and it can be a challenge to grab just a piece of it,” said Napolitano, of Rocky Point.

“I think bringing the festival online is a good solution because it’s like a pop-up event — people can come and go as they please. It’s also nice that we have a whole week to work, and it’s going to be fun to see people share their work from different parts of Long Island,” she said.

Puchner hopes that the event will inspire creativity not only in the participating artists, but people at home as well.

“At the center of the arts is expression. Everyone has had different experiences during the pandemic, but it has been significant for all of us,” he said. “There’s a fundamental need to discuss how we’re feeling, and the arts are a safe space for expression of all kinds.”

Livestreamed and recorded artist visits will be available for public viewing the week of July 27 at www.gallerynorth.org. Then, all completed works will be on the site for viewing and purchase throughout the month of August, with commissions split equally between the artist and the gallery. A virtual reception will be held from 3 to 5 p.m. Aug. 8 via Zoom; registration is free but required.

For further information, visit www.gallerynorth.org or call 631-751-2676.

*Article from TBR News Media’s Summer Times 2020, free on newstands today.

By Melissa Arnold

For the past 40 years, Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson has provided a safe haven of support and recovery for thousands of Long Islanders struggling with poverty, addiction, homelessness, family conflicts and more.

To founder Father Frank Pizzarelli, every passing year at Hope House is a miracle. He said that the non-profit receives no government or church support and runs entirely on the backs of volunteers, donors and some paid staff.

Among those volunteers is Barbara Morin, who’s been a part of the Hope House family since she moved to the area in 2003. 

In November, Morin became the shopkeeper at Hope Springs Eternal Second Chance Boutique, a new venture that sells high-quality new and gently-used goods including fine crystal and china, glassware, furniture, handbags and name-brand clothing. All proceeds from sales at the shop will benefit Hope House Ministries.

“I knew that I wanted to get involved in the community and help give back to people in need, and so I started volunteering almost as soon as I got here,” Morin recalled. 

She began to collect merchandise to sell seven years ago, and the response has always been positive in the community, which was eager to both donate and purchase.

“We started with yard sales and would make $1500 in an afternoon, and so that germinated an idea: What if we set up a place where we could sell goods all year long?” Pizzarelli said.

Using seed money raised from those yard sales, they were able to find a building with affordable rent in Port Jefferson Station. It was in terrible condition, Morin said, but with a lot of help from individuals going through rehab with Hope House, they were able to renovate and ready the space for business.

“No one is safe from the opioid epidemic. It’s not about their past and what they’ve been through — everyone has a story. We focus on how far they’ve come and where they’re going,” Morin said.

 “We have all kinds of people walk through the doors [seeking treatment]. Tradesmen, electricians, artists, scholars — all of them have come together to help us make the shop a reality, from scrubbing and cleaning to carpeting and carpentry. They restored two bathrooms and a kitchen. We’ve gotten so attached to them all, and wouldn’t be where we are now without them.”

Running with five key volunteers and a few men in recovery, Hope Springs Eternal opened its doors on Nov. 15. The business did well, and by early March, Pizzarelli said they’d made $25,000 in sales.

But then begins a story that will sound familiar. As COVID-19 cases spread, Hope Springs began working on a limited schedule before shutting down completely on March 18.

Since then, Pizzarelli said Hope House has lost $1 million in revenue they would normally see from sales, donations and other events. While it’s a stressful time, he said that he’s much more concerned for the many people that depend on the ministry.

“In this community, we have people who are really struggling, both unemployed and working poor who are barely getting by,” Pizzarelli said. “We’ve been inundated with requests for counseling. Every night I go to bed with a heavy heart because I have people that call me who are ready to make a commitment to long-term recovery, but I have to put them on a waiting list. We have some people who have the access to technology for telecounseling, but not everyone does.”

Happily, things are slowly returning to normal. Employees and volunteers are coming back to Hope House as they feel  comfortable, and Hope Springs Eternal reopened for business the week of June 8.

“Everything happened gradually when we first opened back in the fall, and so we never really had a grand opening celebration. But it really feels like one now,” explained Morin. “We did $1,000 in sales in the first two days alone, and we made some new friends in the process.”

Pizzarelli said that he remains committed to serving the poorest of the poor in as many ways as he can, and is grateful for the continuing support of the surrounding communities.

“People have really stepped up with donations and financial support, even without solicitation, because they know how hard it is for everyone,” he said. “It means a great deal to me, and to all of us who are serving here.

Hope Springs Eternal Second Chance Boutique is located at 19 Chereb Lane in  Port Jefferson Station 

Hours of Operation: Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

▶ For information about donating and to view items for sale, visit www.hopespringseternalboutique.com or call 631-509-1101. 

▶ Learn more about Hope House Ministries at www.hhm.org or by calling 631-928-2377.

 

Reviewed by Melissa Arnold

Author Tara Drouin

For the past several weeks, a national conversation about racism and discrimination has reached a fever pitch. Protests are happening from coast to coast, social media is buzzing, and statues are being taken down.

As a musician, teacher and parent, Tara Drouin has always tried to instill young people with good values, among them respect, inclusivity, and celebrating the things that make us different and unique. Several years ago, Drouin’s band iRideSense (pronounced “iridescence”) wrote a song called “One Heart” that shares those messages. Not long after, she published a book for children, also titled One Heart.

Now more than ever, the message of “One Heart” — both on the page and in the fun, upbeat tune — is needed in our world. The book is easy enough for young readers to try alone, and can be used as a lighthearted, positive conversation starter about these important issues. Tara Drouin is also available to lead 45-minute lessons on diversity for students either in-person or virtually. Teachers can hire her via the Nassau County BOCES system. 

Are you from Long Island?

When I was very young, I lived in Far Rockaway, and then we moved to Merrick when I was about 12.

Were you a musical child? Do you come from a musical family?

Yes! My mom would play guitar around the house. She was really into Joni Mitchell and a lot of classic rock — The Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, Led Zeppelin — all of those were played at home. I took guitar lessons when I was around 12, but it didn’t really stick in the beginning. My younger brother really took to it, though, and he was writing songs at 16 years old. It wasn’t until I started playing bass that I really found my instrument. 

What did you pursue in school, and what did you end up doing for a career?

When I first started college, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so I got a degree in liberal arts from Nassau County Community College. I was taking a music class, as well as a lot of English and poetry classes. 

I worked in the fashion industry for many years, but music was always a serious pursuit. Songwriting came easily to me. I would use music as an outlet for my feelings and expressing the way I live life. It’s my therapy. A lot of the songs I write are the things I need to tell myself. 

Tara Drouin

Tell me a bit about your band, iRideSense. 

I’ve been playing in iRideSense since my early 20s — we’ve been together since 1993. I’m now married to the drummer, and my brother is a part of the band as well. When I first started school at Nassau County Community College, I met Rob Viccari, who became our guitar player, and my husband Rich auditioned for us. He was the last piece of the puzzle. Some of our songs ended up being licensed to Nickelodeon, which was really cool. We released a couple albums and got to do a cross-country tour, so it’s been a crazy ride. 

You’re also a teacher, correct?

I am. I went back to school to become a teacher when I was in my 30s. I had always thought about teaching and I knew I wanted to make a difference in the world with music. The band was moderately successful, but I did want another career, and my husband encouraged me to go back to school. I got a bachelor’s in English and my master’s in education for grades 1 through 6 from Queens College. I’ve been teaching for 12 years now in Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island. 

What came first, the idea for the book One Heart or the song?

The song came first. I’ve had a diverse population in all my classrooms  my students have been Dominican, Haitian, Asian, Jewish, and from many other backgrounds. I saw a need for children to learn that while, yes, we might all look different and have different experiences, on the inside, we have the same heart. We’re all human. 

I wanted to write an upbeat song that would bring people together and share that message of unity. It’s a bit of a departure from our normal pop-rock sound — “One Heart” is more folk-based, and I had my daughter and nephew sing on the chorus. We released the song on the International Day of Peace, Sept. 21, in 2016.

What inspired you to write this story?

I could always picture images to go along with the lyrics of the song. I really saw it turning into a book. 

How did you go about publishing the book?

I self-published. At first I didn’t know that was possible, and I put a lot of time into researching and sending query letters to publishers. I read that the process was competitive. But then a friend said to me, “You know you can self-publish, right?” I had no idea. I ended up going with Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, where each book is printed on demand instead of in mass quantities. It works really well for me. 

Is there a target age group?

I think it would be a good fit for kids in pre-K through 5th grade

Who is the illustrator and how did you find her?

I met a really nice art teacher working in the Bethpage School District named Nancy Noskewicz, and she also loved the idea of the book, so she offered to illustrate it for me and we began to collaborate. She had never illustrated a book before, and it had been a long time since she’d done artwork for herself, outside of the school setting, so she was really excited. I loved the creativity she brought to the illustrations.

Have you gotten feedback on the book since it was written?

Yes, I got some great feedback and sold a bunch of copies. A friend of mine put the book images together with the song track on YouTube, which went over really well, too. I also got to do an interview on The Donna Drake Show. 

What message do you hope kids will come away with after reading your book?

This book teaches kids about unity and kindness in a way that’s easy to understand. No one should be judged by the color of their skin, but rather the kind of person that they are. In light of everything that has happened with race relations in America, most recently with George Floyd, I feel a responsibility as a mom, a teacher and a musician to speak out against this systemic racism. 

We cannot change the past but we must change our future. Our children need to be taught that acceptance, kindness, unity and love are all important to making this work. Our lives are all intertwined. As the book says, “When voices come together there’s nothing better! Inside everybody’s got One Heart!” I do believe we are all alike more than we are different. 

What’s next for you? Have you written any other books?

Before the pandemic started, we were getting ready to go back into the studio to record some new songs with the band. We haven’t put out an album since 2015. We just got the green light to come in whenever we’re ready, so that’s exciting. I also have two children’s book ideas in the works — one is about my parent’s house in the Catskills, called Red Rock Road, and the other is based on a lullaby.

“One Heart” is available to purchase at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. To keep up on what’s new with One Heart, follow @1heartofficial on Instagram. The song “One Heart” is available wherever you stream music, and a free download is available at www.iridesense.com.

 

Author Kristin McGlothlin. Photo by Ron White
Novel for kids 8 to 12 explores art, growing pains, and Long Island native Walt Whitman

Reviewed by Melissa Arnold

Author Kristin McGlothlin. Photo by Ron White

Kristin McGlothlin’s greatest passions are art and writing, and as a longtime art historian, she was able to enjoy the best of both worlds. But the desire for something more continued to tug on McGlothlin’s heart, and she ultimately left museum work behind to pursue a writing career.

Her debut novel for middle-schoolers, Drawing with Whitman, is the first in a collection called Sourland Mountain Books. Inspired by a rural, mountainous region in central New Jersey, the books explore art, music, family dynamics and coming of age through the eyes of the neighborhood kids.  

Drawing with Whitman finds 13-year-old Catalynd Jewett Hamilton on a journey of recovery after a car accident leaves her badly injured and her mother battling depression. She finds solace in art and literature, encouraged along the way by the kind neighborhood painter, Benton Whitman — a descendant of Huntington native Walt Whitman. 

What was your childhood like? Were you interested in writing early on?

I was born in Detroit, and then we moved to Toledo, Ohio — we stayed there until I was in high school, and then we ended up in Jacksonville, Florida. I’m an only child, so I’ve always enjoyed being by myself. 

I loved both art and writing from a young age. Art was a huge part of my life — Detroit has an incredible art museum — and I loved to write letters to pen pals and friends. As a preteen, I got to take art classes in Toledo and spend time at their art museum as well. I grew up in a standard suburban neighborhood, but we also had a cottage near Lake George in Michigan. I loved to explore in the woods and go swimming in the lake.

It was around the age of 13 that I really felt that writing was what I wanted to do. I even came up with two of the characters from a later book in the Sourland Mountain series at that time. 

What was your favorite book as a child?

My favorite book was From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg.

Did you go to college? What did you end up doing for work?

I did my undergrad at the University of Delaware. They have an amazing art history program there, and my mom suggested I would enjoy it because it combined both writing and art. I learned so much from the Northeast, getting to visit museums in D.C., Philadelphia, and New York.  

After graduation in 1992, I moved back down to Florida and got a job as the assistant curator of education at the Norton Museum of Art. I learned a lot, and I’m so glad I went on that journey, but after a while I realized it wasn’t where I wanted to be. The desire to pursue writing was still there. I ended up going back to school at Florida Atlantic University and got my master’s in English literature in 2013.

How did you start writing professionally? Was it hard to take that step? 

I had a strong belief in myself, and I really wanted to introduce kids to art through writing, so I left the museum and began writing full-time. I went to a lot of writers’ conferences to learn everything I could about the profession.

Why did you decide to write a middle- grade novel? 

When I first started working on the book, I actually wrote for a general audience. But as I began to formulate Cat’s character, and the ins and outs of being 13, I was really drawn to that age. You’re not in high school yet, and a lot of people that age still have a more childlike curiosity. It’s an interesting time. The stories I want to tell don’t have any violence or sex, so that also fits in well with middle-grade readers. 

When did you first come up with the idea for the Sourland Mountain series? What inspired it?

Sourland Mountain is a real place in central New Jersey — my parents moved there around the time I went to college. It started with the idea of incorporating art lessons into a narrative. I

In graduate school, I took a class on Walt Whitman and read a lot of his work. There’s a book of his called “The Wound Dresser,” a collection of journal entries and incredible letters written to his family that I really enjoyed, and I wanted to find a way to incorporate him into the book somehow. 

He was a great patriot and his work is still relevant today, and I want to share that with kids to hopefully inspire them. So that’s how I developed Benton Whitman, a landscape painter who is a descendant of Walt Whitman.

Your characters have very unique names. How did you decide on them? 

It’s funny, because Cat’s name is Catalynd Jewett Hamilton, but then her brother is named Buddy! I sat down and started playing with names, and for Cat it started with the name Caitin, and the word “catalyst.” Jewett comes from a favorite author of mine from the late 1800s, Sarah Orne Jewett, and Hamilton is honestly for the Broadway musical. I saw a commercial on TV and it just fit!

As for Benton, he gets his name from the American painter Thomas Hart Benton, and of course his ancestor, Walt Whitman.

This book deals with a lot of tough issues. Why did you decide to write about injury, depression, and loneliness? 

It feels like an act of service to address the tough things that kids can go through. When I was researching the kind of books that were out there for middle grades, I had trouble finding books that featured a parent living with depression. It can be hard for kids to understand what’s going on when someone they love has a mental health issue, and I wanted to write something that made them feel understood and supported. For Cat, who is in casts and a wheelchair after an accident, she finds that art is an outlet for her to figure things out and make sense of her experiences.

Is this your first book? 

I wrote a picture book called “Andy’s Snowball Story” about the contemporary artist Andy Goldsworthy. But this is my first chapter book, and my first book for middle grades. 

How did you go about getting published? 

It’s incredibly difficult to get an agent, especially as an unknown author who’s never been published before. Self-publishing has gained a lot of respect in recent years, and I knew I wanted to publish my first book quickly, in time for Walt Whitman’s 100th birthday. I found an amazing self-publishing company called Girl Friday, and they helped me put the book together and connected me with the cover illustrator, Kristina Swarner, who did a beautiful job.

Working with Kristina was such a cool experience. I had an idea of what I wanted — to have a mountain and a barn in the background, and for Cat to look a certain way. Even the most basic pencil sketch she sent me was so sweet and detailed. There were very few changes in the final version. I was really happy.

What message do you hope kids take away from the book? 

I want them to know that, sometimes, there’s a lot that can happen to a family unit, and that they don’t have to go through difficult times alone. It’s important to express what you’re going through in a healthy way, whether that’s through therapy or talking to a trusted adult.  

What’s next for you? 

I’m working on the next book in the Sourland Mountain series, called “Listen.” The main character is Cat’s next-door neighbor, Gwilym Duckworthy, a 13-year-old boy who loves jazz music and plays the trumpet. His mother left the family behind to pursue a career in music when he was very small, and now she’s returned. There will eventually be a total of four books in the series.

The recipient of the 2019 Moonbeam Silver Medal Award for Pre-Teen Fiction, Drawing with Whitman is available online at Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com and Target.com. Keep up with Kristin McGlothlin at her website, www.sourlandmountainbooks.com, and on Instagram @McGlothlinKristin for updates and live readings.

The seed starter kit, above, is a wonderful educational tool (plants in photo not included). Photo by Sam Benner

By Melissa Arnold

There’s nothing quite like spring in full bloom — the weather’s finally breaking, flowers are popping up everywhere, and it’s easy to get the kids outside for some fresh air and sunshine, even in the middle of a pandemic.

Unfortunately, most of the area’s most beloved spring locales are closed, their events canceled indefinitely until cases of COVID-19 have declined to safer levels. Without their usual income, many small businesses are struggling to pay the bills and must find creative new ways to keep the lights on.

Among them are Benner’s Farm in Setauket, well known in the community for its seasonal festivals and educational opportunities for both children and adults. With in-person field trips and large gatherings impossible, they’re trying to reinvent the wheel.

“Normally this time of year would have class after class coming in to see the farm and our new animals,” said owner Bob Benner. “We’ve had births of lambs, goat kids, chicks and bunnies, but no one can visit them — there are no workshops or Mommy and Me events, no birthday parties …. there’s literally nothing. So we’ve had to ask ourselves, ‘What can we do?’”

At Easter time, with 20,000 candy-filled eggs ready to go, Bob awoke in the middle of the night with an idea: What if they sold 50-egg boxes for families to have their own hunts at home? By the time the holiday arrived, they’d sold 100 boxes. Encouraged, the Benners sought to continue the momentum.

Next came an online store, with t-shirts and maple products for sale at www.bennersfarm.com, and a GoFundMe campaign which raised more than $6,000 to keep staff paid and animals fed.

Now they’ve created a “My First Garden Learning Kit” geared toward children containing everything you need to grow a dozen different flowers and plants. The kits include planters, potting soil, a template to sort and examine seeds, plant markers, and an instruction booklet with pictures and information about each plant at various stages of growth.

Both Bob and his wife Jean have spent decades working as teachers in addition to running the farm. Jean said that they work hard to approach every project with an educational focus, trying to see each aspect as a child would.

“We purposely chose seeds that are all different sizes and shapes, mature at different times, and are not too tiny so that kids can handle them,” she explained. “The seeds we’ve chosen are all meant to be interesting and recognizable. Marigold seeds look like tiny paintbrushes; calendula seeds resemble tiny worms.” 

The seed starter kits went on sale at the end of April. Within two days, they’d sold 70 kits and were ordering more boxes to fill. So far, so good. 

“It’s been successful especially because people are telling their friends and family. We’ve had orders come in from other places around the country, too,” said Jean.

The Benner family moved to Setauket from Northport in the late 1970s. Their eldest son, Ben, said that his earliest memories involved being dressed in overalls and driven to see the badly overgrown property. The area was first farmed in the 1750s, and the Benners revitalized it using books on homesteading as a guide. What was originally meant to be a hobby for Bob and Jean slowly evolved into something much more.

“This is our life here, and it’s so strange to see the farm empty,” Ben said. “We miss the energy of the kids, getting to see people every day, hosting our programs. This is all we want to do.”

While the Benners have no idea what the future holds or what events they’ll be able to host next, they know that the success of the farm rests in continuing local support and encouraging a love for nature in children.

“As a society, we’ve lost a certain amount of knowledge and appreciation for nature. Kids that grew up in previous generations would be out working in farms and gardens, and that doesn’t happen much around here anymore,” Ben said. “I think it’s such an important thing to learn about the process of how plants grow, and it’s a lot of fun to go out and pick your food, knowing where it comes from and knowing you did it yourself. We want to spark that interest in as many kids as possible.

Seeds included in the garden kit:

Calendulas

Sunflowers

Zinnias

Marigolds

Green squash (zucchini)

Purple bush beans

Peas

Corn

Beets

Swiss chard

Radishes

Tomatoes

Each kit costs $25. They can be picked up from Benner’s Farm at 56 Gnarled Hollow Road, Setauket. Call ahead to arrange an in-person, contactless pickup. Prepayments using a credit or debit card are preferred, but arrangements can be made for cash payment. Online orders placed at www.bennersfarm.com are $35 each and will be sent out within 24 hours. For the latest information about the farm, to make purchases or donations, call 631-689-8172 or visit their website.