Community

From left, Assemblyman Andrew Raia (R-East Northport), Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), Leg. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), Ken Kashansky, Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), Fred S. Sganga, Tom DiNapoli (D) and Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) look on as U.S. Army Vietnam veteran and resident of Unit 3C Joe Rohan cuts the ribbon. Photo by Doreen Guma
Ribbon cutting ceremony officially opens first renovated residential unit

The Long Island State Veterans Home in Stony Brook recently celebrated a milestone in Operation Rejuvenation, a project that will help renovate the interior of the existing facility, with the opening of its first renovated residential unit, 3C. The event was celebrated with a ribbon cutting on Aug. 25.

The project was made possible by a $12.5 million VA Construction Grant, one of the oldest partnerships between the federal government and the states. Each year, through the support of Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), the federal government allocates approximately $85 million to fund the State Veterans Home Construction Grant Program. Through this initiative, individual states compete for funding that must be used to either construct or renovate designated state veterans facilities that provide skilled nursing or domiciliary care.

The federal government appropriates 65 percent of the construction costs provided that each state makes a commitment of 35 percent in state matching funds, for which New York State Senator John Flanagan has been instrumental in helping the LISVH secure.

The newly renovated nursing units include a modernized and open dining space, an accessible nourishment station, a complete nursing station redesign and fully renovated living spaces for residents. This project included the installation of energy-efficient LED lighting, LED televisions and new personal furnishings that our nation’s heroes will be proud to call home.

“The Long Island State Veterans Home has always made a commitment to be the premiere provider for long-term care services to our nation’s heroes,” said Fred S. Sganga, executive director of the Long Island State Veterans Home. “Operation Rejuvenation will assure that our frail, elderly veterans are living in the finest facility in the country. We are really excited about this project because it represents the recommitment of Stony Brook University to Long Island’s veterans and their families.”

“Our veterans were willing to put themselves in harm’s way in order to protect our freedom and way of life,” said Zeldin. “We owe it to them to make sure the facilities that care for our veterans are in the best condition possible to meet their needs. The work being done at the Long Island State Veterans Home will help accomplish that goal, and I commend the leadership and staff for undertaking this project.”

“Our nation owes a debt of gratitude to those who have protected our way of life and cherished freedoms,” said Flanagan. “One way we can say ‘thank you’ to them is by making sure these brave men and women have a comfortable living environment. The Long Island State Veterans Home has been a great resource for our veterans and their families and this project will help ensure that it continues to be a place that our heroes are proud to call home,” he said.

A Smithtown business owner has put her name on the November ballot to give residents a third option when voting for town supervisor.

Kristen Slevin, 40-year-old owner of Yottabyte Craft Chocolate and Candy in Smithtown, has launched her own independent campaign for Smithtown town supervisor. A prior vice president of Swan Lake Civic Association, this is her first time running for political office.

Slevin, a Smithtown resident and Hauppauge High School graduate, shed light on her jump from business owner to political candidate.

Kristen Slevin

“As a business, we feel we are a member of the community, we have a voice and we should leverage our voices for things we believe in,” she said of her business perspective.

Slevin said after seeing her community get energized by the 2016 presidential election, she launched an advocacy group on Facebook titled Smithtown Election Watch 2017.

“People had all this energy and enthusiasm to get involved in national issues, meanwhile our local downtowns are disappearing right before us,” Slevin said.

Slevin and a team of approximately a dozen volunteers began July 11 rounding up 1,781 signatures from registered Smithtown voters, exceeding the minimum 1,500 required under state law, for an independent candidate to run in the general election. Her campaign slogan is “None of the Above.”

The independent campaign platform focuses on fixing an “obsolete” town code, addressing blight in the downtown business areas and the creation of historic districts and town council districts. One of the first projects on her radar, if elected, would be to embark on a full review of town code, its policies and procedures, as the candidate said she had found it difficult to read through and impossible to search.

“Other things I am concerned about are if the towns are suffering from intentional blight,” Slevin said. “Some landlords might have multiple properties, here or in other towns, that they allow this property to go vacant and are taking the tax credit against what they are making in more successful rentals.”

If elected, she said she would consider introducing new tax codes to increase rates on properties with long-standing vacant buildings to encourage owners to either rent or sell. Slevin said other municipalities in New York and other neighboring states have adopted such programs.

“People had all this energy and enthusiasm to get involved in national issues, meanwhile our local downtowns are disappearing right before us.”
— Kristen Slevin

In addition to addressing blight, the business owner said she’d like to see Smithtown, Kings Park and Lake Avenue in Saint James be recognized as historic districts.

“Our philosophy should be that they are quaint, small-town U.S. towns right here,” Slevin said. “While so many other places are being built up and becoming more city like, we are going to hold on to our small-town vision here.”

The candidate said she’s not against the integrated development of mixed-use properties that combine retail space with apartments designed for students, singles and senior residents. Slevin said it’s her belief that mixed-use properties would provide a more diversified business base and community that over time would strengthen the local economy.

Her platform also proposes splitting the Smithtown town board into council districts, similar to the Town of Brookhaven, to improve elected officials’ accountability.

“If everyone had their own councilperson elected from their district, they are both aware of the issues in their districts and they can be held accountable,” she said.

Slevin said she did weigh running for the town board seat prior to launching a campaign for supervisor. However, she felt that the town codes give the supervisor position significantly more power and control over other elected town officials, something she plans to remedy if elected.

Slevin will face off in the Nov. 7 against Democratic candidate William Holst (D) and the winner of the still undecided Republican primary between incumbent Supervisor Patrick Vecchio (R) and Councilman Ed Wehrheim (R). The Republican primary results will not be available until after Sept. 25.

Mother urges a switch back to elementary school

Mount Sinai parents have been asking to move fifth-graders from the middle school back to the elementary school. File photo by Erika Karp

Students in Mount Sinai are expected to grow up a little faster than those in other districts. While a majority of neighboring towns keep their fifth-graders in the elementary school, Mount Sinai, since the early 1990s, moves its 10- and 11-year-olds up to the middle school.

A mother challenged the concept during an Aug. 23 board of education meeting when she asked administrators to consider making fifth grade part of the elementary school again in the future.

The conversation has been ongoing ever since.

Renee Massari, a mother of two elementary school students, proposed the idea last month, saying she didn’t see the academic or social benefit of having fifth-graders learn under the same roof as eighth-graders. In fact, she believed the drastically different environment negatively affected the young students — who occupy their own wing on the second floor of the building.

“I’ve seen it through many of my friends’ children here — many of them don’t excel.”

Renee Massari

“I’ve seen it through many of my friends’ children here — many of them don’t excel,” Massari said during the meeting. “It’s almost like they feel deflated because it’s difficult for them to handle those responsibilities expected of our fifth-graders. Because [realistically], they aren’t middle schoolers.”

Massari explained to the board that, from her understanding, the fifth-graders’ premature graduation to the middle school was prompted solely by a lack of classroom space in the elementary school. She asked if an administrator could evaluate current classroom space, adding the school has seen a declining enrollment rate over the last few years.

“Ideally, I would love for the fifth-graders in this district to have the same transition that 99 percent of the districts on Long Island have,” Massari said. “We can house them in the elementary school, a building they’re familiar with, and keep the same program where they transition from classroom to classroom and get them exposed to that before going to a whole different building.”

Board Trustee Robert Sweeney agreed with Massari and said the decision decades ago to move the students into the next building had nothing to do with education and everything to do with space and misjudgment. He also urged the board to reevaluate the concept.

“It’s a fallacy to have elementary students up there,” Sweeney said. “I think we have to look at it because there’s no educational benefit [to it].”

Superintendent Gordon Brosdal, an admittedly “old school guy” who said he would even like to see the sixth grade in the elementary school, told Massari her proposal would be explored — but classroom space, or lack thereof, in the district’s smallest building remains an issue. He said it will take a lot more than one available classroom to bring back the fifth-graders to the elementary school and expansions on the building would be costly.

Mount Sinai Superintendent Gordon Brosdal and Trustee Robert Sweeney listen to parents’ concerns at a board meeting. The two are in favor of moving fifth-graders back to the elementary school. File photo by Erika Karp

“But in the meantime, what we have to do is make sure the nurturing environment continues in the fifth grade,” Brosdal said.

Teachers, he said, know to treat their students with the same level of care and support elementary school students experience. And although the move up offers a completely new setting, with lockers and classroom changes and multiple teachers during the day, Brosdal sees it as a good transition opportunity.

“Plus, they’re kind of isolated and not mixing with the older grades when they don’t have to,” he said. “At the same time, I understand parents feel their kids are not ready to move up because of maturity and a lot of other reasons, and want them to remain in a nurturing environment.”

In the weeks following the meeting, Brosdal reached out to elementary school principal Rob Catlin, and together they projected six classrooms would be needed in the building to accommodate the roughly 175 students in the current fifth-grade class.

One would be hard-pressed to find three available classrooms, according to Catlin, who is currently in the process of meeting with parents about the issue.

“I’ve heard the same concerns from a couple different people now and I’m reaching out to some parents for some meetings to talk about it,” Catlin said. “As the year goes on, and if the topic continues, I’m more than happy to keep talking. But it’s in an early stage right now.”

Mount Sinai resident Beth Erdmann, whose children are in seventh and 10th grades, said every parent experiences panic in the midst of the elementary and middle school transition but soon realize it’s not a big deal.

“I’ve heard the same concerns from a couple different people now and I’m reaching out to some parents for some meetings to talk about it.”

Rob Catlin

“When it’s your first child, it seems too soon and scary, but they are in their own wing and it’s a nonissue,” Erdmann said. “There were no adverse effects to my children … fifth and sixth grade are still treated as elementary. The location is just in the middle school. I was worried and bothered at the time, [but] my kids were fine.”

Debra Wesolowski agreed, having gone through the transition multiple times with four children.

“Once they were there, I couldn’t imagine them in the elementary school,” Wesolowski said. “Kids are a lot more mature now than years ago … you see how mature and responsible the fourth-graders become as the year goes on [and] by the time they graduate from fourth grade they have outgrown the elementary school and need to advance to the next stage. The middle school does a great job transitioning them.”

But Jennifer Ruger Lazarou, an elementary school teacher, feels the kids are too young.

“I think keeping them in the elementary school one more year is a good idea, and will still make them just as prepared,” Lazarou said. “I teach in a K-through-six building and can’t even imagine the sixth-graders being exposed to middle school any earlier.”

Brosdal said district office and building administrators have begun the exploration of a move.

“It is too early in the process for the board to make a decision one way or another,” Brosdal said. “The expense of such a project would impact the district’s budget and bond proposal.”

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Smithtown school district's administrative New York Avenue building. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

By Kevin Redding

The Smithtown school board is not yet sold on a proposal by the town to buy its administration building on New York Avenue and surrounding property to turn them into municipality offices and a central park.

“The Board of Education has made no decision as to what direction it wishes to pursue with respect to the New York Avenue property,” said the Smithtown school board in a statement Sept. 19.

This comes months after the Smithtown Town Board issued an appraisal of the administration building to the school board for its review in order to kick-start a negotiation process as quickly as possible.

Councilman Tom McCarthy (R), who proposed the town purchase the property to help boost its downtown revitalization efforts, said during a Sept. 5 town board meeting the school’s decision to not sell the property or meet with council members to discuss the topic at this time meant the town could not move forward with anything.

He also suggested the board not proceed with its original plans to appraise six buildings — existing satellite-buildings utilized as office space by town departments — which would be vacated if services could be consolidated into one centralized location on the New York Avenue property.

Nesconset resident William Holst disagreed.

“I would strongly recommend looking at getting those appraisals done, looking at those buildings in terms of being consolidated, [and] reducing the number of buildings in the downtown area so you actually can generate some real revitalization in this area,” Holst said during the meeting.

McCarthy responded by calling the $20,000 for appraisals a waste of taxpayer money at this time.

“To spend money when they really aren’t interested at this time [to sell us the building] wouldn’t be prudent,” McCarthy said.

The councilman said that he has reached out to members of the school board in an attempt to try to schedule a future meeting.

“If we can get them to the bargaining table, I’m sure this board would be more than happy to do the appraisals on our outlying buildings,” McCarthy said.

In an interview Sept. 18, McCarthy said, “It’s in limbo right now but I would get moving on it tomorrow if they got back to us, which I hope they do. I think they’re looking at it from a monetary standpoint for themselves and doing their due diligence. They’re a good board.”

Smithtown resident Bob Hughes, a member of the civics New York Avenue Group and Smithtown United, said he has unofficially acted as an intermediary between the two boards since last year to help them find common ground on the matter.

Hughes believes school board members are holding out on a decision until after town elections are over “so they don’t have to deal with two possible town boards.”

“Once we get past November, there probably will be more interaction between the school and town,” Hughes said, holding out hope the project will move forward soon. “It’s about what the community wants. The New York Avenue property could be a focal point of the downtown revitalization and improve efficiency.”

Elwood Middle School will get a new roof with the passage of Proposition 1 by voters. File photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Elwood school district board of education will weigh putting two proposals before voters this November for a total of $38 million in districtwide repairs and upgrades.

Superintendent Kenneth Bossert presented refined bond propositions Sept. 18 at Elwood Middle School Auditorium in which school officials have continued to gradually shave down and refine their list of desired projects into two propositions.

“We need to make sure to put up a budget that is below the state tax cap and maintains all programs and staffing we offer to our students,” Bossert said. “We see the scope of this, there are projects that are desperate needs that cannot be included in the budget without decimating our instructional program.”

The first proposition is for $34.5 million in capital projects and renovations that takes aim at health and safety issues in the schools. These funds would be used for major projects including the replacement of the roofs in each of the four buildings — Harley Avenue, Boyd Intermediate School, Elwood Middle School, and John H. Glenn High School — due to existing leaks and flooding issues; fixing sidewalk and pavement cracks; renovating cafeterias and auditoriums including air conditioning in some spaces. 

“It is cost prohibitive to add AC to all spaces,” Bossert said. “We would like to have large group gathering spaces that would be air conditioned. There are some very hot days where school is in session and there is not always a place we can bring our students to be cool.”

Several other projects take aim at legal issues required under state law including upgrading facilities to be compliant with the Americans with Disability Act, the latest state codes on fire alarms, drainage improvements and asbestos abatement for future construction.

The proposed Proposition 2, as presented by Bossert, requests $3.72 million for enhancements to the district’s athletic programs.

“The reason it is separate is there was division among opinions in the community,” Bossert said. “Some members of the community were strongly in support of this proposed $3.72 million as something they can afford to invest in, other factions said, ‘We don’t feel that way.’ The board wisely chose to make it a separate proposition.”

Proposition 2 would include a concession stand for the athletic fields with an outdoor bathroom, a synthetic turf field and sidewalks to make the fields ADA compliant, a new press box and scoreboard for the varsity baseball field.

The superintendent said if the board of education votes to move forward Sept. 28, the residents will cast their ballots on Nov. 28. The average estimated cost to taxpayers for Proposition 1 is $221 per year, or $18.32, for a home with an assessed value of $3,800; and if both propositions pass the average cost would be $333 per year for a home with an assessed value of $3,800.

Bossert stressed to residents that Proposition 2 for athletic enhancements can only be passed if Proposition 1 for districtwide repairs is approved by voters.

A video of the superintendent’s Sept. 17 presentation is available on YouTube and the district’s website. Bossert said the district will also be adding a calculator to its website to allow property owners to insert their home’s tax value to determine what their individual tax increase will be if Proposition 1 is approved, and if both propositions are approved.

“Elwood is not a village, not a town, but it is a school district,” Bossert said. “I believe our community takes good pride in our schools and I want that to be reflected.”

Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) discusses red light cameras during a press conference in Miller Place Sept. 21. Photo by Kevin Redding

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) is calling for an investigation into the county’s annual Red Light Camera Program Report, which he said has purposefully, and illegally, eliminated data on car accidents involving pedestrians and bicyclists.

Trotta stood with fellow legislators and colleagues Sept. 21 at the intersection of Route 25A and Miller Place Road in Miller Place to address his ongoing concerns with a lack of available statistics surrounding accidents, injuries and deaths due to the county’s red light camera program, highlighting a conversation he had last month with a traffic engineer of Nelson & Pope, the company that prepares the annual reports.

The traffic engineer, according to Trotta, advised him that the company was instructed not to include the pedestrian and bicyclist-involved accidents at red light camera locations in reports, in order to paint a better picture of the program. The reports are submitted to the state and made available to the public. The most recent report was released in April and highlighted statistics for 2015. While pedestrian and bicycle-involved accidents have been reported in a scattered few reports since the program began in 2010, the data has not been included in the last two years’ reports.

Trotta said the data exclusion is a violation of the state’s motor vehicle and traffic law, which states the mandatory annual report must include the number, type and severity of all accidents reported at these intersections with traffic control devices.

He also said it is not clear who is behind the data exclusion, the county or the company behind the red light camera program, but urged the state attorney general to get involved so the guilty party can be held accountable.

“How can anybody adequately look at the positive or negative features of a program when they’re not getting all the data?” Trotta said during the press conference. The legislator has long been opposed to the program, which he said he believes is the cause of an uptick in accidents throughout the area and is merely a ticket and revenue-generating scam by the county. “There are multiple reasons why this program should be shut down immediately and I’m aghast by the fact that we’re doing nothing and we are lying to the public by not including the pedestrians and the bicyclists. When I found about this, I couldn’t believe it.”

Trotta was joined by Legislators Leslie Kennedy (R-Smithtown) and Tom Muratore (R-Selden), as well as county legislature candidate Gary Pollakusky (R), at the busy intersection where two teenagers have died after being struck by cars, which features red light cameras.

“We lost a child here on a bicycle and a child here as a pedestrian,” Trotta said, referring to 14-year-old Nico Signore who died earlier this year, and 16-year-old John Luke, who died in 2015. “But I guess that doesn’t mean anything to anybody because they’re not even including [those accidents] in the report. I absolutely think there’s cohersion with the county and this company to keep the money stream coming in. This entire program is just a calamity of errors.”

Pollakusky said he supports the suspension of the red light camera program due to its negative impact on public safety.

“The red light camera program is a money grab by [County Executive Steve Bellone] and the Democrats in the Legislature and has been sold to the public as a public safety program — it is anything but safe,” Pollakusky said, stressing that accidents have increased after the red light cameras were installed.

He also took issue with his opponent, Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), who initially voted against the program but has since come to agree with its mission of changing poor traffic.

“[She] is famous for saying ‘if it saves one child’s life,’ it’s worth it [but] this program that you and your cohorts support, Mrs. Anker, has hurt innocent drivers, pedestrians and children alike,” Pollakusky said.

Personal injury lawyer David Raimondo, based in Lake Grove, represents the Luke family and pointed to an omission of data, including fatalities of pedestrians in auto accidents, in a presentation before the Suffolk County Legislature in 2014 led to the red light camera program’s renewal.

“It’s up for renewal in 2019 and if we don’t have the proper data before the Legislature, it will continue to be renewed and we cannot let that happen,” Raimondo said. “It’s very important this program come to an end, it be suspended and that the suffering of the taxpayers of Suffolk County — both financially and physically — end.”

By Alex Petroski

Like a scene from a popular HBO show, Port Jefferson was overrun with dragons for as far as the eye could see Sept. 16. The Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce hosted its fourth Dragon Boat Race Festival at Harborfront Park and in Port Jefferson Harbor Saturday. The annual event features boat races, food, vendors, traditional Chinese ceremonies and customs, and musical performances.

This year 30 dragon boat teams competed in a recreational division, and four club teams squared off on the open seas in a more competitive one. Teams consisted of 20 rowers, one steersman and one drummer for the races around the inner harbor. The festival is the brainchild of Barbara Ransome, director of operations at the chamber, who said she got her inspiration after she attended a dragon boat race festival in Cape May, New Jersey, a few years back.

“We’ve got it down from an organizational perspective,” Ransome said in a phone interview after the event. “Everything went very well and very smooth.”

Ransome said she thought this year yielded larger attendance numbers — she speculated several thousand — than previous years, and said she is happy the event is growing. She said about 140 people utilized a free shuttle service provided to take attendees from their cars to the park, which was about 40 percent more than during last year’s event.

In the recreational group, a team from the Long Island School of Chinese called Huaxia Dragon took home the gold with a time of 58.06 seconds, narrowly edging Seas the Day, a team of rowers from St. Charles Hospital, who finished in 58.10 to capture silver. A New York City-area rowing club called The Collective won gold in the club division with a time of 58.27 in the final heat. The New York City Police Department rowing club came in second, finishing just two-tenths of a second behind The Collective.

Ransome said upon request from teams that competed in 2016, this was the first year racers were separated into groups based on experience levels, and she thought it was a good decision.

Port Jefferson Dragons, a Port Jefferson Village team, prepared extensively for the 2017 race, according to Ransome, so the group was bumped up as the fourth team in the club division. As a modest underdog, Port Jefferson Dragons got on the podium with a third-place finish.

“That was very impressive,” she said. “They did extraordinarily well.”

The Confucius Institute at Stony Brook University, an educational partnership between the school and China’s Office of Chinese Language Council International, was once again a sponsor of the event. According to a staff member at the institute, its directors were pleased with the event.

“We basically support any cultural events in the area that promotes Chinese culture, so it makes sense,” the staff member said.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) sent Assistant Director of Constituencies for Asian American Affairs Joanne Choi to the event as a representative on his behalf. Suffolk County Legislators Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) and Village Mayor Margot Garant were among the other elected officials also in attendance.

A maximum occupancy restriction was placed on the village-owned pier for the event, which has been found to need repairs following the 2016 race. Ransome said the guidelines were strictly adhered to, and actually made the event easier for timekeepers and organizers.

Denise Dragiewicz and her husband Marc during a recent visit to Indonesia. Photo from Denise Dragiewicz

By Kevin Redding

“There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’ … for the times they are a-changin.’’

The words and music of Bob Dylan will serve as a fitting soundtrack at Madison Steak House in Hauppauge Sunday, Sept. 24, during a special fundraiser to highlight and benefit the work of Eyes of the World Films — a New Jersey-based documentary company that focuses on the environment and socially relevant issues.

The Complete Unknowns, a Dylan cover band that spans the singer/songwriter’s six-decade catalog, take the stage at 5 p.m. and will rock the house with a mix of Dylan’s popular tunes and deep tracks until the end of the event at 8 p.m. Guests will enjoy a four-course dinner menu, have the opportunity to win raffle prizes that include a variety of Dylan memorabilia, and learn about Eyes of the World’s upcoming projects during the company’s quarterly fundraiser.

“Bob Dylan’s music really speaks to my heart and really opened my eyes as to what’s going on in the world when I was younger,” said Denise Dragiewicz, former Smithtown resident and the president of Eyes of the World Films. She directs and edits the company’s documentaries while her husband, Marc, a biologist, serves as environmental consultant and chooses each film’s subject and locations. “And that’s exactly what we’re trying to do — open people’s eyes to what’s going on with the environment and get people engaged.”

All proceeds from the fundraiser will go toward the production and completion of two new films being developed by the husband-and-wife duo.

“The Burning of Borneo’s Peat Swamp Forest,” which has begun filming in Palangka Raya, Central Kalimantan, and will be the company’s fifth documentary, explores the degradation of Indonesian forestland in recent decades by way of out-of-control fires brought on by the region’s dry season.

The decimation has also hit the areas surrounding Sabangau National Forest, home to the largest breeding population of orangutans, and, as of now, 80 percent of orangutan habitat has been wiped out — a major focus of the film.

A short version of that documentary, made up of footage shot in Palangka Raya last winter, recently won the YALE e360 Environmental Video Contest, and the duo hopes to use any funds they raise to return to the location and finish production on a feature-length film on the subject. For the larger film, Denise Dragiewicz said, they are concentrating on a young Dayak activist named Emmanuela Shinta, who is attempting to convince the Indonesian government to protect the remaining forest.

“Indonesia has been on the path of environment destruction for many decades,” Dragiewicz said. “Many areas, including Palangka Raya, where we are filming, have had to deal with horrendous fire seasons that last months at a time [and] not only do these fires damage remaining forestland and what is left of the orangutan habit, but the smoke and murky, yellow haze that is the offspring of these blazes have been causing serious health problems.”

“The environmental films produced and put out are generally about the bigger picture of global warming and the storms,” she continued, “but you don’t really see these little community stories and how global warming is hitting people on a smaller level and that’s what we’re trying to show.”

Marc Dragiewicz, who regularly works in environmental conservation with specific expertise and experience in rainforests, said of the film, “This is the largest project we’ve worked on yet and it’s important. It’s a subject that’s really happening right now and affecting a lot of people. It’s kind of a cautionary tale that if we’re not careful, we’re going to lose our wildlife and we’re going to have some really bad air coming up in the future.”

The other film, titled “In the Dark,” is still in preproduction and will be the duo’s first feature narrative, revolving around the sexual violence against women and children in South Africa.

The filmmakers’ documentaries have played at a variety of film festivals around the world and appear on several environmentally friendly websites like Life of Terra and Sustainability TV.

They said an ideal goal from this fundraiser would be $5,000. Of course the films will cost more than that but every little bit helps, Denise Dragiewicz said.

“The more we’re able to raise, the more we’re able to produce these types of documentaries and that’s really important to me,” she said. “The fundraisers are a real celebration of art and passion, and we hope we can not only raise funding but also draw more people into being aware of the importance of preserving our natural habitats.”

Michael Weiskopf, lead singer of The Complete Unknowns — a six-piece band that formed 10 years ago out of a love for Dylan’s music — said when Dragiewicz contacted him to play the fundraiser, he was drawn in by her passion.

“I thought, ‘this is a serious filmmaker and this is a serious subject,’” Weiskopf said of orangutan conservation. “I’m interested in helping living things that can’t speak for themselves … so it’s a good cause to get involved in.”

As a self-professed “unapologetic Bob Dylan devotee,” Weiskopf said he looked forward to the event and attendees should expect to hear a wide variety of Dylan songs, old and new.“When you have 600 plus songs to choose from, it’s always interesting,” he said.

The fundraiser starts at 4 p.m. at Madison Steak House, 670 Motor Parkway in Hauppauge on Sunday, Sept. 24, and will cost $25 for the bar and $50 for dinner and the show. You can buy tickets at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3047480.

Visit www.eyesoftheworldfilms.com and www.michaelweiskopf.com for more information.

Students attending a school in Bizoton, Haiti will soon enjoy a visit from Tom Manuel of The Jazz Loft in Stony Book. Photo from Patty Smith

By Rita J. Egan

Local musicians plan to share the universal language of music with children in Haiti, and they’re asking for community help with their musical mission.

Tom Manuel, founder of The Jazz Loft in Stony Brook, said the venue is organizing a drive to bring instruments to schoolchildren during a trip to Haiti scheduled for Nov. 9. Manuel, his wife Laura Landor and five fellow musicians plan to teach the students how to play the instruments while they are there. The group also plans to return once a year to check in on students’ progress.

Patty Smith, a registered nurse from Commack, sponsors the school in Bizoton, as well as a church in the same village in Haiti. Smith was evangelizing in a Brentwood parking lot when she met Jean Bonte, who told her about the country. She said the meeting led to a visit to the mountain village. Moved by her trip, she decided to have the school and church built to help locals. There are now more than 100 registered students studying at the school.

Patty Smith with the children who attend the school she sponsors in Bizoton, Haiti. Photo from Patty Smith

The nurse said the people in the village are so poor that their homes have no electricity or running water, and they are barely clothed. She said she’s spent many nights crying after her visits to Bizoton because she feels guilty about what she has.

“I sit up in my bed and I feel guilty because I have air conditioning,” she said. “I think [this mission] is going to give them hope. I think it’s going to give them something to strive for so they could do good in school and really work hard so they can obtain and see that this is something that will make their lives better.”

Smith said Manuel traveled to the village with Landor two years ago. When he showed the schoolchildren how to play his trumpet, cleaning off the mouthpiece to allow each child to play it, the nurse said he mesmerized them.

“Everyone was laughing and clapping, and they were so proud of themselves,” Smith said.

Manuel said the children also laughed when he took out his trumpet and showed them how to warm up by making funny duck noises with his mouth.

The trumpet player said the first step of The Jazz Loft’s mission is collecting instruments. The musicians hope to receive at least 20 instruments, hoping to receive more brass ones because they hold up well in the Caribbean heat.

“Having been a teacher for so long, I know that there are a lot of people that either they played or they have a son or daughter [who did],” he said. “You know, they played through middle school or high school, and they have this instrument that’s sitting in their closet, or in their basement or attic. My hopes are that if people hear this story they’ll say, ‘Why should that sit in my closet for another five years? Let me bring that trombone down to the Loft and send it off for a good cause.’”

Tom Manuel, trombone player and owner of The Jazz Loft, shows Haitian students how to play the instrument during a previous trip to the country. Photo from Tom Manuel

Once the group arrives in Haiti, Manuel said they will teach students how to play, and culminate the trip with the students playing together as a band. The musicians will also perform for them.

“There’s nothing more inspiring for these kids — most of them have never seen these instruments or heard them,” Manuel said. “To see a band play for them is really intense.”

The Jazz Loft has also organized back-to-school and food drives to help the school.

Landor, a flute player who is the director of fine and performing arts in the Hauppauge school district, said she is looking forward to this year’s trip.

“I loved being with all the kids,” she said. “They’re incredible in their resilience and they’re so excited to learn; they’re excited to be with people who want to be with them. I would love for them to experience the joy of making music, and just have something they can be proud of in saying I did this, I learned this, I can practice this.”

Guitarist Steve Salerno, who performs at The Jazz Loft often, was touched by Manuel’s accounts of his trips to Haiti and is looking forward to traveling with him to the country this year.

“It just sounded like an amazing opportunity to maybe share in what he’s experienced,” Salerno said. “I hope that this will be kind of a wondrous experience for them to hear different types of music performed collectively.”

Manuel believes the musicians will gain a lot from the trip.

“I’ve always felt, personally, and I know everyone going on the trip feels this way —  we have all these different languages and all these differences that separate us, but in the end, we have more in common than we realize,” Manuel said. “That’s part of why I think trips like this, outreaches like this, travel in general, whether you’re doing a specific mission or not, is so important for people. The more you travel, the more you spend time with human beings, the more you realize we’re more like each other than we’re not and music is a universal language.”

A fundraising concert is planned at the venue at 275 Christian Ave. in Stony Brook Oct. 5 to offset the cost of the trip and used instruments can be dropped off at the location. The Jazz Loft is open Thursday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. and various evenings for performances. For more information call 631-751-1895.

Huntington High School. File Photo

Huntington High School found itself in the crosshairs of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) latest initiative that takes aims at cracking down on Long Island gang activity, much to the surprise of school officials.

Cuomo announced Sept. 13 his plan for deployment of a new Gang Violence Prevention Unit, which will deploy state troopers to monitor gang activity and recruitment in the alleged top 10 “high-risk” Suffolk County schools. Huntington High School made the list.

The prevention unit will immediately assign 10 state troopers, one to each of the 10 schools in the six targeted districts which includes Brentwood, Central Islip, Huntington, Longwood, South Country Central and Wyandanch. Cuomo said these districts were chosen as they were identified by local law enforcement as having the highest concentration of gang violence and vulnerability to recruitment efforts.

In addition, the prevention unit will coordinate with the Suffolk County Police Department to launch an “Educate the Educators” program, aimed at helping teachers and faculty recognize early warning signs of gang involvement.

“Our number one job in government is to keep all New Yorkers, and especially our children, safe,” Cuomo said in a statement. “By partnering with our schools, we will be better prepared to stop gang activity before it starts and end this heinous cycle of violence. This is just one step in our ongoing efforts to eradicate the threat of MS-13 and ensure that every student remains on a path to a bright future.”

Huntington Superintendent James W. Polansky said he was “deeply disappointed” by the manner in which the governor presented the initiative. Polansky made clear to residents it was not a coordinated effort with the district in a letter sent to the community dated Sept. 14.

“Much of our dismay stems from the fact that at no point were we approached,” Polansky said in a statement. “At no point did any state official or otherwise reach out and ask what we need or don’t need. At no point did anyone request a visit or invite a conversation of any sort. At no point have we received even fragments of information about this proposal.”

Upon questioning state officials about Cuomo’s proposed plan, Polansky said the district received a thorough apology and admission that the “ball was dropped.”

The superintendent stated in his Sept. 14 letter that Cuomo had mischaracterized the Huntington school district and that his words, “frankly, offend all members of the school community.”

“In fact, numerous students were the first to point this out first thing in the morning,” Polansky wrote. “Unfortunately, we continue to witness education and politics rarely prove to be a productive combination.”

As of Sept. 19, a state trooper has not been assigned to Huntington High School as part of the prevention unit, according to school spokesman Jim Hoops. The district does have a school resource officer assigned from Suffolk County police since 2004 to monitor issues that arise, which is shared with the South Huntington school district.