By Steven Zaitz

The silver Honda Accord of personal trainer Stephan Reyes can be seen in the same spot each and every weekday.

No, there isn’t a fancy “Reserved for Mr. Stephan Reyes” sign in the parking lot of the Transfitnation Training Studio in Smithtown. The 24-year-old Westchester native is at work before most of us are even out of bed every morning and is fully prepared to improve the mind, body and soul of everyone on his client list for the day. His first appointment is usually at 5:00 a.m.

Reyes, along with his fitness-conscious colleagues at the boutique gym off of Terry Road, emphasizes a holistic approach to personal betterment that includes guidance on not just strength and weightlifting, but lifestyle factors such as nutrition, sleep, science-based stretching and balance improvement.

The team, led by founder Steve Dell’Amore, evaluates each client and formulates a custom program based on his or her age, goals, body type and health history. They like to think of themselves as a one-stop wellness shop.

“I came into this field to give people the tools that they need to change their lives for the better,” said Reyes. “I love the challenge of working with such a wide-ranging group of people who have different challenges, goals and backstories, and helping them to improve their lives.”

Reyes, who was a superstar basketball and baseball player at Walter Panas High School in Cortlandt Manor, later studied Sports Management at SUNY Oneonta, also completing a sports medicine internship while there.

Upon graduation, he became a Certified Personal Trainer, a Certified Human Movement Specialist and will complete a course in January, 2024 to become a Certified Nutrition Coach.

Essentially, he is an ever-evolving wellness scientist with the certificates to prove it..

“There are so many aspects of this job that I love, and I’m always trying to learn so I can serve my clients the best way possible,” said Reyes, who has relocated to Port Jefferson Station from his beloved Westchester. “In building individual plans for people, we need to do a lot of analysis before and after, but when I’m one-on-one with my clients, I try to get to know them, so I’m part trainer, part life coach, part motivational speaker, part teacher and part friend.”

Among his clientele, Reyes is legendary for his positive energy and fun-loving approach to the job. He can often be heard shouting his favorite catch phrases like “great work”, “finish strong”, and “excellent adjustment” as he pushes  his trainees to their limits.

“When I first met Stephan, I knew right away that he was a ‘people-person,’” said Dell’Amore, who opened the business in October of 2018. “He has grown his client base from the ground up, and he brings a lot of energy to every single session. People love to train with him, and he’ll take on any challenge that is thrown his way.”

Having worked at Transfitnation for a little over two years, Reyes has accrued a plethora of success stories. Too modest to boast about them himself, many of the people he trains were eager to share their fitness journey.

Jerry Varrichio, 22, works at Home Depot in South Setauket and lives in Stony Brook. He is also one of several of Reyes’ clients who are on the autism spectrum.

“I always feel better coming in to train with Stephan, and I’ve lost a lot of weight,” said Varrichio who enjoys taekwondo and has recently taken up golf. “The moment I come in here and start my stretching before the workout, I feel better about myself.”

Jerry has lost over 10% of his body fat in 18 months since becoming a member of Transfitnation.

Tatianna Morisseau is a 32-year-old nurse from Brentwood who has been training with Reyes for six months. She suffers from lipedema, which is a long-term condition of fat and connective tissue building up in various parts of the body. It is a stubborn impediment to weight loss and fitness.

“Lipedema really messed with me because before I knew that I had it, I would try to lead a healthy lifestyle but would never see the results,” she said. “But working with Stephan, I’ve made so much progress in my body composition, and I’m very happy about that. Coming here was the best decision I’ve ever made.”

A fellow Terry Road business owner is also a “Transfit Transformer.”

“No two workouts are ever the same, and I always feel like I accomplish something when I’m done,” said Tom Bernard, 60, of Smithtown, who is the proprietor of Rockwell’s Bar and Grill. “I was 225 pounds when I started, and now I’m 190 and my body is totally transformed.”

He added, “Not only does Stephan train me when I’m there, but he’s taught me how to do it on my own with the correct form, and it’s great because my metabolism is like a jet engine now. I can go to my restaurant and eat almost anything I want.”

Jean Francois, who is a native of Haiti and was clinically obese when he showed up at Transfitnation, has been under Reyes’ watchful eye for about a year.

“People tell me now how good I look, and I feel great,” said Francois, who works as a counselor for seniors and the disabled. “When I first came to the country, I went to the doctor, and he told me I had to make some serious changes. A year later, I went back to that doctor, and he told me I was no longer obese. I was crying with tears of joy because that was one of the happiest moments of my life.”

Francois was close to 300 pounds at his heaviest. He lost 60 pounds and 20% of his body fat over the course of 12 months. Reyes shares in the joy in Francois’ achievements.

“Jean is a great story and a good example of someone who worked really hard to get results,” Reyes said. “He had some personal issues to deal with and was not in a good mental space when he came to us, but he really bought into not only the exercises but the diet and sleep programs that we set up. We’re all very proud of what he has achieved.”

Reyes is eager to create more stories like these.

“I’m definitely happy that I chose a career where I’m helping people,” he said. “Impacting people in a positive way and leading them down a path to success by helping to change habits and lifestyles is what I’m all about. Whether it be to help with an eating disorder, fight obesity or just help someone fit into a wedding dress or tuxedo, I’m happy to do it.”

His clients seem to be happy, too, knowing that they have made a most “excellent adjustment” to their lives. 

For helping community members become the best versions of themselves, TBR News Media names Stephan Reyes as a 2023 Person of the Year.

From left, Town of Brookhaven Deputy Supervisor Dan Panico, Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney, Town Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich, Councilman Neil Manzella and Councilman Michael Loguercio. Photo by Raymond Janis

Brookhaven officials joined Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney (R) and drug prevention advocates outside Town Hall in Farmingville on Thursday, Aug. 31, to mark the beginning of Opioid Awareness Month.

Several of those present donned purple ribbons as officials called for more urgent intervention on behalf of government.

We “are here today to call attention to the overdose [deaths] that are permeating our county, our state and our country,” said Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), candidate for Suffolk County executive with Dave Calone (D). “We have to have better treatment facilities, we have to help out and reach out to those afflicted and those addicted, and we have to stop the flow of fentanyl into this country.”

Tierney said minimizing opioid deaths is a matter of effective prosecution. “We need to make fentanyl a bailable offense,” the county DA said. “We could only ask for bail if you possess eight ounces of fentanyl, which is about enough fentanyl to kill 114,000 people.”

Brookhaven Deputy Supervisor Dan Panico (R-Manorville), a candidate for town supervisor against SUNY Old Westbury adjunct professor Lillian Clayman (D), condemned the New York State government for passing measures that, according to him, exacerbate the opioid problem.

“Our state government now tries to balance its budget on tax revenue coming from things that lead to addiction,” he said. “They’ve promulgated rules and taxes on marijuana — which is a gateway [drug] — gambling, online gambling. These also compound and lead to addiction.”

The deputy supervisor continued, “We need a shift not only in our society but our government because these are human beings.”

Drew Scott, former newscaster from News 12 who has lost a granddaughter to opioids, attended the press event, reminding policymakers and community members that “addiction is a disease” and that “one pill can kill.”

“Curiosity can kill young people,” he said. “Just one pill at a party out of curiosity has killed so many of our young people.” He also urged others to “please, join the crusade and do something about overdose awareness and fentanyl. And fight, fight, fight.”

Town Councilman Michael Loguercio (R-Ridge), who has lost two nephews to opioids, called upon the state Legislature to require insurance companies to pay for treatment.

State law “should require insurance companies to pay for treatment — not only pay for the emergency room visit when we bring them in but pay for the treatment,” the councilman said. “Please, speak to your New York State Assembly [members] and senators, and get them to legislate requirements for the insurance companies to treat these people with the treatment that they need.”

Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) recognized his Council District’s Drug Prevention Coalition. He advocated for expanding this initiative townwide.

The coalition is “a hyperlocal model of deep engagement through community organizations, local businesses, chambers of commerce, civic associations and working closely with the school districts … to raise awareness, reduce the stigma, and it’s having an impact,” he said. “These are very fine people who are working very hard today and have produced a model that can be replicated all over the town.”

Pictured above, Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker, right, presents a proclamation to Lesaya Kelly. Photo courtesy Anker’s office

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) recently recognized Lesaya Kelly for her years of dedication and leadership in the local and global community.  

 “As the founder of Crossover Christian Church, Lesaya has displayed outstanding leadership and has touched the lives of folks spanning all ages and backgrounds,” Anker said. “Lesaya has been, and continues to be, a powerful force in our community.”

 Kelly has been in pastoral ministry for 35 years. She served in her homeland of South Africa before traveling worldwide for Youth with a Mission, an interdenominational Christian training organization. She then settled and became a U.S. citizen. When she met her husband, Chris, she relocated to Long Island, where they raised their daughter, Savanna.

For more information, contact Anker’s office at (631) 854-1600.

Shoreham-Wading River School District's varsity wrestling team. Photo courtesy SWRCSD

The Shoreham-Wading River varsity wrestling team won the Nassau/Suffolk D2 Double Duals, defeating the Nassau County No. 2 ranked Locust Valley, 57-6, and Island Trees, 46-21. 

The Wildcat wrestlers finished the regular season with an impressive overall record of 25-6. The team defeated nine highly ranked teams from six sections — both large and small schools. The team will compete at the Suffolk County D2 New York State qualifier at Mattituck High School on Saturday, Feb. 11.

Laughter and music filled the halls of the Chùa Từ Tâm Buddhist temple along Terryville Road, Port Jefferson Station on Sunday, Jan. 8, during the Lunar New Year celebration.

In a two-week festival, dozens of the Vietnamese and Buddhist communities rang in the new year together. Marking this festive occasion, members of the temple dressed in their finest ceremonial garbs. Many performed traditional songs. Others prepared and served authentic Vietnamese cuisine to those in attendance.

Steven Tang is an executive member at Chùa Từ Tâm, the first Vietnamese Buddhist center on Long Island. He described the Vietnamese New Year as “very similar” to Chinese New Year and other Asian new year traditions, with some select caveats.

“We celebrate a little bit differently, with more focus on the family gathering,” he said. Tang chronicled the two-year history of the temple. After its acquisition in 2020, he said the temple’s leadership has gradually expanded its activities. 

Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) participated in the celebration. In an interview, he said he has closely followed the development of the temple.

“It’s just a sign of the growing size, strength and health of the Asian community here,” he said.

Reflecting upon American history, Kornreich commented on the need to espouse Vietnamese Americans, many of whom supported the American war effort during the Vietnam War.

“I think that people should know that when you’re a friend of America, that means something to us,” the councilmember said. “When the time came during the Vietnam War, they fought alongside us, and for that I think we owe them a debt of gratitude.”

The new year event was not only a way to honor Vietnamese heritage and customs. Several prominent Buddhist clergy members celebrated and supported their Vietnamese peers. This forum served to promote Buddhist teachings.

Kottawe Nanda, head monk at the Long Island Buddhist Meditation Center in Riverhead, was in attendance for the festivities. He described Buddhism as a global phenomenon that has spread throughout Asia and the rest of the human world. During that time, the teachings of the Buddha were incorporated into various cultural traditions.

“Buddhism mixed with cultures when it spread to the different countries,” Nanda said. Despite regional variations, “everybody accepts and practices the main core of Buddhist teaching,” the head monk said. 

Nanda contended that the spread of Buddhist doctrine had accelerated thanks to digital technology. Through social media and other forms of high-speed communication, Buddhist literature has become highly accessible. 

“This technology is so helpful for us,” he said, adding, “We use it for our ‘dharma’ purpose: to teach others and learn from others, to discuss, and for many other things.”

The example of the Buddha is still relevant today, according to Nanda, presenting a way to liberate oneself from suffering and “defilements.” This path, he added, is open to all.

“Anybody who can be dedicated can go through that path — that’s the beauty,” he said. “Even you or I can become Buddhas, can attain enlightenment.”

For Kornreich, the future looks promising for the Vietnamese and Buddhist communities within Brookhaven and Long Island. Viewing the multiplicity of people assembled at the temple, he said this celebration reflects the best aspects of America.

“I think the fact that we’re welcoming of other cultures, that we embrace them as friends and that we recognize the value they bring … I think speaks well of us as Americans and as a community,” he said.

Tang said events such as this aid the temple as it works to grow membership and expand outreach. “We are a very open group of people,” he said. “We always invite new members of different organizations to come to our events to celebrate with us,” adding, “And we will continue to do that.”

Nanda argued that societies must infuse citizens with a shared understanding and common identity to thrive. Regardless of the many ills which plague humanity, he remained optimistic that individuals and societies can satisfy these ends, as reflected by the love and joy spread throughout this event.

“We are all human beings,” the head monk said. “When people have less stress, less anxiety, less sadness, then they are healthy. Healthy people, healthy communities, are good for the government.” He added, “As long as you have a healthy mind, your body has good health.”     

— Photos by Raymond Janis

Joan Dickinson, left, and Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn. Photo by Leah Dunaief

For Joan Dickinson, the new year will be a little less hectic after her retirement — which officially began on Jan. 6 — from Stony Brook University.

The Three Village Chamber of Commerce awarded Joan Dickinson, second from left in front row, with its Harold Pryor Award for her community service. Photo from Three Village Chamber of Commerce

Dickinson retired after 25 years with SBU. For the past year and a half, she was assistant vice president of university and hospital community relations. Before her most recent position, she was community relations director in government and community relations for a decade after first working in the university’s communications department for 15 years.

Dickinson entered the world of academia in 1997 with a background in the corporate sector. While she found it to be different initially from her prior work experience, she tackled various roles, grew professionally and faced and met several challenges successfully.

Among the lessons she has learned during her tenure was the importance of listening.

“Every person has a story, and I became fascinated with hearing them,” she said. “That helped me become better at mediation and negotiation.”

She also discovered her leadership skills when “putting ideas and people together to solve a problem or create a program.”

Through the years, she interacted with people at SBU, local businesses and the university’s neighbors and worked to connect them with the right department at the college.

“I had the benefit of working with every corner of the campus community, and relationships with so many departments,” Dickinson said. “They are the ones who helped me get the job done.”

Relations with the community

One of the biggest challenges SBU encountered during her tenure was issues with off-campus housing in the Three Village area. University officials became involved with improving rental conditions for students and helping to make them better neighbors by working with former Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), the town’s Law Department, Suffolk County Police Department and the grassroots organization Stony Brook Concerned Homeowners. Dickinson said it was a good opportunity for the campus to work with the community.

“We all got together and came up with a plan, and I think that’s why that worked,” she said. “It was a very good town-gown solution.”

‘Every person has a story, and I became fascinated with hearing them. That helped me become better at mediation and negotiation.’

Tackling the issue led to better guidelines for rentals in Brookhaven, SBU programs to educate students on how to be good neighbors and what a legal rental as well as a rental agreement looks like. She said it was vital to teach students that tenants have rights, too. The program is still offered each semester. 

“Some of the landlords were just in it for the money, and some of the students were put in unsafe conditions,” she said.

Dickinson is proud of the K-12 program she ran while at SBU, which brings thousands of students from primarily underserved communities to the university for campus tours, hands-on learning activities, also empowerment and inspirational talks. The activities include a wide range of programs, including about health and STEM careers as well as art crawls. Dickinson worked with the Long Island Latino Teachers Association and several local school districts.

“The opportunity to bring students who never thought college was within their reach, bring them to campus and show them what’s possible, that was a lot of fun,” Dickinson said.

Besides interacting with the SBU community, Dickinson has been connected with local chambers of commerce and other organizations in surrounding communities such as Three Village, Smithtown, Middle Country, Port Jeff and Ronkonkoma.

“It was important to see how the communities live, because every community is different,” she said. “So, you find the best solutions to problems when you understand where the people are coming from.”

She said residents from various areas would call her when they had a problem with students or the university at large.

“I think that’s why having the community relations office is such an important part of the conversation between the campus and the community, because they did know they could call me at any time,” Dickinson said.

She added she always tried to relay to residents the value the university brings to the region as everyone is welcome to the campus to walk through the paths, look at art in some of the art galleries and more.

Overcoming the pandemic

She also created CommUniversity Day at SBU, which she called one of the highlights of her career, despite the event being stalled due to COVID-19. Before the pandemic, she said the university was able to organize three of the annual events, the last one being held in 2019, that invited local residents to campus.

‘It was important to see how the communities live, because every community is different.’

Dickinson said she was disappointed when COVID brought it to a halt as each year she was building on the event to make it bigger and better, with more departments participating. By the third year, she described it as “a well-oiled machine” with a wide variety of activities.

As for the pandemic, during the earlier months, Dickinson pulled together a team and headed up a PPE drive for hospital workers that not only included personal protection equipment for employees but also donations of iPads, comfort care items, chewing gum and tissues from the community.

The first few months of the pandemic were an unpredictable and intense time at Stony Brook University Hospital, she said. “We didn’t know from minute to minute what was happening, and I credit the leadership of the institution for getting us through that.”

The retiree said she will never forget the 2020 Easter season when store owners called to say they wanted to donate items because no one was buying anything. They donated flowers, chocolates, eggs that wouldn’t be used for holiday egg hunts and other seasonal items. Dickinson and a team organized the donations for hospital workers to take whatever they needed if they celebrated Easter.

“I will never forget this woman who stood there and looked at me and was crying, and she said, ‘I haven’t had a chance to go shopping for my son for Easter. Now he’s going to get something.’”

She added the hospital workers were working around the clock.

“I credit the hospital with saving our community,” Dickinson said.

Looking ahead

The SBU alum, who lives in Lake Grove with her husband, isn’t saying goodbye to the university altogether. She will teach two classes this semester in the honors college, after teaching at the university for 10 years. But with more free time, Dickinson, who said she is a writer at heart, plans to spend time on various personal projects.

Her former position, which she described as a “dynamic job” is still open as a replacement has not been found.

“Part of the reason why I liked it is I always said I never walked into the same office twice,” Dickinson said. “I never knew from one day to the next what was going to be on fire or put on my plate. It was always changing, and I found that that was just fun to me. That was just captivating. You never knew, and it kept you on your toes. I was never ever bored.”

Dickinson had some advice for whoever takes her place.

“I would recommend that the person, whoever takes over this position, that they have a clear understanding of where we’ve come from,” she said. “How has the university changed? How has the campus culture changed? And, understanding where we are now at this point in history.”

Mallory Braun, right, is set to open a new bookstore in Huntington Village. She was mentored by former Book Revue owner Richard Klein, left. Photo above by E. Beth Thomas;

A new independent bookstore is set to open on New York Avenue in Huntington Village after one entrepreneur’s yearlong journey to find a location.

In the last few months, Mallory Braun has held pop-up events at businesses such as Nest in Northport. Photo from The Next Chapter’s Facebook Page

Many business owners struggled to keep their doors open during the COVID pandemic even after restrictions were lifted. One of the stores that shut its doors for good during 2021 was the Book Revue in Huntington village.

However, former Book Revue store manager Mallory Braun, of Huntington, realized the importance of a community bookstore and launched a Kickstarter campaign on Nov. 1, 2021, to raise $250,000. Her hope was to open a new store in the village in the spirit of Book Revue. After 45 days on the crowdfunding platform, more than 2,200 people donated over $255,000.

Opening a new bookstore didn’t happen overnight though.

Braun has spent several months acquiring books and records that were donated and sold to her and stored them at a warehouse. While she waited for the right location, the business owner and employees ran pop-up stores over the last few months in locations such as the Huntington Fall Festival, Nest on Main in Northport, Glen Cove’s Southdown Coffee and more. The pop-ups were fun and successful, she said, and after the new store is open, she would like to do more.

“It allows us to build relationships with local businesses,” Braun said. 

Regarding finding the right location, the entrepreneur said she had to find a space that was big enough for the quantity of books she wanted to carry and hold events that she hopes to organize in the future.

She said there were serious talks about a few locations until they found the storefront at 204 New York Ave.

“This one was the one that has worked out, and it was the right choice,” she said, adding that it’s a five-minute walk from the old Book Revue building, in a northerly direction.

A grand opening date has not been chosen yet, but she said the store will open in time for the holiday shopping season. Braun added there is still a lot of work to be done. The Next Chapter employees are still shelving books and vinyl records at the future store, and Richard Klein, former Book Revue co-owner, has also been helping her prepare for the big day.

Braun, who specializes in used and rare items, is currently ordering new books. She said it would enable her to have authors visit for book signings, something she said customers enjoy.

“I don’t know how long it’s going to take to build up the same type of author as Book Revue had, but it’s important, and we’ve already been working on it,” Braun said.

She added that people have been volunteering to help get the store ready. Anyone interested in helping can reach the store by emailing: [email protected]. 

For more information about The Next Chapter, visit the website www.thenextchapterli.com.

Al Kopcienski, right, with his great-grandson in a Miller Place Fire Department Ambulance. Photo courtesy Elizabeth Schwartz

Born 90 years ago this past Sunday, Al Kopcienski of Miller Place has led a life of uninterrupted service to his community.

Kopcienski’s sizable extended family flew in from around the country Oct. 22 to honor his life. On this joyous occasion, his daughter Elizabeth Schwartz thought it necessary to look back on her father’s life and reflect upon his achievements.

In an interview, Schwartz shared her father’s long commitment to the area. “My dad has been so invested in this community in a very quiet way,” she said. “The community needs to know. We need to remember people who are our unsung heroes.”

Kopcienski’s legacy of community service spans nearly a century. Among his many posts, he served as president of the Mount Sinai School District Board of Education, more than 60 years with the Port Jefferson Rotary Club, and the Miller Place Fire Department where he served as chief from 1967-68.

He lives by the Rotarian motto, “Service above self.” Schwartz said she and her siblings were also raised to follow this ethos.

“We were all raised — all eight of us — were raised with this mantra, ‘Service above self,’ that hard work is good work, that our job is to give to the community,” she said. “It is about community and not always about one person or self.”

Over the past nine decades, Kopcienski has witnessed firsthand the gradual transformation of the area. He said the little farming economy he once knew has gradually become a bustling environment.

“This area was a big farming area, and through the transition of years the farmers have disappeared,” he said. “The farming industry disappeared, and then the developers came in and started building houses.”

Despite the differences today from the undisturbed landscape Kopcienski knew growing up, he said young people can still derive vital lessons from his generation.

“One of my favorite sayings is ‘rest means rust,’” he said, emphasizing the value of physical movement and manual labor. “The service industry is well organized and has well-paying positions.”

While on the Mount Sinai school board, Kopcienski pushed for expanding opportunities for students pursuing professional trades. While today, many may place higher education at a premium, he still sees the value of these alternative career paths.

“There was a local superintendent of schools that would say, ‘All my kids graduate and go on to college,’” Kopcienski said. “I said to him, ‘What about the poor kid that can’t go on to college? What about the kid who went to BOCES, a trade school, where he spent half the day at school and then learned a trade?’” He added, “One of the problems we have is that people don’t want to get their hands dirty.”

Even at 90 years old, Kopcienski is still getting his hands dirty today, driving the ambulance for the fire department. He said he receives his fair share of raised eyebrows when arriving on the scene of an emergency.

“They say, ‘That old man’s driving the ambulance?’” he joked. Schwartz interjected, adding, “He comes home and tells us about all of the old people he drives to the hospital. And I said, ‘The old people, like 20 years younger than you, Pop?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’”

Despite the many changes he has observed over time, Kopcienski sees reason for hope. With 24 grandchildren, he now gets his chance to sit back, watch and follow the rising generation as it embarks on its path. 

Still, at 90, there appear to be no signs of rust or rest on this lifelong community servant.

Guiding the incorporation movement, in part, was a desire to extract value from the Port Jefferson Power Station, pictured above. File photo by Lee Lutz

On a snowy day, Dec. 7, 1962, Port Jefferson residents voted 689-361 to incorporate as a village. After court challenges, the vote was made official in April 1963. 

But how did this vote affect public education in the village? Through the lens of the incorporation movement, village residents can better understand the local issues of their time.

In an exclusive interview, state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) for Assembly District 4, which includes Port Jefferson, explores some of these themes.

A vision for better schools

Decades before incorporation, the educational landscape was quite different than it is today. Contrasting the great variety of school districts along the North Shore, residents once belonged to one central school district, the epicenter of which was Port Jefferson. 

By the early 1930s, Port Jeff High School was accepting students as far west as Stony Brook and parts of Smithtown and as far east as Wading River and Yaphank.

But in the spirit of local control characteristic of the times, that central school district began to unravel. Fragments of the district started to break away, forming districts of their own, guaranteeing greater control. 

Fearing dissolution of their school district, local residents considered incorporating to counteract the trend of declining student enrollment. “They were motivated to make sure that the school district was not further depleted by actions beyond their control,” Englebright said. “There was a good deal of emotion in that incorporation involving the school district and the concerns of parents for the well-being of their children.”

Englebright regards the desire for quality public schools as one of the principal factors driving the incorporation movement. He added that proponents of incorporating viewed education as a priority for the Port Jefferson community.

This, the assemblyman maintains, holds true even today. “The reality is the parents and the community of Port Jefferson care deeply about their school district and their children,” he said. “They don’t want to lose that brand of excellence and the well-being of that school district, which has always been a superb place for education.” 

Extracting value

A power plant was located at the water’s edge of Port Jefferson Harbor. Contained within that plant, locals saw a promise for better schools, according to Englebright.

“I don’t think it was a singular motive on the part of Port Jefferson to capture the tax base of the power plant, but it certainly was seen as important to maintain the infrastructure of the schools in Port Jefferson,” the assemblyman said. 

Port Jefferson has enjoyed a largely subsidized school district for over half a century thanks to the power station. But as the world comes to grips with the danger of combustible energy sources, so is the village affected and, by extension, the local school district.

“The changing technology of energy production has been very much a part of the people’s consciousness, particularly the leadership of the school board and the village board,” Englebright said.

Despite its pivotal place in the cause to incorporate, the long-term future of the Port Jefferson Power Station, which is operated by National Grid USA, is undecided. The village government is already seeing declining subsidies from Long Island Power Authority, which supervises transmission and delivery functions. Whether the plant goes dark in the coming years remains an open question.

Englebright acknowledges this uncertainty and its impact on certain public school districts on Long Island. For him, the trends in New York state and around the globe point to a phasing out of combustion energy.

“The trend is to move away from combustion as the source of energy,” he said. “I do believe that it is likely that the plant … will prove to be less used going forward. The question of when that will happen, I can’t tell, but that is certainly the trend.”

Despite a cloud of uncertainty over this tax-generating facility, Englebright sees opportunities for community adaptation. Though the power plant may someday shut down, he foresees Port Jeff emerging as a local leader in renewable energy, becoming a central hub for offshore wind.

“I have been very much involved with helping to advance offshore wind and, at the same time, to guide and nurture a relationship between a power-generating site that has been a part of our region for half a century now and more, and to the extent possible enable a sort of gas pedal and clutch transition to occur,” the assemblyman said.

Even in the face of possibly losing a significant tax base, village residents can be reassured that the transition of its energy economy is already underway. 

Incorporation in context

Port Jefferson School District is nearing a public referendum scheduled for Monday, Dec. 12. This referendum, totaling approximately $25 million, may decide the future of facilities in buildings across the district, and possibly its long-term fate.

Englebright has expressed support for the facilities improvements, citing that they will be necessary to maintain a proper educational venue for future generations of students. [See story, “Capital bonds: PJSD nears historic referendum over school infrastructure.”] 

Compounding an already complex issue, PJSD, like many others throughout the area, is also experiencing a decline of student enrollment. “There’s no easy answer here, not just for Port Jefferson but for many school districts,” the assemblyman said. “The incoming population of youngsters entering first grade is significantly less than what the schools they are entering were built to accommodate.”

In the face of declining student populations, some are even suggesting the remerging of Port Jefferson with the Three Village School District, which broke away from Port Jeff in 1966, four years after the vote to incorporate.

Despite these calls, Englebright feels the overriding spirit of local control remains preeminent. If the community favors keeping its school district intact, the state assemblyman recommends making the proper investment in its facilities.

“At the moment, I just don’t see [merging with another school district] as a popular idea because people within their communities identify their sense of place through a mechanism of community and neighborhood identity, which is their schools,” he said. “It behooves the well-being of the children and the quality of the school district … to make the investments to keep that infrastructure in a condition that meets or exceeds all appropriate standards.”

Revisiting the village’s incorporation, we find that the issues of today are not unique to our time. Questions surrounding school infrastructure, energy subsidies and student enrollment have puzzled generations of Port Jeff residents. While these issues may seem problematic, public dialogue and an open confrontation with local history may offer a pathway to brighter days ahead.


This story is part of a continuing series on the incorporation of Port Jefferson.

Brookhaven Town councilman on redeveloping the Middle Country Road corridor

Brookhaven Town Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden), above. Photo from Brookhaven Town website
Part I

Town of Brookhaven Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) has worked on several major initiatives during his time at Town Hall. In Part I of this two-part interview, LaValle discusses the recent completion of paving projects in Selden, the need for sewers on Middle Country Road, his background in government and the influence of his family on his decision-making. 

Could you discuss the recent paving projects completed in Selden and your ongoing work with the Town Highway Department?

Well, that is a major, major issue in my area. I have the smallest geographic area in the whole town. Our districts are broken up by population — about 80,000 people in each district — but my area is a very dense, compact area. What that means is that, obviously, I have a lot of roads, a lot of neighborhoods, a lot of businesses.

One of the things that we did a few years ago was that we made a commitment that we were going to spend $150 million on the town end, which is $15 million a year for the next 10 years, in paving. We made a pledge to the community that that’s what we were going to do to try to help the infrastructure in the town. We’ve been on target with that.

How have you coordinated with Suffolk County to bring sewers into downtown areas within your district?

That is absolutely crucial for the growth of the business community in Centereach and Selden along the Middle Country Road corridor. Hundreds and hundreds of businesses that run up and down this road are unsewered, and even the houses there, every one has a cesspool.

Our big issue on Middle Country Road is that if you look at these lots, they’re all half-acre and acre lots. So what can you build on it? You can’t really get the nice restaurants that other areas have, and that hinders how we can develop and how we can move forward.

We’ve had a lot of success in redeveloping a lot of these lots throughout this corridor, but bringing [sewers] here allows us to take some of these beat up lots and have developers come in and combine them and build something new, whether it’s a two-story office building or a nice restaurant. Because with that sewer capacity, you have the ability to do that.

That’s really why it will be a huge game changer for this area. It will bring good new development down the road. When I was with [the late Suffolk County Legislator] Tom Muratore [R-Ronkonkoma], we kind of started that process to get the sewers going. Now [county Legislator] Nick Caracappa [C-Selden] has jumped into office and it’s really getting supercharged right now.

The county is going to be setting this up, but it gives the town the option — because I deal with rezoning — to be able to start talking to property owners and say, “Hey listen, we have sewers coming down here. If you put this lot together and this lot together, then we could do this.” That’s when you really start getting some exciting opportunities with new businesses and various other things that we want to come into the area.

To follow up, what is your organizational philosophy toward commercial redevelopment?

I think the big key is that when you look up and down the road, we have some small lots that are a quarter-acre or a half-acre — all beat up properties. Right now, anybody coming in and buying them asks, “What can I really do with them?”

Take a look at the property values on Middle Country Road. Some 37,000 cars drive down the portion of Middle Country Road in my area every single day; 37,000 is a massive number — a lot of cars. And great property values. It’s prime real estate, but for developers to come in, you need to have the sewer capacity to be able to build a two-story building on an acre lot, and right now you can’t do that.

If you’re a developer, you have to spend money to buy the property, then money to build it, and then you have to be able to rent it to make your money back. Let’s be very honest about it. That’s what developers do. That’s what businesspeople do, they’re here to make money. So you have to be able to attract them in. By giving them sewers, you will then give them the capacity that their money will go out to redevelop, but it’s also going to come back to them because they’ll be able to bring in new businesses.

We’ve come a long way in the last nine years. The big thing for me as far as developing properties is developing that relationship with the business owners and the property owners, being a straight shooter, telling them, “Hey, this is going to work and this is not going to work.” It’s about not wasting people’s time.

A mentor of mine once asked me, “What’s the most important thing in business?” At the time, I was young — like 24 or 25 — and I said money. He said, “No, not even close.” The most important thing in business is time. If you’re a service provider, it’s the time from when your order is made to when you provide that service to your client. Or if you’re a builder, it’s the time it takes to buy the property, to get through the zoning process and to finish off building. If it takes more time, it’s going to cost you more money.

For me, I like to be a straight shooter with the developers, with the property owners, with the businesspeople, and say if it’s not a realistic concept, don’t string people along, just tell them. If it is a realistic concept, then how can we get you from point A to point B? How can we get you from when you buy the property to when you develop the property?

What is your professional background, and how did you end up at Town Hall?

I started off many years ago, after I graduated college, as chief of staff for Dan Losquadro [R] when he was a [county] legislator many years ago [and is now town highway superintendent]. I worked with Dan for about two years and then I went into the private sector — I owned a title agency for about four years. We have since sold that business and I went into the mortgage business, which I still do to this day.

During that time a bunch of years back, I was asked to come back part time to the [county] Legislature to work for Tom Muratore. He was about a year into the job and was trying to figure out his way a little bit. I decided to come back and I was with Tom for about three years. Then the opportunity to run for Town Council came up.

I never really thought that I would run for office, even though my family had been in office. I didn’t think that was what I wanted to do, but I had a lot of friends and family and people in the community come up to me — because they saw all the work that I was doing with Tom — and they said, “Listen, you do a great job and we really need you to run for the Town Board. We think you could do a great job here.”

I took that run back in 2013 and I was fortunate to get elected. I’ve been a sitting town councilman ever since. It’s been nine years of working on a lot of things within the district and it’s really something that I’ve grown to love and enjoy.

How has your family shaped your approach to public service?

My brother, John [Jay LaValle (R)], was a town councilman and a town supervisor. My cousin, Ken LaValle [R-Port Jefferson], was a state senator for over 40 years. They had very different styles when they were in office. When I was a kid, I watched how they worked.

Ken was very statesmanlike in the way he went about things. John was very aggressive and would take care of business and kind of push things and run around with a lot of energy. I kind of look at both of them and have learned from both styles.

I think there are opportunities to be aggressive when you have to push things and show excitement, like my brother John. I also think there are other opportunities when, like my cousin Ken, you have to sit back, listen, take it all in, really understand the situation, and do your homework to make sure that you know what you’re talking about. I think both of those styles kind of mesh with who I am.

Part II

For over a decade, Town of Brookhaven Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) has worked on the Selden Park Complex. Now he can see the finish line. In Part II of this two-part interview, the councilman reflects upon the role of parks, open spaces and the mentorship of the late Suffolk County Legislator Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma), under whom LaValle served as legislative aide.

What is the status of the Selden Park Complex?

Now this is something that I’ve been working on since I was aiding Tom Muratore 12 years ago. This is going to be the largest park in the Town of Brookhaven — 24 acres that we’re breaking ground on.

Heritage Park [in Mount Sinai] is a park that’s at the end of County Route 83. When we started talking about this with the community years ago, people said, “That’s something we want. Can we do that?” And now we’re right there.

Phase I was to bring back the two Little League fields near Grace Presbyterian Church. I actually grew up playing baseball on these fields. Grace used to lease them to the Little League, but then Grace was having issues with its insurance, so [the fields] went fallow. We were able to work with the county to buy this property. The deal was cut so that the county would buy the properties and the town would develop them. Veterans [Park] used to be a baseball field. We then came in, redid it, and now it’s a multipurpose field for all the kids. That was Phase II.

We just broke ground recently on the third and final phase, the biggest phase that we have going on here. We’re building two additional baseball fields, a basketball court, pickleball courts, playgrounds, a concession stand, shade shelters throughout, a storage facility for our guys and batting cages. And for the first time in the town’s history — and I always like to be the first guy — I was the first guy to pickleball and now I’m going to be the first guy to roller and deck hockey.

This really comes back to my childhood growing up in Centereach. We had two deck hockey and roller hockey rinks, and I would play deck hockey with my friends. We talked about it and said, “You know what? This is a good idea. Let’s bring this back to the community.” It will be the first time ever that we’re bringing that back.

I kind of refer to this as a generational park. This is where we hope that families that come to the area will walk their children around in strollers around the walking trails. Then when they get a little bit older, they bring the kids over to the playgrounds. Then they get a little bit older and play any kind of sport, whether it’s softball, baseball, lacrosse, soccer … whatever sport they want. Then the kids go off to college, and hopefully they come back to the community where they’re going to be doing the same thing and raising their families using this facility.

What is your office doing to protect open spaces?

Just this past year in the Centereach/Selden community, right on the corner of Old Town Road and County Route 83, there’s a parcel over there that we just made a preserve. That happened to be a town property, and we saw an opportunity to kind of protect it and consider it a nature preserve.

That’s something that I think is really important that we do and that we continue to do as a township. You have to keep in mind that our drinking water is extremely important to what we’re doing — it’s right under our feet. And protecting our lands protects that drinking water. Bringing sewers protects that drinking water, so that’s a critical issue for us.

What do you foresee as the long-term impact of bringing more public funds into the Middle Country area?

It’s one of the reasons I ran for office nine years ago. I grew up in this area, and I can tell you the sentiments of people back then. Generally, we were looking around at all these other communities and watching what they were building — money going here, they’re building a park there, preserving property over here. They said, “This guy’s getting this, they’re getting that, and what are we getting? Are we getting our fair share here?”

That’s something I focus on every day, about how we can rebuild and what money we can bring in. Bringing in new development is one thing — the town doesn’t put money into that. I have to go out and recruit people and work with businesspeople. But making sure our parks are up to par, making sure we’re getting extra money for our roads, these are things you are required to do as a town councilman.

As far as parks go, in my time here, we really have run through all of our parks. We have built a dog park since I’ve been here. We rebuilt Iroquois Avenue Park [in Selden] completely — the walking trail, everything is getting redone.

I grew up less than a mile from the Centereach Pool Complex. When I was a little kid, I would go up and play basketball. When I got elected, the backboards at Centereach Pool were rusted out and the ground was broken up on the basketball courts. It had been just horrendous. Since I’ve been in office, we’ve redone the basketball courts. We’re the first facility to have pickleball, we’ve built sun shelters, we’ve rebuilt the bathrooms and redone the walking trail.

Can you describe the mentorship of Tom Muratore and his influence on you now?

Tom was an unbelievable guy. We were a good team. He was the vice president of the [Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association] before he became a legislator. He was a soft-spoken guy, wasn’t the kind who was flashy or who would always jump to the mic. That wasn’t Tom.

Tom was a guy who liked to work with people and had the biggest heart of anybody I’ve ever known in politics. He just cared for everybody, didn’t need to get credit for things, just wanted to make the community a better place.

He hired me when I was young and aggressive, bouncing off the walls with a lot of energy. And he was a great mentor because he would look at me sometimes and just say, “Kevin, we can pass it today and just push it through, or we can pass it tomorrow with everybody’s consensus.” Or say, “Let’s take our time and get everybody on board.”

I’m an aggressive guy. I like to keep moving and get things going. Tom kind of put the brakes on me. He taught me to take a little extra time to build that extra consensus, making sure everybody’s on board. There were just so many different lessons that I learned from him.

Next year, when we open up [the Selden Park Complex], it will be weird not to have him here. But I know he’s looking down with a big smile on his face, and he’s glad we’re going to finish this out for the community. Something we started together.