Movers & Shakers

Dlisah Lapidus, Grace Brouillet and Mia Schoolman are the founders of Junk Dump magazine.

Looking for a way to connect young artists during a time when schools are unable to hold art shows, three Ward Melville High School students decided to give creative teens a chance to share their work, not only on the web but also in print.

In December, a new magazine called Junk Dump premiered. The publication was founded by Grace Brouillet, 17, of Port Jefferson Station, Dlisah Lapidus, 16, of Setauket, and Mia Schoolman, 16, of Stony Brook. Brouillet and Schoolman are seniors, while Lapidus is a junior set to graduate a year early.

Featuring artwork, photography, fashion designs and writings, the magazine has no ads, as the girls put up their own money to have it published. They used the online service PrintingCenterUSA to have it printed.

The three said the hope was to recoup some of the outlay by charging $10 for the full-color magazine. While they printed 75 issues of the first edition, titled Distorted Time, they had so many people interested that they are planning to print more of their second issue which is set to be released in February.

Schoolman said they chose the name Junk Dump because they wanted the magazine to be a place where artists could share anything, even if their piece wasn’t completed. Or, as she described it, “a place where artists can dump their work and show the raw side of their artwork.”

“We love unfinished or unpolished work, and you never get to see that in exhibits or art shows,” she said.

It’s no surprise that the girls became interested in creating a publication. Schoolman said she’s into studying the fine arts, and she and Brouillet are interested in graphic design. Brouillet is also editor-in-chief of the school’s yearbook. Lapidus said her interests lie in journalism and fashion design.

Lapidus said the objective was to show all talents whether one is an artist, writer, photographer or designer.

“That was really the goal — we wanted to just give every person who had some creative aspirations a place where they can express themselves and get some recognition for it,” she said.

The magazine features work from teenagers all over the country and the world, even as far as Turkey and Scotland. The three invited people to contribute via Snapchat, and the submissions have also led to an Instagram page and website. Schoolman said they also messaged some young artists directly.

Lapidus said they wanted to include young artists from all over the world as they recognized that with current restrictions due to COVID-19, many don’t have a place to express themselves, something they have witnessed firsthand with school art shows not taking place during the pandemic.

“It would be really interesting to see in this digital age that we have, and where face-to-face contact is restricted,” Lapidus said. “I think we can form a community through this magazine that doesn’t have to just be restricted by geography. It doesn’t have to be just in this area. We can even connect people here to all over the world.”

The high school students plan to publish the magazine every other month, and next year when they’re in college they still intend to produce more issues, Brouillet said.

“I think this is something that we’re all really passionate about and love doing, and we all feel it’s making a difference in our own lives and other peoples’,” she said. “When we go off to college, we’ll be able to build a community even bigger and keep it growing.”

Even though the girls run a website and social media accounts, presenting work in print is important to them, especially to Lapidus, a self-described avid reader, who said she’s always connected more with print media than online.

“It’s just not the same as holding paper in your hand,” she said.

She added so many magazines are online, but during the pandemic having a print version made sense.

“I thought when physical contact is taken from us with this pandemic, it’s important to bring print back in some way, and I think that having a physical print magazine connects people even further,” Lapidus said.

Schoolman said Lapidus’ passion for print, along with her and Brouillet’s graphic-design abilities are a good match.

“I think that when we first started the project, not many people really knew what we were doing,” Schoolman said. “We said we were making a magazine but obviously we didn’t have the physical copy in our hands [at the time]. I think when people actually see us go into publishing, printing our own magazine, it’s so important to kind of combine the digital world with the physical world.”

For more information on Junk Dump magazine, visit www.junkdumpmag.com.

Huntington Hospital, will soon be home to a new caregiver program center due to a philanthropic gift from Charles and Helen Reichert. Photo from Northwell Health

Thanks to Charles and Helen Reichert, a center for a new caregiver program at Huntington Hospital, part of Northwell Health, will be ready by the first quarter of next year.

To be named the Reichert Family Caregiver Center, the philanthropic gift came this month to give the new program a space to help patients, their families and the community.

“The program was designed to support the family caregiver — the people taking care of their own loved ones that carry with them the stress, possible burden, the need for information and resources or emotional support,” said Cheryl Miranda, the hospital’s director of patient and customer experience. “For them, it’s almost like CPR for the family.”

She said the families dealing with their loved ones who are in the hospital are known as the silent patients.

“They do an amazing job to try to take care of their family members,” she added.

The caregiver program was implemented before COVID as a pilot, which is made up of different components, all to connect those caring for the chronically ill with programs and resources that can relieve their burden. The center will work within the hospital to help families with ongoing care after discharge.

“Once we have the new center, we’ll have the ability to give people space in real time,” Miranda said. “Someone will be there to be with them, hold their hands and let them cry.”

From emotional support to other resources like food delivery options, the center plans on walking the family through whatever they need when they leave the hospital.

“Our social workers and case managers, as great a job as they do with the patients and their families, it’s a short time they’re with them,” Miranda said. “This allows us to be connected with them and bring continual support throughout this community.”

And because of the Reichert family, the hospital can now fund the center and a full-salaried social worker to help out. Known for their philanthropy throughout the community, the Reicherts have been instrumental in implementing new technologies and services throughout Northwell Health.

Previously the Reicherts donated to  Northwell Health Reichert Family Imaging at Huntington in Greenlawn and the reception area of the Huntington Hospital Emergency Department, as well as supporting the hospital’s Center for Mothers and Babies. The Reichert family’s donations also funded the purchase of the hospital’s first 3D mammography machine.

“The Charles and Helen Reichert Family Foundation is committed to building stronger and healthier communities,” Charles Reichert said. “We are proud to partner with Huntington Hospital to create this much-needed program that will provide support, assistance and respite. You don’t realize how important a caregiver is until you become one.”

Patricia Paladines. Photo by Carl Safina

By Leah Chiappino

The Center for Environmental Education and Discovery in Brookhaven has been connecting Long Islanders with nature since its inception in 2015. Setauket resident Patricia Paladines, who recently joined the board of directors, pledges to continue fostering that connection and hopes to expand the organization’s outreach to traditionally underserved populations.

Patricia Paladines

“Patricia is a naturalist, environmentalist, photographer and educator who has taught science and nature to students of every age from elementary school to college,” said Tom Pelletier, CEED board chair, in a statement. “Paladines’ photographs of people, wildlife and landscapes have been exhibited all over Long Island, she has a master’s degree in educational psychology, and she brings a wealth of skills and experience to CEED’s mission.”

Born in Ecuador, Paladines moved to Chicago with her parents when she was 3 years old. She relocated to New York in 1985 where she began a career in photography and design. Paladines worked as a research assistant in the Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architecture at the New-York Historical Society, while doing some graphic camera work for Estée Lauder.

“I used to do a lot of black-and-white photography back in the ’80s and ’90s,” she said. “I did work in the darkroom, so I think my background as an educator kind of stems from that: Finding images, and finding things that interest me to share with others.”

Her work has been featured at the Islip Art Museum, The Art Guild of Port Washington, Tabler art gallery at Stony Brook University and the New-York Historical Society.

In 1995, Paladines took a job as executive assistant to the vice president of ocean conservation at the National Audubon Society in Islip, where she said she discovered the true beauty of Long Island’s outdoors, as well as a general appreciation
for nature.

“When I started working for the Audubon Society, I realized that Long Island was much more than shopping malls and expressways, which is what a lot of people think when they live in the city,” she said. “[My work] showed me the wild side of Long Island, and the birds and the ocean. Having grown up in Chicago, this was very different for me.”

Her enthusiasm led her to work at the Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead, first through the Cornell Cooperative Extension, where she developed a program called Aspiring Latin American Scientists in 2000. She was responsible for leading naturalist tours, coordinating with college interns and giving public presentations. Having worked in environmental careers for some time, Paladines noticed Hispanic/Latinx communities were largely underrepresented in the field, even within the large environmental community in activities such as birding or hiking. She also coordinated presentations on various types of marine life to be done in Spanish.

She went on to initiate a partnership between the aquarium and Blue Ocean Institute after the aquarium decided not to renew an education contract with CCE a few years later. While managing the BOI program she received a grant from National Grid for an ocean literacy project. Paladines said with the grant she was able to develop workshops for teachers and schools, and one of the collaborations was with an English Language Learner class at Longwood High School filled with students from various countries who spoke different languages. She said it gave students the opportunity to “strengthen their English while learning about wildlife and the ocean.”

It is this kind of outreach Paladines wants to bring to CEED, encouraging the Hispanic community along the South Shore to utilize the facility and working on deploying “teams” from Bellport High School to build environmental leadership and to teach students how to bring it into their own communities.

In addition to her chosen fields, Paladines is married to ecologist and author Carl Safina. She also has a daughter, Alexandra Srp.

Pelletier said Paladines is an asset to the board.

“I mean, to put it bluntly, the environmental movement and nature center movement and all that tends to be pretty white,” Pelletier said. “We’re trying to do our part to change that. One of the reasons that we thought Patricia would be a really good fit for our board is that she’s done that kind of thing before. I’m kind of excited about having her on our board because that is one of our goals to do that: Make that kind of outreach and bring more people of color to our programs.”

Paladines’ appointment to the board comes as CEED attempts to get off the ground with expanding programming. A little more than three years ago, the nonprofit signed agreements with the Town of Brookhaven and with Suffolk County to use over 60 acres of nature preserve and green-space land, which includes the Washington Lodge estate where CEED is located.

Paule Pachter stands on the roof of the Harry Chapin Food Bank in front of a community solar array that will energize households facing hardships.

Long Island Cares — one of Long Island’s well-known charitable institutions — is completing the installation of solar panels on the 35,000 square-foot roof of its headquarters at Long Island Innovation Park at Hauppauge.

The $414,000 project is expected to generate 350,000 kilowatt hours of renewable energy annually and 100 percent of it will be directed off-site to serve the electrical needs of households experiencing hardship and food insecurity. Long Island Cares is paying for system out of its reserves and available funds in its budget. 

“This solar project represents a direct extension of the humanitarian work of Long Island Cares,” said Paule Pachter, the organization’s CEO. “Part of Long Island Cares’ energy focuses on providing emergency food relief to hungry and food insecure Long Islanders through the Harry Chapin Regional Food Bank. But we also engage in direct service programs that address the humanitarian human needs of veterans, seniors, immigrants and others struggling with economic and social challenges.” 

The project is one of the first initiatives that are expected to help the industrial park meet by 2040 New York State’s ambitious goal of converting to 100 percent renewable energy. 

The power pass along is facilitated through an energy management practice called “community solar,” whereby electricity generated by a solar power installation is shared by multiple households, companies or institutions. It’s an initiative of the Hauppauge Industrial Association, a prominent Long Island business group, and its solar task force, which was launched last year.

Co-chairs Scott Maskin, CEO of SUNation Solar Systems, one of Long Island’s largest installers of solar panels and equipment, and Jack Kulka, president and founder of Kulka LLC, a major development and construction firm, are behind the initiative. 

“By taking the entire energy output of our solar installation and sending it off-site to provide discounted power to homes occupied by our lower-income neighbors, these households will have new found income to address some of their immediate needs,” Maskin said. “As such, it has a unique opportunity to bring forward both technology and value in a substantial way. From an energy perspective, the park can act as a responsible, shining example for all of Long Island.” 

Long Island Innovation Park, formerly known as the Hauppauge Industrial Park, is the second largest industrial center in the United States after California’s Silicon Valley, and the largest in the Northeast corridor. The park is recognized as a major driver of the region’s economy and is a focus of the regional development plan of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). 

“Through the successful embrace of this program,” Maskin added, “our park can distinguish itself as Long Island’s single largest energy producer, delivering revenue to its building owners while helping achieve New York State’s renewable energy goals. It’s a win-win all around.” 

The Long Island Cares project is expecting to be up and running in October, but Pachter said that the project has recently encountered several obstacles.

“When PSEG inspected our site, they said that the transformer needs to be changed and wiring upgraded to handle the energy,” he said. 

Maskin said in a telephone interview that the issues are relatively common and protection equipment upgrades are something that will need be addressed as the industrial park  expands its renewable projects. The transformer, he noted, will be covered by a maintenance agreement it has for this specific project.  The additional $11,000 wiring cost, Pachter said, will be the responsibility of L.I. Cares.

“We are building a power plant on the rooftop,” Maskin said. “If you think of the complexity of it all, delays are to be expected. We’re still pushing to have the system up and running in October.”

Pachter said that the construction phase has been underway for the last few months. 

PSEGLI representative Elizabeth Flagler said that Community Distributed Generation makes renewable energy, particularly solar, more accessible to renters and apartment dwellers. The array, she said, is connected to the grid and managed by a host who serves as a liaison with PSEGLI. The pass through is accomplished through accounting, rather than through wiring a system to beneficiaries. 

The project is the first community solar project in the industrial complex.

By Leah Chiappino

Carly Tamer and Deniz Sinar have earned the title of Academic Leaders at Commack High School, which is given to the two students with the highest weighted GPA upon the completion of high school.

Tamer finished with a 105.04 GPA, earning her a spot at Northeastern University

as a Chemical Engineering and Biochemistry major. She has aspirations to work in research “with a focus on antibiotic resistance.”  This stems from  her experience working as a research assistant with Dr. Nathan Rigel at Hofstra University, where she studied protein tracking in gram negative bacteria.

She was involved in the National, Science, and Spanish honor societies, and was the Vice President of the Math Honor Society at Commack. She was also a leader for  CTeen, an international Jewish youth organization, where she took part in volunteer work, and represented the organization at conventions. She also made time for her passion of the arts, as she danced all throughout high school and even worked a professional acting job when she earned the lead role in the First Daughter Suite at the Public Theatre in Manhattan in 2015. She plans to continue performing and acting in college.

Tamer thanked her family and teachers for getting her to where she is, “I attribute much of my success to my incredibly supportive family who was there for me through both the rough times and the exciting times during my educational career,” she said. “Without their love and encouragement, I would not have achieved this amazing honor. Teachers, such as Mr. Pope, who taught IB HL Math and Dr. O’Brien, who taught IB Chemistry, inspired my thirst for knowledge and desire to aim high.”

She cited her favorite Commack memory as “the day before winter break, where my math class and I went around the school to different classrooms singing “Calculus Carols.

“We changed the lyrics of classic holiday songs to fit our calculus theme and everyone around the school looked forward to hearing us sing,” she said. “It was the perfect blend of both of my passions, and I will never forget how fun it was.”

Sinar graduated with a104.57 weighted GPA, and will attend Cornell in the fall  as a biological engineering major, with hopes of eventually earning a doctorate degree and being the

principal investigator of her own research lab.

At Commack, she was involved in the National, Italian, Tri-M Music, and Science Honor Societies, and was the secretary of the Math Honor Society and Varsity Math Team. Sinar raised money for Long Island Against Domestic Violence and volunteered to visit nursing home residents through Commack’s Glamour Gals Club. She was also a member of the Chamber Orchestra for three years and took part in Future American String Teachers Association Club, Pathways Freshman Art and Literary Magazine.

She is the winner of several awards including a National Merit Scholarship, the President’s Award for Educational Excellence, New York American Chemical Society High School Award, Excellence in Italian Award, Science Department Senior Award, Suffolk County Math Teachers’ Association Course Contest third place school-wide, American Association of Teacher of Italian National Exam Gold Medal Level 5, American Association of Teacher of Italian Poetry Contest Silver Medal Level 4, New York Seal of Biliteracy, and the WAC Lighting Foundation Invitational Science Fair third place in General Biology.

She cites her participation in the American Association of Teacher of Italian Poetry Contest as her favorite high school memory, because it was so unlike anything she had ever done before, and it required “a lot of determination,” as she had to memorize the poem in Italian and “dramatize” it in front of judges. “When I received the second-place award, I had a moment when I truly felt like I was almost fluent in the Italian language since I actually recited a renowned poem, understood every single word, and crafted an emotional performance that impressed the judges,” she stated.

Sinar developed a love of science through her participation in the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Partners for the Future Program, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory DNA Science camp, Science Olympiad, the Hofstra University Summer Science Research Program, and the Columbia University Science Honors Program. “These activities have allowed me to navigate many different science topics, which led me to realize the ones that I am most passionate about,” she stated.

Sinar commended her parents for her success and thanked them for “being so supportive no matter what I did and always pushing me to do my best.”

As far as advice for next year’s seniors, Sinar advises them to “stay focused throughout the year but be aware of when you need to relax and set your work aside. You will be dealing with a lot of work at once, so managing responsibilities and allotting time to de-stress is as important as actually working.”

 

 

 

Hans Wiederkehr, a former NFL player, decided to leave his playing career behind to coach high school football at Babylon for 15 years. Photo from Hans Wiederkehr

T.J. Lynch grew up without a father. With no direction or motivation, all he knew was that he enjoyed playing football. Hans Wiederkehr, the head coach at Babylon High School at the time, struck up a relationship with Lynch like he had with many players before him. He would pick up the athlete early in the morning to make sure he was going to school, take him to the weight room and speak to him about the potential he saw.

“He was the biggest positive influence in my life,” the 1998 graduate said of Wiederkehr. “He was a very caring man, and he guided me. He showed me how to train, breathed words of encouragement and wisdom about life into me and lifted me up. He made you want to be better on the field and in the classroom. He got you excited about life.”

Hans Wiederkehr coaches from the sideline. Photo from Hans Wiederkehr

Relationships like the one Wiederkehr had with Lynch are what the soon-to-be Suffolk County Sports Hall of Fame inductee had hoped for when he decided to trade in an NFL career for a high school coaching gig back in 1988. Making a positive impact on someone’s life drew him from the gridiron to the sideline, and as a result he’ll hold a special place in Suffolk’s athletic history.

The Shoreham resident was born in Connecticut and played for East Lyme, graduating in 1981. He competed in the state championship his senior year, and after receiving multiple offers to play at the next level, decided to commit to Syracuse University on a scholarship. The 6-foot, 4-inch 322-pound offensive lineman played under defensive coordinator George O’Leary, a Central Islip native who went on to coach at his alma mater, and eventually with the San Diego Chargers and Minnesota Vikings. While leading Central Islip, O’Leary mentioned to Wiederkehr, who had a physical education degree, that if things didn’t work out with the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he was on the injured reserve list following college, that a teaching job and eventually head coaching position would be available at Babylon. While rehabbing, he spent a year as an assistant at Babylon under 20-year head coach Tom DiNuovo, which is where he caught the coaching bug. He returned the following year and took over the helm when DiNuovo retired.

“Probably the most enjoyable part of coaching is teaching a kid something that he really doesn’t think he can do, and then looking into his eyes after he completes something and say, ‘I told you so,’ that’s the biggest kick I get out of coaching,” Wiederkehr said. “You work with kids who are there because they really love the game, and I fell in love with coaching. I decided this is what I want to do.”

The head coach, who went on to enjoy a 15-year career, said he wanted to pay it forward, giving to others what coaches had given to him. When he was a sophomore in high school, his parents moved to Schenectady, but he wanted to stay in Connecticut because he saw potential in his team. Head coach Tom Smyth opened up his home to Wiederkehr and let him live with him until he graduated.

“He was the biggest positive influence in my life. … He got you excited about life.”

— T.J. Lynch

“He was a lead figure in my life next to my dad,” Wiederkehr said of Smyth. “I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for him. He got my name out there and opened up the doors for me. It’s unbelievable the pedigree of coaches that I’ve had, and all those guys have one thing in common — they preached outworking your opponent.”

While at Babylon, Wiederkehr amassed a 99-41-2 record, good for a 0.70 winning percentage. The Panthers reached the playoffs 12 times and won nine league titles under his guidance, going on to play in nine Suffolk County finals, winning five, followed by two Long Island championships. He coached alongside Rick Punzone, his defensive coordinator, and the pair of 25-year-olds led the team until Wiederkehr retired in 2002, leaving the team in the hands of
Punzone, who has now been the head coach at Babylon for 15 years.

“With his experience we had very successful teams,” said Punzone, the godfather of one of Wiederkehr’s daughters, who considers the coach a best friend of his for the last 28 years. “He’s a brother to me. He was professional, and always gave me free reign over the defense. We weren’t always the most talented but he got the most out of the kids, which is why we were always known as one of the tougher schools around. It’s because of his leadership, work ethic and organization.”

Wiederkehr left coaching to focus on his daughters, and eventually went on to coach his son in youth programs at Shoreham-Wading River.

“He stopped to watch my sisters develop,” his son Ethan Wiederkehr said. “It just shows you what type of person he is. He’s a family first type of guy. He’s not selfish, he cares about others and he’s a humble person. It’s been amazing to call him my father.”

One win shy of the coveted 100, Hans Wiederkehr left the helm of Babylon to work with youth in Shoreham-Wading River school district, including his son Ethan, above at a county awards dinner with wife Karen. Photo from Hans Wiederkehr

Punzone also noted Hans Wiederkehr’s work with and attention to detail regarding his position as president of the Suffolk County Football Coaches Association.

“He’s taken our association to the next level,” he said. “I’m a coach in the association and we’ve never had as good a leadership as we’ve had under his reign.”

Joe Cipp Jr., the head coach at Bellport for the 31 years, who has collected his own 202-84-3 record and been a coaching friend of Wiederkehr’s over his entire career, said he took on being president the same way he tackled anything else in his life, giving it 100 percent.

“He puts a million hours in, just like he does with coaching, without getting paid,” Cipp said. “I could say he puts in 150 percent of the effort, but there’s no such thing. He makes the football awards dinner something special to the kids in Suffolk County. He does a tremendous job, and it speaks to the type of person he’s been his whole life. And as a coach, he was able to demand tremendous [effort] of his kids and still be well-liked. It’s the best combination you could be.”

Wiederkehr is one of 11 honorees selected for the hall of fame out of 32 nominees. According to Section XI Executive Director Tom Combs, who was a head coach at Babylon’s rival Harborfields for 13 years, his former opponent is the first to get into the hall of fame his first time being nominated.

“It says a lot about what a good man he is,” Combs said. “It’s very competitive, especially their first time on the ballot, and Hans is just a great coach and mentor to a lot of people. His teams were always very well
prepared and it usually came down to our two teams for the head of our division. There were some fierce battles. He’s a hard-nosed guy but the kids loved that discipline and direction that he provided. You could see he motivated the kids, and they loved him.”

Hans Widerkehr with former players. Photo from Hans Wiederkehr

He added that giving up reaching the monumental 100 wins once again shows how he’s always willing to put others before himself. He eventually became an assistant coach to the Shoreham-Wading River varsity team under head coach Matt Millheiser. His son Ethan was part of two undefeated seasons and three straight Long Island championships. The 6-foot, 5-inch 273-pound offensive lineman accepted a scholarship to play at Northwestern University after winning the Bob Zellner Award, presented to Suffolk’s top lineman. He has aspirations of going pro.

“I fell in love with the team aspect of it, the relationships you build with your teammates and extend your family,” Ethan Wiederkehr said. “It’s hard to pinpoint any one thing since he taught be so much, but through hard work and dedication you can accomplish almost anything. I’ve learned to push through difficult obstacles to gain success. There was ups and downs having him in the sideline, but looking back now it’s been a blessing to have him by my side. He’s developed me as a person and an athlete through our experiences together on the field.”

Ken Gray, whose multisport standout son Chris played under Wiederkehr, remembered the first time he met the coach.

“Parents want their kids to win, and he was about teaching them about not always wining at an early age and expanding the program,” said Gray, whose son started playing football at 5 years old. “Shoreham-Wading
River wasn’t a big football community, and I’d say over 10 years he did a pretty good job of developing a pretty good program. I think that’s a result of Hans’ commitment to the community and the kids.”

Babylon athletic director Michael DeJoseph, was one of several who along with Cipp, wrote letters of recommendation for Wiederkehr to be inducted. DeJoseph said he was not at all surprised when he heard the news but, like many, said he wasn’t aware he’d been selected, because the coach remains humble.

“Probably the most enjoyable part of coaching is teaching a kid something that he really doesn’t think he can do, and then looking into his eyes after he completes something and say, ‘I told you so.'”

— Hans Wiederkehr

“It’s beyond well deserved,” said DeJoseph, who was hired by Wiederkehr as a teacher and coach of the junior varsity team, and eventually worked his way up the ladder. “He really cared about the kids, and he showed me and the players blueprints for success. As impressive he is as a coach he’s probably more impressive as a father, husband and family man. He’s a community guy who cares for others.”

Former athlete Drew Peters, a 2002 graduate, also said he knows about his former coach’s devotion firsthand. He played on the varsity team all four years of high school and said he and all of Wiederkehr’s players felt like he cared about him.

“He treated you like you were one of his kids,” he said. “When you’re on a team of 30-plus kids, every one of you felt very special to him, and I think that’s what made you play even harder. He had that father-like figure to everyone on the team and we always wanted to do our best for him.”

Peters spoke of his coaches sacrifices, saying Wiederkehr would drive from Shoreham, even during the winter months, to pick up his athletes at 6 a.m. and take them to the weight room before school started. He said he’ll never forgot how the man with three children would sacrifice his own time to come to each one of his teammates houses to pick them up. He became so close with so many of the players, he even attended
several of their weddings, including Peters’.

“He teaches you a lot more than just the sport, he prepared us young men to go through the struggles that you’ll face in life,” he said. “My senior year we lost in the Long Island championship and it was a tough game for us, but there was a controversial penalty that I was involved in and he took me under his wing after the game and said, ‘Hey, if this is the worst thing that’s ever going to happen to you in life, losing a football game in high school, then you’re going to have a pretty good life.’ And I just remember that being something that obviously at the time was very upsetting but it’s true, it was a game that was very important to everybody, but he definitely had a way of putting things into perspective.”

Brianna Florio, on right, was honored by the Sound Beach Civic Association and president Bea Ruberto, on left, for her community involvement. Photo from Sound Beach Civic Association

A Sound Beach Girl Scout recently solidified the organization’s highest honor by helping children who live in a temporary shelter feel a little more at home.

Brianna Florio, an 18-year-old Sound Beach resident and a member of Rocky Point Girl Scout Troop 2945, has been working since last year to better the lives of 16 children who reside at Halo House in Sound Beach, a shelter for families in crisis.

While staffers within the home — which gets its funding from the Department of Social Services — do all they can to help the four families currently living under one roof get their cases under control, find employment and locate more permanent housing, helping young children adjust to their new environment is a constant challenge.

Brianna Florio will be receiving her Gold Award next month after working with children at Halo House in Sound Beach to paint a mural to make the place feel more like home. Photo from Brianna Florio

So when it came time to pick a community outreach project in summer 2016 to fulfill the requirements for her Gold Award, the Rocky Point High School graduate, who learned of the shelter from one of her troop leaders, set her sights on making it more kid-friendly.

“I knew this would be a good fit for her,” said Donna McCauley, her troop leader who first became aware of the Halo House through St. Louis de Montfort R.C. Church in Sound Beach. “Brianna is very dedicated, has a very generous spirit and is always ready to help anyone in need. It also gave her a way to express herself creatively, which she’s very good at.”

Florio utilized her artistic talent and painted a large mural on the wall in the shelter’s dining room depicting animals having a tea party, installed a bench to be placed in the property’s yard and hosted a toy and book drive at her high school. Through that event, Florio brought multiple boxes of donated entertainment for children of different ages to the Halo House — items that are sorely needed, according to shelter manager Joe Pellegrino.

“[Brianna] definitely helped bring the kids a sense of community within the neighborhood of Sound Beach,” he said, adding the children in the shelter were eager to be involved in her mural project. “The younger ones would wait for her to come, and when she got here, they would say, ‘Can you paint a snake? Can you put a hat and bowtie on it?’ It betters the children’s state of minds when they’re at the shelter, because they get a sense that it’s a home and not just a place they’re forced to live in.”

Pellegrino said the mural has become a center of pride in the home and is even used as an educational tool to teach the children about the different animals depicted.

“It really warmed my heart to see the kids and their smiling faces and just how excited they were about it,” Florio said of the mural. “It was really nice to see it all finished, because I didn’t think I was going to be able to do it.”

She will officially receive her Gold Award from the Girl Scouts of Suffolk County council in December.

Although it was an independent project for the Girl Scout, Florio was able to acquire paints and various supplies through local donations, like from Costello’s Ace Hardware of Rocky Point. She also received support from her school district, where she was a member of the Be a Nicer Neighbor Club, a group that cooked for the homeless and performed songs at senior citizen homes during the holidays.

“Brianna is very dedicated, has a very generous spirit and is always ready to help anyone in need. It also gave her a way to express herself creatively, which she’s very good at.”

—Donna McCauley

“I think if anybody is deserving of a Gold Award, it’s Brianna,” Rocky Point High School Principal Susann Crossan said. “What sets her apart from everybody else is she has a constant concern for other people. She’s been involved in so many activities within the high school that involve giving back. She was an extremely well-rounded and kind student.”

Florio’s project was also no surprise to Nancy Kloska, the director of an aftercare program for children at Mount Sinai Elementary School, where Florio currently serves as a mentor helping students with homework, playing games with them and leading fun activities.

“She’s warm, approachable, responsible and the kids really love interacting with her — Brianna always has a large group around her,” Kloska said. “I think she just brings out the best in the kids and is such a positive role model. I can’t say enough good things about Brianna. I think she’s wonderful.”

Florio was bestowed a certificate of appreciation by elected officials and community members for her Gold Award efforts during a Sound Beach Civic Association meeting Nov. 13. Civic president Bea Ruberto later said in an interview that Florio is a shining example of upstanding youth in the community.

“We were so proud to honor Brianna at our meeting — she’s very community-minded and is always there to help and give back,” said Ruberto, pointing out that Florio has helped with the civic’s pet adoption efforts and contributed a drawing in honor of the civic’s 40th anniversary. “We often hear about all the kids who behave badly and do this or that, and we really make an attempt in the civic to showcase the good kids. She’s a very fine young lady.”

Florio is currently pursuing a career in computer science and game programming as a freshman at Stony Brook University.

Kelly and Donna and McCauley held the third annual Butterfly Breakfast for a Cure fundraiser at Applebee’s in Miller Place. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

A mother-daughter duo from Rocky Point raised thousands of dollars last weekend to help those with epidermolysis bullosa — a rare and painful skin disease that hits close to home.

Donna McCauley, who was born with the genetic condition that causes the skin to blister and tear at the slightest friction, and her daughter Kelly, a former Girl Scout, raised $4,000 during the 3rd Annual Butterfly Breakfast for a Cure fundraiser Nov. 4 at Applebee’s in Miller Place. More than 100 locals gathered at the restaurant to eat pancakes, take part in a Chinese auction with huge prizes for adults and kids and learn about “EB,” which is largely considered “the worst disease you’ve never heard of” and affects one in 20,000 births in the United States.

Donna McCauley auctioned off prizes to raise more funds. Photo by Kevin Redding

All proceeds are going toward Debra of America, a New York City-based nonprofit that provides assistance and support to families with children born with the disease through funding research for a cure and treatment initiatives.

As a teenager, Donna McCauley, whose parents were told she was going to die young from this “genetic anomaly,” made a conscious choice not to let EB — which turns run-of-the-mill activities like getting out of bed, taking clothes on and off and showering into daily struggles — define her life. Instead, she strived to be a role model for other “butterfly children,” a term given to young people with the disease, as their skin is said to be as fragile as a butterfly’s wings.

She became involved with Debra when she was 16, which opened her eyes to a community of others like her, and made sure to get her license, go to college and pursue jobs, vowing “not to be afraid to live” despite her condition.

“I can sit in the corner and rock and be sad, or I can get up and do what I need to do,” said McCauley, 49, who lives in constant pain and must wrap her wounds in bandages each day in order to prevent infections. She is currently in a clinical trial for a new treatment drug by Amicus Therapeutics that helps mend her wounds. “Things like this fundraiser give me hope that people become more aware, and more money is raised. Each day they are getting closer to finding a treatment and a cure.”

Although McCauley has been the face of the event since it started in 2015, the Rocky Point resident who referred to herself as a professional volunteer and remains a coordinator with local Girl Scout troops, pointed to her daughter as the real driving force behind the fundraiser.

“I can sit in the corner and rock and be sad, or I can get up and do what I need to do.”

— Donna McCauley

“One of the things that strikes me the most is that Kelly has a sense of empathy and compassion that I don’t think you can teach,” McCauley said. “I’m so proud of her initiative to make other people more aware of disabilities. She has always been the person who includes the one that isn’t included.”

Kelly McCauley, 19, a current student at Dominican College in Orangeburg, New York, started advocating for EB support as a sophomore at Rocky Point High School by selling bracelets decorated with butterflies to peers and administrators and ended up raising $500 for Debra. This prompted her to want to step things up a notch, and she soon went door to door to local businesses in search of a venue for her own bigger and better fundraiser.

McCauley’s daughter said growing up and witnessing her mom’s perseverance encouraged her to get involved in the first place.

“I saw just how strong she was and how much it took for her just to wake up every day,” she said. “She’s definitely the strongest woman I know. This disease is so much on a person. You wake up and you hurt no matter what. But she still gets up, she goes to church, she volunteers, she works as a religion teacher — she does all these things even though she’s always in some sort of pain.”

McCauley’s determination to live a normal life has served as a foundation for her younger brother, Bob Newfield, a Setauket resident who was also born with EB.

“It’s tough — what would take most people 15 minutes to get ready for work in the morning takes me an hour,” Newfield said. “But there are other things in life that are tough too, so you just have to deal with the cards you’re given. It’s such a rare disease and doesn’t get the funds it needs.”

Local residents, like Miller Place resident Joan Lowry, on right, attended the fundraiser. Photo by Kevin Redding

His wife, Marianne, explained how it’s been to observe the disease firsthand.

“His mind wants to go, go, go, but his body holds him back at times — but those with it are the strongest people I know,” she said. “They don’t really let anything get them down. Bob puts on a happy face every day even though his feet kill him; many days are hard.”

Residents that donated to the cause by purchasing raffle tickets ranged from those living with the disease to others who had never heard of it before.

Bonnie Harris, who grew up in Port Jefferson, said she and a majority of her family have the condition.

“The disease itself doesn’t get better when you get older, but you get better as you get older,” Harris said. “You’re not as clumsy when you’re falling and you’re able to take care of it better. My mom, who had it, always said, ‘You can do anything you want to do — you just have to work harder than everybody else.’”

Miller Place resident Joan Lowry heard of the fundraiser through St. Louis de Montfort R.C. Church in Sound Beach, a parish where McCauley is extremely active.

“There are too many people who fall in the cracks and need the help,” Lowry said, “and that’s the reason I’m here.”

If you wish to make a contribution, visit Debra.org/butterflybreakfast2017.

Through Compassion International, Mount Sinai Congregational, United Church of Christ can give clean water to communities in need

Sylvia, on right, passes a sponge to Natalie as the pair help youth group leader Michael Clark scrub down a car. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

The soap suds were flying as young members of a Mount Sinai church hosed down dozens of cars this past Saturday to better the lives of children in need around the world.

During a car wash fundraiser Aug. 12 on the grounds of the Mount Sinai Congregational, United Church of Christ on North Country Road, members of the church’s youth group cleaned cars for three hours and raised $320 in donations. All proceeds are going toward clean and safe water filtration systems for impoverished communities in faraway countries.

Natalie hoses off a car during the Mount Sinai Congregational, United Church of Christ fundraiser. Photo by Kevin Redding

In these areas, which include villages in Africa, Asia and South America, life-threatening diseases emerge from contaminated waters, taking the lives of a child every 15 seconds.

From the money raised, four $79 filtration systems will be purchased and delivered to these communities in need by Compassion International, a child-advocacy organization that’s been helping the poor worldwide since 1952.

Each village will receive a filtration system which also includes two buckets, a hose and training on how to maintain it so it can provide a lifetime supply of water.

“We got to choose what we wanted the money to go for,” Natalie, a 12-year-old church member from Rocky Point, said during the car wash.

When she and others in the youth group, which is made up of fifth through 12th grade students from five local school districts, saw the water initiative among a long list of others on the Compassion International website, Natalie said it immediately excited them.

“A lot of people are getting sick because they’re drinking dirty water, so we chose to do something to give them clean water,” she said “It makes me really happy to know someone else is going to have a better life because of this. It’s one of my life goals to help people around me, and make the world a better place.”

Natalie’s youth group friend Sylvia, 12, from Selden, said she was also moved  by the idea, and decided to join the cause.

Mount Sinai Congregational, United Church of Christ youth group leaders Michael Clark and Mary Larson helped put together a car wash to raise money for water filtration systems in needy communities. Photo by Kevin Redding

“To me that’s just incredible,” Compassion International communications director Tim Glenn said upon hearing about the car wash. “To see youth — 10- to 12-year-olds — come together to raise money to change a family’s life like that — I just love that. In 2017, a day and age where we’re told to think of ourselves first, there are teenagers and young people out there who are putting the needs of others first, to make sure their basic needs are met.”

Mount Sinai Congregational began its partnership with Compassion International roughly a year ago when a member on the church’s Board of Christian Outreach decided to sponsor an 8-year-old girl from Kenya named Kanana Ferry through the organization.

A first-grader living in the village of Ruiri, Ferry has become an honorary member of the church’s youth group through letter correspondence and is frequently provided tuition assistance, books and games.

“From there, the kids got interested and thought that any child should have water, any child should be able to go to school; they’d say ‘let’s do more,’” said Mary Larson, one of the youth group leaders. “I’m so proud of them that they’re taking their Saturday to do this. It’s important to help those who are marginalized, but they’re also working
together to get this done.”

While Natalie, Sylvia and 10-year-old Jake scrubbed Toyotas and Mercedes with sponges and sprayed windshields and each other with water, other kids held up signs on the side of the road waving more cars in.

“In a few hours of the day, a world change can be made,” said Jake, from Stony Brook,  before washing down a pickup truck.

Jake smiles as he washes a car during the fundraising event for water filtration systems for communities in need. Photo by Kevin Redding

Earlier this year, the kids raised more than $200 to donate chickens and miscellaneous supplies to help families in need, and regularly host fundraisers to pay for mission trips.

Youth group leader Stephanie Clark, who grew up attending the Mount Sinai church, said she’s always happy to see how enthusiastic the kids are about helping others.

“It’s very exciting,” said Clark, whose husband Michael also became a youth leader. “I think it’s good to have a community like this growing up. And growing up in this church, when I was young, I looked up to older members and now they look up to older members. That’s just how we are.”

Glenn said he personally visited some of the poor villages in South America and witnessed how much the water filters boost the morale of families. Each filter produces up to one million gallons of clean water and lasts years, he said.

“I want to thank the youth group and church so much for stepping up and changing the lives of families,” Glenn said. “Thank you for thinking beyond yourselves and taking the time out of your busy schedules to do something like this for others you may never meet.”

Mikey Brannigan proudly displays the United States Flag as he races down the London track during the 2017 World Para Athletes Championships. File photo

By Desirée Keegan

Mikey Brannigan didn’t roam the halls of Northport High School, he ran down them. He’d dash through the doors as others raced behind him, saying “catch me if you can.”

“Stop that kid,” Brannigan said they would shout, laughing.

Mikey Brannigan received a proclamation from New York State Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci. Photo from Assemblyman Lupinacci’s office

Brannigan battled his way to a successful high school career, and beyond after graduating in 2015. The runner is continuing to exceed expectations — being the only Paralympic athlete in history to hold simultaneous records in the 1,500-, one-mile, 3,000- and 5,000-meter events. He brought home two gold medals — in the 1,500 and 800 — and silver in the 5,000 at the London 2017 World Para Athletics Championships at the end of last month.

“Make no mistake about it Mikey wants to be the best,” his New York Athletic Club coach of two years, Sonja Robinson said. “His drive — it shines out. You see it. He loves running.”

Brannigan was diagnosed with autism at 3 years old, and began running at 8. Fast-forward 11 years, when as a 19-year-old he became the first individual with autism to win a gold medal in the 1,500. He also became the first athlete with a T-20 Paralympic classification to shatter the 4-minute mile threshold in August 2016 with a 3 minute, 57 second finish at the Sir Walter Miler meet in Raleigh, North Carolina. A month later, he competed in the Special Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he took home the gold after a dominating 3:51 in the 1,5000.

Mikey Brannigan, at center, is surrounded by politicians and coaches as he shows off his new proclamations and gold and silver medals. Photo from Assemblyman Lupinacci’s office

Now at 20, he’s training to compete in the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo.

“I’m taking it little by little and want to show everyone that if you take even little steps you can achieve your dreams,” Brannigan said. “Look at all you can achieve. Work hard and you can achieve your dreams. You can achieve anything.”

Brannigan was honored by local government officials at Northport High School Aug. 9, receiving accolades for his accomplishments, while the members also dubbed Aug. 9 Mikey Brannigan Day in New York.

“He’s truly our hometown hero,” state assemblyman Chad Lupinacci (R-Huntington Station) said. “Mikey’s story is nothing short of amazing. What he has accomplished at his age is unheard of. His achievements are a true testament of his hard work, dedication, perseverance, sweat and tears.”

State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport), whose kids graduated from and played sports in Northport, said he was in awe, and pointed to the back of the room — the local kids that were in attendance at the press conference — as the “cool” part of the event.

“He’s truly our hometown hero. Mikey’s story is nothing short of amazing. What he has accomplished at his age is unheard of.”

—Chad Lupinacci

“What we do when we go to Albany is we brag,” he said, putting his hands on Brannigan’s shoulders. “We tell everyone how cool our districts are, we tell everyone about the Northport school district, and we’re very proud of where we live and where we represent. There’s nothing, in my opinion, nothing better than dealing with young adults, no matter what they may be doing, because they’re the future.”

Brannigan grinned as he was invited to Albany in January to be recognized by the entire state legislature. State Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset) also presented him with a proclamation.

“We’re going to bring you up to Albany, but the bad news is, you have to run there and it’s 200 miles,” Flanagan joked.

“That’s a long, cold trip,” Brannigan responded, waiving his arms no.

Flanagan said he was humbled and proud to be in Brannigan’s presence.

“These are the stories people should know about and want to hear about,” he said. “I went from a stage where I used to run, then I jogged and now I walk. On my best day, I couldn’t even come close to the accomplishments of this young man, who really is a role model.”

State Assemblyman Andrew Raia (R-East Northport) agreed the barriers Brannigan has broken are unbelievable feats.

Mikey Brannigan smiles as he shakes New York State Assemblyman Andrew Raia’s hand during a press conference at Northport High School. Photo from Facebook

“Every day you turn on the television and something bad is happening,” he said. “I want to turn on the television to see this young man. It’s a big responsibility to carry, but in just the few moments I’ve had to talk with him, I know he’s up to the challenge.”

Raia proceeded to tell Brannigan he was going to embarrass him, to which he responded: “Do it.”

The assemblyman pointed out the runner’s red, white and blue Sperry top-siders, and said he needed to find out where he got them.

“He’s such a proud American,” Raia said, to which Brannigan smiled and shook his hand. “We wish nothing but the best. Keep running, my friend.”

Lupinacci shared a similar sentiment during the conference that was broadcasted on Facebook live and viewed by nearly 3,000 people.

“Your family and friends and all of us here today are proud of you,” he said as he gave Brannigan a hug. “Younger generations will follow in your footsteps. You’re not only our hometown hero, you’re an inspiration to all New Yorkers and all Americans. You’re an inspiration to people around the world.”