Kids

From left, Ariel (Mackenzie Germain), Scuttle (Rachel Kowalsky) and Flounder (Amanda Swickle) admire a dinglehopper (a.k.a. a fork) in a scene from ‘The Little Mermaid Jr.’ Photo by Keith Kowalsky

By Rita J. Egan

The only thing better than hearing a beloved children’s story is having it performed by children themselves. This weekend the John W. Engeman Theater presented its first “by kids, for kids” production, Disney’s “The Little Mermaid Jr.,” to an excited young audience.

Ariel (Mackenzie Germain) is put under a spell by Ursula (Maeve Barth-Dwyer) in a scene from ‘The LIttle Mermaid Jr.’ Photo by Keith Kowalsky
Ariel (Mackenzie Germain) is put under a spell by Ursula (Maeve Barth-Dwyer) in a scene from ‘The LIttle Mermaid Jr.’ Photo by Keith Kowalsky

The musical’s run in Northport will feature two separate casts, with a combined total of 37 children between the ages of 7 and 17, playing alternate performance dates of the production that was adapted from the Broadway musical written by Doug Wright.

First introduced in the Hans Christian Andersen classic fairy tale, “The Little Mermaid,” Ariel is the youngest of King Triton’s seven daughters. Living under the sea, she dreams of one day shedding her fins so she can walk and dance on land just as humans do. With the help of an evil sea witch, Ursula, her fantasies come true much to the dismay of her chaperone Sebastian, the crab. Soon Ariel finds herself meeting a handsome prince as she embarks on an onshore adventure with Sebastian as well as her colorful friends, a fish named Flounder and a seagull called Scuttle.

At this past Sunday’s performance, the young cast performed as if they were seasoned actors. Mackenzie Germaine was a sweet and lovely Ariel, who sang the mermaid’s signature song “Part of Your World” beautifully. As for her Prince Eric, Ben Hefter was endearing as well as charming.

Ariel (Mackenzie Germain) sings ‘Part of Your World’ in a scene from ‘The Little Mermaid Jr.’ Photo by Elise Johnson Linde Autz
Ariel (Mackenzie Germain) sings ‘Part of Your World’ in a scene from ‘The Little Mermaid Jr.’ Photo by Elise Johnson Linde Autz

Maeve Barth-Dwyer was poised and devilishly delightful as Ursula. She performed “Poor Unfortunate Souls” as if she was standing on a Broadway stage. In addition, Lizzie Dolce and Mia Goldstein, Ursula’s slippery spies Flotsam and Jetsam, flawlessly sang back-up on the show-stopping number.

Despite being a teenager, Matthew Fama portrayed King Triton with just the right amount of authority and tenderness needed for the parental role. Justin Autz (Sebastian), Rachel Kowalsky (Scuttle) and Chris Pappas (Chef Louis) added the right amount of humor.

Kowalsky had fun with the eccentric character and shined on “Human Stuff,” while the comedic abilities of Autz and Pappas were front and center during the number “Les Poissons,” which got huge laughs from the audience.

Amanda Swickle as Flounder was adorable, and when she joined Ariel’s sisters during the song “She’s in Love,” she skillfully showed off her excellent singing abilities.

Ella Benjamin, Eve Ascione, Katie Garthe, Keeley O’Malley, Katie Dolce and Alexandra Spelman shone as Ariel’s sisters and harmonized beautifully during their numbers, “Daughters of Triton” and “She’s in Love.” 

Keith Gryski (Grimsby), Natalie Ryan (Carlotta) and James Tully (Pilot) rounded out the ensemble on Sunday, and just like their fellow castmates, have the potential for a bright future in acting.

Ariel (Mackenzie Germain) and Prince Eric (Ben Hefter) share a dance in ‘The Little Mermaid Jr.’ Photo by Keith Kowalsky
Ariel (Mackenzie Germain) and Prince Eric (Ben Hefter) share a dance in ‘The Little Mermaid Jr.’ Photo by Keith Kowalsky

Musical director Ariana Valdes did an excellent job with the score, which features lyrics by Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater and music by Alan Menken. As for the iconic numbers, “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl,” the whole ensemble did a fabulous job.

Director Alyson Clancy has skillfully directed a talented young cast that delivers a show that is professional and at the same time light and fun for the whole family.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport, will present Disney’s “The Little Mermaid Jr.” until May 8. Tickets are $15 for all ages. For more information, visit www.engemantheater.com or call 631-261-2900.

Kids relax at a previous fun run for the Royal Educational Foundation. Photo from Jill Russell

The Royal Educational Foundation is hosting its third annual Power of One Family Fun Run on Saturday, April 16, to benefit the Port Jefferson school district.

According to the event flyer, the 2-mile run is meant to “encourage physical activity and is intended to celebrate the positive influence we can have on one another within our families and community.” The course starts at 8:30 a.m. at the Port Jefferson Village Center on East Broadway and goes through the streets of the village, ending at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School on Old Post Road.

Proceeds from the fundraiser will go toward the foundation’s efforts to improve the school district. Each runner or walker is $15, while families cost $50.

People of all ages are welcome to participate, and can register between 7:30 and 8 a.m. at the Village Center. Participants should check in no later than 8:15 a.m. Everyone will get a fun run T-shirt before the start of the race.

The hills of Benner’s Farm in Setauket were alive with children this past weekend.

Around 3,200 guests filed onto the farm for its seventh annual Easter Egg Hunt, with some families coming from as far as Queens and the Bronx. According to Bob Benner, the event grows more popular every year, with more than 11,000 eggs used for this year’s hunt.

Participants purchased spring flowers, took photos with the Easter Bunny, visited the farm’s new baby piglets or held baby chicks and bunnies while they waited for one of the farm’s three egg hunts to start.

Benner’s Farm, located at 56 Gnarled Hollow Road, Setauket, officially opens to the public for the spring on April 16 and 17 from noon to 4 p.m. For more information, call 631-689-8172 or visit www.bennersfarm.com.

Kara Hahn photo by Desirée Keegan

County lawmakers are taking a proactive approach toward keeping Suffolk kids safe.

The Legislature unanimously voted last week to establish a 13-member Child Fatality Review Team panel tasked with reviewing all childhood fatalities across Suffolk County deemed to be unanticipated, suspicious or the direct result of physical trauma.

Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), who sponsored the bill, said the team’s findings would not be used to assign criminal or civil liability in death cases involving children, nor would they be used for prosecutorial purposes. The main objective, she said, was to make it so similar incidents do not repeat themselves at Suffolk County children’s expense.

In a statement, Hahn, who serves as majority leader in the Suffolk County Legislature, said the panel would work to identify the underlying causes of a child’s death and find what resources, if any, could have prevented that outcome.

“As a culture, we strongly hold that children aren’t supposed to die,” Hahn said. “When that understanding is challenged by a child’s death, natural or otherwise, there is a reflexive and necessary motivation to uncover the reasons why and ways to prevent similar circumstances from leading to additional losses.”

The 13-member panel would be made up of medical, child welfare, social service and law enforcement professionals who would be looking at the facts and circumstances relating to the deaths of children under the age of 18. The deaths would also need to be deemed either unexplainable or the result of violence, including that which is self-inflicted.

“Suffolk County takes the public health and safety of all our residents, especially our most vulnerable, very seriously,” the county’s Chief Medical Examiner Michael Caplan said. “By assembling this review team and collaboratively studying the recent losses of life in Suffolk County, we may be able to prevent similar tragedies in the future and provide potentially life-saving services to those who may be in need of them.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s signature is the only thing standing in the way of this bill becoming a law. In a statement, the county executive said he was in favor of the review team and planned on signing it into action promptly.

“The public safety of all of our residents, especially our most vulnerable, is of paramount concern to us,” Bellone said.  “By creating this review committee, we are creating an opportunity to analyze and review circumstances surrounding violent child deaths in an effort to prevent similar tragedies and provide potentially life-saving services to those who may be in need of them.”

Hahn said the team would hold its first meeting within 90 days and quarterly thereafter.

The panel’s data would not include any identifiable information and its records would be kept confidential, Hahn said. Any reports generated by the team would also be submitted to the state’s office of children and family services when they are finished.

The North Shore is no stranger so incidents that could qualify for the kind of review Hahn’s panel would be seeking.

In October 2014, 16-year-old Thomas Cutinella of Shoreham-Wading River High School suffered a fatal head injury after colliding with another player during a football game. In July 2014, a Kings Park man was convicted of beating his 43-day-old son to death. In December 2015, an 11-year-old from Kings Park died just days after a van struck her as she crossed a road in her hometown.

The state’s office of children and family services said Suffolk County recorded an average of 12.6 child fatalities annually between 2010 and 2014. The office also found that in the year 2015, average percentage of case workers with more than 15 investigations on their caseload on the last day of each month between July and December was 33 percent.

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The chamber of commerce’s annual Easter parade and egg hunt returned to Port Jefferson on Sunday, March 27, bringing big smiles to the faces of local children. After walking through the village’s downtown area, the procession headed to the harborfront park so the kids could collect Easter eggs full of treats.

Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) hosted Huntington Town’s annual Eggstravaganza event on Thursday, March 24 at Heckscher Park. Kids from all over town came to hang out with the Easter Bunny, hunt for eggs, get their faces painted, and color. The town also collected food donations from all participants for the local food pantry.

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Children and their parents flocked to the St. James Lutheran Church in St. James last Sunday afternoon for a Scandinavian Children’s Heritage Fair.

Representing Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Denmark and Finland, the event was hosted by the Sons of Norway. Children took part in a Little Vikings tour by playing Uff Da Bingo while learning Norwegian words, weaving Danish heart baskets out of felt and decorating shields and swords. They also took part in Norwegian rosemåling (decorative painting), rock painting and troll making.

Guests were also able to sample delicious traditional desserts including Lefse, Norwegian Krumkaker cookies, heart waffles, sandkaker and Swedish coffee bread. The event also offered many types of Scandinavian-themed souvenirs for sale.

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A new model will invite kids to Rocketship Park. Photo from Port Jefferson Village

By Elana Glowatz

The new Rocketship Park’s entrance will be a blastoff to the past.

A new model will invite kids to Rocketship Park. Photo from Port Jefferson Village
A new model will invite kids to Rocketship Park. Photo from Port Jefferson Village

Port Jefferson Village announced on Tuesday that TRITEC Real Estate Company has built and donated a rocket ship model to go in the playground once it’s reconstructed, paying tribute to its past.

While it’s formally known as Clifton H. Lee Memorial Park or Kip Lee Park, the spot off Barnum Avenue at Roessner Lane got the Rocketship nickname from a popular piece of playground equipment that has since aged out of use. Some residents have lamented the loss of the rocket and the fact that the design plans for the new park, which began forming a few years ago, didn’t include one.

The plans call for more natural-looking playground equipment with a high level of handicap-accessibility, including what looks like a giant tree house and a pirate ship that harkens back to the village’s shipbuilding days. There are also plans for swings with different types of seating, walkways, picnic tables, plantings and other play equipment.

Adrienne Kessel, the chair of the Treasure Your Parks Committee that has fundraised for the park reconstruction and operates under the Port Jefferson Harbor Education and Arts Conservancy, previously said play equipment that looks like a rocket is hard to find.

Kessel launched the effort to revamp the downtown children’s park when she was a village trustee. After looking at security features in the wake of vandalism at the site, Kessel saw the need for a full makeover.

“It began with a conversation about adding better lighting but that wasn’t the answer,” she said in a previous interview. “When we went to fix the damaged pieces, we weren’t able to find them. The equipment was obsolete.”

She focused on increased accessibility for kids with special needs because, “Every child should have the chance to play. I couldn’t imagine a park a child couldn’t utilize.”

The reconstruction is expected to cost roughly $550,000 and as of this week, village spokeswoman Jill Russell said, the committee had brought in more than $200,000 toward that goal, between donations of both money and services.

According to the village’s rocket announcement, the first work phase is scheduled to start in October.

TRITEC, which is also working on an apartment complex on the other side of Barnum Avenue at West Broadway, built the rocket ship so that when the park is redone, it “will serve as a lasting reminder of the original rocket ship that first graced the park in 1972,” the village said in a statement.

The company worked on the project for the nonprofit Long Island Home Builders Care, with the help of Huntington-based Kleet Lumber Co., Long Island-based Pro-Coat Painting, and sprinkler system contractor Central Outdoor Services in Port Jefferson Station.

“The model will be placed alongside the entranceway to the new playground and will incorporate ornamental plaques into the design that will highlight the park’s history as well as the generous contributions from the playground’s in-kind donors,” the village said.

Russell explained that the historical information will make mention of the previous rocket: “So that when you come to Rocketship Park, you actually know why it’s called that.”

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Dana Urbinati and her team of students took a break from rehearsals Monday night to pose for a photo. Photo by Heidi Sutton

For the past 29 years, students  at Comsewogue High School have showcased their eclectic talents with the community at “A Night for Jason,” a student-run variety show produced in honor of Jason Mariano, a child in the school district who succumbed to leukemia in 1987. This year’s event will take place on Friday, March 18, at 7 p.m. in the school’s auditorium.

The money raised from the event benefits Friends of Karen, a tristate children’s charity with an office in Port Jefferson, that offers emotional, financial and advocacy support for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families in order to keep them stable, functioning and able to cope.

“This is always such a great way to keep our students involved in caring for our community,” said Dana Urbinati, a teacher at the high school and coordinator of the event. “Along with the talents and energy of everyone involved, we want people to know that the funds raised are going to help some very special families in our communities.”

A diverse  mix of talents have graced the stage in the past and this year is no exception. Emceed by Jason Kellar, Eli Smith, Aleyna Kaya, Nicholas Keller and Ethan Wright, the evening will feature 22 acts including musical performances by the high school’s Jazz Band and female choir, Tapestry, along with singing, dancing, comedy and student bands. “This is an extremely talented, hardworking group and I’m just so grateful that we are able to help such an amazing charity,” said Urbinati.

Comsewogue High School is located at 565 N. Bicycle Path, Port Jefferson Station. Tickets for this one-night event are priced at $12 in advance by calling 631-474-8179 or $15 at the door. For more information about Friends of Karen, call 631-473-1768.

Local students took Whole Foods in Lake Grove by storm as they chopped, sauteed and cooked their morning away for a chance at the top spot at last Saturday’s fourth annual Junior Iron Chef competition.

Suffolk County Cornell Cooperative Extension hosted the one-day event where middle and high school students showed off their cooking skills in groups of three to five. Twenty-four teams from schools and other organizations had one hour to cook a vegetarian or vegan-based dish that they could incorporate in their school cafeteria menu.

The teams had a few weeks to plan and prepare a dish using five main ingredients, two of which had to be United States Department of Agriculture commodity foods. (Various beans, grains, fruits and vegetables are USDA commodity foods, which make up part of school cafeteria menus.) The recipes could not be desserts or include meat, fish or nuts.

The middle school team’s challenge this year was to create a breakfast dish while the high school teams were required to include a mystery ingredient in their dishes that was revealed on the day of the competition. DJ Anthony from WEHM emceed the event.

Twelve judges, including 12-year-old Kayla Mitchell of Center Moriches who was a former contestant on MasterChef Junior Season 3, walked from one station to the next, speaking with the teams before deciding their fate in the competition.

While the event gives kids the opportunity to enhance their cooking skills, it also helps educate the students and those around them about healthy eating.

“We want to help them make connections to healthy eating and how to help with their schools better so there’s a  little community service in there,” said Cornell Cooperative Extension’s 4-H Youth Development Director Victoria Fleming.

Fleming discovered the idea six years ago. The competition started in Vermont and has been an annual event for around 10 years. According to Gary Graybosch, who runs the kitchen at Whole Foods, the competition extends beyond Long Island as a variety of schools and organizations are invited. Whole Foods got on board to hold the competition at its Lake Grove location after Graybosch and several of his employees toured the Suffolk County farm in Yaphank.

The judges didn’t simply critique the dishes based on taste, creativity and presentation. They also examined the groups’ use of local foods and USDA food, the dish’s health value and readiness for a school cafeteria.

The Spice Girls middle school team prepared their dish, Sunrise Breakfast Napoleon for the fourth annual Junior Iron Chef Competition. Photo by Giselle Barkley
The Spice Girls middle school team prepared their dish, Sunrise Breakfast Napoleon for the fourth annual Junior Iron Chef Competition. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Seneca Middle School’s team Super Fresh from Holbrook won the title for the middle schools with its Super Fresh Healthy Egg and Potato. Students John Durkin, Andrew Battelli and Hunter Ziems and team coach Mary Faller made up the team.

The Chef Masters from Oakdale Bohemia Middle School in Oakdale took second place. Students Charles Ryder, Vanessa Villatoro and Abby Frances, guided by coach Judy Jones, won the judges over as runners up with their South West Breakfast Quesadilla.

Seneca Middle School also grabbed third place with the  Kings of the Kitchen’s Kings Breakfast Burrito. Coached by Mary Faller, Dom Strebel, Nick Strebel, Tobi Green, Steven Salica and Nick Zariello received praise for their sauteed potatoes, which were mixed with onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, eggs and cheese.

“We had a few other ideas [but] we looked more into it and saw … that [the breakfast burrito] was the best one to do,” Nick Zariello said about his team’s dish of choice. “It was just a lot of fun.” Nick added that the team practiced daily during lunch periods and after school to prepare for the competition.

The Tiger Lilies of Little Flower in Wading River took first place of the high school teams. Coached by Jennifer Quinlan, teammates Alex Moa, Russel Denner, Charleen Thompson and Briana Ivory stole the competition with their Thai Coconut Curry Noodle Bowl. The dish featured whole wheat spaghetti, various vegetables and a coconut curry sauce with a kick.

High school team La Banda from Greenport Schools was thrown a curve ball during the competition with the secret ingredient, but still secured second place. Richard Torres Galicia, Walfred Gatica, Antonio Coria, Antonio Anderson and Leo Torres made Wrapped Italian Black Bean Burgers with Garlic Parmesan Sauce. The group, coached by Marianne Ladalia, worked their secret ingredient, mango, into their dish as a side.

“It was an intense atmosphere at first. We didn’t know what to do at the beginning but after time we got used to it,” Torres Galicia said. “We communicated as one team and then we came out with a good dish.”

A member of The Four Toasters from Sagamore Middle School cooks canned peaches at the fourth annual Junior Iron Chef Competition. Photo by Giselle Barkley
A member of The Four Toasters from Sagamore Middle School cooks canned peaches at the fourth annual Junior Iron Chef Competition. Photo by Giselle Barkley

While some young cooks look up to prominent chefs, the middle school team The Savory Blazers — Sophia Chinea, Lexington Carerra and Adrianna Cantu, coached by Michell Chinea  — who are members of Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Trailblazers 4-H program, draw their inspiration from role models who are closer to home. Group member Sophia said she admires her aunt’s cooking and baking and added that she “always wanted to be like her when [she grew] up.”

Fellow teammate Adrianna said it can be difficult to decide on a role model. “There’s so  many people that are good at making food . . . You might find a new person every single day.”

Although Fleming organizes the competition with Whole Foods every year, these young chefs never fail to surprise her. “I’m so amazed to be working with all these amazing kids that … have learned these skills and are able to demonstrate them in front of a large group like this,” Fleming said. “So it’s very inspiring to me to do this every year.