People of the Year

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Chris Pinkenburg, far right, poses with some members of his Rocky Point robotics GearHeadz team. Photo from Pinkenburg

By Rachel Siford

Chris Pinkenburg has been trying to get Rocky Point students more interested in math and science. So he created his own robotics club called GearHeadz to do so. Because of this, he has been named a 2015 Times Beacon Record Newspapers Person of the Year.

Pinkenburg, a physicist at Brookhaven National Laboratory, was inspired to create his own robotics club in the Rocky Point school district after attending an educational symposium at BNL. He thought this was the perfect way to get more students involved in engineering. GearHeadz is a privately run FIRST LEGO League team from Rocky Point.

“For years, he was the one who was very vocal about how having robotics in the school is important,” said Bea Ruberto, president of the Sound Beach Civic Association. “Encouraging science and technology is very important for kids.”

Pinkenburg has three children in the Rocky Point school district, all of whom have participated in his robotics club at one point.

Above, the Rocky Point robotics GearHeadz team demonstrates one of their projects. Photo from Chris Pinkenburg
Above, the Rocky Point robotics GearHeadz team demonstrates one of their projects. Photo from Chris Pinkenburg

“He is very passionate about education,” Wlodek Guryn, Pinkenburg’s colleague at BNL, said. “He wants children to learn as much as possible in school and give them as many opportunities as possible, which is also why he got involved in the robotics club.”

Pinkenburg started to prod his school district to implement a robotics club into the schools. He eventually formed his own private team that won first place in programming in the qualifiers the first time they competed. After this, a club was introduced to Rocky Point Middle School with Pinkenburg leading it as a mentor. They competed in a worldwide competition in St. Louis, Missouri.

According to Rocky Point Middle School Principal Scott O’Brien, the school was involved with a program associated with BNL that focused on math and science. There were multiple sections of the program, one of which was robotics.

“I had put out a survey looking for feedback about the program and the kids noted that the robotics section was their favorite part, and said they benefited the most from it,” O’Brien said. “We knew we needed to expand it, and, at the same time, Pinkenburg was there and created this club. A lot of kids are very highly interested in robotics. Over 100 students came to the first meeting.”

Each year, teams are presented with a new challenge and must try to develop a solution using robotics. This year’s theme is Trash Trek, which prompts them to explore the world of trash and invent a solution to help minimize trash issues. They must also build and program a LEGO robot to accomplish trash-themed missions on a playing field and show how well they work together as a team.

“The team has been very successful,” Ruberto said. “They won last year’s Long Island Championship and went on to compete in the North American Open Championships against 75 other national and international champions in California.”

As a physicist at BNL, Pinkenburg has been passionate about programming and simulations. One part of robotics is to build the robot itself, which is more engineering-based, but the other big part, which is Pinkenburg’s specialty, requires computing, which helps in programming the robot so it does exactly what it is meant  to do.

“He is very pleasant and passionate, and works very hard on computing aspects and simulations of his work,” Guryn said. “He is very dedicated. Physics requires a lot of passion and dedication and he has a lot of both.”

Pinkenburg’s efforts are being spread to the high school, as he starts his FIRST Tech Challenge team, a higher-level team, to continue to spread his love for computing and physics.

Bouquet-displays are for sale inside Fashions in Flowers. Photo by Carolann Ryan

By Carolann Ryan

Fashions in Flowers has been on the cutting edge of floral design for the past 60 years, and this Northport business shows no signs of stopping any time soon.

Current owner Debi Triola serves the community well, providing flowers from around the world for any occasion while also giving back to the village that supports her as much as possible. For this reason, she is a Times Beacon Record Newspapers Person of the Year.

Debi Triola of Fashions in Flowers smiles with a floral arrangement. Photo from Triola
Debi Triola of Fashions in Flowers smiles with a floral arrangement. Photo from Triola

Triola, a lifelong Northport resident, has been the owner of Fashions in Flowers on Fort Salonga Road for 11 years, although the shop has been running since 1955. Among the many hats she’s worn over the years, she is the current director of the Northport Chamber of Commerce.

“I am definitely lucky to live here,” Triola said.

Barbara Sorelle, a colleague of Triola’s at the Northport Chamber of Commerce who works for Visiting Nurse Service & Hospice of Suffolk, said Northport is just as lucky to have Triola.

“Debi is a wonderful, caring person and gives so much to our community,” Sorelle said in a phone interview. “As members of the board of trustees of the Northport Chamber of Commerce, it has been a pleasure to work with her over the years.”

It is about more than selling flowers for this local business, according to Triola. She said she always keeps the shop busy by getting involved in Northport events as much as possible.

“Part of the job as a small business is to help the community,” Triola said. “It is a given, giving back.”

Bouquet-displays are for sale inside Fashions in Flowers. Photo by Carolann Ryan
Bouquet-displays are for sale inside Fashions in Flowers. Photo by Carolann Ryan

And give back she does. From something as small as donating flowers for school district functions, like Northport High School’s Relay for Life, to helping organize events such as the Northport Farmers’ Market and Tuesday Family Fun Nights in the village, Fashions in Flowers makes sure to leave their mark at many community gatherings. The business has worked with local organizations like the Cow Harbor Warriors, The Northport American Legion Post 694 and the Visiting Nurse Service & Hospice of Suffolk.

“Debi Triola is so generous to our community,” said Susan Modelewski, a cancer survivor involved with organizing the Northport Relay for Life event. “For years, Debi has donated corsages to the survivors who attend Northport’s Relay for Life survivor reception and she is also a contributor to [the] St. Charles Hospital Auxiliary Northport Chapter. Debi is one of the many reasons why Northport is such a great place to live.”

Fashions in Flowers also supports local artisans, such as the Northport Candle Kitchen, by selling their products at the shop.

With the holiday season quickly approaching, Fashions in Flowers has worked hard to spread holiday cheer. Recently, the staff volunteered to decorate the intensive care unit of Huntington Hospital and participated in Northport’s annual tree-lighting ceremony, which includes the annual leg lamp-lighting at Northport Hardware Co. and a visit from Santa himself.

“That is what I love about Northport,” Triola said, when asked why she cares so much about her hometown. “We are a tight-knit community here. We all help each other, whatever we can do.”

By Victoria Espinoza

What started out as a high school camp counselor job has turned into a career of giving back to Huntington Town for Gail Lamberta.

Lamberta, 62, is an associate dean at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue, as well as a professor and coordinator of experiential learning. She’s a native Huntington resident, born in Huntington Hospital and graduated from Walt Whitman High School in 1971. “I’m proud to be a wildcat,” she said in a phone interview.

Gail Lamberta poses at National Grid for a Leadership Huntington event. Photo from Lamberta
Gail Lamberta poses at National Grid for a Leadership Huntington event. Photo from Lamberta

Lamberta is involved with more than half a dozen organizations throughout Long Island, and people who know her, marvel at her ability to be in 10 places at once, and her commitment to Huntington.

It is for this reason she is a Times Beacon Record Newspapers Person of the Year.

“Gale is 100 percent devoted to the town, there is no doubt about it,” Rob Scheiner, chair of the Huntington Chamber of Commerce said. “She is such a dedicated individual. She’ll do whatever we ask of her. Anytime we need a volunteer for a project, she’s there.”

Lamberta is on the board of directors at the Huntington Chamber of Commerce, where she works frequently with Scheiner to organize events to provide education opportunities for the residents of Huntington.

She has been able to use her extensive network at St. Joseph’s to provide quality educators for training programs organized by the Chamber of Commerce, including events like the business leadership competition for local high school students.

Lamberta has hosted this conference for the past three years, which takes place at St. Joseph’s in early December and has been running for 13 years.

About 350 students participated in the most recent competition, which asks students to present plans about retail markets, graphic design, hospitality and more, regarding scenarios the chamber gives to the students in advance. Students are also tested on their interview skills, and are offered tours of the campus as well as job workshops.

“The kids are amazing,” Lamberta said. “To see them pull together and create top-notch presentations is one of my favorite parts of being involved with the chamber. It’s refreshing to see that caliber at the high school level.”

Gail Lamberta sits in a dunk tank at an ALS Ride for Life fundraiser. Photo from Lamberta
Gail Lamberta sits in a dunk tank at an ALS Ride for Life fundraiser. Photo from Lamberta

Melissa Kuehnle, director of communications and external relations at St. Joseph’s, said Lamberta is an asset to have for any project.

“She is a very good person to work with, because she knows so many people throughout the community,” Kuehnle. “She’s a doer and a hard worker. She’s always got her hands on something.”

She also works with LaunchPad Huntington and Huntington Business Incubator to provide free courses that teach members of the community skills on organization, leadership, basic computer skills, creating a business plan and more.

“She’s heavily entrenched in the local economy and local education,” Phil Rugile, director of LaunchPad Huntington, said of Lamberta. “She is very good at bringing the educational world to a local level.”

To further improve Huntington, Lamberta is also involved with Leadership Huntington, an organization that identifies the current needs and challenges facing Huntington. Lamberta is currently involved in Flagship Program, which takes place over nine months and helps all members develop an in-depth understanding of the community, history and art of the town.

Lamberta gives her time to numerous other organizations across Long Island, including volunteering for Ride for Life, as president of the Long Island Leisure Services Association, and as a board member of the Youth Council of the Suffolk County Workforce Development Board.

When asked why she started getting so involved in Huntington years ago, she said she wanted to help make her town better.

“I wanted to give [Huntington] my best,” she said. “I love everything about Huntington — what it has to offer in terms of parks, quality of medical care and the support within the township.”

State Sen. Ken LaValle works with North Shore elected officials and residents to ensure the community, and greater Long Island region, have quality health care. File photo by Barbara Donlon

Quality health care and, to hear state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) describe it, home cooking are good for the body, mind, soul and community. That’s the argument the Republican senator has been making for years on behalf of the Stony Brook University medical center and its hospital.

After the university lost out earlier this year on a partnership with Peconic Bay Medical Center, which agreed to team up with North Shore-LIJ Health System, the longtime local senator has continued his unflagging support of Stony Brook, particularly with John T. Mather Memorial Hospital.

“If we think of a wheel, the hub of a wheel, and the local community hospitals are its spokes,” LaValle said, referring to Stony Brook as that hub in the center. “This is my vision and one that I think is good for the people I represent” to allow them to have the “best quality health care” close to home.

For his consistent and long-term efforts to lend the support of his office to an important area institution, and for the passion and dedication he has shown to the residents of the region for close to four decades, LaValle is a Times Beacon Record Newspapers Person of the Year.

Sen. Ken LaValle speaks with a biker as she rests at the Port Jefferson Elks Lodge in Port Jefferson Station in the middle of a 330-mile bicycle trip to support wounded warriors. File photo
Sen. Ken LaValle speaks with a biker as she rests at the Port Jefferson Elks Lodge in Port Jefferson Station in the middle of a 330-mile bicycle trip to support wounded warriors. File photo

Stony Brook officials appreciated LaValle’s work on their behalf and suggested that he played a seminal role in keeping their ongoing relationship with Southampton Hospital on track.

“It took perseverance to continue to push the Southampton relationship with Stony Brook through,” said Reuven Pasternak, the CEO of Stony Brook University Hospital. “He was absolutely critical in keeping those discussions going and seeing them to fruition.”

Pasternak said LaValle also facilitated a connection with Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport.

The senator has been “a big supporter” of that relationship, Pasternak said. “He’s always made himself available to speak to people in Albany.”

LaValle was instrumental in the building of the new Medicine and Research Translation building, a 240,000-square foot facility that is expected to be completed in 2016. Kenneth Kaushansky, the dean of the School of Medicine and the senior vice president of health sciences, said LaValle helped secure critical state financing.

LaValle identified $45 million that was earmarked for a law school at Stony Brook that was never built that he “was able get reallocated,” Kaushansky said. “The state support for MART was hugely dependent on the senator.”

Kaushansky said he and LaValle have regular discussions about any potential issues that arise.

If things aren’t proceeding the way the university would like, LaValle “always volunteers to help put them back on track.”

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright said LaValle deserves recognition for his work on behalf of Stony Brook and all the area hospitals.

“He is firmly supportive of Stony Brook’s role and mission, as well as for all the hospitals in our community,” Englebright (D-Setauket) said.

LaValle suggested his role as chairman of the Senate Committee on Higher Education gives him an opportunity to advocate on behalf of the SBU medical school. His chairmanship provides “a vehicle to be able to work with other people in the state university system and within state agencies,” he said.

The approximately 129 students in each medical school class contribute to area health care while they pursue their education, LaValle said.

“That is one of the very first helping points for the university,” LaValle said. “It’s being able to fulfill the education of their medical students. There are also people doing their clinical work and residencies.”

Sen. Ken LaValle speaks at a public forum on the Common Core. File photo
Sen. Ken LaValle speaks at a public forum on the Common Core. File photo

LaValle is contributing to Stony Brook’s effort to secure a longer-term connection with Mather. He cited numerous such two-way benefits for a potential longer-term alliance.

Stony Brook can provide services that “will save Mather a lot of money,” LaValle said.

For patients of the two hospitals, the quality and convenience are also a winning combination.

“If someone needs cardiac care, it is a hop, skip and a jump to get that care,” LaValle said. “They don’t have to be helicoptered some place or drive a long time distance.”

Kaushansky appreciated the support from the senator.

“He’s doing everything he can,” Kaushansky said. LaValle has “been a strong proponent of getting us and Mather to work together for the benefit” of the patient population in the area.

Kaushansky cited several other benefits to Mather of an ongoing and deeper connection with Stony Brook, including support for Mather’s stroke center with back-up cerebral artery intervention, and support for their radiology department.

While a deeper connection with Mather would be mutually beneficial for the hospitals, LaValle suggested, it would also create an important level of convenience for patients.

“I have started with the premise that patient care closest to home is the best care for the patient,” LaValle said. “The families can interact and it’s convenient. We are focused in a way to ensure that the quality of health care is at its maximum.”

From the leaders through the rank and file, Stony Brook health care professionals appreciate LaValle’s support.

“If anybody were to ask a person working in the dialysis unit, ‘Of all the politicians in the state of New York, who do you think is the strongest advocate for Stony Brook Medical School and Stony Brook University Hospital?’ most of them would say Ken LaValle,” said Kaushansky.

Pasternak, who considers LaValle a friend, called him sincere in his beliefs.

“It’s not the politics that drives him,” Pasternak said. “It’s his passion for the region and the people in the region.”

A view of Setauket Harbor. The Setauket Harbor Task Force works to preserve this local gem. File photo

By Phil Corso

They’ve covered a lot of ground — and water — in their first year, but members of the Setauket Harbor Task Force are only getting started.

The all-volunteer Setauket Harbor Task Force, led by residents and cofounders Laurie Vetere and George Hoffman, held its first general meeting on Oct. 29, 2014, and meetings have grown to host nearly 100 residents. Since the first meeting, members of the group have become a known force for North Shore environmentalism, and their efforts have washed upon the shores of civic leaders, elected officials and beyond. The group has spent the past year studying the harbor, influencing the public debate surrounding it and garnering public support for its preservation and sustainability.

For their contributions to the North Shore’s environmental discussion, members of the Setauket Harbor Task Force have been named 2015 Times Beacon Record Newspapers People of the Year.

On the ground level, civic members in the Setauket and Stony Brook communities have become big fans of the Setauket Harbor Task Force and have continuously teamed up with the group to help promote its mission of preserving the communities’ waterways. Shawn Nuzzo, president of the Civic Association of the Setaukets and Stony Brook, said he stood behind the Task Force’s work with hopes that it could help bring back a strong and vibrant Long Island economy based on the sustainable harvesting of coastal shorelines.

“We have a sordid and shameful history of polluting our Long Island waterways,” Nuzzo said. “For years, scientists and environmentalists have been warning of the harmful effects of nitrogen and other contaminants in our water. But it is only relatively recently that the politicians have begun discussing remediating the situation, thanks in part to advocacy groups like the Setauket Harbor Task Force.”

The Task Force has been hosting regular walking tours of the harbor and its surrounding environmental beauties with hopes of reminding the community just how important it is to maintain.

Some of the group’s key concerns have included making sure the town pays attention to the road runoff retention basin that forms near the inlet at Setauket Harbor and maintaining park property just to the west of the area’s footbridge.

The Task Force also launched its first Setauket Harbor Day back in September — a free event held at the Shore Road dock, established to inspire the community to join the Force in its efforts to clean and preserve the harbor.

Since the group’s inception, members have been working hand-in-hand with elected officials from various levels of government, and so far their messages have been heard loud and clear.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) has been a consistent voice in the North Shore’s environmental discussion, having held previous positions as a geologist and biologist before becoming a public servant. And with his expertise, Englebright referred to the Setauket Harbor Task Force as an epicenter of community pride that has made a tremendous impact on the North Shore.

“We have a sense of purpose now to work between our civic community and the town and the state — it’s just wonderful,” he said. “I guess everybody would hope that government would do all of this on its own, but the additional attention and focus being brought by citizens who have taken this initiative on is just terrific. So my sense is that by establishing the Setauket Harbor Task Force, and providing a forum where issues that relate to the overall health of the ecosystem in our harbor can be discussed, we have a matter of focus.”

The group has received support from Brookhaven officials as well. Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said the Task Force represents the best of Brookhaven.

“These are citizens coming together and recognizing a common problem and looking to make a positive difference,” Romaine said. “We are prepared to spend money to enact some of the things they are trying to achieve. This is a commitment and what helps us is that we have partners on the local level — people who step up to the plate.”

Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) echoed those sentiments after spending the year working closely with the Task Force.

“The formation of the Setauket Harbor Task Force is a significant step in addressing some of the environmental concerns in the area,” she said. “It is a vehicle for the community to work together to assist in preserving our harbor and improving our water quality. I thank the members of the Task Force for all of their hard work to bring awareness of the needs of the Harbor to the community. I had the privilege of attending the first Setauket Harbor Day this past summer, which I believe was a success, as it was both entertaining and educational.”

Looking ahead, Englebright said he’d hope to see the group follow through in working with the Town of Brookhaven to see what kinds of progress can be achieved in addressing road runoff issues and restoring the ecological balance of some of the most disrupted areas along the harbor.

“The fact that the town is planning to dredge the basin is, in part, a response to the initiative of local citizens,” Englebright said. “That partnership is really all too rare, and it’s ideally what government should be doing. I hope the town continues to realize that this is a wonderful and promising partnership.”

Tracey Budd poses for a photo with her son Kevin Norris, who died of a heroin overdose in 2012. Photo from Tracey Budd

Tracey Budd’s son died of a heroin overdose in September 2012.

One year later, Budd, of Rocky Point, was asked to speak at the North Shore Youth Council. Since then, she’s ended up on a public service announcement, “Not My Child,” that’s shown in high schools and middle schools along the North Shore, aiding her in becoming an advocate for drug abuse prevention and rehabilitation. She also teamed up with another mother, Debbie Longo, of Miller Place, and the two have become advocates for prevention and rehabilitation along the North Shore.

It is because of their hard work and dedication to this issue on Long Island that they are 2015 Times Beacon Record Newspapers People of the Year.

“I made the decision not to be ashamed of how he passed away,” Budd said about her son. “Just from speaking that one time at North Shore Youth Council, it was so very healing for me, and so many things have come from that and taken me in a direction that I never thought I’d be in, but it seems like it’s my calling.”

Janene Gentile, a drug and alcohol counselor and executive director of the North Shore Youth Council, helped work on that PSA.

“It was very powerful,” she said. “It was walking her through her grief. She has a lot of courage.”

Budd, who is also a member of Families in Support of Treatment, pulled together as much information as she could, and this past October created a Facebook page — North Shore Drug Awareness Advocates — pooling together families from Rocky Point, Miller Place, Mount Sinai and Shoreham-Wading River to spread the word about the rising concern over dangerous drugs, like heroin, growing in popularity across the Island.

“It just seemed that so many people were inboxing me and asking me for help,” she said. “I created the page so we could have a centralized area where we share information, and organize meetings where the group could all meet up. I also organized meetings once a month so we could to teach people about advocacy.”

Having a 12-year-old daughter, Cristina Dimou attended the meetings to begin to gather information on the issue. About one week ago, someone Dimou knows suffered an unexpected overdose, she said. She immediately reached out to Budd asking for guidance.

Debbie Longo speaks at a Dan’s Foundation for Recovery event. Photo from Facebook
Debbie Longo speaks at a Dan’s Foundation for Recovery event. Photo from Facebook

“She gave me three phone numbers telling me who to call for what and even gave me websites of rehabilitation centers,” Dimou said about Budd. “She checks up on me every day, asking me if I’m okay and what’s going on. I don’t know her personally, but she had a sense of urgency and a willingness to help. I think that speaks volumes.”

Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said with Budd’s outspokenness and Longo’s long-standing knowledge of the issue, they’ll be successful in their efforts.

“These women put their energy, their anger, their frustration, their sorrow into something that is helpful to the community,” she said. “I think they’re going to do amazing work.”

Longo has been involved in advocacy across the Island for the last five years, after her son suffered an overdose 10 years ago. Since then, her son has recovered, and currently lives in Del Ray, Florida as a director of marketing for a rehabilitation center called Insight to Recovery.

She said she found sending her son out of state helped him recover, because once he was done with his treatment, he wasn’t going back to seeing the same people he knew when he was using.

But she too has been involved in outreach and drug abuse prevention, aside from being to co-administrator of Budd’s Facebook page.

“I get a call just about every day from a parent saying they have a kid that’s addicted and they don’t know what to do,” she said. “We’re losing kids left and right. We’re losing a generation, is what we’re losing.”

Longo is a part of a 501(c)3 not-for-profit program, Steered Straight, which spreads prevention in schools. Recovered addict Michael DeLeon leads the program.

“You can hear a pin drop in the auditorium, that’s how dynamic of a speaker he is,” she said. “I can’t tell you how many kids come up to us at the end of the program and say, ‘I have a problem.’”

Longo was the chapter coordinator for New York State for a website called The Addict’s Mom, and is currently the head of Before the Petals Fall, Magnolia Addiction Support’s New York chapter. She is a 12-step yoga teacher to recovering addicts, and does post-traumatic stress disorder programs to help those dealing with grief.

After leaving nursing to go into medical marketing for hospitals, Longo said she thought she’d know where to turn when she found out her son was an addict, but said she really didn’t know what to do.

“There was such a bad stigma about addiction that you didn’t want to talk about it — you kind of suffered in silence,” she said. “If I was a nurse and had these contacts and didn’t know what to do, the average mother may have no idea. I’m trying to open the community up to what we have here on the North Shore.”

Tracey Budd holds a picture of her son, Kevin Norris, at a Walk for Hope event. Photo from Tracey Budd
Tracey Budd holds a picture of her son, Kevin Norris, at a Walk for Hope event. Photo from Tracey Budd

Longo has helped mothers like Sheila “Terry” Littler, of Rocky Point, whose son is a second-time recovering heroin addict. Currently, he is three months sober.

Knowing about treatment and where to get help, because it was something that started for her 13 years ago, Littler reached out to Longo for mental support.

“It was nice to have somebody else that’s gone through it to talk to, to know you’re not alone,” Littler said. “But at the same time, it’s sad that I’m not alone.”

When her son relapsed after being four and a half years sober, she reached out to Budd.

“It takes a lot of guts to come out in the open and do this and help people,” she said. “There are a lot of hurting people out there.”

She recently reached out to Longo about a friend of her son, who is a drug user, and the two were calling each other back and forth to find ways to overcome addiction.

“She cared to take the time to help me,” she said. “She spent a whole day doing that with me — that’s dedication right there.”

With the contacts Longo’s made with support centers and prevention agencies and Budd’s relationship with the county after creating the PSA, the two are teaming up to use their resources to form a coalition based on the Facebook page. It was also have the same name.

It’s in its early stages, but the hope is to help spread awareness about prevention through schools. As part of a coalition, Budd said, you can also apply for grants, which she hopes will help fund the spread of their advocacy.

“I felt Tracey was on the same path that I was on,” Longo said. “She is as tenacious as I am in what we’re trying to do.”

Longo said that she and Budd are trying to be vigilantes and have started Narcan training classes, like ones they’ve previously hosted in Miller Place and East Setauket, to continue to help fight the Island’s drug addiction problem. Narcan is a medication that stops opioid overdoses.

“I think together we’re a good team,” Budd said. “To me, you have a choice. You can either dig your head in the sand and be embarrassed that your child is an addict, or you can be proactive and say, ‘Enough of this, let’s help each other.’ When you speak to another parent that’s going through it, there’s a bond that you automatically create. In a way, I feel like my son is right there with me, helping these families. It’s very important to me, and I’m never going to stop doing it.”

Vincent DeMarco, center, poses for a photo with some members of the Youth Re-entry Task Force during a regular bi-monthly meeting. Photo from Kristin MacKay

By Clayton Collier

Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco has worked diligently over the last nine years, going above and beyond what’s asked of his position.

His creation and development of the Youth Re-Entry Task Force, a program created to rehabilitate youth inmates, among his other initiatives, has earned him the distinction of a 2015 Times Beacon Record Newspapers Person of the Year.

“The sheriff has truly changed the culture of corrections in Suffolk County, and has put particular emphasis on rehabilitation of incarcerated youth,” said Kristin MacKay, director of public relations for the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office. “He has been at the forefront of the fight to eliminate state mandates for new county jail construction, which saved the county’s taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.”    

Though you wouldn’t know it from speaking with him, DeMarco did not initially intend to go into law enforcement. A Ronkonkoma native, DeMarco went to St. John’s University, graduating with a degree in economics in 1991.

“I always had an interest in law enforcement,” DeMarco said. “But I didn’t think it was going to be my career.”

After two years working in the financial industry in New York City, DeMarco transitioned into law enforcement, becoming a deputy sheriff for Suffolk County in 1994. He took to the job quickly.

Sheriff Vincent DeMarco is reducing the rate of recidivism in county jails. Photo from Kristin MacKay
Sheriff Vincent DeMarco is reducing the rate of recidivism in county jails. Photo from Kristin MacKay

“I think I have the best job in the world, I really do,” he said. “I love coming to work every day. I love what I do.”

DeMarco became Suffolk County sheriff in 2006, the first uniformed member of the office to be elected sheriff, and one of the youngest sheriffs ever elected in Suffolk County. From the beginning of his tenure, DeMarco said he has made working with youth inmates a priority. In 2011, DeMarco began assembling the partners needed for an undertaking like the Youth Re-Entry Task Force.

“We needed partners on the outside in order to make this a success,” DeMarco said. “We needed housing. … We also had to find not-for-profits that were willing to come into the correctional facilities and do some counseling: drug counseling, anger management, life skill counseling, vocational counseling, all types of stuff to fill our program, so when they leave the facilities they actually have the tools to succeed instead of just warehousing them in a correctional facility where you’re not giving them any tools and they’re going to fail.”

Among the most essential resources DeMarco and his administration found was housing for youths at Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson and Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch in Riverhead.

Thaddaeus Hill, executive director of Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch — created and named in memory of his older brother — said the program has seen great success, highlighted by the 50 percent drop in recidivism among youths who go through.

“Sheriff DeMarco has pioneered programs that few in this country have had the courage to take on,” Hill said. “He looks at the big picture beyond the walls of his jail and that has allowed him to make a significant impact on the lives of many young people on Long Island.”

Another key component was Eastern Suffolk BOCES to incorporate education into the program. Barbara Egloff, divisional administrator for Eastern Suffolk BOCES and Oversight of the Jail Education Program and Career, Technical and Adult Education, said DeMarco has effectively used the strengths of all of his partnerships to make the program a success.

“It is inspiring to work with Sheriff DeMarco,” Egloff said. “He has instilled the importance of effective collaboration to all who have the opportunity to work with him.”

Suffolk County Court Judge Fernando Camacho, who heads the County’s Felony Youth Part, a program created in conjunction with Sheriff DeMarco, said it is rare to come across a sheriff so dedicated to creating better lives for his inmates after they have served their time.

“I’ve worked in criminal justice my entire professional career, over 30 years, and I’ve worked with a lot of individuals running correctional facilities, and I can honestly say I’ve run across somebody who’s actually bringing in social workers and service providers into his jail to help young people to identify what the issues are, and to try to come up with solutions,” Camacho said.

Camacho said it is important to work with youth inmates to improve their situations upon leaving the jail.

“Rather than putting them upstate for three years and forgetting about them, we’re actually thinking about it in a different way,” Camacho said. “Let’s see if we can figure out why this kid got in trouble, and let’s see if we can put a plan in place that’s going to give this kid an opportunity to break out of the cycle and get back on track.”

As DeMarco explains, the program’s numbers speak for themselves.

“Nationally, the average inmate has an 83 percent chance of returning,” DeMarco said. “The kids that come through our program have a 23 percent chance of coming back; that’s a big difference.”

Overall, the program contributes to lowering the number of inmates in county jails, allowing DeMarco to prevent the costly undertaking of additional facilities.

“It doesn’t cost us any more to provide these services to the youth in this facility, but the return we get is that they don’t come back to the facility and we lower the jail population.”

In the future, DeMarco hopes to expand for additional age groups. The more people he can help, he said, the better.

“If someone winds up touching the criminal justice system and they wind up in this facility, and we can find out the underlying reason why this crime was committed,” he said, “we can change that and change their behavior when they get out, we’ve increased public safety, and that’s the goal.”

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Charles Reichert is known to be an active member of the Smithtown community. File photo

By Miguel Bustamante

There’s a lot that can be said about North Shore businessman Charles Reichert, but not only because of his entrepreneurship.

“He wants to do the right thing. You know, he’s been very fortunate in his life, he’s made good money and he wants to give back,” said Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) about North Shore businessman Charles Reichert. “He’s the kind of guy that says ‘I want to make my community better,’ and if he could help it, he’s always there for it … It really is a blessing to have a guy like Charlie Reichert in the community.”

Charles Reichert, 80, or Charlie as his friends call him, of Fort Salonga is the owner of five IGA grocery stores throughout the Suffolk County area. With IGA locations in Bayville, Fort Salonga, Greenport, East Northport and Southold, his stores are consistently among the list of IGA’s annual Five Star Retailer award, which is the highest honor IGA bestows on its proprietors, and in 2014 he was one of five to receive the IGA International Retailers of the Year award.

Through his stores Reichert found ways to become a nexus of community interactions by employing local residents and community youth looking to get a foothold in the workforce, and also, along with wife Helen, founding the Fort Salonga Market IGA Scholarship, which awards a total of $6,000 to outstanding local high school students.

For his contributions, Charles Reichert has been named a 2015 Times Beacon Record Newspapers Person of the Year.

Reichert’s generosity has also extended outside of the IGA’s sponsorship. In 2013 The Charles and Helen Reichert Family Foundation donated $850,000, to be dispersed over several years, for the restoration and preservation of the Charles and Helen Reichert Planetarium (formerly the Vanderbilt Museum’s Planetarium), which enabled the facility to purchase new seating, carpeting, lobby and gift shop along with technological updates.

“I’ll tell you something,” said Michael Rosato, board member of the Nissequogue River State Park Foundation. “If there were more Charlies around, we’d all be a lot better off.”

Rosato was referring to the contributions Reichert has made to the foundation.

“We were able to rebuild the parking area around the soccer fields, expand the hike and bike trail and renovate the parks administration building. It was all because of Charlie’s support … He’s given back so much for the community.”

Reichert, however, has played some contributions close to the heart. In 2013 the Charles and Helen Reichert Family Foundation donated $100,000 to the Huntington Hospital for the purchase of a 3D breast tomosynthesis machine, which can produce 3D images that can more accurately help detect cancer cells in breasts.

This year, Charles and Helen Reichert, herself a 24-year breast cancer survivor, donated $1 million for the construction of the brand new, state-of-the-art Charles and Helen Reichert Imaging Center in Huntington, which offers diagnostic radiology services.

With so many outstanding contributions already in tow, Charles Reichert hasn’t stopped looking for ways to continue to give back to the community. He has consistently sponsored the Nissequogue River State Park Foundation’s 5k Turkey Trot and the Fort Salonga Civic Association’s holiday caroling events by donating refreshments and gifts.

After 125 years Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory continues to educate its students and conduct research. Photo by Giselle Barkley

It is not typically a group that gets carried away with praise. Often participants work under controlled conditions, testing results, retesting them and waiting for approval from reviewers.

Yet members of this group heap unrestrained praise on Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, a facility that looks like a picture-postcard, with boats in the background during the summer and a flourish of foliage in the fall.

“It’s a wonderful scientific environment,” said Dennis Steindler, senior scientist and director of the Neuroscience and Aging Lab at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University. “It represents a very important mecca. It has its own unique environment that fosters creativity and exceptional science.”

Richard McCombie stands inside a laboratory at Cold Spring Harbor. File photo
Richard McCombie stands inside a laboratory at Cold Spring Harbor. File photo

This year CSHL, which has been home at one point or another to eight Nobel Prize-winning scientists, is celebrating its 125th year. For the research center’s contributions and its ongoing commitment to producing top-flight research, Times Beacon Record Newspapers names the staff at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory People of the Year.

Patricia Wright, distinguished service professor of anthropology at Stony Brook University, said CSHL has more than made its mark. “There’s so many things that have come out of that lab that have changed the world,” she said. “Contributing to the human genome project is an important step that is leading to medical genomics which may, one day, prevent diseases before they happen.”

Researchers led by Bruce Stillman — president and chief executive officer of CSHL and a scientist who studies how errors in DNA replication are involved in diseases such as cancer — conduct experiments that may reveal key processes in cancer and autism, branching in plants, neural circuits involved in decision-making and much more. The lab’s research is broken down into five categories: cancer, neuroscience, quantitative biology, plant biology, and bioinformatics-and-genomics. Each of these fields generates research papers every year that not only advance an understanding of basic science, but also offer potential to change the world by taking a novel approach to a disease or increasing plant crop yields.

Zachary Lippman, associate professor at Watson School of Biological Sciences at CSHL, published a paper earlier this year in nature genetics in which he identified a set of genes that controls stem-cell production in tomatoes. Mutations in these genes can explain the origin of the beefsteak tomato, which may help breeders fine-tune fruit size in any fruit-bearing crop.

Gregory Hannon, adjunct professor and investigator at Howard Hughes Medical Institute, meanwhile, teamed up with Associate Professor Michael Schatz, among others, to characterize the entire genome for a flatworm found in Italy that can regenerate almost its entire body after an injury. These results, which were published in an edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a scientific journal, can provide a genetic road map to study the worm and its remarkable regeneration abilities.

After 125 years Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory continues to educate its students and conduct research. Photo by Giselle Barkley
After 125 years Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory continues to educate its students and conduct research. Photo by Giselle Barkley

These and many other studies published in high-profile scientific journals build on the work done by researchers such as Nobel Prize winner Barbara McClintock, who discovered transposable elements, or jumping genes, in maize.

The people that work at CSHL know, implicitly, that they are “standing on the backs of giants,” said Wright.

Founded in 1890, CSHL made seminal discoveries in science, including a study on hybrid vigor by George Harrison Shull, in which crossbred corn produced some 20 percent higher yields than natural pollination. In the 1940s Milislav Demerec, the lab director, discovered that exposing penicillin to X-rays increased the yield of a drug which was important during World War II. Modern researchers who have spent time at CSHL praise the culture and opportunity.

“Science has always driven things here,” said Richard McCombie, a professor who has been at CSHL since 1992. When he moved to an off-campus building, he recalled Stillman said, “It’ll be up to you guys to make sure the new people are imbued with the culture of the lab.”

Jan Witkowski, executive director of the Banbury Center at CSHL, said the lab is unique because of its combination of research and education.

“One of the most interesting things is this combination of very high level research and very high level of education and communication,” Witkowski said. “There’s no other institute in the world that does both of those things at the level we do it here.”

Giselle Barkley contributed reporting.