People of the Year

David Prestia, third from right, at the 2019 Three Village Community Trust annual gala. Photo from David Prestia

By Leah Chiappino

For David Prestia, the owner of Bagel Express in Setauket, being part of the Three Village area is more than being a business owner, he also gets involved in the community.

He consistently takes time out of his schedule to give back to the area in the form of donations, volunteerism and community engagement. He’s the machine behind the hot chocolate at the Three Village Electric Holiday Parade and the cook at the annual Three Village Chamber of Commerce Barbecue at West Meadow Beach.

Having grown up with a family who owned an Italian deli, Prestia says he was the only one of four brothers who didn’t work in the deli when he was growing up. However, after receiving his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from St. John’s University in Queens, he began working with his father and fell in love with the food business. He then opened Fratelli’s Market Place in Astoria, Queens, and expanded it to locations in Roslyn, Forest Hills, Manhattan and Stony Brook village.

“David brings a businessperson’s perspective to trust operations along with his good humor and enthusiasm for our preservation mission.”

– Robert Reuter

When he first moved to Setauket 30 years ago, he jumped on the opportunity to open a bagel store. He has owned Bagel Express in Setauket, along with his partner Eric Keller and brother Michael Prestia, ever since. Having sold Fratelli’s Market Place, his focus is running the Setauket location, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, and supplying Bagel Express in Smithtown and Sayville.

While running his business, he manages to contribute to the community and is on the board of the Three Village Community Trust, a not-for-profit land trust. Vice President Robert Reuter said Prestia has been instrumental in the business aspect of the organization.

“David brings a businessperson’s perspective to trust operations along with his good humor and enthusiasm for our preservation mission,” he said. “He shares that interest with his considerable network of friends and associates who know his dedication to our community and the result has been many new supporters.”

Having been a history major in college, Prestia said the rich history is one of his favorite things about the Three Village area, which inspired him to get involved in the Three Village Historical Society. He has donated food for the annual Candlelight House Tour for the past several years.

“Usually, if you ask, [Prestia] will donate, ” said Steve Healy, the president of the historical society. “People like Dave are not just in the community; they are the community. He is always willing to roll up his sleeves and help out.”

Prestia is also on the board of the Three Village Chamber of Commerce and involved with Seawolves United at Stony Brook University. He has sponsored Staller Center for the Arts receptions and the food concession at university basketball games. For the local business owner, getting involved was simply not a question.

“I’m very lucky,” Prestia said. “We’ve been successful with the business. It’s so important to give back to the community. There are so many things going on all the time. It’s a great place to raise a family, and the schools are wonderful. We’re so lucky to live here.”

 

Guardianship Corp and RSVP volunteers include members of Stony Brook University’s nursing program, interns and compassionate individuals from Long Island’s senior population. Photo by Robert Heppenheimer

By Laura Johnson

Guardianship Corp is a pilot program created to serve as a safety net for impoverished, incapacitated adults who are wards of the court. There is no hard data on the number of people in Suffolk who need the not-for-profit’s services, but most authorities agree the number is rising due to the aging population. Consequently, more help and additional funding has been sorely needed.

Thankfully, Guardianship Corp’s model of operation “has accomplished what the court system could not,” said Pegi Orsino, executive director of RSVP Suffolk. Her organization recruits and places senior volunteers with the people in need of assistance. “It’s a cost-effective solution that’s making a difference,” she added.

Richard Horowitz is a New York State Court of Claims judge and acting justice of Suffolk County Supreme Court who has also helped launch the new program.

“Judge Horowitz asked RSVP to meet with him in early 2018 to discuss the difficulties in guardianship,” Orsino said. “I brought along one of our board members, Bob Heppenheimer, who had hands on experience with the population the judge was concerned with.” Orsino said. Heppenheimer is a recently retired owner and operator of two local nursing homes and has years of experience as an advocate for seniors and others in long-term nursing care.

“I was wondering what to do next, and God dropped on my lap an opportunity to contribute to the good of society.”

– Bob Heppenheimer

Horowitz explained that New York State does not have a guardianship system in place for disabled adults with no family support and who cannot afford to hire their own attorney. Without the services, these vulnerable individuals are at risk of not only getting lost in the system but may also be deprived of needed medical care. So, the courts have been forced to seek out attorneys willing to do the work pro bono. Horowitz explained that he personally handled more than 150 new applications for guardianship each year.

“And the need was growing,” Orsino said. “Typically, when there is no fee, there are no takers. That is where Judge Horowitz was hoping RSVP could step in.”

Unfortunately, Orsino feared the burden was too great. “Guardianship is a huge responsibility … too much for a volunteer,” Orsino said. “I left the meeting feeling rather at a loss … but Bob was enthusiastic and had the idea of creating a not-for-profit that would serve as guardian, freeing volunteers of that responsibility and instead have them serve as care monitors,” she said. Essentially volunteers would be the eyes and ears for the guardian, enabling the organization to take on many wards.

“I was wondering what to do next,” Heppenheimer said, referring to his retirement as owner of nursing facilities. “And God dropped on my lap an opportunity to contribute to the good of society,” he added.

Heppenheimer drafted a proposal and in the fall of 2018 received start-up funding through a New York State Senate initiative. “Both Nassau and Suffolk counties were given $250,000 each for fiscal year 2019 to manage and make decisions for vulnerable wards,” he said. With the start-up funds, Heppenheimer created the not-for-profit Guardianship Corp. He hired an administrator and recruited and trained selected senior volunteers from RSVP to become care monitors. More recently, Heppenheimer has also reached out to Stony Brook University’s nursing program and interns to become care monitors.

“We currently have guardianship for 40 wards. Our senior volunteers, who include retired nurses, social workers and caretakers, visit 20 of those most vulnerable at least two times a month and report on each visit,” he said. “Attorneys who serve as guardians are only required by the court to visit a ward once every three months,” he added.

“The hope is that this pilot project will be made permanent, serve as a model for other communities and be adopted throughout the state.”

– Richard Horowitz

“Bob is very hands on,” Orsino said. “He makes visits to clients along with the volunteers. Twice a month is huge … a lot can change in 90 days,” she added.

“Over the past year, Guardianship Corp has intervened when an estranged daughter began stealing from her mother, one of our wards. We also stepped in to make sure another ward got the proper cancer treatment for a condition that might have gone unnoticed,” she added. “And sadly, over the past year we have also made several funeral arrangements for individuals who might not have gotten a proper burial otherwise.”

“Our greatest threat going forward is funding,” Heppenheimer said. “Somehow, our cause has worked itself out of the budget cycle. Our clients are elderly or disabled. Many are in nursing homes or institutionalized and do not vote. We serve a population that politicians are not forced to be accountable to.”

Horowitz endorses Heppenheimer’s efforts, “The creation of Guardianship Corp has filled a huge void and allowed the Court to appoint compassionate professionals, volunteers and students whose primary focus is the care, safety and comfort of incapacitated persons. The hope is that this pilot project will be made permanent, serve as a model for other communities and be adopted throughout the state.”

For more information or to volunteer contact Guardianship Corp at 631-650-2325.

 

The McMorris family leads a hike Sept. 30 through Manorville, finishing the trek their son Andrew started a year earlier.Photo by Kyle Barr

Nobody should have had to go through what the McMorris family did.

Yet, there are very few families that could have turned around and offered up a chance of hope, and an effort to give back.

John and Alisa McMorris at the Dec. 15 race. Photo by Kyle Barr

Alisa and John McMorris were there in the hospital with their 12-year-old son, Andrew, as he passed from injuries received by an alleged drunk driver while on a hike with his Boy Scout troop in 2018. The family’s names have appeared in the news every week as of late, as the trial against the driver progressed.

Yet their names have also appeared in the news for other reasons. The family has started a foundation in the name of Andrew which has raised money for the local school district and drunk driving advocacy groups. They have shown staunch support for nonprofit advocacy groups Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Students Against Destructive Decisions.

Through fundraisers and other community efforts, the Andrew McMorris Foundation has raised thousands for Boy Scouts of America, their own Troop 161, the school district, along with MADD and other organizations that look to stem the tide of drunk driving. This year, Alisa stood next to U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) in supporting bills to crack down on drunk and impaired driving, and the parents stood alongside MADD arguing to lower the blood alcohol limit for drunk drivers from 0.08 percent to 0.05 percent.

The Shoreham-Wading River community has become so known to tragedy, but for those who live in the two interconnected hamlets, mourning has become an act of compassion and activism. As was the case of the Cutinella family, whose son Thomas died after another player struck his head during a football game, and for the family of Melissa Marchese, an 18-year-old Shoreham resident who died in a car crash earlier this year. Tom and Kelli Cutinella were honored by TBR News Media as People of the Year in 2017 for the work with the foundation named after Thomas.

“They sing Andrew’s song with their advocacy — make an impact and change the world as if he were here today.”

– Kelli Cutinella

Kelli Cutinella said she and her husband had known Alisa and John for years, but they had reached out to the McMorris family after their loss, looking to offer any help they may have needed. Kelli soon came to see their “strength and courage,” witnessing the McMorris clan create their own foundation much in the same way the Cutinellas created theirs. She added that after such a loss, one never truly gets closure, but it lets one move in another direction — toward meaningful change.

“When you lose your child, you feel very alone,” Kelli said. “They sing Andrew’s song with their advocacy — make an impact and change the world as if he were here today.”

Last year, the McMorris foundation granted two scholarships worth $750 each to graduating SWR high school students in Andrew’s honor.

Superintendent Gerard Poole and SWR school board president, Michael Lewis, said the McMorris family has long been active in the district for years, with Alisa having been a PTA leader and member of the legislative and bond committees. Poole said she had been instrumental in setting up a trip for students to Albany to advocate. Her advocacy led to the resurrection of a SADD club as well.

“The McMorris family has been incredibly active, supporting student programs,” Poole said. Alisa’s “been just a great part of the school community — involved in every aspect.”

John McMorris is an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 161, where Andrew had been an active and enthusiastic member. Jane Sherman, the committee chair of Troop 161, called the McMorrises one of the strongest couples she knows for taking their personal tragedy and then “looking out for the community.”

She said the McMorris foundation has already had several successful fundraising events, both from the community and internally, including a gala in September. The gala and other events have raised money for a new cabin in the Baiting Hollow Scout Camp named McMorris Lodge in honor of Andrew. The outside of the cabin is nearly fully complete, and most of the work is continuing on the inside of the shell.

“They’ve had such vision, and every day they’re knocking down goalposts,”
Sherman said.

But this is only the beginning, the Troop 161 committee chair said. As fundraising continues, and as the foundation builds more support, there are plans to produce scholarship for not just SWR, but the Riverhead and Miller Place school districts as well. John McMorris works as a guidance counselor at Miller Place.

“Scholarships for science, aviation, music, everything that Andrew loved,” Sherman said. “They’re just tremendous, not just by themselves,

A Walmart customer donates to Stan Feltman’s fundraising efforts for fellow veterans. Photo by Rita J. Egan

On a recent December morning, while many shoppers rushed into the Middle Island Walmart to take care of some holiday shopping, others paused in the vestibule to throw some money in a bucket.

The container sat in a shopping cart filled with articles and wartime photos that feature veteran Stan Feltman, 93, the man standing behind the cart. Feltman is a familiar face at the store as he stands there practically every day, all year long, collecting money for his fellow veterans with the recognizable red poppies in his hand. Some days he takes a break, but only from his usual spot. He then moves on to collect money at the Walmart in Centereach or East Setauket.

Feltman said he’s met so many generous people through the years. He usually can collect between $80 and $100 after standing there for two hours. One day a gentleman shook his hand and noticed he was cold and bought him a jacket from the store. One woman gave him a $20 bill one day saying it was for him to keep.

“I took the $20, and when she left I threw it in the pot,” he said. “I don’t need the money.”

A member of the Jewish War Veterans of the USA Col. Mickey Marcus Post 336, Feltman brings the donations to the post’s monthly meetings where he and his fellow members decide where the money should go. Post Comdr. Norman Weitz said over the last few years they have been able to donate more than $21,000 thanks to Feltman’s fundraising efforts. The post is a regular contributor to many veterans efforts, including the Long Island State Veterans Home at Stony Brook University.

“A common theme you will see in the veterans community is that veterans are dedicated to giving back to helping other veterans.”

– Jonathan Spier

In 2017, the post donated $5,000 to LISVH. Jonathan Spier, deputy executive director of the vets home, said the donation was used to purchase oxygen concentrators for the patients. He said the JWV has been a partner with the home for more than 20 years and other donations from them have been used for recreational therapy programs. The post also assists Jewish vets to attend Shabbat and holiday services.

“A common theme you will see in the veterans community is that veterans are dedicated to giving back to helping other veterans,” he said.

Spier added he is in awe of Feltman’s fundraising efforts.

“It’s really incredible to see that passion and that energy and the effort that he puts in to help veterans,” he said.

As for his war record, Feltman was a B-29 tail gunner in the U.S. Army Air Corps from 1943 to 1945. He was a double ace, meaning he shot down 10 enemy planes. Weitz said he admires Feltman, who one time when he was shot down had to escape on a raft. When Feltman’s fellow soldier slipped off the raft into shark-infested waters, he dived down to save him and grabbed him by the collar. Feltman earned the Bronze Star Medal for saving the man’s life. The medal wasn’t the only one earned during his service, as he gained four medals in total throughout his time in the Air Corps, even though they are no longer in his possession.

“My wife was so proud of them when she passed away, I put them in her coffin,” he said.

Weitz said he believes there are more heroic acts that Feltman doesn’t talk about, and the office of U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) is trying to see if his medals can be replaced by writing to the Air Force Historical Research Agency, which has access to after-action reports. The post commander has also nominated Feltman for membership in the Legion of Honor of The Chapel of Four Chaplains, which recognizes veterans who have gone above and beyond their required duties and contribute to their community.

In addition to raising money for veterans, Feltman has participated in lectures at schools and senior groups, including Erasmus Hall High School where he attended while growing up in Brooklyn. He also has been interviewed for the Library of Congress Veterans History Project, an initiative established to collect and preserve firsthand remembrances of wartime veterans.

Weitz calls Feltman amazing and said he is worthy of all the accolades he has received.

“The record amount of money he’s collected allows us to distribute thousands and thousands to local veterans organizations,” he said.

The Gardiner foundation awards the Order of the Ancient and Honorable Huntington Militia a grant to collaborate with the Raynham Hall Museum in Oyster Bay to present demonstrations on colonial crafts and trades. Photo from Raynham Hall l Museum

Since 1639, the Gardiner family and their descendants have owned a 5-square-mile island in the Atlantic Ocean nestled between Long Island’s North Fork and South Fork. The property, known as Gardiner’s Island, was obtained from King Charles I of England as part of a royal grant. Today, that legacy is benefiting all of Long Island, thanks to Robert David Lion Gardiner, the island’s 16th Lord of the Manor, who died in 2004.

In 1987, Gardiner established the Robert D.L. Gardiner Foundation to support the study of American history. Each year, the foundation awards $5 million in grants to Long Island and New York nonprofits focused on preserving history. Look around at preserved pieces of history all across Long Island and in New York City, and you will likely find the foundation often behind the scenes offering support.

Thanks to the Gardiner Foundation, the new interactive software display highlights the displays in the First Order Fresnel Lens Building that is alongside the Fire Island Lighthouse. Photo from Gardiner Foundation website

The foundation helped reinvigorate the Walt Whitman Birthplace State Historic Site in West Hills, for instance, in preparation for this year’s 200th birthday year celebration.

And as the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City prepared for its 50th anniversary of the Apollo mission this past July, Gardiner helped fund programs and space travel exhibits. It’s considered a substantial addition to the museum and Long Island’s contribution to the space program.

The 107-year old Huntington Lighthouse was preserved and restored with a $145,000 matching grant from the foundation. The Whaling Museum & Education Center at Cold Spring Harbor has the foundation to thank for its climate-controlled storage rooms for its collections.

Big or small, the foundation has been a wonderful resource for nonprofits. Since the foundation aims to preserve Long Island heritage and encourages collaboration, it is possible to find many success stories.

In Setauket, some may have noticed the sagging 1887 carriage shed at the Caroline Church has been replaced. The foundation over the last few years has helped fund its stabilization and replacement.

St. James is currently undergoing a revitalization, and the foundation helped fund the Celebrate St. James organization in staging a musical comedy about the entertainment history of the community.

This month, the foundation awarded its 2019 grants. Recipients include the Order of the Ancient and Honorable Huntington Militia which presented Dec. 14 a demonstration at Raynham Hall Museum in Oyster Bay of handmade colonial crafts and trades. The presentation included a free exhibition with artisans who showed how to do silver and black smithing, weaving, horn and leather work and basket weaving.

Harriet Gerard Clark, executive director of Raynham Hall Museum, is one of many people from organizations that recognize the distinct value of Gardiner.

“I would say that the Gardiner foundation is profoundly changing the way we understand history on Long Island, not only by providing very much needed brick-and-mortar funding, but also by proactively encouraging and incentivizing new ways of networking and collaborating among institutions concerned with historic scholarship, so that we Long Islanders can gain a truer understanding of our own identity,” she said.

The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, which owns historic properties in Stony Brook and Setauket, has also benefited from the Gardiner’s work. The foundation most recently sponsored a live historically-themed play entitled “Courageous Women of the Revolutionary War.” The production highlights the previously unsung female heroes of George Washington’s spy ring.

The Gardiner foundation is comprised of a five-member board, plus an executive director. Kathryn Curran bears that title and deserves special recognition.

“Kathryn is a terrific lady, she is very creative and brings people together.”

– Gloria Rocchio

WMHO president, Gloria Rocchio, is very grateful to the foundation and recognizes Curran’s unique qualities.

“Kathryn is a terrific lady,” Rocchio said. “She is very creative and brings people together.”

One of the conditions of WMHO’s grant was to talk to other historical societies.

“We are making new connections because of that effort,” Rocchio added. “That was all because of Kathy.”

The Smithtown, Northport, Port Jefferson, Miller Place-Mount Sinai and many other Long Island historical societies have grown or become better established because of the Gardiner foundation.

The organization also announced this month that it will fund a Long Island Radio & Television Historical Society documentary that will explore the development of wireless technology on Long Island, featuring the Telefunken wireless station in West Sayville and an international spy ring in the lead-up to World War I. The project also highlights the work of Nikola Tesla of Shoreham and Guglielmo Marconi of Babylon.

The foundation seeks to support 501(c)(3) organizations that demonstrate strong and organized internal capacity, effectiveness, financial and human resources as well as the intellectual capacity to successfully manage the project. Newly formed historical entities are welcomed to apply for a grant.

At a time when historical preservationists report a decline in financial resources, the foundation’s support becomes more and more noteworthy.

For high school students interested in studying history, the foundation also offers a generous undergraduate scholarship worth $40,000.

The Gardiner’s grant portfolio and scholarship information can be viewed on its website at www.rdlgfoundation.org, which gives an in-depth overview of its preservation efforts.

Paule Patcher serves as the CEO of Long Island Cares, also known as the Harry Chapin Food Bank. The organization feeds the hungry and will now supply carbon-free energy at discounted rates to households suffering hardships. Photo by Donna Deedy

On Long Island, 89,030 children go hungry. Who’s counting?

Long Island Cares. Founded in 1980 by the late Grammy Award winning musician and activist Harry Chapin, the organization was Long Island’s first food bank. The nonprofit group provides nutritional aid to more than 580 community-based member-based agencies to distribute more than six million pounds of food each year. The food bank’s accomplishments are extraordinary. But in 2019, the charitable organization also stands out for expanding its services to address an array of causes.

Inside the Long Island Cares food bank. Photo by Donna Deddy

LI Cares installed solar panels on the roof of its 35,000-square-foot Hauppauge warehouse to become the first community solar project in the Hauppauge Industrial Park. The energy it generates will be passed along to discount the electric bills for around 40 households suffering hardship. The system is set to activate in time for the new year.

“The LI Cares solar project is significant in so many ways,” said SUNation Solar System’s co-founder and CEO Scott Maskin. “While it’s not the first community solar project on Long Island, it is the first one in the Hauppauge Industrial Park, now known as The Long Island Innovation Park at Hauppauge.”

Sandy Chapin, wife of the late Harry, who co-wrote with him the gold record song “Cat’s in the Cradle,” serves as chairperson of the group’s board.

Paule Pachter has served for the last 11 years as the group CEO and said that the organization addresses the humanitarian need of veterans, immigrants, seniors and others struggling with economic and social challenges.

SUNation Solar Systems installed the solar project and Maskin compliments the organization for its leadership.

“Paule Pachter is a leader by nature and was the first to engage in the Hauppauge Industrial [Association] power project which aims at transforming the park into a 100 percent renewable park by 2040,” he said. “More importantly is that the power generated from the LI Cares roof will be strategically directed to those most vulnerable and those with food insecurity. As Paule always says, ‘It takes more than food to feed the hungry.’”

For the 50 or more families that will be receiving discounted energy to their homes, their savings of $0.05 per kilowatt hour will go toward meeting their other needs, Pachter said.

This project is designed to provide benefits for 25 years or more, according to Maskin.

“This is a project that would not have come together without the laser focus and direction of Paule, his amazing board of directors, the efforts of LIPA, PSEG and the HIA-LI,” Maskin added. “We at SUNation are humbled to play our role with LI Cares. While we design and install so many projects on Long Island, this one is truly special.”

 

Dr. David Fiorella and Dr. Eric Niegelberg are spearheading the Mobile Stroke Unit Program. Photo provided by Stony Brook University

By Daniel Dunaief

In June, Diana Squitieri of Holbrook wasn’t making sense. Her son Joe noticed that she was also stumbling while her face was drooping.

When he brought her to his car to take her to the hospital, she became so disoriented that he asked his wife, Erin, to call 911. That decision, and the new vehicle that arrived, may have saved her life.

A Stony Brook University Hospital mobile stroke unit, which went into service two months before Squitieri’s symptoms developed, immediately started assessing her symptoms.

Each of the two units is a mobile stroke emergency room, which allows Stony Brook doctors to determine whether the patient has a blocked vessel or bleeding in the brain.

If the process of getting to the hospital and determining her condition had taken any longer, Joe Squitieri is convinced he “could have been burying her.”

For bringing these two stroke units to Suffolk County, the TBR News Media is pleased to recognize the team of medical professionals at Stony Brook Medicine who provide life-saving care for stroke victims.

The Squitieri family. Photo provided by the Squitieri family

Suffolk County is “one of only a few places in the entire United States to have these units,” said Dr. David Fiorella, the co-director of the Stony Brook Cerebrovascular Center.

Stony Brook hopes to add a third unit within the next year.

Through the end of September, the two units had received 550 calls. Of those, about half of the patients had a stroke. Some received anti-clotting drugs while in transit to the hospital, while an evaluation of others en route alerted surgeons to the need for rapid intervention.

Every minute during a stroke could endanger as many as two million brain cells, Fiorella said. That means cutting down on the time to receive medicine or to have surgery potentially saves millions of brain cells, which can improve the quality and quantity of a person’s life.

Squitieri is one of 23 people transported in the stroke unit who had an emergency surgical procedure to remove the clot.

Numerous people contributed to bringing these mobile units to Stony Brook, including Eric Niegelberg, the associate director of Operations for Emergency Services and Internal Medicine; Michael Guido, the co-director of the Stroke Center; Eileen Conlon, the RN coordinator of the stroke unit; and Carol Gomes, the interim CEO of Stony Brook Hospital.

Niegelberg appreciated Fiorella’s efforts.

“It was only through [Fiorella’s] leadership and perseverance that we were able to launch this program,” Niegelberg said in an email. Fiorella spent considerable time meeting with county legislators, EMS committees and EMS agencies to rally support for this program.

Fiorella appreciated the joint effort that made this lifesaving service possible. He was grateful that Gomes “saw the value” of this service. “Without her dedication, this would never have happened.”

Gomes believes the stroke units provide “an extraordinary medical service” while improving the quality of life for the community, she wrote in an email.

The mobile stroke units, which have four specialized personnel on board, are equipped with technology that allows Stony Brook neurologists to examine and diagnose each patient.

The outcomes for patients are better because of the earlier delivery of care, Fiorella said. Hospital stays are also shorter, lowering the cost of care.

Squitieri and her son Joe are thankful that the mobile stroke unit arrived at her home when it did.

Diana Squitieri recalled being scared during her stroke and said the crew took “wonderful care of me.”

Joe Squitieri called the stroke unit a “godsend.”

 

 

Cayla and Iris Rosenhagen pose for a photo during a beach cleanup at Cedar Beach last August. Photo by Kyle Barr

Approximately 8 million tons of plastic waste is dumped into the oceans each year, according to the nonprofit Ocean Conservancy. Long Islanders have seen what plastic waste can do to their waterways and beaches firsthand.

Cayla and Iris Rosenhagen, two 14-year-old twins from Selden, wanted to change that and in July 2019 they created a beach cleanup initiative fittingly called the Beach Bucket Brigade.

Throughout the summer, the duo hosted seven beach cleanups, and with the help of about 300 volunteers they were able to remove more than 23,500 pieces of litter off Long Island beaches — 45 percent of that was plastic waste.

The sisters said now that they are not too focused and busy planning events, they’ve been able to reflect on the success they’ve accomplished these past few months.

“We are ecstatic, everything has gone so well, and everyone has been so supportive of us,” Cayla said.

From a young age, the sisters have had a keen interest in the environment, nature and animals. They said they would go out on their own and do cleanups and wanted to see if they could get more people involved.

“They really thought of everything, they’ve done this all on their own and really made their vision a reality.”

– Jane Bonner

“We had the idea for a couple of months and we wanted to find a way to get the community involved,” Iris said. “We reached out to the Town [of Brookhaven] and they liked what we had in mind.”

Brookhaven Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) said it was great seeing young people take the initiative for a good cause.

“The presentation they gave us was so well done, we were immediately all on board and wanted to help in any way we could,” LaValle said. “It has been a great collaboration and the whole program/initiative really sets up well for the future.”

One of the events hosted by the twins included a Beach Bucket Brigade Books at the Beach event that involved a story time for young kids before heading out to clean the beach. At all cleanups, for each bucket of trash volunteers returned they were given a raffle ticket in which they could win eco-friendly prizes, recycled toys and products donated by a number of local businesses.

“They really thought of everything,” said Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point), who attended one of the beach cleanups at Cedar Beach back in August. “They’ve done this all on their own and really made their vision a reality.”

For the duo’s effort, the town honored them by making Sept. 12 Cayla and Iris Rosenhagen Day. They also appointed them to the youth board, which advises the Brookhaven Youth Bureau about issues affecting young people.

The twin sisters said they have already begun formulating ideas and events for next spring and summer. They also stressed that there are small things people can do to alleviate the abundance of plastic waste.

“What kind of eco-friendly [New Year’s] resolution are you going to make?” they said. “Everybody can do their part and cut out the amount of plastic they use.”

Like LaValle, Bonner has been impressed with what the Rosenhagen twins have accomplished.

“We have been blown away by their presence and passion, this is not the last time you will hear of Cayla and Iris — they are going places and they have a bright future,” Bonner said.

To find more information about Beach Bucket Brigade and future events visit their Facebook page.

Nikki and John Poulianos during the 2014 prom production of “The Wizard of Oz”. Photo by Clinton Rubin

By Julianne Mosher

Although their children graduated from Port Jefferson high school years ago, John and Nikki Poulianos still help out the students whenever they get a chance. 

The Port Jefferson Prom Committee. Photo by Drew Biondo

“The Poulianos clan has had an extraordinary impact on many families across Port Jeff,” Clinton Rubin, a parent with a child in the school district said. “Remarkably, it comes from so many different directions — they are what makes Port Jeff a family.”

John is a business owner and Nikki works for a few hours at the high school as its equipment manager, Joan Lyons, head custodian of Port Jefferson high school said. She added that the Poulianoses are constantly giving their time and energy back to the students — especially with the annual prom.

“Together the two of them work endless hours volunteering with the prom,” she said. “Without them, rest assured, there would not be a Port Jeff prom.”

The Port Jefferson prom is a big event for the school and community alike, and parents start to plan it months in advance. 

“What the Poulianoses do for the prom and kids is amazing,” Lyons added. “They’re there from the start of it until the very end setting it up and breaking it down.”

Lyons, who has worked in the school district for 33 years, said that without this couple, there would be no prom. 

“They’re good, nice people — not many people would do this stuff,” she added. “Thank God the school district and community has them.”

But the pair doesn’t just work on prom. They come to every soccer game (John is the high school boys soccer coach) and Nikki helps all the athletes in the school with their uniforms. 

“They just like to do things for the kids of Port Jeff,” Theresa Tsunis, a Port Jefferson resident said. “Nikki was in attendance at every single middle school basketball game my children were involved in. She is undeniably dedicated to the students of Port Jefferson.”

While the couple is active within the school district, John and Nikki also help out in other parts of the community. John works closely with Hope House and the Port Jeff Cub Scout Pack 41, while the couple is also active with the Greek festival every year. 

“We are all incredibly fortunate to have such a caring, committed family as part of our village infrastructure,” Rubin said. “They are what makes our town so special, and what makes it so easy to smile when thinking of our past and our future.”

So many people respect the constant volunteerism and selflessness of John and Nikki Poulianos.  

“They’re not the couple of the year, Janet Stafford, a Port Jeff resident, said. “They’re the couple of the decade.”

From left, Eileen Striese, Linda MacDonald and Pam Green. Photo by Heidi Sutton

In 1969, the Kent Animal Shelter opened its doors in Calverton to Long Island animals with nowhere to call home. From their first day of operation, Kent was a no-kill shelter, providing a safe space for healthy animals to find homes and treatable sick or injured animals a place to recover.

The private, nonprofit shelter was founded by a small group of humanitarians with a deep compassion for animals. The shelter was small and not well known outside the local community, and for several decades they struggled to avoid financial problems. The animal population was minimal and the staff didn’t have an executive director, either. In 1985, they hired Pamela Green for the job in a last-ditch effort to rejuvenate.

“I love being a part of the work we do, which ultimately helps both people and animals.”

— Linda MacDonald

Green, who went to college for pre-veterinary studies, grew up in a family that always encouraged compassion for animals. At home, they raised horses, chickens and ducks, among others. “It was always my intention to work with animals. They can’t speak for themselves so they need people to help them,” she said.

Under Green’s direction, Kent Animal Shelter has flourished. They now facilitate adoptions for nearly 700 dogs and cats every year, and are expecting to surpass that number by the end of 2019.

Included in the adoptions are a population of animals rescued from other places in the United States and even around the world.

“We have rescue partners around the country as well as internationally. Every 10 to 14 days, we do rescue transports from high-kill shelters in places that don’t place a lot of priority on adoption programs,” Green explained. “For many of the animals in those areas, there aren’t a lot of ways out of the shelter. We rescue them, bring them up here for medical care, vaccines and spaying or neutering, and then adopt them out.”

Many of the rescues Kent performs are in the South, where animals can become victims of homelessness or injury following natural disasters like hurricanes or floods. Some rescue dogs are flown to the United States from other countries where dog meat is consumed. Around 25 animals are rescued per trip, the majority of which are dogs because of Long Island’s ongoing problem with cat overpopulation.

One of the shelter’s biggest draws is their spay and neuter program. Two veterinarians work four days a week to spay and neuter local pets. Approximately 3,500 animals are spayed or neutered each year, Green said.

Pam Green with Mason

“Spaying and neutering is so important because if it’s left unchecked, a huge number of animals will be left without homes. You see this in areas of the country where spay and neuter programs aren’t as much of a priority. It leads to overbreeding and overpopulation.”

It takes a lot of work to keep the busy shelter running, and a regular staff of 22 makes it happen, along with volunteers who walk dogs, play with cats, and work fundraisers.

Office manager Linda MacDonald has been involved with animal care and rescue in various capacities for more than 20 years. These days, she keeps the business side of the shelter running smoothly while also helping to facilitate adoptions and surrenders.

“I love being a part of the work we do, which ultimately helps both people and animals,” MacDonald said. “I get to know the animals we have here very well, and it helps me to counsel customers on the right type of animal or breed for their lifestyle. We’re always looking to change and grow, whether it’s growing our social media presence, expanding our kennels or working with a trainer to help our customers introduce a pet to their home. A positive experience when a pet goes home can affect how they behave the rest of their lives.”

Eileen Striese of Bellport visited Kent for the first time 15 years ago. She had lost a dog a few years before and was eager to bring home a new pet. Her husband suggested they try Kent, and not long after, they welcomed home a black and white shih tzu named Lily.

Years later, as Striese approached retirement, she began to think about what she might do next. “I always knew that I wanted to volunteer and give back in some way,” she explained. “I love animals, but I had never worked with them before. So I went to the shelter and asked how I could get involved.”

Soon, Striese was walking dogs and socializing with the animals at Kent. She was also one of the volunteers responsible for transporting dogs to a local Petco for adoption.

“They warned me that I might fall in love with one of them, and there was a white bichon poodle mix that would just fall asleep in my arms. The bond formed instantly,” she recalled. “A few months later I brought him home. We renamed him Rocky.”

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine with Pam Green, executive director of Kent Animal Shelter and her dog, Frodo. Photo courtesy of Kent Animal Shelter

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine has a long-standing connection to the shelter that began when he adopted his first family dog in the 1970s. Since then, his family has gone on to raise two poodles who are now elderly. 

“I thought that these two dogs were going to be the last for us, but sometimes life throws you a curveball,” Romaine said. “My wife was diagnosed with cancer, and she said to me at the time, ‘If I make it through this, I want to get a dog.’”

In March 2018, the Romaines welcomed a white bichon poodle mix into their family. Appropriately, they named him Lucky.

“They say you can judge a person by the way they treat animals — I’ve known Pam Green for a long time, and she’s a very special person who is so enthusiastic about her career,” he said. “The work Kent does for the community is incredible, and so important. It sets the shelter apart.”

Kent Animal Shelter’s funding is donor-based, and while most donations come from private donors, other funds come from foundations including the ASPCA and PetSmart. The shelter also holds several fundraising events throughout the year, all of them focused on having fun. In the past, they’ve held comedy nights, psychic readings, dog walking events, and recently celebrated its golden anniversary with a dinner/dance fundraiser at Stonewalls Restaurant in Riverhead.

At the end of the day, it’s all about doing as much good as they can, said Green. The shelter is looking to update and expand its facilities in the future to reach even more animals in need.

“It’s very rewarding work, but it’s also difficult and sometimes disheartening. The reward is to see an animal taken out of a terrible situation and have its life saved. To see them go to a loving home makes it all worth the effort,” she said.

Kent Animal Shelter is located at 2259 River Rd, Calverton, and is open seven days a week. To learn more about the shelter or to find your perfect pet, visit www.kentanimalshelter.com or call 631-727-5731.