Nonprofits

Photo from Hometown Hope

On Tuesday, May 25, local nonprofit Hometown Hope gathered with members of the Port Jef-ferson Fire Department, as well as representatives from village and local government to honor three fallen heroes in honor of Memorial Day.

American flags were installed in front of Village Hall in memory of local residents David George Timothy Still, U.S. Navy; Honorary Chief Frederick J. Gumbus, U.S. Army Air; James Von Oiste, U.S. Marine and Belle Terre resident; and Victor Gronenthal, U.S. Army and the husband of a current resident.

Hometown Hope plans to add more flags each year to honor those local heroes who sacrificed their lives to protect our freedom.

 

Photo from Little Flower

Little Flower Children and Family Services of New York (Little Flower) hosted their first-ever FOSTERING HOPE virtual fundraiser on Thursday, April 29 via Zoom.

Together with their guests, Little Flower raised over $70,000 to support their programs and services for children in foster care and people with developmental disabilities.

Little Flower recognized inaugural Youth Ambassadors of Hope, Kailey Perkins and Laura Lee, of the Young Entrepreneurs Scholars. Kailey and Laura were recognized for their work with the youth in the residential treatment center on Little Flower’s Wading River campus. Kailey and Laura conducted virtual entrepreneur workshops with the children, teaching them the basics of launching and running a business using a bakeshop theme.

The event, sponsored in part by DIME Bank and Fluent, Inc., and in collaboration with Together We Rise, included a design activity in which guests used design kits that were delivered to them before the event, to create images of hope and inspiration on panels that will be attached to duffle bags. The bags, filled with comfort items and necessities, will be distributed to Little Flower’s foster children and residents.

Guests also heard from Little Flower alumni, staff, and youth currently in care. A Little Flower youth in foster care shared that focusing on her future gives her hope, “hope for channeling my inner strength and achieving success.”

“It is because of this caring and inspiring community that we can continue to offer innovative programs and services to our children, families, and residents and instill hope for a brighter tomorrow. I am touched by the support they’ve shown us tonight. I look forward to seeing the joy on the faces of our kids and residents when they receive the inspirational bags,” said Corinne Hammons, Little Flower’s President & CEO.

Photo by Julianne Mosher

In an ongoing process to keep Nikola Tesla’s legacy alive on Long Island’s North Shore, the first-ever “Metal for Tesla” event was recently held, benefiting both the environment and the nonprofit’s cause.

The Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, located in Shoreham, is Nikola Tesla’s last remaining laboratory. A sad, but interesting history, the lab has been working toward becoming a science museum, that celebrates science, along with the history and contributions of the famed scientist and inventor. 

But the funds aren’t always easy to come by, and it’s taken the support from dozens of sponsors, fundraising, grants and crowdsourcing to get where they are today. 

On Saturday, March 20 from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m., over 250 people attended the site and more than 16,000 people around the world shared the event to recycle in their areas and donate to the Tesla Center online. The center partnered with Gershow Recycling. 

Science Center Executive Director Marc Alessi said they have recycled metal on the premise before, and since taking over the site, have recycled up to 62 tons (or 124,000 pounds) of metal. That has equated to be about $6,500.

This year, they raised approximately $9,500 in metal, plus the value of four cars, to support the rebuilding of Tesla’s lab into a museum and global science center for all. 

“It’s money that goes toward the mission, which is rehabilitating the lab and opening it to the public,” Alessi said. “But the mission is also spreading Nikola Tesla’s ethos … he was someone that was advocating for sustainability, conservation and the use of renewable energies in the 1890s. And in retrospect, he was right on the money.”

A man before his time

Alessi said that during the height of Tesla’s career, people didn’t know what he was trying to do. Born in what is now Croatia, and of Serbian descent, Nikola Tesla immigrated to the United States in 1884.

“But he was a man of the world,” Alessi said. 

He began working at the Edison Corporation, where he was immediately seen as a genius. Upon his research, he began realizing that alternating current systems — compared to Edison’s direct current systems — would be more beneficial and safer option. 

“With one power plant, you can power many neighborhoods and factories,” Alessi said. “Under Tesla’s use of AC, and the way he put it together, it could power motors …. Direct current, you would need a power plant every two miles. Can you imagine what our environment would be like if they tried to electrify doing that?”

He believed that energy didn’t have to be a rich man’s luxury. Energy could be available to all and powered naturally. He believed he could power the whole Northeastern seaboard with Niagara Falls. 

Tesla and Edison became engrossed in a battle, leaving Tesla to attempt to start his own company with plenty of struggle. Throughout his career, he had his ups and downs.

“Even though he had over 200 patents and invented radio, remote control, the speedometer, and the technology behind neon lighting, fluorescent lighting and early forms of X-ray,”  Alessi said, “Tesla didn’t look at other inventors as competition.”

For example, Guglielmo Marconi used 17 of Tesla’s patents to help create his single transmission. 

In the early 1900s Tesla acquired the Wardenclyffe property in Shoreham to test his theories of being able to wirelessly transmit electrical messages, funded by J.P. Morgan. The property housed a huge 187-foot tower for the purpose.

In 1903 creditors confiscated his equipment, and in 1917 the tower was demolished. The concrete feet used to hold the structure can still be seen on the property today. 

Tesla was eventually cut off, causing him to lose control of the site. The property became a film processing company in the early 30s, where harsh chemicals were dumped into the ground. The contaminated property was sold again and became shuttered in 1987. 

A decades-long cleanup ensued, and in 2007 the property was put back up for sale. 

The community — locally, nationally and even internationally — came together to fundraise to buy the property, preserve it and make it a real historic site. 

“They did a crowdfunding on Indiegogo, and at the time, it set a world record,” Alessi said. “They raised 1.4 million in six weeks, from 108 countries and 50 states — 33,000 donors,”

The site

Over the last few years, things have been moving along for the Tesla Science Center site. Through more fundraising and big-name sponsors (like Elon Musk who contributed some money), plans are continuously on the way. 

In September, renovations were completed on the chimney and cupola of Tesla’s historic laboratory, originally constructed by architect Stanford White in 1902. This project was funded by a grant from the Robert Lion Gardiner Foundation — a foundation here on Long Island that focuses on funding to restore historic sites.

Alessi said the project costs about $20 million and so far, $10.2 million has been raised. Permits with the town and DEC are still under review to begin working on the site’s visitor center — a small white house in the front of the property, which had nothing to do with Tesla. He’s hoping for the demo permit and the center to be completed this year. 

“We will continue to raise capital,” he said. “We need at least five-to-10 million to finish the lab building and put exhibits there.”

Part of the process includes rebuilding the significant 187-foot tower that was once on the property.

“It was the tallest structure on Long Island, it went up almost 200-feet into the ground,” Alessi added.

Tesla had envisioned 14 towers around the world, with power plants similar to what the Wardenclyffe lab was. 

“The beauty of it, is this guy wanted to provide free energy to everybody,” he said. “Imagine everybody having free power with 14 power plants. It’s a beautiful story — and that’s what the part of what the tower was supposed to be.”

Bringing the metal back

It all comes full circle, Alessi said, and it’s quite ironic. 

“When Tesla lost control of the property, they demolished his famed tower, sold it for scrap and recycled it,” he said. “So now, we’re asking people to bring metal back to the site, so that we can restore the site, and one day we build the tower, too.”

Alessi said that since taking over the property, the center has always encouraged people to donate recycled metal to the bin on site. This year was the first time a whole event was dedicated to it. 

“This is something we plan to do every year,” Alessi said. “It helps raise funding for the lab, but it also helps celebrate who Tesla was. I think it’s a really great event.”

And people can still continue to donate metal to the cause.

“This is a guy that in the 1890s said, ‘Don’t go down the path of coal … we need to be sustainable,” Alessi said. “We need to conserve, so it makes us feel like we’re making him proud by doing this on his site.”

This article was updated to fix historical inaccuracies. 

Elizabeth Wayland-Morgan, Executive Director of the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum Jennifer Vacca/Zoot Shoot Photographers

By Melissa Arnold

Elizabeth Wayland-Morgan is no stranger to the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum in Centerport. She’s been on staff at the museum for 11 years now in a variety of roles before being named executive director last year. The California native has spent time living on both coasts, all the while developing a deep love for the arts and culture. Those passions ultimately led her to Long Island and the historic estate she is honored to care for. 

Elizabeth Wayland-Morgan, Executive Director of the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum
Jennifer Vacca/Zoot Shoot Photographers

How did you get interested in museum work? 

I guess it started when I was a young child. My mother is an artist and we often visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History. From that early age I was enthralled with the art of other cultures, which led me to study fine arts and anthropology in college.

What are your major responsibilities? 

Right now, my primary focus is to carefully steer the museum through this extraordinarily difficult time and to see that it thrives into the future. I am directly involved with managing the museum’s day-to-day functions, and work with our incredibly talented staff to develop our programming. Recently, that’s included virtual education, astronomy and natural-history programs, rotating exhibitions, and engaging outdoor events.

What attracted you to the museum and what are some of your favorite things about it now?

I was initially attracted to the cultural aspects and the beauty and history of the estate and the mansion. Those facets represent a unique opportunity to connect a wide range of educational themes and to bring history to life. 

The Vanderbilt is a living museum of a singular era in American history. From the late 19th century to the 1930s, more than 1,200 of the country’s richest and most powerful individuals built sprawling summer estates along the north shore of Long Island, known as the Gold Coast. William K. Vanderbilt II’s Eagle’s Nest is one of the few that remain. 

I love that we’ve become not only a regional destination but also an attraction for international visitors. During the last few years, we welcomed guests from more than 40 countries.

One of my favorite secluded spots on the property is the Wishing Well Garden. It’s a lovely, peaceful place to sit and reflect. My favorite building other than the mansion is the large, Tudor-style boathouse. Its covered porch offers striking panoramic views of the Northport Bay, where Mr. Vanderbilt anchored his yachts and began his voyages.  

Tell me a bit about the museum’s history and what it has to offer. 

Mr. Vanderbilt wanted a summer place far from the bustle of New York City. He found this property and bought it 1910. He told friends that on an early visit, he saw an eagle soaring over his property and decided to call his estate Eagle’s Nest. He built the mansion in stages and finished it in 1936.

He loved the natural world and the oceans, and explored them during voyages on his yacht. He created a marine museum on his estate and called it the Hall of Fishes. It was the first stage of what became his larger museum complex. He opened it to the public on a limited basis in 1922.  

Mr. Vanderbilt circumnavigated the world twice. Not just for pleasure, but also to build his museum. Eventually he amassed the largest collection of privately assembled marine specimens from the pre-atomic era. We have 22 wild-animal habitat dioramas and a collection of more than 40,000 objects. Two collection highlights are a 32-foot whale shark and a 3,000-year-old Egyptian mummy.

Do you have a favorite event at the museum that you look forward to? 

For years, my highlight of every summer has been Alex Torres and His Latin Orchestra, who have performed for 13 years in the Mansion courtyard. The beautiful Spanish architecture makes guests feel as if they’ve been transported to a romantic evening in Latin America. I also really enjoyed our Halloween Wicked Walk and holiday Bright Lights events last year.

What do you feel you’ve brought to the table as director so far? Do you have goals for the museum?  

Steering the Vanderbilt through the pandemic-induced crisis has been a challenge of a lifetime. Safety has been paramount. Beyond that, I firmly believe that my most important job has been to empower and motivate the staff and to create a positive and collaborative environment. We are all protective of this special place. The pandemic shutdown allowed us additional time to concentrate on grant writing and fundraising and to uncover new opportunities. Financial stability is our most important goal, and we aim to build upon innovative programming that will produce essential income. 

A very exciting project is the reclamation of Mr. Vanderbilt’s original nature trails. Hikers can wander through forested sections of the estate and stop at vantage points that offer spectacular views of the bay.

Our virtual astronomy and natural-history education outreach to regional schools has been very successful, and we’re looking to expand that.

Another important goal is to digitize the collections. In doing so, we’ll be able to share more details of Mr. Vanderbilt’s fascinating life and global explorations. We’re starting with the Vanderbilt’s collection of 6,000 photos. 

We are renovating Mr. Vanderbilt’s large, four-bay garage to create an up-to-date version of the existing Vanderbilt Learning Center with enhanced technology.

What else is in the works?

Our restoration projects are moving forward. We’re working on the exterior of Normandy Manor, the mansion facades and bell tower, and Nursery Wing. 

Very important to the museum’s future is the Historic Waterfront Project. We are looking for donors to help us restore the boathouse, granite seawall, seaplane hangar, and esplanade. It has been closed to the public for a long time and is the museum’s greatest current challenge.

How did the museum function last year? Did you offer masked tours, virtual events, etc.? 

All staff that were able to work virtually began to do so immediately. Their support and dedication is how we’re getting through this time. Many are longtime colleagues who know and understand the museum and its operations well. News of a pandemic was certainly shocking, but we pulled together as a strong team and have been navigating these turbulent times very well. 

The museum-education and planetarium staffs began right away to create virtual programming. They made downloadable projects for children that presented intriguing facts about animals and birds in the natural-history collections. We posted the projects on our website so parents could print images for their children to read, color or paint. The planetarium produced astronomy learning videos on topics such as exploring Mars, rockets, black holes, and using a telescope. On June 12, the state allowed the museum to reopen its estate grounds safely. 

We built a large screen and held movie nights in our parking lot; offered exterior architectural tours of the mansion; and bird talks and owl prowls with an ornithologist. We offered mini-wedding ceremonies and elopements. We created a Halloween ‘Wicked Walk,’ and a December holiday ‘Bright Lights’ event with social distancing policies.

In the fall, when we were able to open the buildings at 25% capacity, we offered small-group mansion tours and planetarium shows before closing for the winter months.

What do you have planned this year?

The staff has many projects underway, including an installation in the newly restored Lancaster Room of the exhibition “Alva Belmont: Socialite to Suffragist,” which explores the women’s voting rights activism of Mr. Vanderbilt’s mother, Alva Belmont Vanderbilt. 

Our first big outdoor event for 2021 will be Vandy Land. It’s an outdoor game day for everyone It will open on March 27 and run through April 3. Actors will portray kid-friendly characters, and we’ll have vendors, crafts, musical entertainment, refreshments, and the Easter Bunny. 

As a special Vandy Land attraction, we will commemorate Mr. Vanderbilt’s original estate golf course by building an 18-hole mini-golf course. Everyone who plays in what we’re calling the William K. Vanderbilt Golf Classic will be entered into our big prize drawing. After school vacation is over, we’ll keep the golf course open every Saturday and Sunday during the day through the end of April, and on Thursday through Saturday evenings, too.

Why do you think the Vanderbilt Museum is such a special place? 

The atmosphere is magical. This is one of the only remaining Gold Coast mansions. We offer a glimpse into the past. The mansion has been kept exactly as it was when the Vanderbilts lived here. In particular, the rooms display personal effects — a teapot and cup on a side table next to Rosamond’s bed, books and papers on William’s desk, and open suitcases with clothes in the guest rooms. The impression this creates is that the family is living there, but has stepped out for the afternoon.

When you walk the grounds, the smell of salt air complements the view. You see hawks and osprey soaring overhead, and the striking Spanish architecture of the mansion. The experience is relaxing and soothing. It’s a visual and sensory trip back in time.

Why is it so important to keep this part of Long Island’s history alive? 

The Vanderbilt family and its vast railroad holdings were essential in the development of this country. When you walk through the mansion and museum, you are surrounded by rare fine and decorative art and furnishings, some of it centuries old. It’s a time-machine stroll through a storied era of elite, privileged lives on Long Island’s Gold Coast. 

We are an informal education institution, as Mr. Vanderbilt intended. The museum continues this mission through its education programs and offerings — to the public and to more than 25,000 schoolchildren each year. It’s important to keep this all but vanished history alive for future generations.

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum and Planetarium is located at 180 Little Neck Road in Centerport. For more information, including events, spring hours and admission rates, please visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org or call 631-854-5579.

Preservation Long Island in Cold Spring Harbor has announced the gift of a group of important early American portraits from descendants of the Nelson and Lloyd families of Boston and Long Island. 

For over three hundred years, portraits of Elizabeth Tailer Nelson (1667–1734), John Nelson (1654–1734), Henry Lloyd I (1685–1763), and James Lloyd III (1769–1831) remained in the possession of the same family that commissioned them centuries ago. The artworks, an extraordinary gift from the collection of Orme Wilson III and Elsie Wilson Thompson, in memory of Alice Borland Wilson, have joined Preservation Long Island’s collection and are now available for the public to view in a new digital exhibition titled Facing Slavery: The Lloyd Family Portraits in Context.

“We are honored to be the new stewards of these important pieces of American history and to make them available to the public for the first time,” said Alexandra Wolfe, Preservation Long Island Executive Director. 

In gifting the paintings, the donors wrote, “After being in family care all these years, we believe that these portraits are going to the right place with you and your colleagues at Preservation Long Island, where we hope that they will be useful in your development of a deeper historical understanding and contextualization of the issues and events that swirled around the Long Island area in colonial times and later”.

This gift coincided with the launch of the first phase of the Jupiter Hammon Project, a long-term initiative that will transform how Preservation Long Island engages future visitors to Joseph Lloyd Manor (1767) with the entangled stories of the Lloyd family and the individuals they enslaved for more than a century at the Manor of Queens Village on Long Island (Lloyd Neck today), among them, Jupiter Hammon (1711–before 1806) one of our nation’s first published Black American writers.

This multi-generational collection of portraits is a visual reminder of the region’s colonial and early national history, but the individuals they represent reflect only a fraction of the people, both enslaved and free, who lived, formed families, and established communities on Long Island and New England during the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries.

“We are grateful to the descendants for recognizing the important work of the Jupiter Hammon Project and for giving the portraits a new, permanent home with Preservation Long Island,” said Lauren Brincat, Curator, Preservation Long Island. 

“There are no known portraits of Jupiter Hammon or any of the men, women, and children the Lloyds enslaved. By interrogating the hidden history behind these painted surfaces, however, we can uncover a complex story of one family forcibly bound to another across generations,” she said.

Facing Slavery: The Lloyd Family Portraits in Context is now on view at www.preservationlongisland.org. For more information, call 631-692-4664.

In photo, from left:

Elizabeth Tailer Nelson (1667–1734) by an unknown American artist, ca. 1685. Oil on canvas. Preservation Long Island, 2020.5.2.

John Nelson (1654–1734) attributed to James Frothingham (1786–1685) after John Smibert (1688–1751), before 1824. Oil on panel. Preservation Long Island, 2020.5.3.

Henry Lloyd I (1685–1763) by John Mare (1739–ca. 1803) after John Wollaston (active ca. 1742–1775), 1767. Oil on canvas. Preservation Long Island, 2020.5.1.

James Lloyd III (1769–1831) by an unknown American artist, 1800-50. Oil on canvas. Preservation Long Island. 2020.5.4.

Brian Orlando shows off the new beer he collaborated with to fundraise for suicide prevention. Photo by Julianne Mosher

A local radio personality and a brewery owner are combining forces to combat suicide.

Brian Orlando, a DJ with Connoisseur Media’s 94.3 The Shark, has made it his mission to bring awareness to depression and to help those who are struggling.

Back in 2017, when his hero, and Soundgarden front man, Chris Cornell took his own life, Orlando was devastated. He began writing a song hoping to shine a light on the taboo topic of suicide, and to show that music can heal all wounds. 

A close up look at the QR reader and label on the Never Alone beer packaging. The code leads to a music video created by Orlando in memory of those who lost their lives to suicide. Photo by Julianne Mosher

He teamed up with Northport native (and the lead singer of 90s band Wheatus) Brendon B. Brown, Vinnie Dombroski of the band Sponge, Kevin Martin from Candlebox, and One Direction touring drummer Josh Devine to create “Choose Song.” 

In January 2019, the group, along with dozens of Long Island locals, filmed its music video at 1940’s Brewing Co. in Holbrook, starring Orlando’s friend, and fellow Shark DJ, Ashley Massaro, of Smithtown. 

Massaro lost her own life to suicide a few weeks before the video was set to release. 

“We watched it together,” Orlando said. “It was just a couple of weeks before she passed, and I know that she loved the video. She loved being here.” When Massaro passed away, everyone thought it was too soon to release the video online. Eventually, in July 2020, they decided to post it to YouTube, and share her story with the world. 

“There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about her,” he said. “I want people to realize that when they do see the video, they’re looking at somebody that fought to the end, even though she had problems, she was trying to help other people. That’s why she was here.”

Massaro rose to fame in 2005 after winning WWE’s Diva Search. Two years later, she was a contestant on “Survivor: China.” In 2016, she was one of several former wrestlers who sued the WWE, alleging they sustained head injuries on set that were not properly cared for, causing her severe depression. 

“When people see the video, they realize anybody from any walk of life can suffer from depression,” Orlando said. “And hopefully that’s an inspiration to reach out on that can and get help so you don’t become a statistic.”

The can he mentions is the new beer that  1940’s Brewing Co. crafted this month. Jon Brengel, head brewer and owner, was instrumental in the movement, since the video was first filmed inside his brewery. 

Jon Brengel with Brian Orlando inside 1940’s Brewery in Holbrook. Photo by Julianne Mosåher

Brengel, of Huntington, approached Orlando about creating a beer and a logo that he hopes can save lives. 

“As you try to bring people together with music, we tried to do the same thing with beer,” he said. “I thought it’d be really appropriate to have something to support mental health.”

For every sale of the “Never Alone” beer, proceeds will go to suicide prevention. They also added a QR code to the label, which brings customers to the music video’s page, and other information like the National Suicide Hotline. 

Brengel said the idea to create a beverage for a cause was thought of in December. By February, they brewed a brand-new citrus New England India IPA (flavored after Orlando’s favorite drink, tequila), and created the symbolic design.

The light blue label features a concert setting, with hands reaching up (to the singer or symbolizing reaching out for help). Crinkled paper decorates the background, symbolizing every note written and never sent. In red ink, it reminds anyone looking, “With music, you are never alone.”

Blending the duo’s love for music, hanging out with friends and having a good time, along with the reminder that help is available for whoever needs it, the craft beer was born. 

Brengel said he hopes his beverage will rekindle friendships and bring more people together. 

“Living in the world we live in now, not having that contact, and not being able to see people as often as you want, I think the song really is a reminder to reach out to that person you haven’t spoken to in a while,” he said. “We were very cautious of the stigma of alcohol and mental health matters, but I think the idea is that this QR reader and label will be a reminder for you to reach out to the people you miss.”

Orlando said there is always going to be a stigma about drinking, “But the truth of the matter is, breweries like this are just the places to go to and be together — listen to some good music and be with good people.”

Photo by Julianne Mosher

The ultimate goal, he said, is if the person consuming the drink is feeling down or having a bad day, the QR scanner is right there on the lable, and will direct them to an inspirational video, reminding them they are never alone. 

Orlando said that since the video’s release, nearly 20,000 people have viewed, shared and commented on it, saying that the song helped save their life. 

“That’s what the song is supposed to be there for to help people,” he said. 

The Choose Song beer is available at the 1940’s Brewery and at local distributers.

Ryan Degnan smiles big while playing at GiGi's. Photo by Julianne Mosher

A group of Long Islanders saw a need for a safe space for people with Down syndrome and, despite COVID-19, they made it happen.

Founded in 2003, GiGi’s Playhouse is an international network of achievement centers, providing free therapeutic and educational programs for people of all ages. This month, the nonprofit’s 52nd location — and Long Island’s first — will open in Patchogue. 

But families from across both North and South shores helped bring this safe space to life. 

Mike Cirigliano, board president. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Mike Cirigliano, board president and owner of Cirigliano Agency, said that GiGi’s Playhouse Long Island will help fill a void for families of loved ones with Down syndrome. Over the course of several years, the group tried to find the perfect site, scouting locations across Long Island. They eventually settled on 100 Austin St. (in Patchogue), where they took over three of the four units inside the building. 

Located right off Sunrise Highway, he said the spot is easy for families to get to whether they come from Nassau County or the Hamptons. 

“There is a true need for this on Long Island,” he said. “This is where people can come — a place where parents who need a place to go with their child can come play, hang out.”

But it’s not just a place to chill. Board member Karyn Degnan said it will offer programs for people with a prenatal diagnosis to those adults with Down syndrome.

“Moms and dads can go to this common place to talk and share their stories,” she said. “They can grow with the center.”

The new facility offers everything from fine motor skills to speech and socialization programs, to tutoring, exercise classes and even a kitchen where young adults can learn how to cook.

The Degnan family. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Degnan, a Centereach mom of three, said two of her children have Down syndrome: Sal, who’s 11 and daughter Ryan, who’s 5.

“As my kids grow, they have a teen center there — a place where people can go as they grow into their young adulthood life,” she said. “It’s a place where they can feel like they belong.”

Cirigliano said that although the fundraising aspect and search for a spot has been years in the making, they officially signed the lease in early February. Over the last month, the group of 50-plus volunteers helped turn the office spaces into a vibrant, exciting place.

“What’s really cool is I brought my kids with me so they can see the before and after,” Degnan added. “After we were done with the construction, I could feel their positive energy and their love for it. When they were able to witness it being all done, there was this happiness that was beaming from them.”

She said her 11-year-old can’t wait to hang out there with his friends. 

Derek DeProspo plays on a toy car inside GiGi’s Playhouse. Photo by Julianne Mosher

One of those friends is Derek DeProspo, an 8-year-old from Selden who also has Down syndrome. His grandmother, Elizabeth Rahne of Selden, is GiGi’s new program director.

“It’s an incredible organization and has incredible mission,” she said. “It’s giving parents and families the support they need to help their children become the best they can be.”

Rahne said groups like the ones at GiGi’s Playhouse are important for new parents.

“It’s an overwhelming diagnosis,” she said. “You don’t know how much they’re going to progress or what they’ll able to accomplish.”

But Derek runs and plays with the kids inside the center — an inclusive space where kids who are neurotypical, on the autism spectrum or who have Down syndrome can play, dance, create and socialize with no judgment or fear. 

“I’m so proud of what he’s able to do now,” she said. “I think people need to hear the story that our children do have some difficulties, but they can accomplish so much more than people think. We need to celebrate their uniqueness.”

Angelique Sternberger, of Port Jefferson Station, lost her 3-year-old son, DJ, eight years ago. 

“When DJ was born, the doctors came to us and told us he had Down syndrome,” she said. “They always focus on the worst things possible, but it’s all about what these children can do.”

She joined GiGi’s Playhouse in 2017 in memory of him and is now the board secretary. 

Port Jefferson Station’s Angelique Sternberger with her late son, DJ. Photo from Angelique Sternberger

“It’s helpful to have a place where you can go if you need some assistance,” she said. “I wish I had a GiGi’s Playhouse when DJ was born.”

This April, DJ would be turning 12 and, looking back, Sternberger thinks he would be thrilled to know what his mom has helped accomplish.“I’m sure he would love it here,” she said. “He was such a social child …  he was the mayor of his school, and he would love being able to interact with other kids.”

Run solely on donations and fundraisers, GiGi’s Playhouse is 99% volunteer based. The only paid employee is the site manager, who opens and closes every day. 

Cirigliano said that people who want to donate can do so online at gigisplayhouse.org. He said that they will be highlighting donors on their front door every month to say “thank you” for making this all possible. 

And the opening comes at a special time for the Down syndrome community: March 21 is World Down Syndrome Day, and the Long Island chapter of GiGi’s Playhouse is officially opening its doors one day before. From 10 a.m. until 10:30 a.m. on March 20, a virtual grand opening will be streamed through Facebook and online.

Everyone is welcome at GiGi’s Playhouse in Patchogue. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Due to COVID-19, families who want to start using the achievement center’s services must schedule an appointment online. 

“Children with Down syndrome like to follow their peers,” Sternberger said. “We want them to be able to socialize. So, come to GiGi’s and we’ll be there with open arms.”

GiGi’s Playhouse will be open Tuesdays through Saturdays. To view the hours of operation, visit gigisplayhouse.org/longisland.

Four Harbors Audubon Society (4HAS) is launching a brand-new, aptly named, “Bird Oasis” program on March 1. Property owners can now request a consultant from 4HAS to assess the quantity and quality of native plants and eco-friendly practices on the premises to help local bird populations and other wildlife to not just survive, but to thrive. 

If the property qualifies, a certification level is determined and a sign is given to the owner, proclaiming the property a bird- and wildlife-friendly habitat. If the property is not quite ready, or a higher Bird Oasis certification level is sought, the consultant will create a list of improvements for the owner to implement.  

Photos of the finished property are sent back to the 4HAS Bird Oasis team for reassessment. In addition, photos of the most attractive, “birdiest” yards will be featured throughout the year on the chapter’s website. There are also future plans to have a yearly “Best Bird Oasis” contest.

The reasons for this program are abundant.  In suburbia, open space is at a premium and what exists is usually overrun by invasive plant species, creating large areas of low-quality food sources unable to support native wildlife in healthy numbers. Such habitat fragmentation and loss, coupled with climate change and inappropriate environmental practices is causing bird and other wildlife populations to fall into steep decline.

In 2018, the Suffolk County Department of Economic Development & Planning published its 2016 Land Use Study. In the report, Brookhaven Township and Smithtown Township had 27% and 17% recreational and open space, respectively.  The report went on to quantify Brookhaven Township’s residential, commercial, institutional and industrial land use at a bit more than 50%. Smithtown Township in total is a bit higher at 63%. This land is the focus of the Bird Oasis program.

The program takes the concept of a healthy, robust ecosystem and places it directly into the homeowner’s or commercial building’s landscape by requesting property owners use more native plants and incorporate planet-healthy and sustainable practices when creating their outside space. 

By choosing native plants with both excellent habitat services and tidy habits, landscapes that are both attractive and environmentally functional can be created. Bird Oasis consultants will also be looking for habitat features like wood or brush piles, ponds or birdbaths, winter forage in the form of seedheads and the insects found in plant stalks to be left up over the cold months and cut back in the spring, and other important ecoscaping concepts. 

Additionally, the program focuses on environmentally healthy practices, like mulching grass clippings back into lawns, leaving leaves or shredded leaf litter down as, or under, mulch, and using organic slow-release fertilizers. An ecologically balanced yard cures its own ills within a short amount of time, so targeted pest management with organic principals should be used only when insect outbreaks or other issues are severe. 

Chemical fertilizers and pesticides should be avoided on certified properties.  Most insecticides and fungicides are broad spectrum, which kills both the good and the bad. They also seriously harm the soil food web. Additionally, excess nitrogen does not stay in the soil, but runs off or down into the water table — as do chemical pesticides — and causes harmful algal blooms in Long Island bays and estuaries. 

It is hoped that people will see the beauty in these certified properties and notice all of the birds they attract. This will create additional excitement — and habitats —as more people create their own private sanctuaries, which will shift the current landscape paradigm to something more sustainable and environmentally-friendly.

“The potential to reverse the trend is there,” explains Joy Cirigliano, President of 4HAS. “If we can harness our managed landscapes and other properties to provide suitable habitat for our native plants and animals, and make them beautiful at the same time, it will help strengthen and heal our local ecosystem. All of our neighbors will be happy, including the furred and feathered ones.”

The Four Harbors Audubon Society Bird Oasis Program is available to any property within the *4HAS territory, including residential, commercial, industrial and municipal for a fee. The program consists of a one-hour consultation and property assessment and a certification sign.

*4HAS Territory:

Centereach, Coram, East Setauket, Hauppauge, Kings Park, Lake Grove, Middle Island, Miller Place, Mount Sinai , Nesconset, Port Jefferson, Port Jefferson Station, Ridge, Rocky Point, Saint James, Selden. Setauket, Shoreham. Smithtown, Sound Beach, South Setauket, Stony Brook, and Stony Brook Campus.

For more information, visit https://4has.org/bird-oasis after the program launch on March 1. For additional inquiries, please send an email to [email protected]

Four Harbors Audubon Society is a local chapter of the National Audubon Society.  It is affiliated with Audubon New York and is a member of the Audubon Council of New York State. Its mission is to protect and preserve birds, wildlife, and the places and resources needed, for today and tomorrow.

Amanda Gorman
For there is always light
Amanda Gorman

Presented by Cinema Arts Centre and L.E.A.D. Mentoring Power of Poetry: A Reflection on Amanda Gorman’s The Hill We Climb and Open Mic

Thursday, Feb. 25 at 7 p.m.
Join the Cinema Arts Centre and L.E.A.D. Mentoring in celebration of Black History Month with a guided discussion of Amanda Gorman’s Inaugural Poem, “The Hill We Climb,” followed by an open mic, where all are invited to participate, including but not limited to favorite poems by Black poets, slam poetry, spoken word, and original creations.
2021 will already be remembered as a historic year for Black Americans. This year, the first female, and first African American and South Asian Vice President took office. At the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, Amanda Gorman inspired millions of Americans when she became the youngest poet to read at a presidential inauguration in US History. Her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” has been praised for its message of unity, reflections on the past, and hope for the future. Shayla Harris writes for Ebony, “Her poignant reflections on the country’s past and her vision for progress were brought to life through masterful delivery. Through this performance Gorman has marked a place for herself in the African American oral tradition.”

Admission is free with RSVP by visiting www.cinemaartscentre.org.Tickets are limit one (1) per order. Advance registration may be made any time prior to the start of the event. Ticket-holders will receive an email order confirmation with the Zoom invitation link and information in the order details. This link will become active at the start of the event. Due to capacity restrictions, admittance to the discussion will be first come, first served at the time of the event – please be on time to secure a spot.

If you need assistance with any step of your ticket purchase, please reach out to [email protected] and a customer service representative will be in touch.

Photos courtesy of CAC

The Long Island Explorium was recently awarded a grant to help keep girls and young women in STEM fields. Photo from Explorium.

It’s time to break the stigma. 

The Long Island Explorium recently announced they were selected by the Association of Science and Technology Centers — along with 27 museums across the country — to participate in IF/THEN Gender Equity Grants, an initiative of Lyda Hill Philanthropies.

More than $300,000 is being awarded to ASTC-member science and technology centers and museums, seeking to address equity in gender representation across museum content and launch projects that increase the representation of women and gender minorities in STEM, as part of their broader efforts to advance diversity, accessibility and inclusion.

Executive Director of the Explorium Angeline Judex said the grant will help fund a multitude of different projects that will help amplify gender representation in STEM and enhance their workshops within the community and in schools. 

IF/THEN. Photo from the Long Island Explorium

The Long Island Explorium, located at 101 E Main Street, is a 501c3 nonprofit, and is chartered with the New York State Department of Education. Their vision is to be a leader in STEM discovery, learning and innovations to shape future generations, allowing children in kindergarten through grade six to express themselves as future leaders and innovators. 

“Our museum is small in footprint, but our impact is huge,” Judex said. “I’m excited because the grant validates all the impactful work we have done in the past to support young girls in science forward. We’re extremely honored.”

STEM, like many other fields, have been associated as a male-dominated career. The IF/THEN organization strives to get more girls and young women into the science, technology and engineering paths.

“We’re all helping to change the cultural mindset of what is acceptable, what is right, what is not right and who belongs where,” Judex said. “And now we’re part of that journey to encourage and promote gender equity.”

With the mindset of “If you can see it, you can be it,” Judex said the change won’t be easy. “There’s no a magic button that resets to this new normal,” she said. “But it’s a journey we want to be on.”

Judex said she believes young girls can succeed as scientists and innovators in STEM. 

“Girls and young women do have a seat at the table,” she said.