Nonprofits

The staff at Play Groups School

By Donna Newman

There’s something unique about a preschool that is still serving children on the North Shore of Long Island three quarters of a century after its founding. Through the years, Play Groups School became a family tradition for many in the area, with two or more generations counted among the school’s “graduates.”

On Saturday, Feb. 29, Play Groups School will celebrate 75 years of offering generations of students their first school experience with a Gala at The Old Field Club in Setauket. Invitations were sent to all those for whom contact information was available, including former teachers, former students and their parents. More than 110 people plan to attend.

The Play Groups saga began in 1944 when a group of parents decided to organize a “play group” where their children could learn through play with their peers. According to Brookhaven Town Historian Barbara Russell, whose brother was a member of the group in 1949, the children met at a small cottage near the Old Field Club. Perhaps that is why it was called the Old Field Nursery School in the early days. The first teachers were Dora Underwood of Port Jefferson and Joan Cockshutt of Setauket.

Play Groups was formally organized in 1974 when it was awarded an Absolute Charter by the New York State Department of Education and granted not-for-profit status from the IRS via a 501(c)(3) determination letter.

By 1986 the school was moved to its current location on Old Post Road in East Setauket, a building designed specifically for preschoolers. The school earned licensing by the New York State Office of Children and Family Services in 1992, and accreditation by the NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) in 1997. 

Play Groups Director Maddy Friedman has been at the helm for the last three decades, during which she has introduced many new ideas and concepts that keep the school continually evolving as times change. Yet, she says. the original focus remains unchanged.

“It has been my honor and privilege to lead Play Groups School these many years,” said Friedman. “While striving to stay abreast of current research and best practices, some things  have remained constant throughout. For young children play is essential for learning. It’s the way to develop creativity, curiosity, problem solving, social and emotional skills – and a lifelong love of learning. Our highly trained staff embrace this philosophy; they are at the core of our longevity and success. Our parents bring their time and talents to the classrooms and to the board.”

Friedman went on to describe one of her favorite innovations – one she feels is an extraordinary addition to the Play Groups program. “Acknowledging young children’s fascination with the natural world, nine years ago we added an  Outdoor Classroom to our facility,” said Friedman. “Through a collaborative effort, we created a space to encourage this relationship and engender a sense of stewardship the children will carry with them throughout their lives.”

Much more than a school, Play Groups is a family. 

Now retired Play Groups Business Manager Kathy Rademacher spent more than 25 years working at the school. She spoke of the deep, long-term relationships formed between Friedman and so many of her students and their families. “Play Groups played such an enormous role in my family’s story,” Rademacher said. “My son attended the preschool for three years, later completed his Eagle Scout project at the school, and worked at the summer camp as a lifeguard and counselor. Now, my son and his beloved – they met in the “Raccoon Room” in 1992 – are making wedding plans!” 

There are many stories of lasting friendships created at Play Groups School and Friedman expressed her pleasure and gratitude about that.

“It has been my personal joy to develop relationships with the children and their families over the years,” said Friedman. “Many staff members (both school and camp) were parents or students here at Play Groups. We so appreciate the trust that families have placed in us.”

School board members Sarah Russell Funt and Heather Snyder Ippolito are creating a walk down Memory Lane for the Gala. Funt is preparing a slideshow of photos taken over the past 75 years. Her husband Jared is a Play Groups alum and all their children have been, are, or will be Play Groups students as well. 

Ippolito is creating a display of memorabilia gathered over the years. A new member of the Play Groups family, she and husband Chris look forward to beginning the tradition for their family.

At the heart of the Play Groups tradition lies a goal common to both parents and staff, said Friedman. “We all share great respect for this magical time in a young child’s life and we work to make these preschool years full of memories to treasure.”

Photos courtesy of Play Groups School

Photo from Suffolk Federal

In an effort to support the charitable work of local organizations that serve the areas of Suffolk Federal branch locations, the credit union has identified nonprofit organizations to which provide financial support. In Port Jefferson, Branch Sales Director of Retail Banking Micah Schlendorf presented a $1,000 contribution to Theatre Three in December.

“Theatre Three not only brings incredible entertainment to the community, but continues to provide educational opportunities to local students,” said Schlendorf. “We are extremely proud to be able to support their efforts.”

“We’re so thankful to Suffolk Federal for their support and generosity,” said Jeffrey Sanzel, executive artistic director of Theatre Three. “These funds will specifically go towards our educational touring program that we present in schools and community centers across the tri-state area. To date, The Bullying Project: Stand Up! Stand Out!, Class Dismissed and From the Fires: Voices from the Holocaust have brought awareness to thousands of students. This donation will assist the Theatre in continuing these efforts.”

Celebrating its 50th season at the historic Athena Hall in Port Jefferson, Theatre Three has continued to bring Broadway to Main Street and offers the community a robust variety of programming that includes Mainstage, Second Stage, Cabaret, Children’s Academy and workshops. They present a diverse portfolio of both classic and modern revivals all while providing an educational environment to all in the community. 

Pictured from left, Douglas Quattrock, Theatre Three’s director of development and artistic associate; Catherine Rodgers, Suffolk Federal mortgage loan originator and a member of Theatre Three’s Box Office staff; Jeffrey Sanzel, Theatre Three’s executive artistic director; and Micah Schlendorf, Suffolk Federal branch sales director of retail banking.

Larry Ryan was named one of TBR News Media's 2019 People of the Year. Photo from Michael Garguilo

By Julianne Mosher

Larry Ryan of Port Jefferson Station is known to keep busy with different projects and volunteerism, but he stays modest about the work he’s doing within the community. 

Ryan was instrumental in facilitating an inclusive lacrosse clinic in Centereach. Photo by Michael Gargiulo

“He does things with the best interest at heart,” Doreen Guma, a board member with the Port Jefferson/Terryville Chamber of Commerce, said. “He brings smiles to people’s faces.”

Ryan has been with the chamber for a few years and throughout that time has contributed so much to the overall community, his longtime friend Michael Gargiulo said.

“People know Larry Ryan some way or another,” he said. “He works tirelessly and works with so many different groups and is always there to be involved, offering his help and assistance.”

But one of his true passions is helping those with special needs. 

“Larry previously worked for Maryhaven Center of Hope for 28 years, which included running an intermediate care facility that specialized in supporting those with autism,” Gargiulo said. “Throughout that time, Larry interfaced with the community and continued to be a strong advocate for the special needs population.”

Right now, he is working toward his doctorate in special education, all while continuing his community service and working full time. 

“He has a ‘can do’ attitude,” Joan Nickeson, who works closely with Ryan, said. “He’s open and accepting and is always looking to the future. He has a vision for our community and connects with all types of people — some people are called to serve and he’s the real deal.”

Ryan is also the co-owner of Sensory Solutions of Long Island, a gym that supports the special needs population with inclusive programming and recreational activities like art, music, Zumba and yoga. It also helps those who are seeking occupation, physical and speech therapy.  

“He exemplifies all that is good in our community through his work with children and adults.”

— Joan Nickeson

The Port Jefferson Station resident also is part of a nonprofit inclusive lacrosse program that started last summer, bringing both special needs and typical children together to play in a noncompetitive atmosphere. 

“He really tries to unite different people together and is continuing to connect with the community,” Gargiulo said. 

And with whatever spare time he has, Ryan works with Port Jeff Bowl, has his own business, and works with the Town of Brookhaven. 

“Larry will often collaborate with current Councilwoman Valerie Cartright and Brookhaven Town’s District One [D-Port Jefferson Station] on community integration,” Gargiulo added. “You will usually spot him at a local or town event, interfacing with the community or running an informational table.”

Gargiulo added that Ryan’s honor for Person of the Year is long overdue as “he is an intricate part of the community, and continues to make a positive impact, locally and across Long Island.”

Nickeson agreed. “He exemplifies all that is good in our community through his work with children and adults,” she said. 

The community came out in droves for the 5th annual Culper Spy Day on Sept. 14. The interactive self-guided tour of the Three Villages and Port Jefferson celebrated the members of Long Island’s courageous Culper Spy Ring who helped change the course of the American Revolutionary War. The event featured tours of historic homes and churches, Colonial cooking demonstrations, military drills, children’s activities, blacksmith demonstrations, book signings and more.

More than 40 organizations took part in the historical event which was hosted by Tri-Spy Tours, the Three Village Historical Society, The Ward Melville Heritage Organization and The Long Island Museum.

Photos by Anthony White

By Heidi Sutton

Bethel Hobbs Community Farm in Centereach hosted its 5th annual Run the Farm 4-Mile Challenge on Aug. 17. The event attracted over 300 runners from as far as upstate Albany and France who braved the humidity for a great cause.

Proceeds from the day will benefit the farm whose mission is devoted to providing fresh organic produce to those in need of a network of local food pantries and food programs.

The fundraiser also featured a farmers market, vendors and music and was attended by local officials including Councilman Kevin LaValle, Councilwoman Valerie Cartright, Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine, Chief of Staff Bob Martinez from Leg. Tom Muratore’s office,  Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. and his wife, Leg. Leslie Kennedy and members of the Centereach and Selden civic associations.

LaValle addressed the crowd before announcing the winners of the race. “I just want to thank everyone for coming out and for the great race we had today. This is the last remaining farm in Centereach,” said LaValle, adding that the 11-acre farm, located at 178 Oxhead Road, raises over 30,000 pounds of food for nonprofits.

“It takes an army to run this farm and without all the volunteers working together it would never happen,” added HF Vice President Ann Pellegrino. She also thanked Hobbs Farm President Larry Corbett and Bethel AME Church of Setauket for all their support.

“We love being out here at Hobbs Farm. They do so many great things for the community. To have a working farm here is quite special,” said Comptroller Kennedy. “I’m just happy to see everyone out on a Saturday morning working out, having fun, maybe buying some products and contributing to sales tax,” he joked.

The overall first place winner for men with a time of 24.40.53 was 24-year-old Cole Conte of Port Jefferson. Second and third place went to the father and son team from Baillargues, France, Fran Ois Le Grix (43) and Titoun Le Grix (17) with a time of 25.09.37 and 25.10.93, respectively. “We’ve gone international, ladies and gentlemen,” quipped LaValle as he handed out the awards and the crowd shouted out “Vive La France!”

Jessica Petrina (37) of Selden captured the title of overall first-place winner for women with a time of 27:24:94. Jamie Butcher (28) of Port Jefferson garnered second place with a time of 31:57:60 and Grace Mill (15) of Centereach won third place with a time of 32:20:18.

“To Mr. Hobbs, who is no longer with us, his legacy continues; to those who run the farm and really Run the Farm, thank you,” said Romaine. He thanked the runners and thanked the community for “helping keep the farm alive, keep the dream alive right here in the middle of Centereach where no one would expect a farm. It’s here, it’s great, it’s part of Brookhaven town. We are so proud of this farm.”

Photos by Heidi Sutton

Donna Smith, director of education at the TVHS, welcomes every fourth-grade class in the Three Village school district to the Setauket Elementary School’s auditorium, surrounded by murals painted by Vance Locke that portray a time line of Setauket’s history, on Founders Day in April. Photo courtesy of TVHS
Tara Ebrahimian, education coordinator for the Three Village Historical Society, in front of artist William Sidney Mount’s gravesite at the Setauket Presbyterian Church with students from Setauket Elementary School during a recent Founder’s Day event. Ebrahimian is holding up an image of one of Mount’s most famous paintings, ‘Eel Speering at Setauket,’ 1845. Photo courtesy of TVHS

The American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) recently announced that the Three Village Historical Society is the recipient of an Award of Excellence for Founders Day.

TVHS historian Beverly C. Tyler fields questions from the fourth graders on Founder’s Day. Photo from TVHS

The AASLH Leadership in History Awards, now in its 74th year, is the most prestigious recognition for achievement in the preservation and interpretation of state and local history.

Founders Day, an annual event for fourth-grade classes of the Three Village school district, is an exploration of the depth and diversity of Brookhaven’s original settlement in Setauket.

The program is designed to complement the New York State curriculum and enhance students understanding of their local history. It includes a comprehensive presentation about the founding and development of the settlement, as well as guided walking tours of historically significant landmarks.

“This honor was made possible through the efforts of TVHS Historian Beverly Tyler, TVHS Education Director Donna Smith, volunteer Katherine Downs-Reuter, Brookhaven Town Historian Barbara Russell and the entire education team,” said Steve Healy, president of the TVHS.

Presentation of the awards will be made at a special banquet during the 2019 AASLH Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, PA on Aug. 30.

From left, Sean Phillips, LIAF Director of Special Events and Community Outreach Christine Rice, LIAF Executive Director Tori Cohen and Bill Flood. Photo from Epoch 5

As a member of the nonprofit organization Kelley’s Heroes, St. James resident Sean Phillips recently initiated a Charity Walk in memory of his mother, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, and helped raise $9,200 for the Long Island Alzheimer’s Foundation, of which he is a former director of development.

Together with another Kelley’s Heroes member, Bill Flood, Sean organized the annual walk, which drew many supporters of Kelley’s Heroes and LIAF to the Walt Whitman Trail in eastern Nassau County.

The check was presented at the Alzheimer Foundation’s Westbury office on May 16.

“We are thankful to Sean Phillips and his family for their continued commitment to LIAF, and Bill Flood for his hard work and dedication to making this event so successful,” said LIAF Executive Director Tori Cohen.

“It is always gratifying to know that we’ve made a difference in the lives of our participants and their families, and the families never forget that, as demonstrated by this generous donation,” she added.

Brewster House
Katharine Griffiths

This year is a special one for the Ward Melville Heritage Organization. Based in Stony Brook Village, the not-for-profit organization is celebrating its 80th anniversary of protecting and preserving historic and environmentally sensitive properties deeded to it by Ward Melville, whose philanthropic works and foresight are legendary.

Melville’s visions for the Stony Brook area included the establishment of a world-renowned education institution, Stony Brook University (to which he donated 400 acres of land as well as personal funding); the protection of environmentally sensitive areas; educational and cultural programs; and the preservation of historic properties, dating back to the Revolutionary War, for present and future generations to experience.

Leah Dunaief

The celebration with kick off with its 11th annual Jewels & Jeans Gala at Flowerfield in St. James on June 19 from 6 to 10 p.m. honoring Katharine Griffiths, executive director of Avalon Park & Preserve in Stony Brook; Andy Polan, president of the Three Village Chamber of Commerce; WMHO trustee Anna Kerekes; and Leah Dunaief, editor and publisher of Times Beacon Record News Media.

Andy Polan

The evening will feature a cocktail hour with entertainment by Tom Manuel and The Jazz Loft All Stars. An exciting night follows with dinner, meeting this year’s honorees, raffles, a silent auction and a live auction. Prizes include a Lessing’s Fine Dining Experience for three $300 gift certificates at Mirabelle Restaurant at the Three Village Inn, Sandbar Restaurant and the View Restaurant; dinner for eight by personal Chef Lance; a four-night stay for 10 at The Dome; a VIP stargazing experience at Avalon Park & Preserve; and one night ocean view room at Gurney’s Montauk.

The fundraising goal for this 80th anniversary of the organization will be a net of $80,000. All proceeds will be used for much needed restorations to three of WMHO’s historic properties, each of which is on the New York State and National Register of Historic Places.

Anna Kerekes

The Brewster House, c. 1665, is in dire need of siding and chimney repairs; the Thompson House, c. 1709, needs extensive restorations to its chimney; and the Stony Brook Grist Mill, c. 1751, the most complete working grist mill on Long Island, requires repairs to the very intricate mechanisms that are still in use today.

Funds are needed as well to continue producing WMHO’s 70-plus award-winning educational and cultural programs each year.

Tickets are $195 per person and sponsorships are also available. For more information, please call 631-751-2244 or visit www.wmho.org/jewels-jeans/.

From left, Maryanne Vigneaux, Frank Turano, Holly Griesel and Orlando Maione at last year’s event. Photo by Anthony White/ Three Village Historical Society

By David Luces

There’s something about the 1920s that to this day many people are fascinated by. Life during that time seemed like one big party. The Three Village Historical Society and The Jazz Loft plan to bring some of the magic of the time period back for its third annual Prohibition Night fundraiser on June 21.

This year’s theme, titled Booze, Bootlegging and Jazz!!!, will have an emphasis on  bootlegging and speakeasies, also known as blind pigs.

“We’ve been collaborating with the historical society for the past two years [on this event] and I think we’ve hit it out of the park,” Tom Manuel of The Jazz Loft said. “For this year we thought what can we do better.”

Guests will be attending a mock funeral service and given a pass code to access a secret back room party filled with booze and jazz music. The historical society will have a Prohibition era bootlegging exhibit set up where guests can peruse old photos and other items from the time period.

“We really want to try to bring some of that history to life,” explained Manuel.

Tara Ebrahimian, education and volunteer coordinator for the historical society, spent weeks researching the Prohibition era and bootlegging as well as Long Island’s history during the 1920s. In a recent interview, she said her inspiration for the mock funeral came from reading accounts of actual funeral homes having speakeasies and parties in the back of their buildings.

“We want [the event] to be historically accurate,” she said. “We wanted to make this scene for the guests,” she added. “Like you’re stepping into this world, we want them to be fully immersed.”

Ebrahimian also researched how people spoke back in the 1920s and the lingo used during Prohibition. Re-enactors from Theatre Three in Port Jefferson will be on hand to aid in the immersive experience and will be acting as if they were from that time period.

Sandy White, office manager at the historical society, said she is excited for this year’s event. “It’s going to be a lot of fun,” she said, adding that there will be a garden bar for guests with beer donated by Sunrise Ales and Lagers.

Steve Healy, president of the historical society, said the event is a great way to incorporate history and jazz music in a fun setting.“We want to make history interesting, and I think people have a soft spot for this era. There is something really fascinating about this time period,” he added.

Healy said that besides antique items from the period there will be a 1929 banana colored convertible parked outside the venue. “It’s going to be a fun night and it supports two great local nonprofits,” he said.

Just as booze and parties were synonymous with the 1920s, jazz music was just as important. Manuel’s band, The Hot Peppers, will be playing time period music from mid to late 1920s live music for guests at the event. “We want it to be authentic as possible,” explained Manuel, adding that the band will be playing with instruments that were used to make jazz music back then like the piano, guitar, clarinet and trombone among others. They will also be performing with some vintage instruments.

Manuel is grateful to the historical society for creating a wonderful partnership for the past couple of years. He said when The Jazz Loft first opened two years ago, the historical society was one of the first organizations to collaborate with them.“We wanted to partner with people in the community and each time we’ve collaborated greater and bigger things happen for the both of us.”

Guests are encouraged to dress in period attire and Manuel said he is blown away every year by how committed the guests are to dressing up for the event. “I’ve been really impressed … it has really taken a life of its own,” he said.

The Jazz Loft, located at 275 Christian Ave. in Stony Brook Village, will host the third annual Prohibition Night on Friday, June 21 from 6 to 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 adults, $20 seniors, $15 students. To order, call 631-751-1895 or visit www.thejazzloft.org.

Army veteran Ludmilla Lamothe sits in her new car for the first time. Photo by David Luces

“I never win anything, I was in disbelief — ‘like me?,’” Ludmilla Lamothe, a U.S. Army veteran, said when she learned a couple of months ago she was nominated by local nonprofits Driving 4 Change and Soldiers’ Angels to receive a newly refurbished car as part of the  National Auto Body Council’s Recycled Rides Program.   

On May 14, representatives from Caliber Collision and GEICO handed Lamothe the keys to a 2013 Mazda 6.  

Ken Lalia from GEICO embraces Army veteran Ludmilla Lamothe. Photo by David Luces

The single mother of two, who was stationed in Alaska during her time in the Army, had been without a car for the past year and turned to using services like Uber and Lyft to get around, but it proved to be costly. 

“This will help so much, taking [my children] to the doctor when they need to, sometimes [before] I’d have to cancel things and change stuff around,” she said. “Now I can just get up and go, taking them to school and not worry about what ride I’m going to take and which one is the least expensive. Now I can just put some gas in my ride and go.” 

The donated car was restored by technicians at Caliber Collision in Rocky Point who volunteered their personal time to refurbish the vehicle for Lamothe. 

Vartan Jerian, director of operations for Caliber Collision New York Region, said it is part of the company’s culture to support veterans as well as the communities in which they work.

“It’s a good way for us to give back and show our appreciation for her service and everything she has done,” Jerian said. 

Jerian has been involved in about 30 of these events and said it has become near and dear to his heart as he himself served in the military. 

“Every person has a different story — It’s great to see the reactions, great to hear how it’s going to help them and their family out,” the director of operations said. “She is a well deserving person — we’re excited to do it.”

Ken Lalia, GEICO Auto Damage manager in Suffolk County, said he felt similarly. 

“It’s our way to give back to the community,” he said. “I feel honored to be able to give cars to military families in need.” 

Lamothe was also gifted a car booster seat and other supplies. Photo by David Luces

Lalia said GEICO has been involved in the recycled rides programs for the past 10 years and has given away hundreds of refurbished cars.  

As part of the program, collision industry companies collaborate to repair and donate vehicles to individuals and families in need of reliable transportation.

Lalia said their goal in this region is to give away 20 cars to individuals in need, and hopes it will make a lot of military families very happy. Lamothe was the fourth recipient of a car this year. 

The Huntington resident said she is so grateful and thankful for the car. Though her children couldn’t make it to the unveiling because of school, they were equally excited. 

“They wanted to be here, they were so excited — they were like ‘What’s it going to look like mom?,’” she said. “I’m probably going to surprise them and pick them up at school.”