Nonprofits

The Smithtown Historical Society stepped back in time last Sunday as it presented its annual Heritage Country Fair. Attendees bought tickets for two-hour time slots, and each slot was limited to 50 people. The society adhered to COVID-19 regulations and masks and social distancing were required to take part in the day’s events.

While the historic homes on the grounds were not open for tours this year, Civil War reenactors from the 30th Virginia Infantry, 9th Virginia Historical Society and 88th New York State Volunteers Regiment along with volunteers in costumes were spread out through the property to relay a bit of history.

Alpha Axes were on hand for some ax throwing; Long Island Traditional Music Association (LITMA) performed a Contra Dance; the band Strummin’ and Drummin’ performed; the Island Long Riders put on a cowboy shooting show; Paul Henry sang and played guitar; spinning and weaving demonstrations were held by Spinning Study Group of Long Island; the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts presented a children’s performance of “Moana Jr.” and more.

Guests were also able to enjoy food from Belgiorno Family Mobile Wood Fired Pizza and Up In Smoke BBQ and visit vendor booths including Kathlyn Spins, Genie’s Treasures, League of Women Voters, Angela O’Connell Wreaths and Owl’s Feather Designs.

All photos by Rita J. Egan

Stock photo

At a time when budgets will be extremely tight amid the gradual economic recovery caused by the virus-induced economic shutdown, investing in organizations that help people deal with mental health problems and substance abuse now could save considerably more money later.

That’s the argument Family and Children’s Association Chief Executive Officer Dr. Jeffrey Reynolds makes, particularly as Suffolk and Nassau County Executives Steve Bellone (D) and Laura Curran (D) urge more federal aid for Long Islanders.

“When you have untreated mental health and substance abuse disorders, the county will pay for that one way or the other,” Reynolds said in an interview. “The question is: do you want to pay for it upfront or on the back end,” with the loss of life from drug overdoses.

Jeffrey Reynolds, the CEO of the Family and Children’s Association. Photo from FCA website

Throughout Long Island, Reynolds, who had previously been the Executive Director of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, said the emphasis on basic needs among families has increased, particularly as the number of unemployed in the area has approached 200,000.

Many of the unemployed are “involved in low wage jobs to begin with” and are living “at the margins,” so there is a need for food, rental assistance, and housing, he said. The basic needs have increased significantly.

The transition to telehealth has been effective for those with mild or moderate challenges and, in some ways, is even easier than walking into a church basement or going to a center. The first step, which is often the hardest in entering any kind of treatment program, involves fewer logistical challenges and allows people to remain anonymous.

At the same time, however, some of these virtual efforts are problematic for those who are dealing with a significant level of impairment.

People who have a more acute mental health condition are “less likely to engage via telehealth” and the same holds true for people with severe substance abuse, Reynolds said. “A virtual session is not the same as seeing them in person and groups are not the same as they were before.”

FCA has seen an increased demand for services for people who were anxious or depressed. Fear or a lack of control brought on by the virus is bringing some of these symptoms to the surface.

“Across the board, we are seeing an increased demand for services,” Reynolds said. “There is now space in which we’re not seeing that request.”

The virus has made health care disparities more visible. The numbers of illnesses and fatalities in Brentwood, for example, are 12 times higher than in Garden City. That relates to preexisting conditions like obesity and diabetes, but also to the crowded living conditions in Brentwood.

The combination of the business closings such as gyms, restaurants, movie theaters, and other enterprises creates anxiety and impacts family structure and family functioning, Reynolds said.

Long Island has had to cope with previous recessions and downturns from disasters like Superstorm Sandy, but this is “even deeper. I imagine we’re going to see the ripple effects for a decade to come.”

Reynolds is concerned about people returning to their normal lives at some point, without addressing underlying problems in the communities or with other families.

Still, Reynolds feels fortunate to work for an organization that has existed and helped communities and neighborhoods for 135 years. That means the group was around during the Spanish Flu in 1918 and 1919.

“What keeps me going is that we’re always had to do more with less,” Reynolds said. “We found hope in people’s lives where it seems like there isn’t.”

Indeed, the group not only survived the Spanish Flu, but also made it through both World Wars, the Great Depression, 9/11, and numerous natural disasters.

Additionally, on the positive side, the FCA can provide services in a much timelier way. People who call with a drug or alcohol problem can get some help within ten minutes. The current environment provides the equivalent of “treatment on demand,” Reynolds said.

The FCA head urged people to get involved, which could mean volunteering time at a school, offering help to a local charity or checking on an elderly neighbor.

He urged people to dedicate some of the time they spend on social media to helping others.

Reynolds has spoken with numerous people who have alcohol dependency. When they finally get treatment, some of them have said, “If it was that bad, why didn’t anybody say something to me?”

He urged friends and family to care for each other, asking about weight loss or prolonged sleep. He suggested having conversations that go beneath the surface.

Children and families benefit from structure, especially in a challenging environment. Reynolds suggested a regular evening meal time and a consistent time and place for homework.

Ultimately, as the head of a 135-year old organization, Reynolds said people need to believe that “you can get through this,” he said. “Even if it feels like the world is ending, it’s not.”

Above, the Vanderbilt Mansion Terrace Garden and quatrefoil fountain with Northport Bay in the background. Photo from Vanderbilt Museum
Transformed gardens on view through September

Eleven local nurseries and garden designers, plus the Museum’s corps of volunteer gardeners are taking part in the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum’s third annual Gardeners Showcase.

They redesigned and transformed garden areas, planted new perennials, annuals, shrubs, and trees  — and enhanced the beauty and ambience of William K. Vanderbilt II’s Eagle’s Nest mansion and estate, home of the Museum. The stunning results are on view through September. For now the Vanderbilt has reopened its grounds only – not its buildings – to visitors on Tuesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

All visitors are asked to wear a mask when unable to maintain 6-feet distancing from others.

“We are grateful for the enthusiastic response of local landscaping and gardening professionals who have volunteered their talents to beautify the historic estate,” said Elizabeth Wayland-Morgan, executive director of the Vanderbilt.

“These floral artisans, as well as our own veteran corps of accomplished volunteer gardeners, have invested their time, labor, and resources. Their enhancements will be enjoyed by thousands of summer visitors,” she added.

Jim Munson, the Museum’s operations supervisor, who created the event, said, “We thought the pandemic might prevent this year’s showcase,” he said. “However, thanks to the undying support and incredible talents of these designers, the showcase has become a reality.

“Many of the gardeners have been affected financially and personally by this health crisis, yet here they all are, once again selflessly giving their time, donations and incredible talents to the Vanderbilt to make it a better place for all. Simply sitting on a bench, listening to the birds and taking in the beauty of the gardens is an absolute gift,” he said.

Participating designers, identified by signage at showcase sites, are: Carlstrom Landscapes, Inc. (Terrace Pool); Centerport Garden Club (Rose Garden), de Groot Designs, Inc. (front entrance); Designs by Nelson (saltwater pool and balcony planters); Flowers by Friends (Sun Dial Garden and Saltwater Pool); Gro-Girl Horticultural Therapy (Sensory Garden); Haven on Earth Garden Design (Planetarium Garden); Mossy Pine Garden & Landscape Design (Clover Leaf Garden); Pal-O-Mine Equestrian J-STEP Program (Sensory Garden); Trimarchi Landscaping & Design (Courtyard Gardens), Tropic Al (Bell Tower/Bridge Garden); Vanderbilt Volunteer Gardeners (Memorial Garden, Columns Garden, Tent Gardens & Vegetable Garden).

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum is located at 180 Little Neck Road in Centerport. The admission fee to tour the grounds is $14 per carload, members are free. Tickets are available online only. No tickets will be sold at the gate. Visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org to order.

Mills Pond Gallery. Photo by Heidi Sutton

Mills Pond Gallery takes heart that some communities across the country are beginning to see fewer cases of COVID-19, but we remain concerned about the well-being of our artists, staff, gallery visitors and families in our communities. Therefore, out of an abundance of caution, we have made the decision to postpone many of our planned gallery exhibitions. Visit our exhibition page for schedules www.millspondgallery.org.

We have posted our Summer Art Classes Program on our website, offering over 30 creative art classes for children ages 5 and up. Class sizes will be kept small to continue social distancing and strict cleaning and disinfecting procedures will continue throughout the summer.

We recognize this is a challenging time for artists, schools, teachers and communities. At the same time, we are encouraged as we see creativity flourishing everywhere as people quickly adjust to a changing reality.  It is certainly reassuring to see so many organizations and families do so much to ensure that arts, culture and creativity remain a part of our lives.

We believe the arts are indispensable in building good character in the citizens of our communities fostering communication, offering new insights on the world and adding to the greater appreciation of both life and society. We look forward to reopening soon, engaging you with the arts so you are able to See What the Arts Can Open Your Eyes To!

We look forward to brighter days, good health and healing for all!

Allison J. Cruz

Executive Director

Mills Pond Gallery

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.