Port Times Record

File photo

By Rabbi Aaron D. Benson

In my opinion any holiday that includes matzoh ball soup is bound to be popular. Passover, which begins Monday night, April 22, features this dish, made with matzoh unleavened bread. The holiday is not just popular but is revered by Jews and non-Jews alike for its overarching theme of freedom. The ancient Israelites were enslaved in Egypt yet God, through the prophet Moses, freed them. As a reminder of this miracle, Jews refrain from eating anything baked with leaven and instead eat matzoh, the simple bread of slaves.  

For Americans, Passover resonates because freedom is a virtue at the core of our country’s identity. Being a citizen is defined as having freedom of religion, of speech, of press and of assembly. Quite literally “revolutionary” when first adopted, the principles in our Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights, have spread these standards of freedom and human dignity around the world.

The Bible’s message about freedom in the Passover story has a slightly different emphasis. It is not at odds with the American view, but it reminds us of a key aspect of freedom. Moses’ famous message from God demanding that Pharaoh, “Let My [God’s] people go,” is usually quoted without its conclusion, “that they may serve Me [God.]” 

When the Jews were finally freed from Egypt, it wasn’t so they could “let loose” after generations of enslavement. Such a life of abandon isn’t any true kind of freedom. Upon leaving Egypt, the Jews set out into the wilderness, eventually to come to Mount Sinai and there receive the Ten Commandments. To take on the responsibility of freedom. To accept laws that will build a society not of oppression, nor of indulgence, but one of respect and concern and common purpose. The Jews would march on, eventually coming to Israel, where they would settle and start to build a society based around the freedom to be responsible. Helping others isn’t a burden. Respecting them isn’t an imposition. Acknowledging that my own humanity is lessened if I do not also care for yours.

Whether you are celebrating Passover this year or not, make yourself a nice bowl of matzoh ball soup. And then, whether you’re celebrating or not, find someone to share that soup with, maybe even a lot of people, maybe even people who seem different from us. Freedom teaches us that we aren’t so different. At some point, we will all need help in our lives, and at some point we all can offer help. Let’s share that responsibility together, along with the matzoh ball soup.

Aaron Benson is the rabbi at North Shore Jewish Center, based in Port Jefferson Station. 

Rabbi Margie Cella. Photo courtesy Margie Cella

By Rita J. Egan

For Rabbi Margie Cella, the path to serve her congregation differed slightly from other rabbis.

At the annual Jewish University for a Day held at Stony Brook University on Sunday, April 7, Cella shared with attendees her experiences when converting from Lutheranism to Judaism and ultimately becoming a rabbi. The Port Jefferson Station resident, who taught math for 30 years, became a part-time rabbi with The Jewish Center of the Moriches in Center Moriches and an educator with the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism in the last few years. Her new career blossomed after she wrote the book “Hindsight Is 2020: Torah Lessons from a Turbulent Time.”

In a recent phone interview with TBR News Media, she discussed her decision to convert to Judaism and how she became a rabbi after working as a math teacher for 30 years.

The journey from the Lutheran Church to Judaism

Growing up in Massapequa, Cella attended St. John’s Lutheran Church with her family. Her father was raised a Lutheran, and her mother converted from Catholicism to Lutheranism after she married Cella’s father. The rabbi said her mother devoted herself to the Lutheran Church, which became part of the family’s social life in many ways,

“It was a big part of our life growing up,” she said. “We went every Sunday, and I went to Sunday school.”

Her husband, Raymond, who was raised Roman Catholic, joined the Lutheran Church after it began morphing into a mixture of Christianity and Judaism. In 1982, the Cellas along with their children, Jessica and Benjamin, converted to Judaism after realizing St. John’s church was becoming more like a cult, according to Cella.

At its peak, the rabbi said the congregation included approximately 2,000 members from every denomination. People came from all over Long Island, the five boroughs, Westchester as well as out of state to attend services. She added while it was the way she was introduced to Jewish practices, due to the mixture of Judaism and Christianity, she felt “it was inauthentic to both religions.”

“I don’t think that it is actually possible to practice both religions, because they diverged so much,” Cella said.

However, as the church changed, Cella said she did a “total 180” initially and became involved, at times she felt due to peer pressure. After being part of the mixture of religions for 11 years, she said the church “gradually morphed [as] more and more Jewish practice was introduced.”

She added, “Christianity was emphasized and spoken about less and less, so when we left there … we were faced with a decision, where do we go and what do we do?”

After realizing they were traumatized by the experience, Cella said she and her husband knew “the one thing that made sense to us out of everything that we were doing were the Jewish practices we were observing.”

Once they decided to convert, the couple talked to Rabbi Moshe Edelman, who led the congregation of North Shore Jewish Center at the time, to ask what they needed to do. The conversion included a course of study and practice for at least a year, such as studying the basics of the Jewish religion and observing the practices.

“Now, in our case, we were already observing a lot,” she said. “It was just we had a lot of misconceptions.”

At the end of their studies, the couple was interviewed by a rabbi and two congregants. Soon after, a ceremony marked their conversion by immersing them in water using a mikvah.

From teaching math to leading congregants

Cella and her husband moved to Maryland soon after they were married. They were both certified teachers. However, according to the rabbi, there were no available teaching positions on Long Island at the time. After living in Maryland for approximately a year, the couple moved back to Long Island, living in Coram and then Miller Place until they moved to Port Jefferson Station in 1985.

When the couple first returned, there were still few teaching jobs, so Cella worked in retail until she had her first child. She stopped working for a few years and returned to teaching after her second child was 3.

The rabbi said while it may have taken nine years after graduating from college in 1975 to begin her teaching career in New York, in total she spent 30 years as a math teacher. The rabbi taught at William Paca Middle School in Mastic Beach, North Babylon High School, Bridgehampton High School and for the last 25 years at Southampton High School.

It was after she retired from teaching, that Cella began her studies to become a rabbi. She said for 25 years she thought about going to rabbinical school, but it wasn’t practical with raising a family and the necessity of being a two-income family. 

She attended the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, describing the five-year program at a school in Manhattan as “intensive.” For the first four of the five years she studied, she traveled into the city and attended every weekday except Friday. She also lived and studied in Jerusalem for one semester. She now holds master’s degrees in Bible and rabbinic ordination and was ordained in May 2019.

Cella said her 30 years of teaching comes in handy. One example is instead of a sermon for Shabbat, she said hers is more like a study of a week’s Torah portion, which is interactive, involving the congregants in the discussion.

Reflecting on the Torah leads to publication

Before leading The Jewish Center of the Moriches, during the COVID-19 mandatory shutdowns, Cella said North Shore Jewish Center’s Rabbi Aaron Benson reached out and asked if she could help him sustain the congregation while they could not attend in-person services.

“I had this idea, because I have always been a lover of text and a lover of teaching, I decided to do a daily study of part of that week’s Torah portion,” she said.

The rabbi added that each Torah portion is divided into seven parts, making studying a portion each day ideal.

“I would write about it, and I would relate it not only to what it said in the Torah portion, but where possible, I would relate it to what was going on in the world at that time, because that was a unique year,” Cella said.

Her writings were emailed to the congregation every day. When members were able to return to the synagogue to worship, Cella said she decided she wanted to finish what she started.

“It takes a full year to go through the whole cycle of the Torah, and that’s what I did,” she said. “I wrote basically every day for a year. I wrote on every piece of every Torah portion, the entire Torah, over the course of a year, and it wasn’t until I got to the end that I said to myself, ‘I think I have the makings of a book here.’”

Cella said she learned a good deal from her book-writing experience.

“I think now that we’ve returned to what we call normal — or the new normal — I think that a lot of times we tend to forget the lessons that we learned from that year,” she said. “There were a lot of really profound things that we could take away from that year because nobody ever anticipated we would have something like that in our lifetimes. It wasn’t just COVID, there was so much else going on that year. There was political unrest in the country. There was social unrest in the country. There was so much going on. That all shows up in my book.”

The rabbi said she also feels it’s important to talk about her life as she did on April 7, as she believes it’s a cautionary tale regarding following religious leaders blindly, especially those who may prey on younger people. She hopes to share her experiences in another book one day.

As she reflected on her life and all the changes that had occurred over the past few years, Cella believes that if a person has something they want to do, they can make it happen regardless of age.

“One thing I like to tell people is you’re never too old to pursue whatever your dream is,” the rabbi said.

For more information on “Hindsight Is 2020: Torah Lessons from a Turbulent Time,” visit www.rabbicella.com.

Pixabay photo

By Samantha Rutt

A significant shift is coming to Long Island’s real estate market, with the National Association of Realtors agreeing to a settlement that could alter how buyers and sellers pay their agents.

In mid-March, the NAR reached a settlement agreement with home sellers who argued that NAR policies unfairly inflated commission rates. While the details are still being finalized, the agreement is set to impact the real estate market, both for buyers and sellers.

For years, the NAR faced lawsuits alleging their rules for Multiple Listing Services — the system where homes are advertised — restricted competition and kept commission rates artificially high, allegedly violating U.S. antitrust laws and regulations. 

The settlement, valued at $418 million over four years pending court approval, doesn’t admit wrongdoing by the NAR but allows sellers more freedom in how they offer compensation to buyers agents. Previously, commissions were often set through a system of predetermined splits between listing and buyers agents.

“There’s been a lot of misinformation about the settlement with the National Association of Realtors,” Darryl Davis, a real-estate coach based in Rocky Point said. “There has been no removal of any percent of a commission. To summarize, real estate companies have not been impacted at all because commission amounts, or the percentage, was not part of the lawsuit or the settlement.”

Local realtors are still analyzing the full scope of the settlement. However, early indications suggest a shift toward a more negotiable commission structure.

“Part of the settlement was that there would no longer be an offer of compensation on the multiple listing agreement for the agent that brings the buyer to the property,” John Fitzgerald of Realty Connect USA said. “So now for that agent to get paid, they’re going to have to have a contract with the buyer for compensation and that is changing our industry.”

What this means for buyers and sellers

“It really affects the seller,” said East Setauket-based Michael Ardolino, also of Realty Connect USA. The settlement “affects the sellers and the buyers more than anybody.”

For home buyers, this could translate to potential savings. Traditionally, buyers agents received a set commission, often around 3% of the sale price. Now, sellers may offer a lower commission to incentivize buyers agents to show the property.

However, some industry experts warn this might not be a guaranteed benefit for buyers, especially for those applying for loans from the Federal Housing Administration or Veteran Affairs. 

“The problem is, if the buyer is going to pay the compensation to the agent, you’re not incorporating it into the property — as far as getting it from the proceeds of the sale — [and that] then is going to have an effect on FHA buyers and VA buyers and that’s extreme,” Fitzgerald said. 

“If it’s a first-time homebuyer and they have an FHA, you buy a house with 3.5% down and you can mortgage up to 6% of your closing costs. Now you have to add a brokerage fee on top of that — that might put that buyer out of the market. Same thing for the VA. That might be a little bit difficult for primarily first-time buyers,” Fitzgerald explained. 

For sellers, the impact is a bit more complex. Increased negotiation over commissions could add time to the selling process. On the other hand, some sellers may be able to attract more interest by offering a lower commission to the buyer’s agent.

The road ahead

The Long Island real estate market is known for its competitiveness and this settlement is likely to add another layer to the negotiation process. Ultimately, how this settlement plays out for the Island’s buyers and sellers remains to be seen. However, one thing is certain: The way real estate commissions are negotiated on Long Island is about to change.

The NAR settlement is expected to take effect in mid-July. 

PJV Arbor Day 2024 Flyer. Photo courtesy Rebecca Kassay

The Village of Port Jefferson’s Tree Committee – freshly sprouted in 2023 – invites one and all to the village’s first annual Arbor Day Celebration this coming Wednesday, April 24, from 5-6 p.m.

Held in the Maple Parking Lot, behind Old Fields and Billie’s restaurants, attendees will hear from Suffolk County Executive Ed Romaine, Suffolk County Legislator Steve Englebright, Port Jefferson Village Mayor Lauren Sheprow and the Village’s Deputy Mayor and Commissioner of Environmental Sustainability, Rebecca Kassay. 

A local student from Port Jefferson will delight the crowd with a topical reading before the group ceremoniously plants two new native trees. Finally, all attendees will all be given a native tree or shrub sapling to plant in their own yards. 

By hosting this event, which is sponsored by the Arbor Day Foundation, the village will be one step closer to their Tree City USA designation.

Firefighting foam erupts from fire hose a product that is a regular host of PFAS chemicals, resistant to oil and water. Pixabay photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Forever is wonderful when it comes to love, but not so much when it comes to chemicals that don’t break down and stay in the human body, accumulating over time and threatening people’s health.

In a move applauded by environmental advocates and health officials, the Environmental Protection Agency last week set a limit on the amount of so-called forever chemicals, such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, called PFAS, of four parts per trillion in drinking water.

Water companies have until 2027 to complete initial monitoring to reduce chemicals that have been linked to damage to the kidney, testes, liver, thyroid, reproductive and immune system, according to the new regulations. Found in a host of products including fireman’s foam, carpets, clothing, food packaging and nonstick cookware, PFAS are resistant to oil and water.

New York State already had one of the toughest regulations in the country, as the Empire State set maximum contaminant levels of 10 parts per trillion for these chemicals in 2020.

Charles Lefkowitz, chairman of the Suffolk County Water Authority applauded the EPA for this new national standard.

The SCWA has been “preparing for this and we are well on our way to meeting all regulatory requirements within the time frame laid out by EPA,” Lefkowitz said in a statement. “Since 2020, when New York enacted its own PFAS rules, SCWA has been meeting or surpassing all standards. It has given us a great head start on the new rules, but there is still work to be done.”

Suffolk County Health Commissioner Dr. Gregson Pigott noted that the state’s water standards for emerging contaminants are among the most protective in the country.

“The new federal measures will have the greatest impact nationwide and will also further protect our drinking water on Long Island,” Dr. Pigott explained in an email.

Environmental groups recognized the ongoing work at the SCWA to meet these standards and appreciated the authority’s public disclosure of its testing results.

Adrienne Esposito, Executive Director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, described the SCWA as “ready” for this rule change and “poised for action.”

Since 2016, the SCWA installed 27 new Granular Activated Carbon treatment systems that remove PFAS from drinking water, The authority expects to install as many as 80 new GAC systems to meet the new regulations.

“We are well within our way to achieving that within the timeframe set by the EPA,” Jeff Szabo, Chief Executive Officer of SCWA, explained in an email. 

Each new system costs about $1.5 million to install. SCWA had already instituted a $20 per quarter water quality treatment charge to customers in 2020, when New York State established its PFAS limits.

SCWA has also secured $9 million from New York State for GAC treatment, which, Szabo explained, would help reduce the cost to customers.

Rates won’t be increasing in the next fiscal year. The rates, which are based on the budget, may change in future years, depending on the operating budget, a spokesman said.

SCWA tests all of its wells at least semi-annually for PFAS. If the authority finds a well with these chemicals, it retests the well at least quarterly and, in some cases will test it every month or every two weeks.

Private  wells

Esposito urged people with private wells to test their water regularly.

“People think when they have a private well, it comes from a mysteriously clean spring,” said Esposito. “They must get their wells tested. Ignorance is not bliss. If there are PFAS, they must call and report it and see if they’re eligible to get federal funds for filtration.”

Esposito estimates the cost of testing for private well water could be $200 to $250.

Carbon filtration, using a process called reverse osmosis, can remove PFAS.

The cost of installing filters depends on the home and the type of filter. Several online providers estimate a cost between $800 and $3,000, although specific costs from different providers may vary.

Residents can call the Department of Health Services Office of Water Resources at (631) 852-5810 for information on testing by either the health department or a local contract laboratory. Health department staff are also available to provide treatment recommendations.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has provided alternate water supplies to a limited number of private well owners on a case-by-case basis over the last several years.

The New York State legislature is considering proposed legislation to provide grant funding to private well owners with impacted wells to connect to public water or install treatment.

The county health department coordinates with the DEC and the state Department of Health when they receive information regarding water that exceeds PFAS containment levels.

People interested in further information about the health effects of the PFAS are urged to reach out to the New York State Department of Health.

Jaymie Meliker, Professor in the Department of Family, Population and Preventive Medicine in the Program in Public Health at Stony Brook University, added that private wells have numerous potential contaminants in part because Long Island has so many septic systems.

These wastewater systems are a source of nitrogen for waterways, leading to fish kills and can also add contaminants to drinking water.

Wastewater treatment is “vastly under resourced,” said Meliker. The county and the state need infrastructure investments.

As for PFAS, they can vary from one neighborhood to the next.

On the manufacturing side, companies are working to lower the toxins of PFAS, creating shorter chains that provide the same benefits without the negative effect on health.

Meliker was pleased that the EPA had established low level limits for these chemicals that accumulate in the human body.

The studies and concerns have been “going on for a couple of decades,” he said. “There’s enough evidence to suggest it’s prudent to do something.

Richard Lusak. Photo courtesy Randi Dewitt

Prepared by Randi Dewitt

Richard Lusak passed away peacefully on April 7 at the age of 83 in the company of his family just nine days away from his birthday.

He was born on Long Island to Catherine and Nestor Lusak. He attended Seton Hall High School, then received his bachelor’s degree from C.W. Post College and a master’s degree in library science. 

Richard married his beloved wife, Rosalie, in 1963 and moved to Port Jefferson, where they raised their three children. He founded the Comsewogue Public Library in a portable classroom in 1966, and in 1969 led the efforts for a permanent building located at Terryville Road in Port Jefferson Station.

Over the years, Richard oversaw the expansion of the library to what it is now. He was a charter member of the Port Jefferson Station-Terryville Chamber of Commerce and sat on the Town of Brookhaven Youth Bureau board and the Ethics Board. He was also a past president of the Port Jefferson Rotary Club, a trustee on the Mather Memorial Hospital board and a trustee of Island Nursing & Rehab Center board. 

Richard retired in 2002 so he and his wife could enjoy traveling and spending time with their family. He will be dearly missed by this beloved wife of 60 years; his sons, Robert and Russell and daughter, Randi; his grandchildren Alex, Rebecca and Emma Lusak, Matthew, Aaron and Jordyn Lusak, and Lucy and Brady DeWitt.

A memorial service was held on April 13 at Moloney’s Port Jefferson Station Funeral Home. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that a donation is kindly made in Richard’s memory to Shriners Children’s Hospitals at www.shrinerschildrens.org.

Tulips bloom on Barnum Avenue in Port Jefferson. Photo by Heidi Sutton

Spring has sprung, and with it comes the welcome sight of people emerging from their winter cocoons. As we bask in the warmer weather, our streets and sidewalks come alive with pedestrians, cyclists and drivers all eager to soak up the sunshine. But this surge in activity also necessitates a collective reminder: Springtime safety is a two-way street.

It’s easy to get caught up in the allure of the season, but amid the blooming flowers and gentle breezes, we must not forget the importance of vigilance and awareness. Each year, countless accidents occur on our roads and walkways, many of which could have been prevented with a little extra caution and mindfulness.

Drivers, vigilance is essential. Pedestrians, many of whom may have been less active during colder months, are now reclaiming their space on our roads. Be extra cautious at crosswalks and intersections, and remember that pedestrians have the right of way. Yield to those with strollers, wheelchairs or mobility aids, and be extra aware of children who may be less predictable in their movements.

Pedestrians, while enjoying the fresh air, do not let down your guard. Sidewalks are for walking, not texting or talking on the phone. Stay alert to your surroundings and avoid distractions that could impair your ability to react to traffic. Make eye contact with drivers at crosswalks and do not assume they see you. Wear bright clothing during the day and reflective gear at night to ensure maximum visibility.

Cyclists, as always, prioritize safety. Obey traffic laws, use hand signals and wear a properly fitted helmet. Remember, you share the road with cars, so ride defensively and avoid weaving in and out of traffic.

By working together, drivers, pedestrians and cyclists can all contribute to a safer community this spring. Let us embrace the season’s vibrancy while keeping safety at the forefront of our minds. A little awareness goes a long way in ensuring everyone enjoys the beautiful weather without incident. So, buckle up, put down the phone and let us all step safely into spring.

File photo by Raymond Janis

A heartfelt thank you to SBU Hospital

May you never have to deal with a life-threatening health issue of a loved one. However, should such a situation arise, be extremely thankful that we all live in the shadow of one of the best Level 1 Trauma Center hospitals in New York. 

Without going into detail, our 38-year-old daughter was in the Cardiac ICU at Stony Brook University Hospital for 32 days due to severe complications from the flu. Words will never adequately express our deepest gratitude for the unbelievable lifesaving machines available (ECMO to name just one) at the hospital. If this had not been the case, we do believe the outcome would have been much different. While the machinery was an absolute necessity, without the amazing surgical skills of Dr. Jonathan Price, the machines would never have become part of the equation. Surgical skills were required, but the compassion and constant attentive care shown by this very special surgeon, can never be quantified. We will forever be indebted to this man. Dr. Price along with a number of outstanding cardiologists, the Emergency Room team, the perfusionist, intensivist, nephrology and heart-failure teams at Stony Brook University Hospital, all played a pivotal role in her success and recovery.

In addition, we have always held the nursing profession in the highest esteem. The entire nursing staff on 7W (Cardiac ICU) were truly angels throughout. Each and every medical professional that contributed to our daughter’s care, while extremely capable, also showed so much compassion and concern every step of the way. (We would like to list every single person, but fear we may forget someone and not one of these amazing professionals should be forgotten.) They will all be held close to our hearts forever.

Our daughter faces some challenges ahead, but she is so strong and the love and support shown by so many will continue to help her every step of the way. 

Two Very Thankful Parents in the Three Village Community

Linda Contino, inspiring generations

As we approach the end of another school year, our community faces a bittersweet moment — the retirement of Mrs. Linda Contino, choral director at Ward Melville High School. For 40 years, Mrs. Contino has been a cornerstone of the music program in the Three Village community.

Mrs. Contino has not just taught her students, but truly inspired them. Her unwavering dedication and passion and her ability to make every student feel valued will be sorely missed.

As Mrs. Contino embarks on this new chapter of her life, it is our hope that her legacy of patience, kindness and music education excellence will continue to inspire those who had the privilege to learn from her but also future generations of teachers who strive to make a difference in the same indelible way.

On Friday, May 3, more than 200 music program alumni will join her for the last time on stage at Ward Melville High School for one final performance. If you were involved in the choral program at Ward Melville during Mrs. Contino’s tenure, please consider joining us.

More information about the event, as well as details on the Linda Contino Legacy Fund that is currently being established, please visit continoretirement.com.

 

Michael Buckley

Class of 1998

Ward Melville High School

Neighborhood hazards

My family and I take lots of walks around our neighborhood. During these walks we see the pride our neighbors take in their properties. Unfortunately, we also notice the lack of consideration placed by workers from utility workers, whether PSEGLI, Cablevision, Verizon or others. They sometimes arrive in vans with no ID or official signage and set up next to a pole to work. Anyone could be up that pole. But what is really of concern is when they complete their work, the mess they leave behind. Nuts, bolts, screws, pieces of wire are left on the road. Wires are left hanging, swaying in the breeze or left in a tangled pile at the base of the pole. Thankfully our neighbors will clean up what’s left on the road, but what about the hanging wires? Are they live? Left to be connected another day? They can be seen hanging for over a year. I ask that our lawmakers require these utility companies to have their employees have clear identification on their vehicles, teach them to clean up when they finish a job, and not to leave dangerous, long cables hanging around our lawns and roads.

Enough with your sloppy job!  

Ronnie Kreitzer

  Setauket     

Squatting is illegal trespassing

As a Long Island resident and a homeowner, I am deeply concerned about the alarming rise in squatting instances across our state. This not only poses significant risks to property owners but also threatens the well-being of our neighborhoods. From vacant homes to commercial buildings, squatters are taking advantage of loopholes in our laws and exploiting the rights of property owners. This cannot continue.

Homeowners should reserve the ability to remove squatters from their property swiftly and efficiently. It’s a matter of common sense and fundamental property rights. Every homeowner deserves to feel safe and secure in their own home, without the fear of unauthorized individuals trespassing and occupying their space.

That’s why I support the proposed legislation in the state Senate sponsored by NYS Sen. John Liu [D-Flushing]. His bill will strengthen protections for property owners and streamline the process for removing squatters from their premises. Perhaps most importantly, this proposal will redefine squatting for what it really is: illegal trespassing. 

This issue demands bipartisan cooperation and decisive action. Together, we can make our communities safer and stronger. 

 Sarah S. Anker

Former Suffolk County Legislator

NYS Senate Democratic Candidate

By Serena Carpino

The Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce hosted its 15th annual Health & Wellness Fest at The Meadow Club in Port Jefferson Station on Saturday, April 13. Dozens of businesses — ranging from local clinics to internationally recognized organizations — attended the event to spread awareness of their efforts to help people create healthy habits and promote a wellness lifestyle. 

Both returning and new businesses set up booths around the club. Some had attended for 15 years. For most, it was their first time at the Health & Wellness Fest. 

Many of the booths were centered around heart and mental health, but there were also representatives from therapy groups, local gyms and several other related programs. However, there was one main theme across the board: preventative care. Officials spread awareness about early screenings for different illnesses, regular doctor checkups and healthy eating to prevent chronic diseases.

For example, the Fortunato Breast Health Center at Mather Hospital is promoting breast health through early mammograms — around age 40 for all women and earlier for those with a family history of breast cancer — as well as breast self-examinations. According to Maureen Burke, an employee at the center, they have many resources for women who have been diagnosed with cancer and are encouraging them to utilize these opportunities. 

“We’re just making them aware of different programs that we have,” Burke said. One such program is a navigation system in which nurses follow patients through their cancer journey and are always available via phone to help schedule appointments or answer any other questions. In addition, they educate people on lymphedema and offer different blood tests through their oncology department. 

Other programs, such as the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, focused on nutritious eating habits to promote longevity. This organization is advocating for the MyPlate meal plan, which stipulates that half of our plates should be filled with fruits and vegetables. In addition, Cornell encourages making better beverage choices and remaining physically active. 

Linda Altenburger, a registered dietitian and the program manager for the organization’s diabetes team, said that Cornell has also partnered with WIC and SNAP-Ed populations and has offered many free resources to the community.

“We’re an outreach, you know, to the community … [we have] a lot of hands-on programs for children and adults, and overall just provide great resources so the community knows where to turn,” she explained. “We’re trying to reduce the incidence of diabetes and help those that are trying to lose weight and just how to cook healthy with more fruits and vegetables.” 

Cornell Cooperative has also partnered with local farmers markets and Sun River Health to further their efforts for the community. 

There were representatives at the fest from mental health groups such as LightPath Counseling Group and Youth Enrichment Services. 

LightPath has 20 therapists that have various focuses. Janice Martin, director of LightPath and a clinical social therapist for over 20 years said, “We do anxiety, depression, relievement, pretty much everything. Each therapist specializes in something different.”

Youth Enrichment Services was founded in 1987, but recently added its Community Mental Health Promotion and Support division. The organization is mainly located in Brentwood and Islip, with several school programs focused on mental health and community drug misuse awareness. This is the first year YES has attended the Health & Wellness Fest. Fernando Hurtado, a member of the COMHPS division, explained that it “is a good opportunity because it gives everybody a way to bolster everybody’s mental health outreach.”

Other groups present at the event included Redefine Fitness, Stony Brook University Heart Institute, New York Blood Center, Port Jefferson Free Library, Countryside Animal Hospital and more.