Times of Huntington-Northport

Abhishek Cherath, 19 from Mumbai, India, said he hopes the most recent election can return a sense of trust to the country’s democratic institutions. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Kaung Kyaw arrived in America when he was 19. “I’ve always thought since I came here that I’m a foreigner, so my opinions really don’t matter,” he said. 

He is just one of more than 4,000 international students who come to study at Stony Brook University from 103 countries. They make up a large, diverse population either living on campus or nearby. Many credit this international community for driving the large numbers of ethnically varied offerings of both shops and restaurants in the Setauket/Stony Brook area. Their inclusion in the community has led to events like the annual Dragon Boat Race Festival in Port Jefferson and the Chinese New Year celebration by the Ward Melville Heritage Organization.

Kaung Kyaw, from Myanmar, expressed his desire to continue his education in the states, but was concerned of how recent activities by the president would make it unlikely. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Kyaw, a 21-year-old student from Myanmar, came to the U.S. in 2018. He said he always had dreamt of coming to the United States and decided to choose SBU as his place of study to become a surgeon. 

But before he traveled here, he remembers hearing that Donald Trump was elected as Republican president back in 2016. Kyaw’s initial thought was, “What were they thinking?”

“I thought it was so funny,” he said. “But now I’m living this reality and it’s not funny anymore.”

Kyaw is currently studying biology. After graduation, he said he would like to hopefully continue his education in the States. That, however, has been complicated by the president’s addition of his home country to a list of nations on a travel ban in January this year.

“If I get to stay here, I would practice here,” he said. “But right now, that’s not possible because of Donald Trump’s travel ban.”

He said that because of the current presidency, his view of America has morphed into a vision that isn’t always that welcoming.

“When he tried to send us all back a few months ago, that was really cruel and was really unfair,” he said. “We pay a lot of money to be here and study here. We don’t deserve this kind of treatment — nobody does.”

During the COVID-19 crisis, Kyaw said he was subjected to racism. He never imagined this when he considered coming here. 

“I thought America would be this amazing place with lots of job opportunities,” he said. “I didn’t think of the racism or any other bad issues here. America was just this dream place to be in. But I got here, and these are topics we cannot escape — I didn’t know how much it’s ingrained into everyone’s minds.”

Minal Chawla, 19 from India, said she was just 17 when she decided to study abroad at Stony Brook. “Before coming to the U.S., I think I never paid much attention to what was happening in American politics and what was going here in general,” she said. “But now I try to keep myself up to date with all the latest happenings because I think in one way or the other, they affect me.”

Chawla, who is studying health sciences and journalism, said that there is so much happening in the U.S. that her future appears a little more unclear because of the uncertainties.

“I have a whole plan of what I want to do after graduation,” she said. “But now looking at the current scenario, I am unsure about whether I will be able to achieve it or not because the immigration policies can change at any moment and things can go south all of a sudden.”

She added that under President-elect Joe Biden’s new Democratic administration, she’s hopeful. “I hope that the decisions they take are in favor of all the international students who plan to work or settle in the U.S. after studies,” she said. “Currently, I am just trying to focus on the bright side and practicing gratitude by reflecting upon the things that I am thankful for.”

Veronica Alvarenga Hon, 21 from Costa Rica, has spent two-and-a-half years in the States. She said that before coming here, she always found the American electoral system to be interesting. In Costa Rica, they elect the president according to popular vote. 

“I do have to say that for a long time, the U.S. portrayed itself as the leader of the free world  — they were an example of what you could achieve by valuing freedom and respecting other people’s rights,” she said. “This, for some reason, made the U.S. seem more liberal in my mind. I was very surprised that many people were very conservative, even by my own standards.”

The 2020 election, to Hon, was polarizing. “President Trump often uses inflammatory rhetoric which only riles people up more,” she said. “I think this is just another example of the populist trend that we are seeing in the world. It was very disappointing to see so many people voting for the opposite of what I would consider American values, such as equality, freedom, respect and tolerance.”

“This, for some reason, made the U.S. seem more liberal in my mind. I was very surprised that many people were very conservative, even by my own standards.”

— Veronica Alvarenga

But she said it’s natural for people to  disagree when it comes to politics. “I just don’t think it’s usually so personal to everyone,” she said.

Hon added that she viewed the election more about getting Trump out of office, rather than liking Biden. 

“The U.S., once the leader of the free world, seems to have forgotten that to lead, you need people that will follow,” she said. “I am hoping that the Biden administration takes a different approach in their foreign policy — one that would consider rejoining the Paris Agreement, the World Health Organization and the JCPOA [known commonly as the Iran nuclear deal].”

Kyaw agreed. ”Trump being the president has shown you how much racism there is in America,” he said. “This was all there before he came in the spotlight. They just started expressing it and people started becoming nastier and nastier. We need to start fixing that.”

Abhishek Cherath, 21 from Mumbai [formerly Bombay] in India said in his opinion bringing back America to what it was before Trump’s presidency will not be easy. 

“The things that are being put at risk by Trumpism are much longer lasting than anything else,” he said. “Politics is dirty. But the only alternative to politics is war — that’s not a good alternative.”

Under a Biden term in office, Cherath said he hopes things will be more pleasant among his American colleagues. 

“I don’t really know what I’m going to do, but I hope America is OK,” he said. “Because there’s a lot of wonderful stuff that happens here, and it will be a real shame to just have that all vanish into a civil war.”

The state just announced they will be cancelling the Jan. Regents exams. File photo

State officials said the January 2021 Regents exams will be canceled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

Announced last week, state Interim Commissioner of Education Betty A. Rosa, along with her administration, said they were canceling the exams at the start of next year. The decision will apply to all Regents exams that had been scheduled for Jan. 26 through Jan. 29.

Over the summer, the New York State Education Department canceled the June and August exams due to the COVID-19 crisis. 

Roger Tilles, of Manhasset, who represents Long Island on the state’s Board of Regents, said the decision is only fair. 

“A lot of schools started at different times this year,” he said. “We started teaching all-remote, sometimes hybrid, Zoom classes, some in-person. How could you have one uniform test for all students?” 

According to Tilles, it is always difficult to have equity in a state uniform test. 

“Even without the pandemic, it’s inequitable because some schools have better resources and can attract certain types of teachers who have specialties that other schools don’t have,” he said. “So, the kids who are in high-needs districts are getting the same tests as students in the lowest-need schools in the state and compare those students to the other.”

Since there has been disparity in the way students have learned the last eight months, the board began thinking about how to handle the state testing early on in the year. It was officially announced on Nov. 5 that the tests would be canceled. 

“Throughout the pandemic, our priority has been the health and well-being of our students and educators,” Rosa said in a statement. “We determined the January Regents exams could not be safely, equitably and fairly administered across the state given where the pandemic currently stands. We will continue to monitor applicable data and make a decision on other state assessment programs as the school year progresses, being mindful of the evolving situation.”

And due to the cancellation, NYSED will propose modifications to the assessment requirements that students must meet in order to earn high school diplomas, credentials and endorsements at the upcoming December Board of Regents meeting. 

Dr. Jennifer Quinn, superintendent of the Comsewogue School District, said she also believes this was the right decision. 

“There are inequalities in different school districts and it wasnt creating a level playing field,” she said. 

One problem Quinn said she sees in the future is because of the January cancellation, students who planned on taking the English exam will be unable to. 

“A lot of our students take the English Regents in January,” she said. “If they end up giving it in June because they canceled in January, it’ll put the students at a disadvantage and will have to take it on top of their other exams.”

A representative from Three Village Central School District said the only Regents typically taken in January is the English exam, but now the students will have to take the exam in June.

“In the past, we have had a few students re-take a Regents examination in January to improve their score, but the number of students re-taking a Regents in January has been small,” the district said in a statement. “The impact is anticipated to be minimal.”

According to the statement sent out by NYSED, the modifications apply to all students who are completing a secondary-level course of study or makeup program in January and are scheduled to participate in one or more of the January 2021 Regents exams. 

“To ensure students are not adversely impacted by the cancellation of the exams, the department will ask the Board of Regents to adopt emergency regulations pertaining to the assessment requirements that students must meet in order to earn diplomas, credentials and endorsements,” the statement said. “Under the proposed emergency regulations, students who are planning to take one or more Regents examinations during the January 2021 examination period at the conclusion of a course of study or makeup program shall be exempt from the requirements pertaining to passing such Regents examination to be issued a diploma.”

Other local districts said that due to the population size within their districts, the cancellation of the exam would not impact them. Port Jefferson, Miller Place and Rocky Point school representatives all said the decision does not affect their districts.

“There is little impact on our students in Port Jefferson, as we have very few students who take Regents exams in January during a non-COVID year,” Christine Austen, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction at Port Jefferson School District, said. “Any student who was enrolled in a Regents-level course last year was exempted from taking the assessment and received Regents credit towards graduation as long as they passed the course for the year. Due to the low number of students who usually take the January Regents exams, it isn’t a concern at this time.”

No decisions have been made yet by the Board of Regents regarding the June and August 2021 exams or any other state assessment programs. 

This article has been amended to better clarify the Three Village School District’s statement on the Regents cancellation. 

The Huntington Arts Council (HAC) will present the juried exhibit Mirror Mirror virtually and at its Main Street Gallery from Nov. 13 to Dec. 19.

Artists were asked, “What kind of mirror does your artwork hold up to the world? During times of reflection is it a full length, vanity, compact, or a funhouse mirror containing many multitudes? Maybe it is more of a looking glass. Allow yourself to observe and then say, “I contain enough.” and let it out.”

Congratulations to all of the artists accepted into this show: Diane Brown Ardell, Sheri Berman, Sílvia Soares Boyer, Christie Devereaux De Cesare, Ellen DiFazio, Eliseea Faur, Jim Finlayson, Jan Guarino, Sueey J. Gutierrez, Heather Heckel, Imperfectly Perfect By Wendy, Margaret Henning, Julianna Kirk, Sarah Lambert, Kirk Larsen, Allison Mack, Kristen Memoli, Kasmira Mohanty, Gail Neuman, Luda Pahl, Sophia Pirone, Andrea Rhude, Thomas “TJ” Roszko, Khurshid Saleem, Lori Scarlatos, Meryl Shapiro, Neill Slaughter, Christina Stow, Tracy Tekverk, Amy Goodfellow Wagner, Stephen Wyler and Allison Zhang.

“I was so captivated and impressed by the broad spectrum of interpretations and varied mediums for the theme of Mirror, Mirror. The entries were so strong, but a concise vision for the exhibit began to form after reviewing every entry and guided my final selections. While jurying this exhibit I could not help but contemplate the way we “see” ourselves in so many places besides physical mirrors and photos,” said juror Caitlyn Shea.

“This exhibit truly highlights how we “see” ourselves when we interact with a person or animal, and how we intellectually “see” ourselves when we look contemplatively at the world around us – desiring a sense of purpose and belonging. The artists even “see” themselves mirrored in the act of creating. While Narcissus so egocentrically fell in love with his own reflection, the curious human act of searching for familiarity and mirrored traits in places like the cosmos, nature, and in other living creatures actually leads us to expand our horizons and grow our true sense of “self”. While artists are usually taught to look at their subjects objectively first, the artist cannot escape being reflected in their own work. This exhibit is an incredible exploration into introspective thought and self-reflection,” she said.

“The sentiment of this exhibition is in itself, reflective of our times. The challenges and changes that we have faced over the last several months have made us all look at things differently. The arts continue to provide a much needed “connection” to ourselves, communities, members and partners,” added  Executive Director of Huntington Arts Council, Marc Courtade. “Mirror Mirror is simultaneously thought provoking and uplifting. Please stop by our gallery or view on our website and “reflect” on this beautiful body of work.”

Mirror Mirror is on view at the Huntington Arts Council’s Main Street Gallery, 213 Main Street in Huntington, from Nov. 13 to Dec. 19 and on online at www.huntingtonarts.org. The gallery is open to the public Tuesday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and some Saturdays. Social distancing and masks are required. To schedule a visit, please call 631-271-8423.

Images courtesy of HAC

Wading River resident Bill McGrath donates blood at the NYBC location in Terryville. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Local hospitals are in need of blood, and they are joining forces with New York Blood Center to get the word out that a donation could save a life. 

Dr. James Cassin, dental resident at St. Charles Hospital’s Dental Clinic, donating blood Nov. 10 at St. Charles Hospital’s Blood Drive. Photo from St. Charles

According to Andrea Cefarelli, senior executive director at New York Blood Center, because of the current pandemic, there is a huge shortage across the country with no sign of any more supplies incoming.

“This is a chronic deficit in blood donations so we’re trying to raise awareness,” she said. 

Cefarelli explained that before the pandemic, 75% of blood donations came from the community. 

“We came to you in your place of work, place of worship and schools,” she said. “It was super easy to donate blood.”

According to its Facebook page, NYBC provides lifesaving blood products and services to nearly 200 hospitals in New York, New Jersey, Long Island, the Hudson Valley, and parts of Connecticut and Pennsylvania. 

But because of COVID-19, people aren’t going out to donate, especially since blood drives at schools, colleges, offices and other community groups have been canceled. 

“Post-pandemic we’re running far fewer community blood drives and so it’s not quite as convenient,” Cefarelli said. “We have a deficit of 8,000 donations per month.”

According to NYBC, New York’s health care system requires 1,500 donations each day to treat patients ranging from trauma victims to newborns to cancer patients. The lack of blood donations is “particularly dangerous given the looming uncertainty surrounding the pandemic’s trajectory over the course of this winter,” she said.

Pre-pandemic, NYBC would host 550 community blood drives every month, but it is currently hosting just 280 blood drives per month.

To make up for lost blood, NYBC has teamed up with local and regional hospitals including Northwell Health and Catholic Health Services of Long Island to spread the word and ask people to donate. 

“The lack of blood donations has caused shortages of blood types to be available in our blood bank which provides lifesaving blood to all the patients we serve within the community,” said Jon Zenker, the administrative director of Huntington Hospital’s laboratory. “We urge all members of the community who are able to donate blood to help us overcome this critical shortage so that we can continue to serve our patients and provide them with the highest quality of care.”

Greg Slater, a spokesperson with Catholic Health Services, said they have taken extra safety precautions to make people feel comfortable during COVID times. 

“It takes a little bit of time to do, but it can be a lifesaving thing for someone else,” he said. 

Cefarelli said the lack of first-time donors is also down because of the lack of blood drives in school. She is encouraging young people to lend a helping hand. 

“If you bring a son or daughter who’s a first-time donor, who doesn’t have that school experience, we’re welcoming that,” she said. “Making it a fun and safe experience is super important to us.”

She’s also reminding people that blood drives are safe and can be hosted in a socially distanced fashion. 

“We have churches, businesses and even some schools realizing that we can host a blood drive that is safe and socially distant,” she said. “We want other organizations to consider hosting a drive.”

Right now, donors can make an appointment online at any NYBC blood collection center. Upon arrival, their temperatures are checked, and masks are required. 

Stony Brook University Hospital is also accepting blood donations at their own personal blood bank. According to Linda Pugliese, blood bank donor recruiter at the hospital, every day (except for Sunday) is a blood drive there. 

“All of the whole blood and platelets that are donated in the hospital blood bank, stay at the hospital, and help provide patients with the blood products they need,” she said. “Donating at the Stony Brook University Hospital Blood Bank is truly an example of community service.”

Since they are not affiliated with NYBC, SBUH’s blood supply is currently stable, but their demand has reached pre-COVID-19 levels. “There is a critical need to meet the challenges for blood donations created by the pandemic,” she said. 

Decorations on a house in Rocky Point reminding people to wear masks. Photo by Kyle Barr

The percentage of positive tests for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has increased in the last week, particularly among younger residents.

Positive tests over the last seven days increased to 2.17%, which is up from 1.41% in the prior week, according to County Executive Steve Bellone (D).

“COVID cases are surging in Suffolk County,” Bellone said on a conference call with reporters Nov. 10. “We are seeing what other places in other communities have been experiencing for some time now.”

Indeed, the increase in cases is likely occurring even at gatherings that are following the state-mandated limit of 50 people at any gathering.

On Monday, the positivity rate was 3.8%, which is the first time since May 25 that the rate was above 3%.

Given when these positive tests occurred, Bellone said they are “exactly when we would expect to see cases spiking” from Halloween gatherings.

The majority of the positive tests are among people who are under 65, said Dr. Gregson Pigott, Commissioner of the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, with 27% of the cases among people 25 to 40 and 31% for people who are 41 to 65.

“If we continue to see this surge in positive cases throughout Suffolk County, how long before it gets into that more vulnerable population?” Bellone said.

Bellone urged families to take precautions at gatherings during Thanksgiving by limiting the number of people coming together for the holiday, opening windows when possible, and, if necessary in smaller spaces, wearing masks.

“The current spike we are seeing is clearly related to gatherings,” Bellone said. These gatherings do not violate limits, which is a warning sign. “We have to take precautions to prevent these surges.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) also expressed alarm in a press conference Monday about the spike in COVID cases nationwide, saying we’re likely to have “a long two months.”

Bellone said the county is planning to increase its contact tracers over the next week in response to the increase in positive tests. The county currently has 50 contact tracers and plans to double that to 100 over the next few days, at which point it will double that again.

The number of hospitalizations which, like the testing percentage is not close to where it was during the worst of the pandemic, current stands at 60, which is also a rise from recent weeks, when the number of people hospitalized with the virus hovered between the 20s and 40s.

In recent months, hospitals haven’t seen the “real, real sick COVID patients they were seeing in March,” Pigott said. Residents are typically coming in for a day or two and then are continuing their recovery at home.

In addition to the public health threat an increase in cases poses for a county that had been the epicenter for the pandemic in the U.S. in the spring, the rise in positive tests presents a potential threat to the fragile economy, which is still recovering after an extended lockdown and slow, phased reopening.

“If these trends continue, that could result in certain rollbacks of the economic recovery,” Bellone said.

Bellone urged people in the county to pay close attention to their own symptoms. He recommended that residents stay home when they are not feeling well and get tested.

Testing has become much more widely available in Suffolk County and throughout the state. Information on the location of testing sites is available at suffolkcountyny.gov/Covid19. A list of testing sites is located half way down the screen, in a blue box on the left hand side.

“If you don’t have insurance, the test is free throughout the county,” Bellone said. “Get tested. That will help us get a handle on the surge that is happening right now. Those numbers are concerning, they are disturbing.”

The county needs to keep the numbers under control to keep the virus from threatening the economic recovery, he added.

The Town of Huntington held its Veterans Day Ceremony Sunday, Nov. 8, in Veterans Plaza at Huntington Town Hall. The event was limited to 50 people due to the pandemic and included Broadway star Makayla Connolly, upper left photo, singing “God Bless America” and the national anthem. Joining elected Huntington officials including town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) were members of the Veterans Advisory Board and U.S. Coast Guard Station Eaton’s Neck, and veterans organizations from the Huntington area. Chief Brian Keane of the Huntington Fire Department, Chief Jon Hoffmann of the Huntington Manor Fire Department and volunteer firefighters displayed the American flag for the ceremony from fire trucks on Main Street.

Huntington Town Supervisor Chad A. Lupinacci presented Town Clerk Andrew P. Raia with a proclamation commemorating American Archives Month in front of the Town Clerk’s new Farming in Huntington exhibit on Oct. 20.

“Farming has a long and fascinating history in the Town of Huntington, and I would like to thank those farms which are participating in my office’s Farming in Huntington exhibit as part of Archives Month 2020,” said Raia.

“Our rural roots are on display in the Town Clerk’s “Farming in Huntington” exhibit, which also punctuates the need to preserve this type of open space to maintain the character of our Town,” said Sup. Lupinacci. “The Town Clerk’s Archives Month exhibit highlights the significance of preserving historical records and help us understand how our past has influenced our present.”

Farms featured in the exhibit include Albert H. Schmitt Family Farms, Albert Schmitt & Sons Farms, Carlson’s Elwood Farms, Crossroads Farm, DeLea Sod Farms, Dobler Farms, ELIJA Farm, Elwood Pumpkin and Christmas Tree Farm, F & W Schmitt’s Family Farm, Kerber’s Farm, Lewis Oliver Dairy, Makinajian Poultry Farm, Manor Farm, Mediavilla Orchards, Prianti Farms Inc., Richters Orchard, Schneider’s Farm, Tilden Lane Farm and White Post Farms of Melville.

“The images, artifacts and antique items loaned to the exhibit from owners of the participating farms provide an in-depth look into the evolution of farming in Huntington and serve as an educational experience for individuals of all ages,” said Raia.

A virtual Farming in Huntington exhibit with an interactive tour map is also in production, and will be announced when it is available for viewing. A dedication and renaming of the Huntington Town Clerk’s Records Center & Archives Division in honor of Jo-Ann Raia, Huntington’s Town Clerk for 38 years, originally scheduled for 2020 will take place in 2021, with details to come.

The exhibit will be on display on all three floors of Huntington Town Hall for one year and will be open to the public free of charge by appointment. Please call the Town Clerk’s office at 631-351-3206 or the Town Archivist at 631-351-3035 to schedule a tour.

By Heidi Sutton

When Catherine and Anthony Hoang’s young son A.J. lost a family heirloom during a visit to the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum in the winter of 2017, the security staff, including Ed Clampitt, helped the Huntington family retrace their steps through the sprawling grounds and estate. The two-day search finally produced the precious object and became the inspiration for a new children’s book, Patches and Stripes: A ‘Vanderbilt Magic’ Story. Written by Clampitt and his fellow Vanderbilt Museum colleague and friend Ellen Mason, the beautiful 20-page book, told entirely in rhyme, features gorgeous illustrations by Olga Levitskiy. A book launch held at the museum in mid-October sold over 300 copies. I recently had an opportunity to speak to the two authors about their latest venture.

Ed, tell us when you first met the Hoang family and what did they lose?

It was a very cold Sunday, around midday. I greeted the car as I do all our visitors. They explained to me that they had visited the day before and lost a hat. They inquired if one had been turned in to the lost and found. When I told them no hat had been turned in, they asked if it was OK if they searched the property themselves, revisiting all the areas where they had gone. Of course, I said yes and offered them a ride to the mansion where they would begin their search.

On the initial trip down, they explained to me the significance of the hat and how desperate they were to find it. I encountered them a few more times during the day and each time their despair became more evident. All I could do was offer them hope and reassure them that, if the hat was indeed on the property, we would find it. The hat was indeed found. I won’t give away the ending. To briefly sum it up, I will say that I was overcome with joy knowing we helped the family and their joy in getting back the hat was immeasurable.

Why was this hat so special to them?

EC: The hat was a precious heirloom passed down from previous family members, eventually coming to little A.J. The hat itself can best be described as a small engineer’s cap, a style from days past. It had blue and white stripes  and was adorned with vintage patches depicting various railroad lines.

What inspired you to turn this true story into a children’s book?

EC: When I started to tell people the story and saw their reactions I knew it was a story that needed to be shared. When I shared the story with Ellen she immediately agreed and it fueled an inspiration in her that led to the book.

EM: After Ed told me the story of the hat, I wrote 10 stanzas of the poem fairly quickly. I just felt the story had the makings of a children’s book.

What parts of the museum are explored in the book?

EM: The security guards search for the hat in different areas of the museum. They start at the two eagles near the entrance, which originally stood at Grand Central Station in New York City. They proceed to the 6 ancient columns from Carthage that are 1000 years old. The mansion’s courtyard and iconic bell tower are beautifully illustrated as are the Habitat with the whaleshark. This lower museum was built in 1929 as a private museum for the entertainment of the Vanderbilt’s guests. The animal dioramas will remind visitors of those in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

How did the Hoang family react when they heard you were writing a book based on their experiences?

EC: My first contact with Catherine about our plans for the book were via email. From the very beginning she was extremely honored and excited.

When did the family get to see the book for the first time?

EC: I believe they saw the book for the very first time at the book launch (see page B26). Ellen and I did our best to keep it under wraps as long as possible!

Tell us about the illustrator, Olga Levitskiy. How did you three connect?

EC: Olga is an immensely talented young woman that currently resides in New Jersey. I’ve had the pleasure of working with her in the past on previous projects. When Ellen and I decided to go forward with the book my only stipulation was that we use Olga as our illustrator. Having never met Olga, Ellen put her trust in me and I’m sure she would agree it was the right decision.

Her illustrations perfectly capture what the museum looks like. What was her process like?

EC: After we contracted with her, Olga visited the museum grounds and took photographs of just about everything imaginable. While I can’t speak to the exact process I can say that she first did a preliminary story board based on the text. She then does each illustration in pencil and eventually colorizes them in watercolor and colored pencil. Each page becomes an original piece of artwork, much larger than the pages of the book. Suffice to say that once you see the illustrations in the book you can really appreciate the painstaking process it involved.

EM: When Olga visited the museum she came on my mansion tour. Unbeknownst to me, she photographed me in the courtyard and later included me in one of her illustrations.

How did you go about getting published?

EC: Having previous experience self publishing children’s books, I was familiar with process. We used a printer that I have worked with in the past as well. They are based in Ohio. Another part of the blessing working with Olga is that she handled all of the technical aspects of the job for us.

From left, illustrator Olga Levitskiy, authors Ellen Mason and Ed Clampitt, and the Hoang family: Catherine, Anthony, son A.J., daughter Clara and grandfather John Gembinski, pose for a photo in the Vanderbilt Museum’s Carriage House during a book launch on Oct. 17. The family was presented with a family membership to the museum by Elizabeth Wayland-Morgan, Executive Director of the museum, a portrait of A.J. wearing his precious hat and copies of the book. The Hoang family gave the authors and illustrator each a railroad hat of their own. Photo by Heidi Sutton

This is also a great way to introduce children to the Vanderbilt Museum, yes?

EC: Absolutely! From the beginning our hope was to have the book become an extension of the museum, a way of being able to take the property home with you. The intent was to have the story take you on a tour of the museum and the grounds.

EM: Yes, the book may elicit interest in visiting to see the actual sites and exhibits highlighted in the book and can also reinforce a previous visit as well.

EM: Many school groups and summer day camps visit yearly. There are plans to perhaps offer the book in birthday party packages booked at the museum.

What type of response has the book been getting?

EC: The response has been amazing! Everyone has been so impressed and supportive. We are so proud of the finished product. It represents the Vanderbilt well and has allowed us to realize our dream.

EM: The Vanderbilt staff is so appreciative of how the illustrations capture the smallest details of the architecture and exhibits. Ed and I feel especially proud that this is the only children’s book ever written about Eagle’s Nest and it includes Max the cat, who now basks in his fame at the gatehouse.

What message do you want children  to take away from reading your book?

EC: On the forefront, the message is that the Vanderbilt is a true treasure, a place that we hope we inspire all to visit and continue to support. Additionally, it is a story of teamwork, hope and magic!

EM: The message is that there is value in studying history and the natural world; that one man’s life and generosity can enrich many other lives as well; and that goodness spreads; and the realization that all families have traditions that are important to them, sometimes symbolized by a treasured object.

Why do you think the Vanderbilt Museum is such a ‘magical’ place?

EC: Stories such as this one, the story that inspired the book, do not happen elsewhere. The place has an energy to it. It’s hard to explain. For those of us who are blessed to be able to work and spend time there, there is a love we share for the place … it makes you love it.

EM: I think it’s magical because of its romanticism — William K. Vanderbilt II built the estate out of love for his wife, Rosamond. The architecture and breathtaking setting that have been chosen by so many couples for their weddings.

Where can we pick up a copy of this book?

EC: Right now the books are sold exclusively in the Vanderbilt Museum’s gift shop. There will be the ability to purchase them online from the museum website soon. This entire project was intended as a donation to the Vanderbilt and proceeds go directly to benefit the museum.

Is there a recommended age group?

EC: I would say early readers but personally I am a big advocate of reading with a parent or as a family. I think this book is the perfect vehicle for that.

EM: Because the book is written as a 44 stanza poem, the musicality is suitable for younger children to be read to. Independent readers (grades 3 and 4) will pick up on the rhythm and rhyming pattern. I would love “Patches and Stripes” to inspire young readers to write their own poems showcasing a treasured possession.

Any more books on the horizon?

EM: One is already in the works, featuring Max the museum’s resident cat and his friend, security guard Ed. This one is also a narrative poem, like “Patches and Stripes.”

Catherine and A.J. Hoang

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of writing a book?

EC: Write! Write! Write! If you have a story to tell, tell it! To write and create something that you can share with others is one of the most rewarding things you will ever do!

EM: My advice is to be patient. The process can move slowly, especially if illustrations are involved, but is well worth it. It never occurred to me to write any book, least of all one that rhymes. Yet here it is and I am so proud of it and grateful to Ed for suggesting that we collaborate on it. We present it as our gift to the Vanderbilt Museum for the many wonderful times it has given to us.

Anything else you would like to add?

EC: From the very beginning of all of this I have felt so strongly that this entire story, from the back story of the day the family visited, to the day we launched the book, is a story that needs to be told, from our point of view as well as the family’s. It is a story of how fate stepped in and changed lives … all for the better … how a simple visit to a local museum brought despair, then joy, validation, inspiration, pride and do much more … for the family, for Ellen and me and yes, even for the Vanderbilt … just a place, a piece of property devoid of feelings and emotions … unless you believe in magic.

Smithtown fifth-graders visited with residents at St. James Nursing Home on Oct. 30 to bring them some Halloween cheer. Photo from Smithtown school district

With the approaching emotions of the holidays, Suffolk County residents may face persistent and unwanted changes in their lives, from not seeing a cherished family member to remaining confined to the same house where they work, live, eat and study. Between now and the end of the year, TBR News Media will feature stories about the impact of the ongoing pandemic on mental health. The articles will explore how to recognize signs of mental health strain and will provide advice to help get through these difficult times. This week, the article focuses on youth.

School districts are letting their students know that it’s okay to be in touch with their feelings.

During this unprecedented and scary time, district officials across the North Shore said they immediately knew that they needed to buckle down and implement different mental programs to accommodate the changing landscape of education and the COVID-19 pandemic worry.

Jennifer Bradshaw, assistant superintendent for instruction and administration with Smithtown Central School District, said they started the school year with training for all staff members in social and emotional learning. 

“We’ve always privileged student and staff mental health and wellness, so we’re doing what we did in years past, just a lot more of it,” she said. 

Smithtown fifth-graders visited with residents at St. James Nursing Home on Oct. 30 to bring them some Halloween cheer. Photo from Smithtown school district

Smithtown has been including ongoing contact among school counselors, social workers, psychologists, administrators, teachers and other staff members to evaluate student and family needs for food, technology, mental health, counseling, and academic support.

Farther east in Rocky Point, Toni Mangogna, a social worker at Rocky Point High School, said they have been seeing an increase in student anxiety surrounding the pandemic. “Coming back to school is so different,” she said. “We’re trying to get our services out to as many students and families as we can.”

As part of their SEL programs, the district offers a virtual classroom that students can access at home or while in school to request an appointment with a school counselor or psychologist. 

“It’s a great option for kids who are working from home,” she said. “I think students miss that one-on-one connection.”

The virtual office also offers breathing exercises and tips for practicing mindfulness. Mangogna said she sees students sharing the services with their family and friends. 

“These students are really in touch with their feelings,” she said. “If we can make that connection with parents and students, I think we’re really making a difference.”

The Rocky Point social worker added that while the kids are stressed, parents are seeking help, too. 

“Parents have anxiety,” she said. “It’s difficult for parents to be that support for students when they’re having their own struggles and anxiety.” 

Her colleagues have been working to help and refer parents to local psychologists. 

“Because we don’t have that face-to-face opportunity anymore, it increases wanting to talk to social workers,” she said. “Just to have somebody in front of them that can validate that feeling. I think students miss that one-on-one connection.”

Dr. Robert Neidig, principal at Port Jefferson Middle School, said they are implementing different programs specific to his and the high school’s students. 

“At the middle school, we have a wellness and mental health curriculum with different types of activities students can do,” he said. 

Dr. Robert Neidig, the PJ Middle School Principal, talked about the different programs the district implemented for student’s mental health. Photo from PJSD

Neidig said they’ve had the program for a while, but during the COVID crisis, they “suped it up and since implemented character education lessons.” Since September, they hired a full-time psychologist for the middle school and the high school.

“During this time, it’s taken on new meaning,” he said. “Stress levels, anxiousness — we’re all feeling the effects of it. We’re trying to do the very best we can.”

He added that every teach is going above and beyond to make sure their students are doing alright.

“It doesn’t matter if you walk into a health class, an English class or math class,” he said. “Teachers are taking the time to check in students they understand if kids aren’t there mentally, the learning will be lost.”

Three Village Central School District’s executive director of Student and Community Services Erin Connolly said they also implemented a virtual program to continue and promote SEL. 

“Our district really values mental health,” she said. “We have been working on return to school protocol and mental health plan for students and family for pre-k through grade 12.” 

Their three-tier plan has a strong emphasis on supporting the district’s staff. 

“By supporting them, we’re supporting the students,” she added. “It’s a dynamic plan.”

Dr. Alison Herrschaft, a social worker at Three Village, said that early on in the school year, counselors and social work staff met with each and every student in the school. 

“By doing that, it gave those kids the opportunity to put a face to the staff who can help,” she said. “They’re more likely to seek out help if they’re really struggling and acknowledge that it’s okay to not be okay.”

By integrating themselves more into the hallways and classrooms, Herrschaft said the kids who might not have been aware of the staff before, now see these staff as “rock stars.”

“We wanted to normalize asking for help,” she said. “It’s accessible to anyone who needs it.”

Although Three Village buckled down during the pandemic to make mental health more available, they won’t stop their program even if a second wave hits. 

“A big goal with the plans we developed is if we had to go remote again, based on numbers, our SEL plans will continue while we’re out,” Connolly said. “It was really important to have a seamless transition so that doesn’t change, and it still gives kids points of contact if they’re home again, they’ll be well-versed.”

Local and state officials have long talked about electrification of the Port Jefferson rail line, but missed deadlines and other issues may push any real project back decades. File photo

By Larry Penner

If the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, on behalf of the Long Island Rail Road, will not progress a planning study to look into the feasibility of extending electrification from Huntington to Port Jefferson, this project may never be completed in our lifetime.  

Larry Penner

There is $4 million in real funding from the MTA $32 billion 2015 -2019 Five Year Capital Plan to pay for this study. The MTA previously promised that a contract would be awarded in the summer of 2019. They are now 15 months late in awarding a contract. There is no new recovery schedule for the contract award. If the MTA is unable to initiate a planning study, it may be an indication that this project will never go forward.  

Estimated costs for electrification are $18 million per mile. The $260 million funding provided for electrification of the 7-mile Central Branch, running east of Hicksville on the Ronkonkoma line to Babylon is also on hold. This is due to the ongoing MTA financial crisis. This capital improvement would provide additional options for thousands of Babylon riders. They could travel from the Central Branch to Jamaica via the $2.6 billion Main Line Third Track and on to either Penn Station or future Grand Central Terminal by December 2022. Electrification of the Central Branch could also afford creation of a new north/south scoot service, running from Huntington via Hicksville and to Babylon. If results from any planning studies are positive, the next step would be the environmental review process, which would cost millions more. Funding would have to be included under the next MTA 2025 to 2029 Five Year Capital Plan.

The MTA  2020 – 2040 Twenty Year Long Range Capital Needs Plan documents how much money, years or decades will be required before each MTA operating agency, including New York City Transit subway and bus, Staten Island Railway, Manhattan Bronx Surface Operating bus, MTA bus, Long Island and Metro North Rail Roads have reached a state of good repair.  Categories for each agency include such assets as existing bus, subway and commuter rail fleet, stations and elevators to meet Americans with Disabilities Act and escalators, track including switches, signals and interlockings, communications, line structures, and painting, protective netting on elevated structures and bridges, line equipment including tunnel lighting and pump rooms, traction power, power substations, yards and shops and supervisory vehicles. It would be revealing if the MTA and LIRR is serious about extending electrification to Port Jefferson over this time period, it would be included within this report. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and the MTA promised that this document would be made public by December 2019. It is now eleven months late.

Extending electrification of the Port Jefferson branch east of Huntington has been talked about for decades. In the 1980’s, discussions took place between the MTA, LIRR, Suffolk County and various elected officials over which branch should be electrified first. The Ronkonkoma branch was selected over the Port Jefferson branch. 

Without electrification east of Huntington, Port Jefferson branch riders may not have a one seat ride to the future LIRR Grand Central Terminal. Service is promised to begin by the end of December 2022. Thousands of daily LIRR riders from diesel territory branches, including those commuting from stations east of Huntington to Port Jefferson, east of East Williston to Oyster Bay, east of Babylon to Speonk and east of Ronkonkoma, will still have to change at Jamaica for travel to the future Grand Central Terminal or Atlantic Avenue to Brooklyn.    

Future opportunities for funding to progress this project beyond a planning study will be under upcoming MTA 2025 – 2029, 2030 – 2034 and 2035 -2039 Five Year Capital Plans. The estimated cost will grow over time to $1 billion or more. This is necessary to pay for planning, design and engineering, environmental review, land acquisition for construction of power substations, expansion of commuter parking, potential relocation and/or consolidation of existing stations, new stations and platforms, new electric Multiple Unit car storage yard, new track, third rail and signals. From start to finish, the project could require 15 to 20 years. Based upon my past experiences on other FTA, MTA and LIRR projects, I would not be surprised if electrification of the Port Jefferson branch is not completed until 2040. 

Larry Penner is a transportation advocate, historian and writer who previously worked for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for billions in capital projects and programs for the MTA, NYC Transit, Long Island Rail Road, Metro North Rail Road, MTA Bus, Suffolk County Transit, Town of Huntington HART Bus, New Jersey Transit along with 30 other transit agencies in NY & NJ.