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The Girl Scout troop prepares soil for native plants. Photo courtesy of Earth Care

By Katherine Kelton

The Conscience Bay Quaker Meeting House in St. James has been convening since 1961. This meeting house in St. James has started its own Earth Care Committee and its first goal is incredibly close to home for the Quakers. 

On the meeting house’s grounds, two former horse paddocks were mowed and maintained as a lawn. The Earth Care Committee plans to convert the lawn into a meadow through a process of rewilding. An expert at Cornell Cooperative Extension informed the committee of a problematic barrier of invasive species around the paddocks, further complicating their goal of having a self-propagating native meadow. 

Barbara Ransome, the clerk of grounds at the meeting house, works with the Earth Care Committee for which Amy G. is the clerk. They spoke with TBR about the process.

“In this first phase of removing these invasive plants, we needed contractors and equipment. Which was funded by our own meeting house. For the planting materials we got a small grant from the New York Yearly Meeting,” Ransome said. 

The Yearly Meeting is a gathering of state Quaker congregations. The Conscience Bay Quakers applied for an Earth-care grant from the Yearly Meeting with an “inclusive application,” as Ransome described it. The group received $500, the largest grant allowed to be given as a result of their application.

The grant money covered some of the cost of the native species, although Amy G. admitted that securing enough plants to cover such a large area is “quite expensive.” Consequently, the newly-cleared area will be replanted in stages with the work ongoing as funds, plants and volunteers are sourced.

The pair enlisted the help of local native plant grower, Mindy Block, who owns Quality Parks in Port Jefferson. Block works to provide native plants to locals and is working to cultivate more species. She provided the group with milkweed and native grasses, along with a variety of other plants that it hopes will begin to self-propagate and spread to create a native habitat. 

Amy G. explained that one of the beliefs of Quakerism is respecting the Earth’s ecological integrity and being “good stewards of the environment.” She shared that an attendee of the society inspired these efforts when he mentioned how burning fossil fuels to mow the horse paddocks was not aligned with the values of the Quakers.

Ransome said, “In unity, the Quaker meeting house decided to go forward with an Earth Care Committee not to mow the paddocks.” From there the committee decided to take on a plan for rewilding the grounds, which refers to allowing native plants to take over the area and self-propagate. However, the process has not been an easy transition.

The committee wanted to ensure the meadow could thrive independently as part of its plan to take a combination active-passive approach. In the beginning stages, the committee will take an active approach to planting native species and clearing the border of invasive plants around the paddocks.

The end goal would be to allow habitat to develop where creatures can live and be undisturbed by machines and people. Ransome provided an example of a tree falling, where she believed it is beneficial to allow it to stay because it can become a home to small animals. 

“Our first step in outreach was the Girl Scout troop, who we invited to help plant the native grasses and plants,” Amy G. said. The committee hopes to invite them back each year to continue to learn about plants and invest in a long-term community project. The committee also hopes to involve other groups and anyone who wants to get involved. 

The St. James attendees and members meet weekly in person or via Zoom for worship. Quakerism is also known as the Religious Society of Friends. Ransome wants people to know that “there is a concern for climate change — this is one way the Quakers are dedicated to being good stewards of the Earth.”

Those interested in joining the Earth Care Committee do not have to be practicing Quakers, nor do they have to fill out any formal application. Ransome urges those interested to contact her via email at: [email protected]. 

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Kathy O’Sullivan. Photo courtesy the O’Sullivan Family


Kathy O’Sullivan of Port Jefferson, a longtime writer and contributor to Times Beacon Record Newspapers, passed away April 19 after a life well lived. For the past eight years, Alzheimer’s slowly took over her body, consuming her memories one by one, but never diminishing her spirit. Until her last breath she still retained her marvelous sparkle and familiar, irrepressible sweetness.

Born Kathleen Allen in 1936, she spent her early years traveling the globe with her family. As a child in Burma, she lived among elephants and golden pagodas. Some of the last memories she held onto were of hiding in a drain ditch when the Japanese bombed Rangoon. Despite, or perhaps because of growing up in a land torn by war, Kathy had an uncommonly optimistic view of any situation. Every hardship she met in life was approached like a joyful game. She could find reason to smile in any challenge, and her enthusiasm was contagious.

Kathy wandered wide-eyed from country to country wearing many different hats. She attended Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Paris and traveled the world sharing her culinary genius with countless dignitaries. She could always be counted on to surprise you with anecdotes of random princes and movie stars she knew. She lived in Gandhi’s India, spent years in Europe becoming fluent in foreign languages, traveled the Silk Road through Central Asia and even approached a trip to the grocery store with a sense of worldly wonder.

As a journalist, Kathy delighted in writing profiles on ordinary people she encountered. It was her belief that any person you meet had at least one fascinating story to tell, and Kathy was determined to find it. She loved to ride in cabs and interview the drivers, or turn to the person next in line in a store and unearth some captivating piece of information from them. If you asked her how her day went, she never said, “Oh, fine.” She would always answer with some variation of “I just met the most fascinating person!”

A voracious learner, Kathy had a constant tower of books beside her bed. She could be counted on to give informed and nuanced opinions on a vast array of topics and maintained an uncommonly open mind to keep learning. Not only was she an encyclopedia of history and philosophy, but she gave the most insightful and comforting advice. The phone was always ringing from people who wanted her wisdom.

Her life was a kaleidoscope of the people she met, and it never ceased to give her joy. Her children joked that you never knew you would come home to Mom having tea with — it might be a festooned Maasia warrior, a Shaolin monk, a Harlem Globetrotter or the cashier from 7-Eleven.

For over 50 years, Kathy made Port Jefferson her home with her husband Desmond. Though her adventures never stopped, she lovingly raised her three kids and filled the house with a constant stream of international travelers. 

Kathy spent her later decades devoted to the village of Port Jefferson. She was involved in the Dickens Festival, as well as the creation of Harborfront Park and the construction of the Bayles Boat Shop. There was rarely a day that she was not fluttering about, tirelessly attending meetings, baking brownies, writing grants and weaving people together in service of her town.

As a passionate marine conservationist, Kathy organized beach cleanups and environmental education classes. Her passion project was to work with Coastal Steward Long Island to restore the oyster population in Mount Sinai Harbor. If you are ever walking on the beach there and find an oyster shell in the sand, that is one of her babies. 

She was never the sort of person who craved applause or recognition. There are no buildings with her name on them or tales of her in the history books. But in a hundred years there will be oyster shells on the beach, and knowing Kathy, that would be the most satisfying legacy she could hope for.

Kathy is survived by her husband Desmond; her children John, Desmond and Kaitlin; big sister Winnie; brother David; as well as two grandchildren, Maggie and T.J. 

There will be a celebration of her life July 27 at 4 p.m. at the Port Jeff Village Center. All are welcome. In lieu of flowers or any sort of donation, the best way to honor Kathy would be to smile at a stranger, maybe talk to them and find out something fascinating.

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By Daniel Dunaief

Everywhere we go, we are surrounded by sights, sounds, and smells. More often than not, other people need something from us, want to talk with or at us, and expect us to provide feedback, learn from them, acknowledge them or validate their existence.

At the same time, our texts, emails, social media apps, and others require checking, replying, reacting and thought.

Throughout the day, we aren’t just draining our cell phone’s battery, we are also draining our own battery. We need time for our nervous system to catch up, to take a break and to experience the world around us in a calmer way.

For me, that happened recently when I went to a religious service. I don’t go all that often even though I often walk away feeling refreshed.

These services offer an opportunity not only to disconnect from my phone for several hours, but also a chance to be present, centered, and focused.

The words and the songs are familiar, which other members of the congregation say or sing, helping me feel like I’m a part of a connected group.

During the service, I am focused on where I am, reading the same text as everyone else and reacting, as if by reflex, to some of the interactive speaking parts.

This occurs even when I travel, as I did recently to attend a service. I didn’t know most of the people in the room and yet we reacted and interacted for several hours as if we had grown up next to each other, played on the street with our neighbors, attended the same schools and shared the same hopes for ourselves and our children.

Some of the songs had slightly different melodies, but they were more of a variation on a theme than a journey into another religious, spiritual or musical genre.

During these times in a house of worship, I appreciate and enjoy the quieter voice of some of the speakers, who encourage me to think of myself and my world in different ways and who share a wonderful combination of thought, insight, perspective, and spiritual ideas.

While I listen to them, some thoughts I have that might otherwise not bubble up to the turbulent surface of my life, where a combination of bright sun, wind, and cross currents of thoughts, ideas, actions and deadlines create a potentially exciting but murkier picture, can receive attention.

Through these thoughts, I can make connections to earlier versions of myself, track where I am and where I’m heading, and think about people who helped shape who I am but are no longer in my life.

I can also delve more deeply into the kinds of questions and thoughts that don’t tend to help with an assignment or a deadline, pondering the nature of existence and the meaning of life

I can reflect on the amazing and inspirational people I am fortunate to know, and the exhausting but miraculous gift of our children, who inherit the world we helped shape or alter during the course of our lives.

One image often appears in my mind as I breathe, think and listen during the service: that is of a tree with the words “I was here.” When I was younger, I didn’t understand why anyone would cut into a tree to let the world know they were here.

Over time, I’ve thought about the cave drawings primitive man made, the graffiti that adds color and chaos to our world and those words in a tree in the same way. In those moments, people are declaring, the way Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin did when they planted an American flag on the moon, that their journey through life brought them to this place and time. They are announcing and reaffirming themselves.

I’m not advocating for carving anything into a tree or for painting graffiti. Instead, by sitting, standing and singing together, we are announcing to the other people in the room and to ourselves not just that “I am here,” but that “We are here.” While we might take that for granted much of the time, a religious service gives us the chance to marvel at the wonder of the connections we’ve made and at our existence and all it does and could mean.

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By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

Another graduation season is upon us. So many graduates at every level have achieved extraordinary goals. Beyond that they will definitely contribute to making our world a better and safer place to be.

Over the years, I have witnessed firsthand not only our local schools’ academic excellence, but their openness to community service by choice and not by obligation.

Port Jefferson, Comsewogue, Three Village, and Mount Sinai school districts have gone the distance and then some for our students at risk. My collaboration with these school districts in the early years of my work at Hope House has inspired me to stay the course and be a voice for the voiceless. Our mutual focus has always been on empowering students to be the best version of themselves.

Forty-three years ago on the grounds of an Anglican Franciscan monastery in Mount Sinai, Hope House Ministries was founded. We rented their small guesthouse for two years. It was primarily for runaway teenagers who had dropped out of school for a whole host of reasons. Thus began our partnership with the Port Jefferson school district.

Our mission has always been dedicated to reaching out to the most vulnerable and broken within our community. Six years ago we moved back to where it all began and thanks to this 100-year-old five acre monastery grounds, we have been able to expand our outreach to a growing number of young people battling the affliction of addiction and mental health issues.

Two years ago a high school dropout who is a documented immigrant was entrusted to our care at Hope Academy on the grounds of the old monastery in Mount Sinai. He enrolled into Mt Sinai High School. The school community welcomed him with open arms. They made his transition from dropping out of high school in the 10th grade and starting in a new school with no friends a seamless process.

Since beginning at Mount Sinai two years, this young man has played football and soccer. He has spoken in the middle school and in the high school about his journey of transformation. The collaborative spirit between the high school administration and the student body has transformed this young man’s life. Not only did he graduate, he graduated as an honor roll student.

Thanks to the generosity of so many in the Mount Sinai community, he was able to participate in all of the wonderful senior activities that the school provides. He went on the annual senior trip, the prom, and countless parties. One family was even kind enough to host a party just for him and the friends that he made at the high school

At the beginning of June, he completed his treatment program for addiction. Faculty members, a school administrator and countless students came to support their classmate and friend. It was an amazing night. It powerfully reminded me that hope lives on.

Father Francis Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

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“Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed.”                           — William Faulkner

The founding of this nation would have been impossible without letters to the press. 

In 1776, Thomas Paine had captured the spirit of his times and wrote the most influential pamphlet of the American Revolution, “Common Sense.” Paine was not writing to the powers that be. Rather, he addressed his essay “to the inhabitants of America.”

The Revolution was fought and won because ordinary Americans — people like Paine — had ideas they believed were worth reading. They wrote down their grievances of British rule and shared them with their countrymen. Through these revolutionary writings, a common folk resurrected an ancient principle: unearthing democracy from the ashes of antiquity.  

So what happened? Why have we lost touch with this uniquely American tradition?

 In this Information Age, we find that access to information has become, paradoxically, severely limited. With the introduction of the internet, we were sold the hope that new technologies would educate the masses, that instant messaging and social media would create a wider forum for democratic participation. While this has happened, our era also is marked by censorship and misinformation.

Americans no longer trust their institutions. Everywhere we look, we find politicians who disregard our interests and tech executives who monitor and monetize our activity online. Globally, powerful interests invest billions every year to restrict access to information and keep the people in the dark. Our technologies have become the instruments of autocrats, used to subvert democracy rather than promote it. 

To the readers of TBR News Media and the people throughout this community, do not put your faith in tech moguls to represent you fairly. Regular people are left not knowing what to believe and what are the facts. This is why letters to the editor in newspapers are so crucial. 

Democracy depends on ordinary Americans speaking truth to power. We must remember the example of Paine and be unafraid to let our opinions be heard. We must present our own unique ideas to our fellow Americans, reopening the robust political exchanges of the past. The staff of TBR News Media welcomes letters. Write to us because our democracy requires it.

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Ashley Doxey collected gift cards during teacher conferences for soldiers. Photo by Andrew Harris

These days, we are constantly reminded about how this holiday season is going to be sparse; but here at Comsewogue, students won’t be lacking. 

When I first got into teaching, I was worried about not being welcomed by the students since I was an older teacher. Fortunately, the students at Comsewogue High School and the middle school enthusiastically welcome me on a daily basis. 

They bring me treats and do amazing things —often these things go unrecognized (and that is fine with them since it’s not the reason they do it). On the other hand, I feel it is necessary to highlight positive actions.

One of those amazing things I see is how some “typical” students get involved and help out our students with disabilities. As a special education teacher, I see so much value when students get actively involved and help our special education classes. 

On their own time, students build garden beds to be used for different Comsewogue classes. Photo by Andrew Harris

Our students planned and executed one of the most incredible projects for their Eagle Scouts organization. They built several raised garden beds and picnic tables (taking special consideration to ensure they would be accessible to students in a wheelchair). These pieces are in our courtyard and are used often by our students. 

I made it known to other students how they too can be of service to people in the special needs community. 

“Come visit our classes and see where you can help,” I said, and they did! One young lady (an aspiring baked goods aficionado) came to our class and worked with the students to create some delicious and beautiful cupcakes. We have since been visited by student artists, musicians, therapy dogs, and all-around friendly folks ready, willing to lend a hand. 

Recently, some of our superstar athletes invited some special athletes to join them at their awards dinner. These young helpers are much more inspirational to their special needs peers. Often these helper-leaders will tell me how rewarding it is to assist, and how great they feel afterward. 

For the past two years, I’ve thought about how positive an impact these young leaders have within our school. I would like to encourage this type of leadership even more. I would also like to encourage them to explore teaching as a possible career. 

This spring, we are planning on taking some of them to an outstanding leadership seminar where I was impressed by a quote I saw: “A child with disabilities often spends hours being taught how to interact with others… But why don’t we spend time teaching those without disabilities how to interact with them?”  

This year our country has endured unbelievable hardship. Because of this, the need to encourage our wonderful student-leaders has increased even more. For their own birthdays, students Alyssa Morturano and Ashley Doxey raised money and donated it all to the Special Olympics. 

One student, Kylie Schlosser helps students with disabilities through an organization called Great Strides, where she connects students with equine therapy, giving them a chance to ride and learn about horses. 

Recently students helped with a massive clean-up activity at a summer camp for special needs children. Within school, they do fundraisers, assist with classes, and do work around our special garden. 

On their own time, students build garden beds to be used for different Comsewogue classes. Photo by Andrew Harris

Our monthly Athletics for All events are starting up again. The kindness continues to spread district wide. In addition to all of this, many of these same students perform outstanding academically, athletically, and artistically. 

In our small community of Port Jefferson Station, many need to hold down difficult and time-consuming jobs. These jobs are often customer service-related, and I have personally witnessed some of them keep a smile on their face even while being treated with insensitivity. 

“It is students like this that make this a great district; it’s the reason we get up and go to work every day with a smile on our faces,” said Superintendent Jennifer Quinn.

Perhaps this holiday season we can all be encouraged and inspired by these students and give the “stuff” that really counts — give to others in need from the heart. 

Instead of thinking about all the “goods” we desire, buying and getting, let’s think about the gifts we receive from the giving.

Andrew Harris is a teacher with the Comsewogue School District.

On Monday, Feb. 1, the first snowstorm of the year hit Long Island, causing people to stay home and shovel nearly two-feet of snow.  We asked residents to share their snow day photos with us.

Fairfield at St. James residents wanted to help the Smithtown community by gathering and donating tons of groceries to those suffering from food insecurity. Photo from Nicole Garguilo

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, everyday people felt that it was their civic duties to step up and make a difference. Some made masks, some drove around supplies, others gathered food for those who were hungry. 

Many of these people had jobs, families and their own struggles at home, but they knew they wanted to be a part of something bigger. They chose early on what side of history they were going to be on, the side that helped others and made a difference. 

“The sacrifice everyone made was apparent,” Carmela Newman with Operation Headband, said. “I grew tenfold from working with such amazing people.”

Operation Headband started out when Newman’s friends at local hospitals said their ears were red and raw from wearing uncomfortable masks all day. An avid sewer, she would volunteer and help sew costumes for local theater productions before the pandemic. 

“Me and my sewing buddy Bernice Daly put buttons on headbands and attached the elastic from the face masks, so it was off their ears,” she said. 

Then it took off. Her nurse friends began requesting them, first at Mather Hospital in Port Jefferson and then at Stony Brook University Hospital. Quickly, hospitals and facilities across Long Island were reaching out to Newman and her sewing friends in hopes they could get these comfortable accessories. The demand became so high that they ended up making a Facebook group and recruited other volunteers. 

The Ronkonkoma native said she couldn’t have done this alone. Newman credits Terry Ginzberg, Peter Graber, Teresa Mattison and Jeffrey Sanzel for being part of the team. 

“It was a fabrication of everyone coming together,” she said, the pun being intentional. “Everyone jumped on board to help. We became fast friends and family.”

Toward the end of the first wave of the pandemic, Newman said Operation Headband created 6,000 headbands and bandanas overall. Over 40 people volunteered to deliver the items while 15 sewers put the pieces together. In a little over four months, the group’s headbands helped health care professionals from the East End to Manhattan, in seven different states and made their way overseas to the U.K. “The group cared so much to be a part of this horrific thing that was out of our control,” she said. “There was no way we weren’t going to do this.”

Volunteers from LIOSMS. Photo from Kassay

Although it seems that everywhere one looks now there are masks, early on they were hard to find. That’s why Port Jefferson resident, one who would later become village trustee, Rebecca Kassay, started up a volunteer group that delivered over 40,000 PPE and comfort-care items to essential workers. 

Long Island Open Source Medical Supplies-Nassau and Suffolk County is celebrated for creating a Facebook group of hundreds of volunteers across the Island who gathered, purchased, created, donated and delivered PPE for frontline workers. 

“From mid-June through September, we continued to accept donations of PPE from makers, as well as connecting volunteers who want to continue making them to community groups that will get PPE to low-income families and students in school districts, individuals in shelters, Indigenous populations and other at-risk groups,” Kassay said.

More than 300 seamstresses, crafters and makers made and donated more than 15,000 face masks, 2,800 caps, 5,000 face shields, 12,000 ear savers and over 10,000 comfort-care items. Their fleet of 68 volunteer drivers worked hard to deliver the homemade PPE to over 130 facilities and collaborated with other volunteer groups by donating and exchanging fabric and materials.

It started when Kassay, with other local volunteers, began to see the demand for PPE and the need for help in hospitals. Her home, The Fox and Owl Inn in Port Jeff, became “the hub” that got things going. She and her fellow volunteers created a group that allowed people to communicate with one another with extraordinary teamwork. 

“After about a week it was growing so fast,” she said. “It ended up with 10 administrators managing a couple of hundred volunteers, selling masks, driving around materials, donating 3D-printed face shields, communicating with hospitals. The effort was to make everything much more efficient.”

But she said she truly couldn’t have done it alone. 

“Eleni Stamatinos was the mask coordinator and also helped train and coordinate with the other administrators,” Kassay said, adding that Stamatinos would work alongside her for 10-14 hours a day. “She has grown to be a dear friend of mine. While there has been immense tragedy during the pandemic, we have found beauty in the connections that might not have happened otherwise.”

And then there were volunteers she worked with, who spent hours helping out. 

“There are also countless Port Jefferson and surrounding area residents who contributed more time, heart and materials than I could’ve ever hoped for,” Kassay said. “We were driven by the satisfaction of bringing comfort to others. Other opportunities and priorities were pushed aside because of the urgency we all felt in the moment, and none of us regret it.”

While masks and other PPE were needed for frontline workers and the rest of the community, other volunteers dedicated their time at home to feed those who are struggling with food insecurity.

Fairfield at St. James residents donated tons of food. Photo from Nicole Garguilo

Nicole Garguilo, public information officer with the Town of Smithtown, said Fairfield at St. James, a senior living community, stepped up to help.

“They knew that they were high risk for the virus, but still wanted to help,” she said. “So, every month they’d get in a car caravan together, loaded up with nonperishables and meet us at the Gyrodyne parking lot.”

The town then delivered the food to Island Harvest of Hauppauge on their behalf. 

“It was really something to see our seniors put helping others in need before their own safety,” Garguilo said.

Carol Walsh, an 82-year-old resident at the community, was just one of the dozens of seniors who wanted to help.

“I know there are so many people who are hungry,” she said. “The feeling of isolation is so overwhelming, and people forget that others are out there who want to care and make people feel better. If we can make people smile and provide food it’s worth it.”

Walsh said their food caravans would often have between six and eight cars full of food. In September and October, they donated their collection to Island Harvest, but this month they brought more goods to the Smithtown Emergency Food Pantry. 

Denise Tortore & Rosane Ackley at Mather Hospital with Meals on Wheels. Photo from Meals on Wheels

And while these seniors collected nonperishables, the local chapter of Meals on Wheels brought hot and cold meals to those who were unable to leave their homes. 

Barbara Siegel said the Three Village Meals on Wheels group consists of about 150 volunteers and has been delivering food to those in need five days a week for 38 years.

Partnering with the kitchens at Port Jefferson’s Mather and St. Charles hospitals and Setauket Village Diner, a cold lunch and a hot dinner are delivered to people who are homebound. Siegel said that other chapters of Meals on Wheels had to temporarily shut down during the pandemic but not the Stony Brook operation, which covers from St. James, across the North Shore into Mount Sinai, down into Coram and toward Lake Grove. 

“We got more calls during pandemic,” Siegel said. 

And although Siegel thanks and appreciates all the volunteers who gave up their free time to drive around Suffolk County delivering these dishes, she said it wouldn’t have been possible without the office staff coordinating it all: Ruth Spear, Ronnie Kreitzer and Linda Bernstein.

Siegel said Spear is a caring individual, always cheerful when someone calls the office, willing to help them with whatever inquiry they have. Bernstein takes care of the financial side of things, while Kreitzer coordinates the driver routes. 

“The three ladies that are in the office are just invaluable — they never stop,” Siegel said. “They go to sleep at night and their heads are still going thinking about tomorrow. They do it from their heart and soul.”

But Spear was modest, saying it was a collaborative team effort.

“It’s just our job,” she said.

Kathleen Weinberger, Aramark Nutrition Services food service director with Kings Park school district, helped feed hundreds of students throughout the pandemic.

Aramark Nutrition Services delivering food. Photo from Weinberger

Weinberger said that at the start of the pandemic, she reacted and considered what the safest way to help families would be during the crisis. Aramark employees worked alongside the school district to incorporate a breakfast and lunch grab-and-go window at the high school. They also incorporated a Meals on Wheels bus delivery system with district bus drivers to those families who had no means of transportation.

From March 16 until June 30, they distributed 28,406 meals, seven days a week.

“There were many special moments from seeing their smiles on their faces and the wonderful handwritten ‘thank you’ notes and pictures drawn by the kids that really warmed my heart,” Weinberger said. 

The Kings Park resident said it’s important to consider others, not just during a crisis but every day. 

“People should gather together in good times, as well as difficult times, as it makes stronger ties within the community,” she said. “I’m willing to do whatever I can to lend a helping hand.”

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By Linda Kolakowski

Linda Kolakowski

While the concept of social capital is not new, more recently it’s become a buzz phrase of sorts. Social capital is defined as the personal links, shared values and understandings in a community that enable individuals and groups to trust each other and therefore, help each other. 

People require a sense of belonging to thrive. Whether the community we belong to is our family, our work, our place of worship, where we live, or all of these places, community is where we find comfort in difficult times. In addition to providing companionship, the social capital we earn through our relationships often replaces money which people would use to buy the same help. 

We use social capital throughout our lives, from our schoolyard days to assistance with raising our children, or seeking the help from someone physically stronger.  For older adults, the value of social capital increases as there are things that we can’t or don’t wish to do for ourselves.  For this reason, it’s important to keep community ties robust. 

There’s no question that the digital age has changed the way we relate to one another and satisfy our need for connection.  Many of us have strong communities of Facebook friends and stay connected through emails, texts and other social media platforms.  Though these friends can be great when it comes to sharing everyday joys and challenges, at times there is no substitute for being in the same room with a trusted friend or group of friends. 

Significant others are the first people we turn to when we’re having a hard time. Support from a loved one helps us to cope better, reducing stress and benefitting our mental and physical health.  Depending too much upon a significant other, however, carries the risk of creating disconnection from other parts of our social life. No matter how much we love our significant others, it’s unlikely that they alone can meet all of our social needs.

Expanding our friend group by just one person has the power to introduce us to a whole new social network.  When we develop a new friendship or romantic partnership, our networks double through these new connections.  At Jefferson’s Ferry, we get to observe the benefits of new friendships on a regular basis as new residents form bonds within the community and try new activities.  New friends are energizing!

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Jefferson’s Ferry residents have been participating in a five- year Age Well Study conducted by the Mather Institute and Northwestern University that analyzes the impact of living in a Life Plan Community.  Now in its second year, the study has focused on investigating factors that may be associated with healthy behaviors and health outcomes among residents. Researchers found that:

• Residents with higher scores of the personality trait of openness to experience and extroversion reported the highest levels of healthy behaviors and more positive health outcomes.

• Residents who form strong bonds within their community tend to engage in more healthy behaviors and have better overall health.

Those living in areas with greater social capital, such as a community setting like Jefferson’s Ferry, demonstrate significantly higher physical mobility scores than those living a more isolated existence.

The results support what we do here. Living in a place where there is a built in community, where there  is trust and like-minded neighbors encourages our residents to get up, get out and socialize.  The activities that we offer through our Health and Wellness Program provide a variety of opportunities that may appeal to residents with different personalities and interests which lead to better life balance and health overall for everyone.

Another study looked at older adults without dementia at the onset of a 12-year period. Over the course of the study, the participants were measured on their social activity levels and then tested periodically on their cognitive functioning. The rate of cognitive decline was 70 percent less in people with frequent social contact than those with low social activity.

In another study, the social activity level of older people free of dementia was measured and looked at in terms of their ability to care for themselves. Findings showed that those with more frequent social activity maintained lower levels of disability in several areas, suggesting that they would be able to live independently longer than their less social counterparts.

Whatever our age or living situation, the message is clear.  We are at heart social beings who are at our very best when we make community a priority in our lives.  We’ve heard it in song, in advertising, in memes.  Reach out and touch someone today!

Linda Kolakowski is Vice President of Resident Life at Jefferson’s Ferry Life Plan Community in South Setauket. 

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The former Tyler Brothers General Store at the intersection of Main Street and Old Field Road in Setauket is an example of a third place. Locals would congregate at the store to talk about the day’s events and to keep in touch with each other Photo from Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

In the first two hundred years of English settlement in Setauket and Stony Brook, work and home were, for most residents, synonymous. Each family owned enough land to farm, and the land provided them with the necessities of life — food, clothing and shelter. The community provided the formal and informal gathering places. These places, such as the Presbyterian meeting house, the Village Green, the general stores and the mills, were at the center, at the very heart of the Setauket and Stony Brook communities. These “third places” — home and work being first and second — provided the spiritual, social and societal needs of the early settlers.

“Community keeps us accountable and compassionate. It prevents us from thinking too highly of ourselves and taking too much on. It reminds us that we need one another, that we’re not alone.”

— Rachel Held Evans

By the second half of the 20th century, following World War II, all of that changed. The deterioration of the cities combined with the lure of the country caused a new phenomenon, a building boom that created housing developments for returning veterans under the GI Bill as well as for many others. At first, these new “communities” worked. The men went off to work taking the family car with them. The women, without a car to get them out of the development, met, talked, borrowed and swapped for what they needed until the weekend when the family could shop in the new shopping centers that faced outward toward the roads rather than inward toward the community. After school, the children played together in the parks and on the streets of the development. These families, devoid of the traditional third places, created their own.

This worked for the first generation of residents in developments such as Levittown, but as different people moved in who didn’t share work and family, the developments became sterile places where neighbors no longer knew each other. They became places without soul, without the informal gathering places that define community — without third places.

“Community keeps us accountable and compassionate. It prevents us from thinking too highly of ourselves and taking too much on. It reminds us that we need one another, that we’re not alone” (blog entry by religious author Rachel Held Evans, March 1, 2017).

We have, in the Three Village area, the building blocks of community. We also have a fine school district and a university campus that can help to draw us closer together. How we care for all of these parts of our community and in turn how we care for each other determine how much of a community we are.

“The process of seeking common ground is also the process of composing good narratives in which all can find themselves represented. Only through this process can the civic enterprise proceed and communities flourish” (Robert A. Archibald, “A Place to Remember: Using History to Build Community,” 1999).

A good definition of community is offered by Richard Moe and Carter Wilkie in their book “Changing Places: Rebuilding Community in the Age of Sprawl,” 1997: “As habitats for community have eroded, so too has the true meaning of the word. Today ‘community’ more commonly describes any rootless collection of interests rather than people rooted in a place — people tied by fellowship or even kinship to one another, to a shared past, and to a common interest in the future.”

The last part may be the real key. If we really do want what is best for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren, then we do need to spend less time being concerned with our differences and more time studying and applying what we have in common, our shared past and common interest in the future. Regardless of how long we have lived here, we share in our history and are concerned about our future.

The exact opposite of community is represented most distinctly today by television shows that tout the importance and effectiveness of individual action. In these venues, community exists only as a means to demonstrate the superiority of the individual. Working together to achieve a common goal is devalued and the object, by whatever means possible, is to win everything for oneself.

Dr. Jerri Nielsen, in a “Book TV” interview about her book “Ice Bound” (2001) and her struggles with breast cancer in the Antarctic community in which she lived for many months, commented that the most special and lasting effect of her time in Antarctica was the close personal bonds that formed there and how disconnected and alone she felt after she was taken out of that community. She noted that they virtually depended on each other for their survival and became closer in a few months to vastly different people than she had been to family or lifelong friends.

“Without formal and informal gathering places where we share experiences and make common memories, and thus establish a common identity buttressed with familiarity, community is devalued and only individualism remains.”

— Robert A. Archibald

Nielsen also said that she later met senator and astronaut John Glenn for the second time in her life, and he noted the importance of unit cohesiveness (community) in the military. Glenn reportedly told her that, in the service, “We don’t throw people out, we carry them out.”

“Without formal and informal gathering places where we share experiences and make common memories, and thus establish a common identity buttressed with familiarity, community is devalued and only individualism remains” (Archibald, 1999).

The hectic pace of life has us traveling from place to place in and around our community in our closed boxes with wheels, which provides a sort of community isolation that simply did not exist on Long Island in past centuries. The automobile has become the vehicle for both separation and connection in modern society. Now, in addition, we can shop and travel on the Internet, the computer providing a wide range of products and services and adding to our community isolation.

Yet, in Setauket and Stony Brook, we value our local history and the homes, barns, farms, ponds, woods, open spaces, public buildings and businesses that are the tangible and visible representations of that history. Many are also the touchstones of our historic memory. Whether we are eight years old or 80, they define our existence at a certain time in our lives, and they help to bring into focus the relationships that we value — our family, friends, neighbors and fellow workers.

“Sandy, sandy roads and trees … just paths like Indians had … you know, through the woods … that’s the truth. Everybody walked. Didn’t matter what you owned or how much you had … you wouldn’t be surprised to see anyone on foot … that was part of daily life.” (Hazel Lewis, The Three Village Historian, “Eel Catching at Setauket,” May 1988).

Over the past century our community has grown and changed from a rural area of farms and vernacular architecture into a suburban environment of historic areas, housing developments, commercial strip developments and university complexes. What we have lost is a part of our connection to each other in the community. In the past, our local stores, schools, libraries, community gathering places and places of worship were usually within walking distance of our homes. These life-sustaining places were often an integral part of our streets or neighborhoods. In fact, in most communities a 30-minute walk would take us from one end of town to the other, and while we were walking, we would see our friends and neighbors and they would see us. We knew each other and to some extent we knew each other’s habits and relationships, likes and dislikes.

With all the changes that communities have gone through, however, we still have places where community relationships are initiated, nurtured and developed, places where we can share our experiences and explore our collective memories. These are the places that Ray Oldenburg, in his book “The Great Good Places: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Community Centers, Beauty Parlors, General Stores, Bars, Hangouts and How They Get You Through the Day” (1991), refers to as third places to distinguish them from work and home. We simply don’t always recognize them. They can be any place we come together to share our thoughts and ideas where there is, as expressed in the hit musical “Come from Away: Welcome to the Rock,” “a spirit of compassion, resourcefulness and generosity.”

In the Provincial Museum of Newfoundland and Labrador in Gander, where 38 commercial aircraft landed Sept. 11, 2001, and deposited more than 6,500 people into a town of about 10,000 residents, is written, “Contact is one of the most powerful agents of cultural change.” This quote defines what welcoming “Come-from-Away’s” (visitors) means to local residents. For five days these sudden visitors were accepted without reservation, without hesitation, by Newfoundlanders who fed their bodies as well as their souls. This is the definition of a third place.

Beverly C. Tyler is a Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the society at 93 North Country Road, Setauket. For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.