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Fundraising

Emmy Specht delivers groceries to her neighbors in Bellport. Photo by Joanne Specht

Since schools shut their doors back in March, one student from The Stony Brook School has been keeping busy helping her neighbors in Bellport to beat food insecurities.

Emmy Specht among food items donated by friends and neighbors. Photo from Joanne Specht

Emmy Specht is spearheading a food drive and fundraising effort for those who have been struggling to buy groceries because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The 17-year-old has been buying and collecting the food and then boxing up and delivering groceries to recipients.

Specht said a few weeks ago she had the idea to start a food drive and contacted Yolanda Lucas, the Day Care and Family Support coordinator at Boys & Girls Club of the Bellport Area. Lucas connected her with those who she knew needed help. Specht started spreading the word, and soon friends and neighbors were dropping off food on her front porch. When she heard that classmates and relatives in the Three Village area wanted to donate but were unable to make the drive to drop off items, she created the fundraising page Food for Suffolk County.

Lucas said she has been impressed by Specht’s endeavor, and how the high school senior took the initiative to contact her and is running the drive on her own. Lucas said it gives her a renewed sense of hope about young people.

“She’s doing it out of a concern for others,” Lucas said.

Specht, who has traveled to school in the Three Village area since she began her academic career in the Laurel Hill School, has been able to deliver food to 10 families each week, and so far she has raised $7,000. She added that her guidance counselor, Debbie Abrahamsen, whose husband, Stan, owns the Chick-fil-A in Port Jefferson, even contributed 30 gift cards for meals which include a sandwich, side and a drink, which she said is helpful for families to get a hot meal.

“It’s really amazing, and I’m really appreciative, especially since I know it’s a challenging time for everyone,” Specht said.

Abrahamsen said she cried when she heard about the student’s endeavor, especially since she recognized that as a senior Specht may be grieving the loss of prom and graduation.

“Instead of it being about her, she’s helping those in need,” the guidance counselor said. “I just think that’s amazing. How many high school seniors have that type of compassion.”

Every week, Specht aims to have three boxes for each family, and even though she isn’t able to meet them face-to-face, Specht has interacted with some from a distance.

Recently, the student received an email from a woman asking for help. The woman had seen the groceries her son had received from Specht and explained to the student how she was disabled, and her fiancé is an essential worker. She lives separately from her son, who has his own family, and in addition to her children living with her and her partner, there is also her mother who lives with them. In the email, the woman said they were using rent money to buy food. The high school senior said thanks to the generous donations she has received; she was able to help the mother’s household too.

Emmy Specht prepares boxes for a recipient. Photo by Joanne Specht

Specht is no stranger to philanthropy. She and her sister Rae, along with friends Maddie Joinnides and Eloise Kocay, founded Four Girls for Families. The nonprofit was inspired by a family visit to Cambodia. Specht’s father, Brian, works for Tara Toy Corporation and travels to China regularly. One year when the family accompanied him on a work trip, they paid a visit to Cambodia.

She said being in Cambodia and seeing kids her age who were unable to have essentials such as an education and clean water affected her greatly.

“That was unsettling to see kids my own age going through something so hard,” she said.

While she and her family visit the country every year, a trip planned for this June had to be canceled due to the pandemic.

Her mother, Joanne Specht, said she wasn’t surprised when Emmy started her food drive as she has always had a soft spot for others, and in addition to Four Girls for Families, her daughter volunteers at Sunrise Day Camp in Wyandanch, which is a camp for children with cancer.

“She’s always looking for ways to help people,” the mother said. “She’s got a very kind heart.”

Emmy Specht said the new fundraising project has taught her about the problems people face on Long Island.

“I’ve never really seen the kinds of needs that are here on Long Island,” she said. “It’s not on the other side of the world. There are also problems here.”

For more information on how to donate to the food drive, visit foodforsuffolkcounty.org.

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By Rich Acritelli

The sounds of the Rocky Point student’s cheers rippled throughout the school’s gymnasium Feb. 9. They packed every inch of the stands, and some screamed their encouragement while standing toward the sides of the gym, all to watch their high school faculty and teachers duke it out for the first Swoopin’-N-Hoopin’ basketball game. 

Beyond the roars and excitement of watching educators layup and hurl attempted 3-pointers, the event and its participants helped raise over $3,500 for a local veterans group. It all came thanks to the idea of one longtime Rocky Point teacher who was wishing to give back to the community.

Since the moment he entered Rocky Point High School as a social studies teacher in 1986, Brooke R. Bonomi has always lived up to the words of service to helping this North Shore school district.  Armed with a contagious smile, a can-do attitude and a drive to excel at every task, this longtime educator organized one of the biggest events that Rocky Point High School has seen in some time. Bonomi mobilized almost every part of this school to lead a Wounded Warriors basketball game Feb. 8 to raise money for Rocky Point VFW Post 6249’s efforts to help veterans who have been physically devastated from the war on terror.

As the fans entered the hallway toward the gym, they were greeted by countless baskets of assorted prizes collected by a multitude of school clubs, items that were later won by the fans through a massive raffle that raised $3,500 to assist the needs of the local VFW’s wounded warriors initiatives. 

“This night of fun should be a tradition that is permanently carried on at our school.”

— Julia Salino

Even as Bonomi ran this entire function, he also played basketball with his fellow staff members that were comprised of four teams. Each squad of teachers, administrators, aides, security and even grounds keepers were coached by the students who drafted and traded these players in the days leading up to the game. Bonomi even enlisted the help of Athletic Director Charles Delargy who served as the basketball commissioner for this game.  During the draft that was held in the school’s auditorium, Delargy read the top selections as main rules interpreter for this athletic event, and guidance counselor Michael Conlon helped pick and play music that was tailored toward each participant.

Bonomi planned this fundraiser for months with his Be a Nicer Neighbor Club. Support was also provided by school athletes, the technology club, the school band as well as staff and community members to help ensure that this basketball game was a smooth success.  

As he approaches the end of his career, Bonomi has always been motivated to get the students, teachers and administrators involved in causes to benefit the community and beyond. For weeks, the students saw Bonomi’s presence in the main hallway selling tickets, dribbling a basketball and playing music to promote this game. A constant presence next to him were the brilliant smiles of fellow teachers Dan Capell, Jenessa Eilers, Gina Grillo and Carly Tribby who were helping bring attention to this event.

VFW Post 6249 Commander Joe Cognitore served as the grand marshal for the game. The veteran served in South Vietnam and Cambodia during the Vietnam War where he was awarded the Bronze Star. He is constantly reminded of this conflict through injuries that he had sustained overseas. Cognitore marveled at the ability of Bonomi to perform “a magnificent job in utilizing all ages of teachers to participate in front of a packed house of fans.” 

Standing next to the military color guard that posted the flag within the center of the gymnasium was senior Joshua Vogel who performed the national anthem.

From the beginning of this project, Bonomi wanted the kids to accept ownership in putting the game together. Rocky Point senior Trey Miller, a skilled basketball and baseball player, was thrilled to support this function.

“I love helping Bonomi and putting our minds together to make unique ideas happen for our school,” Miller said. “This was most importantly a patriotic program that showed respect to our local veterans that deserve to be recognized for their services to this nation.”  

All week and during the course of the game, the well-known creativity of Bonomi was always present through player nick names.  These included library media specialist Jessica Schnall’s “Barkley,” Assistant Principal John “The Total Eclipse” Hart, social studies teacher John “The Bullet Train” Mauceri, English teacher Kevin the “Ginga Ninja” Parker, and the Most Valuable Player for this evening, math teacher Jay “Rubber Band Man” Rand.

Bonomi also enlisted the aid of the technology club, which played music and performed colorful commentary over the offensive and defensive prowess of these teams. While the players took a break during halftime, members of the band played music for the packed house of fans. Resembling a New York Knicks or Islanders game, the younger teachers ran along the stands throwing balled up Swoopen’-N-Hoopin’ T-shirts to the roaring fans. Through all of these activities, Bonomi had a radiant smile on his face as he watched a charitable and patriotic night come together. 

“Spirit and pride was abound with a packed house and I certainly appreciate the passion and energy Mr. Bonomi puts forth to create a positive climate and culture for our student body.”

— Susann Crossan

High school senior Julia Salino works closely with Bonomi’s club and she said she hopes the event continues into the future.

“This night of fun should be a tradition that is permanently carried on at our school,” she said.

Since the moment that he started teaching, coaching and being a club adviser decades ago, Bonomi has long preached the importance of helping others. High School Principal Susan Crossan, who has known this educator for many years, said she was extremely pleased about the game

“Spirit and pride was abound with a packed house and I certainly appreciate the passion and energy Mr. Bonomi puts forth to create a positive climate and culture for our student body,” the principal said. 

One of the most important goals Bonomi showed to the school’s younger teachers was the significance of donating time and energy into the kids and community even well after the final period of the day rings. Over the last 33 years, Bonomi’s presence has represented the following words of President Theodore Roosevelt who wrote: “…(the figure) who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College.

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Community rallies to raise $1,000 after funds go missing

The Mickey Mouse collection box that Sound Beach’s Kristen Abbondondelo decorated. Photo from Kerri Bové

By Erin Dueñas

Community members from Rocky Point and Sound Beach opened their wallets and their hearts over the weekend to replace a local family’s lost Disney vacation fund.

Sound Beach mother of three Kerri Bové had $1,000 cash in an envelope tucked in her purse on April 1, ready to use the funds to pay back a friend who had laid out the money for plane tickets to the amusement park.

Bové first had to drop her daughter off at a local gymnastics center where she used some of that cash to pay for tickets to an upcoming recital.

“I went to hand over my credit card to pay for the tickets when they told me it was cash only,” Bové said.
While a line formed behind her, she said she carefully thumbed through the Disney money to get out the amount she needed for the recital tickets.

Notes support the Bové family. Photo from Kerri Bové
Notes support the Bové family. Photo from Kerri Bové

In midst of the transaction, Bové started a conversation with her daughter’s gymnastics teacher and tended to her crying 2-year-old. She then left the facility to stop at the bank to replace the cash she had just used for the recital, and headed out to meet her friend to pay her for the tickets.

Less than a half hour later, Bové was tearing apart her car and her purse, searching everywhere for the money but it was nowhere to be found.

“My heart was pounding, I was searching frantically,” Bové said. “It was totally gone.”

In a panic, Bové called the gymnastics place hoping she had left the envelope there, but they said they couldn’t find it. She drove back to see if she dropped it in the parking lot, but still turned up empty.

“I was getting choked up thinking about all the months we spent planning this trip,” Bové said, noting that her husband Ray had been working 16-hour days, seven days a week to pay for it. “I was sick to my stomach. There was no way we would be able to pay my friend back and re-buy the tickets.”

The couple filed a police report, but the officer told them there was little chance that the money would turn up. That night, she took to the Rocky Point and Sound Beach community pages on Facebook to make a plea to the person who took the money.

“Please I beg you if you know anything or accidently took the money PLEASE return it,” Bové wrote. “I know we live in a good community and I want to show my children there are good, honest people in this world.”
“I was hoping the person who took it would see it,” Bové said. “I wanted them to just return it and to know that my kids were devastated.”

Bové said that the trip would be the first her family had taken since suffering a series of losses over the past few years, including the sudden deaths of her brother and nephew, as well as the death of her father just last year.

“We were so looking forward to it since the past couple of years had been so hard for us.”

Bové said she never dreamt of the response she got to her post. Soon community members sought to replace the $1,000. Roseann Sobczak and Mary Heely, neither of whom Bové had met, put out the call on Facebook to get the money back.

Notes support the Bové family. Photo from Kerri Bové
Notes support the Bové family. Photo from Kerri Bové

“I was devastated for them,” Heely of Rocky Point said. “I thought to myself I wish I had a $1,000 to give them and then thought, what if everyone could donate a little and maybe then we could recoup the loss.”

Sound Beach’s Kristen Abbondondelo jumped at the idea. She decorated a box in Mickey Mouse paper and sat in the gymnastics center for six hours while donations from people that had seen the Facebook post trickled in.

Abbondondelo estimated that at least 50 people dropped off money that day and still more donated the next day when the box was posted at another location in Rocky Point.

“They were all there to right a wrong and to show how much they cared,” she said. “People were concerned about there not being enough.”

Bové said her family was able to recoup the loss and the trip is on for May. She said she was greatly touched by the messages included with the donations. One child drew a picture of Cinderella’s castle and told the family to have fun. Another note was decorated with rainbows and hearts. One said how grateful they were to be part of the Rocky Point community. Yet another included the message that “miracles do happen.”

“It put pure happiness in my heart that my community did this for me,” Bové said. “It regained my faith that there are so many who are good.”

Bové said she credits her angels in heaven — her brother, nephew and father — and the ones on Earth for the happy ending.

“I feel my angels pulled through for me,” she said. “That the whole community pulled through for us, it is something we will never forget.”