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GoFundMe

Left, Elizabeth Sill, wife of the late Greg Sill, with Ashley Marchese, Smithtown High School West social studies/special education teacher and athletics coach, during the 2nd annual Greg Sill Foundation golf outing. Photo courtesy SSD

On July 21, more than 100 people gathered at the Wind Watch Golf and Country Club in Hauppauge for the second annual Greg Sill Foundation Golf outing.

The event was held to honor the legacy of the late Greg Sill, the beloved Smithtown High School West history teacher.

“The foundation started on the day of his funeral,” said Greg’s wife, Elizabeth Sill. “I got up and said his name cannot end here. His legacy must live on.”  

Greg Sill passed away in March 2021. A GoFundMe page was created by Elizabeth Sill to raise money for what’s now called the Greg Sill “Be the Coffee Bean” Memorial Fund. More than $60,000 has been raised in scholarship money for local students, including an annual $5,000 scholarship for a Smithtown High School West and Smithtown High School East student. 

At the golf fundraiser, locals participated in a lunch, golf outing and dinner, as well as purchased gift bags and raffles.  

“The whole idea is to keep Greg’s legacy going,” said Ashley Marchese, Smithtown High School West social studies/special education teacher and athletics coach. “You get 100 people to show up, that’s what makes it all worth it.”

Elizabeth Sill said there were plenty of newcomers to the event this year, as well as plenty of Smithtown Central School District staff, including Smithtown High School East Principal Robert Rose and High School West Assistant Principals Annemarie Freund and Michael Freiberg.

Zach Berger. Photo courtesy of Dinah Berger

By Rita J. Egan

Friends are rallying around an Elwood-John H. Glenn High School student to raise money for his medical treatment.

In July, doctors diagnosed high school senior Zach Berger with Ewing sarcoma, a rare and aggressive pediatric cancer. As soon as they heard the news, his mother’s friends, Carolyn O’Brien and Courtney Presti, along with Berger’s friend and O’Brien’s son Joseph Pontieri, set up a GoFundMe page to raise $50,000 to help offset medical costs and ease financial strains.

Berger’s mother, Dinah, said his family, which includes his dad David and older sister Katrina, was surprised and touched when they heard about the GoFundMe campaign. 

Photo courtesy of Dinah Berger

In addition to donations, Berger’s friends and their families have been showing their support in various ways. His mother said a friend’s father who owns a diner has regularly brought them food since he heard the news.

“We have a saying, ‘Elwood Strong,’ and they’ve really proven it,” Dinah Berger said, adding she couldn’t thank the community enough.

The fundraising campaign organizers are using the hashtag #elwoodstrong as well as #zachattack, which O’Brien said has been used when Berger is wrestling.

“It was fitting to this situation — to attack it head on,” O’Brien said.

The family friend said the 17-year-old is always looking to help out.

“He walks in [the house], and if he sees the garbage is full, he just goes and takes the garbage out,” O’Brien said. 

Dinah Berger said her son was in terrible pain one day, and she brought him to Huntington Hospital. Doctors first thought he had kidney stones, but tests found none. A CT scan was ordered after a urine test showed a small amount of blood. When the scan was analyzed, the top part of a tumor could be seen. 

An MRI taken at an outpatient facility confirmed the tumor, and the mother took her son to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan. It was there the family received hope from Berger’s oncologist Dr. Leonard Wexler, even though Dinah Berger said it has been difficult.

Zach Berger. Photo courtesy of Dinah Berger

Due to Zach Berger’s treatments, the incoming senior will be unable to attend school when it begins in September, according to his mother. In addition to being an honor student, he has been a member of the high school football and wrestling teams. Earlier this year, he placed in the county championships for wrestling.

“We all have our moments, but he’s been trying to be really brave,” Dinah Berger said. “It’s a lot for a 17-year-old to know they’re going to be hit with this.”

His mother, who is divorced from Berger’s father and works part time at two small companies, will take time off from work as her son will need to be taken back and forth to the city for chemotherapy and doctor appointments at MSK. In addition to chemotherapy, his treatment will possibly include surgery and radiation.

“One of the oncologists said this is a full-time job,” she said.

Dinah Berger said there is a possibility that a room will open up at the Ronald McDonald House where they can stay, and eventually the goal is for her son to receive treatment at Sloan’s Commack location.

The mother said the family recently received good news when a PET scan showed that the tumor had not metastasized.

“It’s the happiest news I have had in my life,” she said. “The whole thing is horrible and a nightmare, at least that gave me some hope.”

As of Aug. 1, 205 donations — totaling $16,000 of the $50,000 goal — have been collected. O’Brien said she’s not surprised.

“He’s one of those kids that everyone likes,” she said. “If you were going to support or donate to any family, this would be the family to donate to.”

For more information or to donate, visit www.gofundme.com/f/hsf9ja-zachattack.

From left, Michael and Deborah Livering and Terri Morrissey with an announcement that PAS will reopen in September. Photo from PAS

By Michael Tessler

What is a community without theatre? Theatre brings us comfort, joy, a sense of wonder, togetherness, and an appreciation for life. For children, especially those lucky enough to find themselves on stage, it is a great escape and a wonderful place to learn about humanity and its many expressions. It is a safe way to learn and explore. For theatre kids like me, it is a home away from home and the place you can truly feel most like yourself. 

For so many children in our community, the Performing Arts Studio (PAS) of New York at 224 East Main Street in Port Jefferson is the beating heart of our hometown. Mayor Margot Garant has called it a “hidden gem.” Right now, this incredible staple of our village is in need of our help. 

For 25 years, a dynamic trio who has brought music, laughter, tears, and every imaginable expression of the arts to a small but magical theatre in Port Jefferson. They are a gift to this community. Deborah and Michael Livering  and Terri Morrissey were some of the first people to ever believe in me. They are true professionals. Class acts who have impeccable talent and have chosen to dedicate their lives to helping young performers find themselves and immerse themselves in all the wonder and adventure theatre has to offer. 

This small studio is unique. Its black box stage is cozy but limitless. Countless children have spent their days after school and summer breaks discovering themselves and the magic of the arts. This is a place where lifelong friends are made. I would know; even two decades later and my old cast members still feel like family. 

Times Beacon Record News Media has been the beneficiary of PAS’ great talent as well; our paper’s first original film One Life to Give and its sequel, Traitor, featured several veteran actors trained at PAS including Dave Morrissey, Jr. and Max Golub.

A veteran of Broadway, Deborah Livering has taken her remarkable voice and talent and used it to uplift a new generation of performers. Her husband Michael is a master of the keyboard and Miss Terri is the most beautiful and pure soul you’ll ever meet — the lessons she’s taught me and countless other children have guided us through life and endure long after curtain call.

PAS has been closed due to COVID-19 since March of 2020 and forced to downsize. The show must go on and our friends at PAS need our help. They’ve launched a GoFundMe with plans to reopen in September and the community has already been pouring in with words of encouragement and much needed donations. 

Theatre isn’t just great entertainment. It is the embodiment of community — countless individuals coming together to make something truly magical. Let’s help make sure live theatre makes a roaring comeback in Port Jefferson. You can support PAS by donating at https://gofund.me/89cc325e.

I’d also strongly encourage you to visit my dear friend Jeffrey Sanzel and the amazing folks at Theatre Three as they return to live shows. How blessed we are as a community to have stages filled with so much love and endless talent. Tickets are on sale now! 

Michael Tessler is a film and television producer living in Los Angeles. He previously served as Director of Media Productions for TBR News Media and is a proud PAS alum.

Aidan Malinowski and Jordan Suarez before their fundraising cross-country trip. Photo by Julianne Mosher

They’re using CrossFit to go cross-country.

Jordan Suarez and his friend Aidan Malinowski, both SUNY Cortland students who are avid CrossFit participants, are planning to visit a gym in each state starting May 17.

The reasoning isn’t a vacation by any means — they’re hosting a fundraiser that will help raise money to go towards the Wounded Warrior Project. 

“We both have veterans in our family,” Malinowski said. “And we both are into CrossFit — it’s been a huge part of our lives, especially this past year with the pandemic and quarantine.”

The plan is starting this week, the duo will be going to one CrossFit affiliate gym in every state in the U.S. (excluding Alaska and Hawaii). By doing workouts at each place, they will ask fellow CrossFit members for donations and plan on spreading awareness about the nonprofit that has helped saved thousands of lives. 

In just two months leading up to their travels, they have already raised almost $6,000.

“We really just want to spread the awareness,” Malinowski said. “One big thing that stood out to me is that a $20 donation to Wounded Warriors gets them a one-hour session of PTSD treatment, which I think is amazing.”

Suarez said they will kick off their trip at the Port Jefferson Station location and then take the ferry up to Connecticut. The goal is to be back home by June 14.

“Wounded Warriors helps out any veterans that have been hurt, whether it’s physically or mentally during their time in the military,” he said. “It’s just a great organization that gets them the necessary resources to help them recover.”

The two Port Jefferson locals teamed up with the foundation about three months ago. That’s when they were introduced to Jeremiah Pauley, currently in California, who is a spokesperson for WWP. 

Jeremiah Pauley

Pauley deployed to Iraq in 2006 as a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army. Four months into the deployment, his team had cleared a house in the city of Tal Afar, and just as they left the house to go back outside enemy forces detonated an improvised explosive device. Shrapnel shredded through Pauley’s right arm, and if it weren’t for the immediate treatment he received from his team’s medic, he may not have survived.

Later on, he found out that one of his soldiers died in the attack. Pauley was overcome with survivors’ guilt and PTSD.

For years, he struggled with depression and he almost took his own life as a result. He received a call from WWP who invited him to a multi-day cycling event, Soldier Ride. 

Utilizing the services from WWP, his recovery progressed, and he eventually took a job working with the nonprofit. 

Pauley said he, too, is an avid CrossFit enthusiast, so when he got a call from two young men on the East coast looking to fundraise using the gyms, he was completely on board. 

“They submitted a request to do a fundraiser with the organization so that the money can be tracked,” he said. “And they had this crazy idea that they wanted to go to all the 48 lower states and visit a CrossFit box in each state.”

Pauley said he thought it was the “perfect trifecta of ideas” combining working out, friends and family and a good cause. 

The money that Suarez and Malinowski will raise will help go to services to help veterans like Pauley.

“All of our programs and services that we offer to warriors and their family members are absolutely free,” he said. “We never ask a warrior for a penny — ever — and we have a variety of programs and services that we offer.”

Pauley said he is excited to meet the guys from Port Jefferson when they hit the gym by him in a few weeks. 

“It’s going to be a great event,” he said. 

You can follow Jordan and Aidan’s journey on Instagram @Wod.USA or YouTube. To donate to the fundraiser, gofundme.com/f/wod-usa.

Benten’s Kenneth Lee was surprised and grateful when he heard his friends and community members wanted to start a GoFundMe page for him that will help pay his overhead. Photo by Julianne Mosher

A Miller Place woman is asking sushi connoisseurs to help support a local business who was hit hard thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Benten Sushi and Fine Japanese Cuisine on Route 25A has been struggling to keep their doors open, like many restaurants and small businesses, over the course of the last year. 

Marlene DuBois, a friend of Kenneth Lee — who has owned the spot for nearly two decades — decided to start up a GoFundMe online, to help support him as he adjusts to this new normal. 

“He’ll never ask for help,” she said. “But he was mentioning there were some problems and I knew this was a serious thing.”

DuBois said she and Lee have been friends for about 30 years, since his family opened up their first location in Mount Sinai, but she’s also a good customer — noting that the sushi at Benten is different than all the rest. 

“He is a real stickler for authenticity,” she said. “It’s super fresh, he’s the only person who gets fish from local Long Island fishermen.”

Compared to other local sushi joints, he offers pure authenticity. A quiet business owner, when Lee mentioned his stress maintaining his shop throughout the pandemic, DuBois said something had to be done. 

“If we go on for another six months to a year in the pandemic, all our local eateries are going to be gone,” she said. “Any mom and pop shop that we can help, and support is important.”

DuBois created the online fundraiser in early February and to date it has over $2,500 of generous donations that will go to Lee’s location.

And he was shocked when he found out his friend was doing this. 

“I am so grateful,” he said, modestly. “It’s been very tough.”

Lee said the funds his friend raised will go to upkeep of the restaurant, which has been too expensive to fix in COVID times. 

DuBois said that supporting a restaurant, like Benten, is crucial as Long Island nears the one-year mark of quarantine. 

“If people don’t want to donate to the GoFundMe, I’m just trying to encourage them to order from him,” she said. “Support your favorite restaurants… It’s important.”

Visit gofundme.com for more information

Kyle Spillane with three students during one of his past trips to Kenya. Photo from Kyle Spillane

By Julianne Mosher

An initiative built a school for kids in Kenya, and now they need a way to get there.

Kyle Spillane, a graduate of Shoreham-Wading River High School and board member of the local nonprofit Hope Children’s Fund, recently set up a GoFundMe fundraiser online to buy a minibus to safely get Kenyan students to school.

“It has the potential to save lives,” he said. 

Incorporated in 2003, Hope Children’s Fund is a New York State licensed 501(c)(3) that provides for the physical and emotional needs of some of the most vulnerable AIDS-affected children who had been living on the streets of Meru, Kenya.

With the goal to provide food, clothing, shelter and medical care to enable children to be enrolled in local schools, the Jerusha Mwiraria Hope Children’s Home was built in 2005, taking in children that are HIV affected or who come from tragic backgrounds with families who can no longer care for them. 

According to Spillane, two of the group’s kids unfortunately — and tragically — lost their lives while walking home from school, due to the dangerous surrounding area. Their names were Glory and Michell.

“We wanted to fund a vehicle to transport our kids and doctors to and from the school,” he said. “We have never had a vehicle, and it’s been very costly for us to rent taxis and buses for them.”

Photo from Kyle Spillane

Over the years, the organization lacked a vehicle to transport the children to and from their regular activities of attending school, shopping for food and supplies for the home, and visiting medical providers. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, public transportation is no longer the safest option for the group’s immune-compromised children, who regularly travel to the doctor. 

Spillane said the GoFundMe, called A Vehicle for Hope, which was posted early last month has raised more than $4,600 to date. The total cost for a 16-seater minibus, from a Toyota dealership in Kenya, will cost $42,000. They have received a $10,000 grant from World Orphan Fund and received a partnership from an anonymous donor who has offered to match the first $5,000. 

“We just got over 50% of our goal,” he said.

The 26-year-old Shoreham resident found out about the Setauket-based organization through the Global Awareness Club at Shoreham-Wading River High School. Since becoming a part of it, he has been to Kenya four times, returning more recently in 2017 and 2019. 

“This is an organization I hold close to me,” he said. “They have really grown to be what I consider my family, and I wouldn’t still be interested if I didn’t believe in those children. The amount of growth I’ve seen them go through is amazing.”

Hope Children’s Fund is a completely volunteer-based nonprofit.

“The education is what they really want,” he said about the students. “It’s incredible — these students are coming from nothing and are becoming doctors. They are not taking anything for granted.”

Spillane is asking the community to donate and help keep these students safe. 

“This GoFundMe will support and provide protection to some of the brightest youth minds, who are also some of the most vulnerable AIDS-affected children in Meru, Kenya,” he said. 

To donate, visit the GoFundMe here.

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Regina Bornello, center, surrounded by her husband and children. Photo from Gofundme page

A Gofundme for the family of a woman who died in a Riverhead motorcycle crash Monday has already raised over $70,000 from more than 600 people as of Thursday.

Riverhead police announced July 14 that Regina Bornello, 45, of Rocky Point, was involved in a motorcycle crash the day before on Sound Avenue in Riverhead. Police said in a release that Bornello’s 2006 Harley Davidson motorcycle was travelling westbound on Sound Avenue when it entered the eastbound lane and struck a 2003 Honda Civic driven by an unidentified 50-year-old man. The Civic turned over and the Riverhead Fire Department had to extricate the owner who was taken to Peconic Bay Medical Center, according to police. Bornello succumbed to her injuries at the scene of the crash, police said.

According to the Gofundme, Bornello is survived by her husband Dennis and three children. 

“Heaven has opened its gates to a loving mother, a loving wife and a beautiful person to all that know her,” wrote John Brush, of Oakdale, on the Gofundme page he created.

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Lisa Pepper-Byron. Photo from Help Lisa Medulloblastoma Treatment andCare GoFundMe page

A native of Shoreham is in need of help. 

Lisa Pepper-Byron, a mother of three young daughters ages 2, 6 and 7, was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a cancerous tumor that starts in the brain and spreads to the spine, in December 2018. 

Earlier last month, members of her family created a GoFundMe page in her name. Pepper-Byron now resides in Concord, North Carolina, along with the majority of her family and was working as a wedding planner before she was diagnosed, and she currently lacks health insurance. Since she has started radiation treatments, she is unable to work and support her family, according to the GoFundMe page. 

Jamie Pepper, one of the Shoreham native’s sisters, said her sibling is a giver and tries to be the best role model she can be for her young daughters. 

Lisa Pepper-Byron with her three daughters. Photo from Help Lisa Medulloblastoma Treatment andCare GoFundMe page

Pepper-Byron grew up and lived on Long Island for much of her life, graduating from Shoreham-Wading River High School in 2002 and during her high school days worked at Mr. G’s Pizza in Wading River. The mother of three only moved to North Carolina in the past few years. 

The GoFundMe campaign has already raised close over $7,300 of the $200,000 goal within a month, with 127 individuals having donated. The is a currently trending campaign on the site. 

“Lisa is really overwhelmed with the amount of support she has been receiving,” Pepper-Byron’s sister said. “She is doing her best to remain strong during this
difficult time.”

Pepper-Byron recently underwent surgery to remove two tumors from her brain to try to prevent the cancer from spreading to her spine. After the surgery, she began another round of chemotherapy. 

“Our family is very grateful for the amount of love and generous contributions Lisa has been receiving on her GoFundMe campaign,” Pepper said. 

All funds collected from the campaign will go for treatments, medications, a reliable vehicle and short-term expenses for her and the family. The family hopes people support the campaign so that Pepper-Byron can undergo her chemotherapy treatments without the worries of all the expenses involved. You can donate to campaign at https://www.gofundme.com/help-lisas-brain-cancer-treatment-and-care or can send contributions to the Pepper Family at 101 Georgia Street NW, Concord, North Carolina, 28025.

Huntington High School graduate Landary Rivas Argueta steps forward to speak about the GoFundMe for Alex at the Jan. 7 meeting. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Among the outpouring of emotions by Huntington residents Monday night, were tears and calls on the community to come to the aid of Alex, the Huntington High School student who was deported to his native Honduras in July 2018.

Landary Rivas Argueta, a 2016 graduate of Huntington High School, said he and his fellow Latino community members made a GoFundMe account titled “Justice for Alex” after reading the New York Times Magazine article published Dec. 27.

“I’ve been working closely with Alex’s family and brother, as me and my friends have made a GoFundMe to help the family given everything that’s happened,” he said.

This family is very hard working and have done all they can to try to protect their son.”

—Justice for Alex GoFundMe page

Alex’s family has racked up approximately $25,000 in bills since their son’s plight began between legal fees, transportation costs, loss of wages and providing for him while living in Honduras, according to the GoFundMe site.

“This family is very hard working and have done all they can to try to protect their son,” the GoFundMe page read.

While admitting he didn’t know Alex when he was living in Huntington, Rivas Argueta said he’s gotten involved simply as it’s the right thing to do.

Several other Huntington residents pleaded with Huntington school district administrators to take what actions they can to help Alex.

“Huntington High School must get rid of Operation Matador, reunite Alex with his family, close the detention centers and treat all people of color  with respect,” Huntington resident Susan Widerman said.

Huntington board of education trustee Xavier Palacios said he’s received dozens of emails, phone calls and text messages from alumni ranging from San Diego to New Jersey  asking how they can be of help.

“Few times do I see the outpouring of compassion that I’ve seen in Alex’s case,” he said.

The GoFundMe has raised $1,500 of its $10,000 goal as of 8 p.m. Jan. 8. The page can be found at www.gofundme.com/rehbs-justice-for-alex. Social media updates are being posted under #justiceforalex and #justiciaparaalex.d

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A  Nesconset school that provides  educational opportunities for deaf children is pleading for the public’s help in funding a new playground for its students.

The yard outside Cleary School for the Deaf in Nesconset lies barren, as old split railroad ties square off desolate sections of rock devoid of any slides or swings. Jacqueline Simms, the school’s executive director, said the school was forced to remove its 30-year-old wooden playgrounds in May after an engineer determined they were “inappropriate” and did not meet New York State Department of Education’s safety requirements.

Since then, parents of its deaf students have launched a GoFundMe campaign seeking to raise $100,000 toward a playground.

These are school-aged children with disabilities who don’t have a playground.”

— Nicole Abbene

“These are school-aged children with disabilities who don’t have a playground,” Nicole Abbene, of Smithtown, said. “They already feel different in regard to their disability, so for them to have a playground would allow them to have the same opportunity as every other child.”

Abbene said her son, Liam, has attended Cleary since he was 3 months old in their Parent Infant Program, designed for children with profound hearing loss from birth through age 3, with their families. Now, at age 4, he’s in a full-day preschool program for children ages 3 to 7 that has approximately 50 enrolled students from 36 school districts across Suffolk County.

“We have a growing enrollment — a huge growing enrollment — that we are meeting with our [state] legislators to see if we can do something about,” Simms said.

The executive director said the state’s funding for the school has not increased proportionally to the influx of students, leaving it tight on funds for capital improvements and the latest technology needed to assist its hearing-impaired children. Simms said she has applied to several grant programs but has yet to be awarded any money.

I took them outside, and we started to play hide-and-seek. There was no place to hide.”

— Katie Kerzner

“We’ve been trying to do everything to accommodate our population and help with the struggle of not having a playground,” she said.

The school’s staff has set up a small portable jungle gym, a few sand tables and set out tricycles and foot-powered minicars for the children to play on the blacktop. It has created a small play loft in its library, but Principal Katie Kerzner said these don’t fully fill the gap with the opportunities the children would have with an outdoor playground.

“I took them outside, and we started to play hide-and-seek,” she said. “There was no place to hide.”

Kerzner said teaching her preschool children games has been difficult without a playground. In addition, the principal said students’ interaction on playground equipment can provide vital life lessons.

“For children with hearing loss, they need opportunities to practice having those language experiences,” she said. “For our kids it’s all about language. They need more typical, realistic situations to practice their skills.”

We are all aching to have something for the spring.”

— Katie Kerzner

The GoFundMe campaign launched by Abbene has raised more than $6,000, as of press time, for an age-appropriate playground for children ages 3 to 7. Cleary’s executive director said the school once had three playgrounds divided by age group: birth to age 3, ages 3 to 7, and a third for older school-aged children in its full-time summer programs. The school has received an estimate of $150,000 to replace one playground, according to Simms, and would require significantly more funds to purchase new age-appropriate, handicapped-accessible equipment for all its students.

“We are all aching to have something for the spring,” the principal said. “Our goal is when the kids open that door, after the snow melts, there’s something out there that will facilitate their play.”

In recent weeks, the GoFundMe campaign has captured the attention of some local businesses, who have stepped forward offering aid, and community residents. Simms said one generous individual stepped into the school to donate $150 in person, not sure how to give via the website. While she is “extremely grateful,” Cleary still needs to raise significant funds.

“The playground presents itself as a must,” Kerzner said. “It’s not something on a wish list. It’s a have-to-have.”