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Jane Bonner

Tommy and Sue Sullivan pose for a photo in front of their soon-to-be old, Superstorm Sandy-damaged house prior to revamping. With hard hats on, the two prepare to help Habitat for Humanity of Suffolk County help renovate their home. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Tommy Sullivan has always been paying it forward.

So when Habitat for Humanity of Suffolk reached out to help renovate his Sandy-damaged home, he said he was overcome with emotion.

“We’re really overwhelmed by this,” Tommy Sullivan said of he and his wife Sue’s reaction to the help and support they’ve received. “It was looking hopeless for us for a while. We couldn’t have done this ourselves. It was just way, way too much work and, again, we’re just so overwhelmed and happy and just very, very grateful.”

The effort to help the Sullivan family started when members of the VFW Post 6249 in Rocky Point heard about the damage done to the Rocky Point home. When Superstorm Sandy hit in 2012, the house sustained roof damage that could not be repaired. As time went on, the damages became worse, which rendered the house unlivable for Tommy Sullivan, a U.S. army veteran, and his wife Sue, a substitute teacher. The family was forced to spend several nights out staying at friends’ homes.

The front of the Sullivan's house shows the exterior and roof damage brought on by Superstorm Sandy. Photo by Desirée Keegan
The front of the Sullivan’s house shows the exterior and roof damage brought on by Superstorm Sandy. Photo by Desirée Keegan

But John Rago, outreach coordinator for the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs project known as the Suffolk County United Veterans group, stepped up to help the Sullivans find sanctuary when he met Diane Burke, executive director and CEO at Habitat for Humanity of Suffolk County at a luncheon in Patchogue back in March.

At a meeting for the Community Development Corporation of Long Island, Rago explained the program’s support and services for veteran families, which included a rapid-rehousing and homeless prevention program for veterans.

“We were reaching dead ends all over the place and I happened to be sitting at the luncheon across from Diane and I introduced myself,” he said. “I asked her if she did teardown and rebuilds, and she said yes, so I started to tell her about Tommy and before I even finished she said, ‘We’re in.’”

Burke said she was more than happy to help who she saw as such a well-deserved recipient.

“I thought, ‘We have to make this happen,’ and we just put the pieces together and we’re here to support a local veteran to recreate a place to call home,” Burke said of the initiative. “Not only did Tom serve our country, but he continues to serve our community, so that is absolutely what we’re about. It’s great to partner with somebody who understands volunteerism and actually lives it.”

Tommy Sullivan was a member of the West Point band for three years when he served during the Vietnam War. He is an original member of Johnny Maestro & the Brooklyn Bridge, a musical group best known for their million-selling rendition of Jimmy Webb’s “The Worst That Could Happen,” and has been performing solo since then at charity organizations and events.

Some events include Long Island State Veterans Home’s annual Golf Classic, Wounded Warrior Project events, Rocky Point high school’s Veteran’s Day and 9/11 ceremonies. Just last Friday, the veteran sang at cancer benefit for a friend with brain cancer.

“When people with a good cause call, we never turn it down, because that’s it’s own reward,” he said. “Whenever I get a call, especially from the vet’s organizations, I’m there. I set up my stuff and I sing, and it feels great to have this support. We’re all the same kind of people here and it’s special because it’s all about the heart. Everyone here has a big heart and we’re just very happy.”

Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point), who said she knows the Sullivans as longtime residents, said the work Tommy Sullivan does for his community is extraordinary.

“It’s a very exciting time for all of us to be able to help them because they’ve helped so many people through their advocacy and their volunteering,” she said. “He has the voice of an angel. It’ll bring goose bumps to you. It really, really will.”

The councilwoman also said she sees the family as more than deserving of this renovation.

“They pay it forward all the time,” Bonner said. “They never ask for anything in return, and they’ve fallen on some difficult times — probably from volunteering so much and not asking for money. Helping is so easy to do, and it’s the best part of my job. I believe it is part of the main reason why we have public service, such as council people.”

The work for the eight-week project began on Oct. 19 with several different projects including reframing and reroofing; the installation of new electric, plumbing; new interior fixtures; remodeling to the flooring, kitchen and bathroom; and new windows and doors throughout the home.

“I’m very happy that they decided to help Tommy and Susan out and I can’t wait until we give them the keys to their brand new house,” Rago said. “It’s nice to help a veteran, especially one that gives back so much to the veteran community.”

Sue Sullivan said she was excited to remain in the couple’s same home they’ve lived in since 1996, and said the love and care she has received is what she believes life is all about.

“Everyone taking care of everybody — we dedicate our lives to that,” she said. “This is the most wonderful thing that could happen in our lives besides marrying each other. As community members, we want everyone to know we’re here for them for anything. If you need us, we’ll come. Everything that everyone is doing and the way they’re contributing, they’re our family now, and that’s just a forever family.

Members of the Comsewogue High School girls varsity and junior varsity field hockey team dump water on themselves at the second annual ALS Ice Bucket Challenge on Wednesday Aug. 26. Photo by Giselle Barkley

As the president of the Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association, Beth Dimino is rarely hit in the face with whipped cream. But on Aug. 26, Dimino sat wearing a large black garbage bag as whipped cream from a pie toss dripped down her face and body — all in support of the second annual ALS Ice Bucket Challenge at Heritage Park in Mount Sinai.

Hundreds of people attended the event, which aimed to raise awareness of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and money for research into the disease, through the Stony Brook-based organization Ride for Life. People who purchased a ticket could trade it for a chance to throw a whipped cream-filled plate at volunteers like Dimino.

Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) was one of many, including local school principals and teachers, to participate in the event’s dunk tank or pie-throwing games. For Bonner, supporting the cause is important, as her grandfather died from the rare disease around 35 years.

“It robs your body, not your mind,” Bonner said.

ALS affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing motor neurons to degenerate. People with the disease lose control over their muscles, leaving them unable to speak, eat, move or breathe on their own. The cause of the disease is not yet known.

Bonner jumped at the chance to participate in the event this week.

“Chris just makes you want to [be involved],” she said about Christopher Pendergast, who founded Ride For Life in 1997 and has lived with the disease for more than 20 years. “He just inspired so many people to participate and bring awareness.”

According to Ray Manzoni, a member of the Ride For Life Board of Directors, Pendergast wanted to make this year’s event at Heritage Park bigger and better than last year’s ice bucket challenge, which focused on the ice bucket challenge itself.

Last year’s event occurred during the height of a worldwide trend in which people dumped buckets of ice water over their heads, and challenged others to follow suit, in order to bring publicity to the disease. Lori Baldassare, president of the Mount Sinai Heritage Trust, Bonner and Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), all of whom attended this year’s event, were “instrumental in getting [the event] approved quickly” last year, according to Manzoni. That inaugural event was organized in four days.

Manzoni said this year they added the pie-tossing event, balloon twisting and face painting booths, cotton candy, hot dogs and more.

The Comsewogue girls’ varsity and junior varsity field hockey teams were also at the event. While many of them were dancing to the music there, they also donated money and helped organize the buckets for people to dump water on themselves or others during the ice bucket challenge. The buckets were arranged at the end of the event to spell out “ICE ALS.”

“The goal is to have this and other events that Ride For Life supports and make them bigger and better,” Manzoni said.

Although he did not know how much money the group raised this year, Manzoni hoped it matched or exceeded the amount of money raised last year, $5,000. He added that successful research into ALS can also help research for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, which are more common but have similarities.

According to the ALS Association’s website, the disease affects around 6,400 people annually in the United States alone. Only 10 percent of people who are diagnosed with the disease inherited it, while the rest are affected by the disease at random.

For people and organizations like Ride For Life, these events are important.

The goal is “to build awareness and money so that we can continue [our efforts],” Manzoni said.

Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point), right, and Park Ranger Molly Hastings at the stewardship center. Photo from Brookhaven Town

Town officials recently toured the newly reconstructed boardwalk at the Marine Environmental Stewardship Center at Cedar Beach.

The 500-foot-long loop begins and ends at the center, which is located off of the nature trail at the beach, and offers visitors two resting off shoots with benches. Visitors can stroll along the walkway to see a variety of wildlife and watch the sunset.

The boardwalk isn’t the only thing residents can see at the center. The center is open until Labor Day, Sept. 7, Thursday through Sunday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.  In addition, the center is hosting a variety of summer programs open to people of all ages throughout the month of August:

The Giving Tree Aug. 8, from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Discover how dependent we are on trees. Trees give us cleaner air, food, medicine, shelter and much more.

Shellfish Facility Tour Aug. 14, from 10 to 11 a.m. Tour the grow-out facility at Cedar Beach. Learn why we are giving nature a helping hand.

Marine Life Jeopardy Aug. 15, from 10 to 11:30 a.m. All ages. Play with family and friends together or as opponents; you choose. Test your knowledge of Long Island Marine life.

Nature Center Tour Aug. 21, from 10 to 11 a.m. Take a tour of the newly upgraded Nature Center. Environmental displays, touch screen interactive computers, marine tanks and touch tanks.

All programs are free and registration is required. To register call Ranger Molly Hastings at 631-751-6714 or email at [email protected]. Leave your name, number of people attending and the program name.

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Old electronics, medications and papers can be dropped of at the Rose Caracappa Senior Center in Mount Sinai on May 16, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m., during the semi-annual Go Green Event.

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) is hosting the event, which will feature pharmaceutical take back, paper shredding collection and e-waste drive. Electronics such as televisions, telephones, VCRs, DVD players, radios and laptops are among those accepted.

In addition, prescriptions and over-the-counter medications will be safely disposed of, and paper in boxes or bags will be shredded and recycled.

For more information, call (631) 451-6964 or email [email protected].

Construction could start in September

Stephen Normandin, of The RBA Group, answers residents’ questions at the Sound Beach Civic Association meeting on Monday. Photo by Erika Karp

Echo Avenue in Sound Beach is getting a makeover.

Brookhaven Town officials presented plans for a revitalization project along the busy street at the Sound Beach Civic Association meeting on Monday. Handicap-accessible sidewalks, new curbs, decorative lighting and ornamental trees are set to line the approximate .3-mile stretch between New York Avenue and North Country Road in the near future, as leaders seek to beautify and make the area safer for pedestrians.

Steve Tricarico, deputy highway superintendent, said the project will “bring that downtown feel like you may have seen the highway department do in Rocky Point.”

Late last year, the department completed a similar project along Broadway in Rocky Point.

In 2013, the town adopted a four-phase plan to revitalize Echo Avenue and received a Community Development Block Grant for the first phase. Last year, officials applied for more CDBG funding, but found out the hamlet no longer qualified for the grant.

Tricarico said the highway department went out to bid for new contracts and was able to get a better deal and was therefore able to match the 2013 grant and fund the project in its entirety — a total cost of about $240,000.

According to Stephen Normandin, director of design and planning for The RBA Group, the engineering group selected to oversee the project, starting at the intersection of New York Avenue, a four-foot-wide sidewalk will be constructed on the east side of Echo Avenue that connects all the way up to Handy Pantry. Then, a crosswalk will be created, by Devon Road and Caramia Pizzeria, that crosses over Echo Avenue and links up to another sidewalk on the west side of the street, ending at North Country Road. In addition, the triangle by Handy Pantry, which houses the civic’s “Welcome to Sound Beach” sign, will be extended in an attempt to slow traffic at the Shinnecock Drive and Echo Avenue intersection.

Normandin said the project does come with its challenges, as there are hills and existing guardrails and trees, and limited space within the public right-of-way.

“We are sensitive to the [private] properties,” he added.

If all goes according to plan, the project will commence in late August or early September and wrap up before the winter season. The road will be paved once the sidewalk and concrete work is complete.

A few residents, including Bea Ruberto, civic president and the driving force behind the project, requested some additional lighting by New York Avenue and Mesquite Tex Mex Grill. Currently, the plans don’t include new sidewalks and lighting on that side of Echo, but Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) said her office would look in to it. However, an easement agreement between the town and property owner might be needed, which could delay the project.

“None of this is set in stone; the dollar amount kind of is, so wherever we can … cut from one area and add to another, we are certainly willing to do that,” Bonner said.