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John Tsunis

Investors Bank on Route 25A in Setauket. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Investors Bank donated $100,000 to Stony Brook University Hospital to aid during the height of the COVID-19 crisis.

Investors, which recently completed the acquisition of Gold Coast Bancorp, granted Stony Brook the funds in April through the bank’s charitable foundation to the university hospital’s foundation. 

“We want Stony Brook to use this grant to fight this pandemic and provide assistance to the real heroes – those doctors, nurses, and administrators on the front line,” Investors Bank Chairman and CEO Kevin Cummings said in a statement. “They are doing a fantastic job under unimaginable circumstances and we want to support them any way we can.”

The original impetus for the grant came from John Tsunis, the former Gold Coast Chairman and CEO and current Chairman of Investors Bank Long Island Advisory Board. He said he was grateful Investors “is continuing that partnership and that its core values echo what the Long Island communities have come to expect from Gold Coast.”

Since the start of the ongoing pandemic, Stony Brook University Hospital has seen support from many sides, from donations such as this to average citizens and local businesses donating hospital supplies and food to beleaguered health care staff.

“Words cannot describe how grateful we are to receive this grant,” said Carol Gomes, the CEO of Stony Brook University Hospital. “We could not get through this without the community doing everything humanly possible to assist. On behalf of everyone, we so greatly appreciate your support, kindness and generosity. It will be put to very good use.”

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While the number of hospitalizations related to COVID-19 increased for the first time in three days, the increase is still smaller than it had been and suggests that Suffolk County may still be approaching a peak.

John Tsunis proposed Investors Bank give a donation to Stony Brook University Hospital. File photo.

An additional 13 people entered hospitals in the last day, bringing the total number of people battling the virus in Suffolk County facilities to 1,608.

“What that starts to look like is that we are flattening and maybe plateauing at this level,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said on a conference call with reporters. “If a flattening is occurring, that is a good thing.”

Indeed, the number of people in Intensive Care Units declined by eight, to 531.

The capacity for hospital beds is at 3,379, with 607 beds currently available, including 98 ICU beds.

At the same time, 108 people who had been in the hospital have been discharged in the last day.

Fatalities continue to rise, with 40 people dying from the coronavirus over the past day, bringing the total for the county to 608.

After shutting down three testing sites yesterday because of heavy winds and rain, the county reopened three hotspot testing sites at Huntington Station, Riverhead and Brentwood. This Thursday, the county plans to open additional by-appointment mobile testing facilities at Wyandanch and North Amityville.

The county continues to look for supplies for health care workers. Bellone said his office procured more than 2,000 face shields, about 14,000 N95 masks and 810 gowns, which is “not nearly enough. We need more gowns,” he said.

The county also received 5,000 masks from All Hands and Heart, a group that addresses the immediate and long term needs of communities affected by natural disasters. Bellone thanked their principal, Adam Haber, who helped coordinate the delivery of those masks.

Suffolk County delivered masks to grocery workers today as well.

The county is participating in a campaign to thank transit workers on Thursday at 3 p.m. Bellone encouraged people who hear the sounds of train, bus, or ferry horns to go to social media to share what they hear, through #soundthehorn or #heroesmovingheroes.

Throughout New York State, over 88 percent of the 10,834 fatalities had at least one other underlying medical condition, which includes hypertension, diabetes, coronary artery disease, cancer, and congestive heart failure, among others.

In Suffolk County, the number of fatalities linked to complications from coronavirus in nursing homes was 155, while the number in adult care facilities was 97, brining the total to 252, according to figures from the New York State Department of Health. That means that over 40 percent of the deaths in Suffolk County were in nursing homes or adult care centers.

“The virus attacks this exact population of individuals: the elderly and people with underlying medical conditions,” Bellone said.

The number of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in Suffolk County stands at 22,691, which is up 744 over the last 24 hours.

Separately, Stony Brook University Hospital announced that over 1,853 people had contributed $669,388 to the hospitals’s Coronavirus Crisis Challenge. The fundraising goal is $750,000.

Investors Bank and its Foundation contributed $100,00 to cover part of the cost of erecting and equipping a field hospital that will have over 1,000 beds and is expected to be completed later this week. The suggestion to make the contribution came from John Tsunis, former Gold Coast Chairman and CEO and current Chairman of investors Bank Long Island Advisory Board. Investors Bank recently purchased Gold Coast Bancorp.

“I am so grateful that Investors Bank is continuing [its] partnership and that its core values echo what the Long Island communities have come to expect from Gold Coast,” Tsunis said in a statement.

John Tsunis and Fred Sganga along with Suffolk County and New York State officials, stand by vets who were at the Battle of the Bulge. Photos by Kyle Barr

At the Long Island State Veterans Home, John Tsunis, the owner of the Holiday Inn Express at Stony Brook and board member of the vets home, briefly choke up when speaking of his father, Charles, a World War II veteran and soldier during the Battle of the Bulge, consisting of over a month of fighting from December 1944 to January 1945. 

The Long Island State Veterans Home honored four Battle of the Bulge veterans Dec. 16. Photos by Kyle Barr.

His father called the Battle of the Bulge “a hell on ice,” and Tsunis described when his father had been forced behind enemy lines where he and two of his fellow soldiers were pinned down by an enemy machine gun, helping to save several men, which earned him the Bronze Star.

“My dad took the lead and they were crawling around, keeping their heads low because there was a machine gun shooting over their heads,” he said. “He kept on crawling, not knowing what to do, until he came over some dead Germans, and under their bodies was a German bazooka. He told one of his buddies to load him up, took aim at the machine gun nest and knocked it out.” 

In what was one of the bloodiest battles Americans fought in World War II, the last major German offensive on the Western Front saw 19,000 U.S. soldiers killed, 47,500 wounded and 23,000 captured. The pocket created by the Germans’ push into American lines gave the battle its name. The day’s ferocious fighting was displayed in a video of historic footage shown to the gathered local officials, staff and veterans. 

The veterans home honored four veterans who experienced the battle up close and personal, James Lynam, Philip DiMarco, Frank DePergola and Thomas Struminski. Each was given a plaque, while both state and county officials presented proclamations to each in turn. Tsunis accepted the honor in place of his father who died nearly 20 years ago. He also helped name and hand out plaques honoring four men at the home who fought in one of the most consequential battles of the war.

DePergola, DiMarco, Lynam and Struminski were all there during the battle, and now that each is over 90 years old, they are some of the only people in the U.S. who can remember firsthand what happened.

Lynam’s children Kathy Corrado and William Lynam said their father didn’t speak much about the battle as they were growing up. However, once they were older, their father, a Brooklyn native, would emotionally relate snippets of the ferocious fighting.

The Long Island State Veterans Home honored four Battle of the Bulge veterans Dec. 16. Photos by Kyle Barr.

“A Tiger tank almost ran over him, and he said they just couldn’t get the gun down low enough to get him,” Corrado, a Stony Brook resident, recalled.

William Lynam said such stories put graphic imagery in his head.

“[My father] said [that] when the panzer division was coming, and these guys were trying to dig into ground that was frozen … he remembers so distinctly the sound of the panzers, the Tiger tanks rolling over a field of cabbage, crushing the heads of cabbage and they were all imagining skulls of men were being crushed as they were coming through,” he said.

Others in the audience remembered the horrors of that day up close. Alfred Kempski, a World War II veteran living in the vets home, pointed to a black-and-white image of the Battle of the Bulge, of American soldiers in long greatcoats, M3 submachine guns and M1 Garands clutched in gloved fists, the soldiers peering forward in snow up to their knees. 

“25,000 GIs were killed at night, the Germans came in at 2 o’clock in the morning and shot them all, they were sleeping,” he said. “The snow was so deep, we had a hell of a time finding the bodies. I was only 19 then, and when I think of it now …”

 

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Gold Coast's East Setauket location as well as the bank's other branches will soon be part of Investors Bank. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Investors Bancorp, Inc., based in Short Hills, New Jersey, announced its acquisition of Islandia-based Gold Coast Bancorp, Inc. last week.

According to a press release from Investors Bancorp, consideration will be paid to Gold Coast stockholders in a combination of stock and cash valued at $63.6 million. The deal is based on Investors’ July 23 closing price of $11.20. Gold Coast had assets of $563 million, loans of $463 million and deposits of $486 million as of March 31.

“We are pleased to partner with Gold Coast, a commercial bank with deep ties to the Long Island community and a strong track record of growth,” said Investors’ Chairman and CEO, Kevin Cummings in the press release. “This transaction strengthens Investors’ current suburban Long Island franchise and deepens our presence in this large, affluent market.”

Gold Coast founder John Tsunis said in a phone interview that the Long Island bank chain needed larger facilities to support its business. He said it could only facilitate up to $10 million in business as it had a cap.

“To better service our customers, we needed to get more capital to support what our customers are doing,” Tsunis said. “To do that we either had to raise capital in the markets or merge with another bank.”

Tsunis, the current CEO and chairman of Gold Coast, said Investors Bank is the largest commercial bank in New Jersey with approximately a $23 billion balance sheet in contrast to Gold Coast’s $700 million balance sheet.

Investors Bank will be able to offer more services than the smaller community branches of Gold Coast, he said. The new offers will include points and larger facilities.

“With seven branches we’re limited in our reach and our scope around our branches,” Tsunis said.

Gold Coast Bank will now be called Investors Bank and all branches will remain open. In addition to its Islandia headquarters, Gold Coast has locations in Huntington, East Setauket, Farmingdale, Mineola, Southampton and Brooklyn. Investors Bancorp’s CEO and chairman of the board have visited the Island to meet with employees. Most employees are expected to continue working at their branches.

Tsunis will stay on as chairman of the regional advisory board. He said he would continue to facilitate the growth of the relationships Gold Coast has established in its communities. All of the Gold Coast board members have been offered a board position on the Investors board on Long Island as well.

Tsunis said he feels the move will be a good one for Gold Coast customers.

“We endeavored to be a community bank in the areas we serve, and they subscribe to the same philosophy,” Tsunis said.

Investors Bank has 147 branches in New York and New Jersey, with seven located on Long Island. Locations can be found in East Northport, Commack, Wantagh, Mineola, Manhasset, Merrick and Franklin Square.

Just in time for the first day of summer, the Village of Poquott debuted its new community dock at California Park June 21.

Before cutting the ribbon, Mayor Dee Parrish thanked the dozens of residents who attended the event for their support of the dock on behalf of herself and the village board of trustees.

John Tsunis, president of Gold Coast Bank, was also on hand to help cut the ribbon. Tsunis is a resident of the village, and the dock was financed through the bank.

It was the first time he saw the dock, he said, and he described it as beautiful and well-designed.

“It adds to the quality of life for the residents of Poquott,” he said after the ribbon cutting. “I think it’s a beautiful addition. We live on the water so it’s very appropriate to have a dock and a pier for people to use, and I’m very proud of it.”

The community dock, located at the end of Washington Street, had been a topic of debate in the village for nearly a decade as many were against it, fearing an increase in taxes and wanting the final decision to be made with a public referendum. A few years ago, the village board of trustees began the process of building the dock by sending out questionnaires to residents to get their feedback.

The night of the ribbon cutting the residents on hand celebrated with champagne, ice cream and taking walks on the new dock, which will also have a floating dock to help boaters load and unload their crafts.

“It’s a perfect addition to a beach community,” Parrish said after the ceremony. “I am touched by all the residents that came together to make this project a reality. The community dock will be used and enjoyed for many, many years — that makes me feel that all the hours of work have paid off.”

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn, center, receives the Brookhaven Community Leadership Award from Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright and Holiday Inn Express owner John Tsunis. Photo by Rita J. Egan

A familiar face in the Three Village and Port Jefferson areas was honored for her career achievements the day before International Women’s Day.

On March 7, Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) received the Brookhaven Community Leadership Award at a ceremony held at the Holiday Inn Express Stony Brook. At the event, which was sponsored by the hotel and Gold Coast Bank, Hahn was surrounded by family members, friends and community members, including Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), Setauket Fire District Fire Commissioner Jay Gardiner, and Jane Taylor and Carmine Inserra, Three Village Chamber of Commerce 2nd vice president and executive director, respectively.

John Tsunis, owner of the Holiday Inn Express Stony Brook and CEO and chairman of Gold Coast Bank, said as a resident of Hahn’s legislative district he is a proud supporter of her and her work. The CEO admired her passing of policies that helped ensure emergency workers were trained in the use of Narcan to revive patients who overdose and a bill that increased background checks of daycare workers. He also called her a tireless advocate for domestic abuse survivors and a “champion of our environment,” citing her work to help to protect ground and drinking water along with her promotion of recreational activities at local parks.

“As we all know, Kara cares deeply for our community, because of her thoughtful leadership Kara was elected to serve as legislature majority leader in 2016 and again in 2017,” he said.

Cartright said when she first ran for town office in 2013 she felt “blessed” to know Hahn. The councilwoman described her county counterpart as a worker bee who looks at her job from different perspectives.

“What’s so special about Kara Hahn is that she not only looks at things from a legislator perspective, but she looks at it from a community member perspective — a perspective that she’s one of us,” Cartright said. “She’s gone through the process. She understands the struggles and tribulations that many of us have to face within our communities.”

Hahn said she was humbled and honored to represent the community. She described the legislative district as an area where people work together to help make it an even better place to live. She cited a recent example where a member of Cartright’s office reached out to her to ask how they could help members of a Port Jefferson Veterans of Foreign Wars post attend the Rocky Point St. Patrick’s Day Parade so they wouldn’t have to park too far away. Hahn reached out to the Holiday Inn Express, and Tsunis offered the hotel’s shuttle bus for the veterans’ use.

“That’s the kind of community we have,” Hahn said. “Everybody wants to chip in. Everybody wants to help. Everybody knows it’s a great place to live and knows that it can be even better. We have a vision for that, and we keep every day trying to find a way to make things better whether it’s for our environment or our schools.”

The Brookhaven Community Leadership award has been presented annually since 2014. Past winners include Charlie Lefkowitz, Three Village Chamber of Commerce vice president; Leah Dunaief, TBR News Media publisher; and Gloria Rocchio, president of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization.

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Setauket was filled with merriment and lights Dec. 9 as hundreds lined Route 25A to catch a glimpse of the Three Village Electric Holiday Parade.

More than 30 participants including schools, Scout troops, musket men, dancers, the Stony Brook University Marching Band and Wolfie, SBU’s mascot, marched along the route or rode in floats decorated with holiday lights. This year John Tsunis, owner of the Holiday Inn Express in Stony Brook, a partner at Tsunis Gasparis, LLP and chairman and CEO of Gold Coast Bank, served as grand marshal.

Residents wearing Santa hats and lighted headgear and necklaces added to the festive mood. At the end of the route, attendees gathered at East Setauket Pond Park near Shore Road for a tree lighting where Santa was on hand to greet children, and Fratelli’s Bagel Express served hot chocolate to help everyone warm up after a chilly night.

Charlie Ziegler, director of operations of the Holiday Inn Express-Stony Brook, Denean Marie Lane, manager of the Holiday Inn Express, and presenters Laura Dooling, Shantae Rodriguez, and Anthony Zenkus from the Blue Campaign. Photo from the Holiday Inn Express Stony Brook

A Stony Brook hotel is doing its part to help stop sex trafficking on Long Island.

“They’re the ones walking the halls all day long so if they see something out of place, they can let us know.”

— Charlie Ziegler

The Holiday Inn Express Stony Brook says it is the first hotel on Long Island to offer an employee seminar on how to spot victims of human trafficking. John Tsunis, the hotel’s owner, invited representatives from Long Island Against Trafficking, a nonprofit dedicated to creating awareness about trafficking, and Victims Information Bureau of Suffolk, which assists survivors of violence, to conduct the hour-long seminar earlier this month for all of their housekeeping and management staff.

Charlie Ziegler, director of operations at Holiday Inn Express, said while the hotel has never encountered a problem, Tsunis and its management felt the information would be invaluable to employees.

“They’re the ones walking the halls all day long so if they see something out of place, they can let us know,” Ziegler said, adding calling the authorities would be the next step.

Sue Lingenfelter, a board member of Long Island Against Trafficking, presented the idea to Tsunis at a networking event back in September, and he quickly said “yes” to the nonprofit coming in to make a presentation.

The goal of the seminar is to train staff members on how to identify victims of human sex trafficking, according to Lingenfelter, where a person is forced against their will to engage in sexual activity, and what to do if they suspect it — a crime she said that occurs often in hotels.

Both Lingenfelter and her fellow board member Shantae Rodriguez said there are a number of red flags to look out for that include: a person allowing someone else to do the talking for them; a hotel guest refusing housekeeping services but ordering more towels and linens than average; a distressed young woman with an older man; or a group of women with one man.

“You can be in the hallway, notice there was a man inside and he came out and saw another man go in, come out.”

— Sue Lingenfelter

LIAT members said sometimes a hotel guest may not want to give a full name, register a vehicle, or will ask for a room toward the back of the hotel which makes it easier for multiple people to come and go. Lingenfelter added seeing a lot of people coming and going from one hotel room is a red flag.

“You can be in the hallway, notice there was a man inside and he came out and saw another man go in, come out,” she said. “These are the signs [employees] can potentially notice. Every employee in the hotel would have a different view of things that could show that this person is being trafficked.”

Rodriguez said if someone gets a chance to talk to a suspected victim, they may find out the person doesn’t know what day it is or what town they are in due to being moved from one location to another constantly by the trafficker.

Both board members and Ziegler felt the seminar was well received and Rodriquez said many employees asked questions.

“The fact that they’re asking questions shows that they’re engaging, and it did turn some wheels, or maybe there is something they’re looking out for,” she said.

Lingenfelter and Rodriguez said they are hoping to bring the seminar to more hotels on Long Island.

“The more education, the more seminars, the more training a hotel is willing to receive, the more that they’re able to say they’re taking a stand against this injustice and being a part of the healing of ending trafficking in this particular area,” Rodriguez said.

Ziegler said if new employees are added to the Holiday Inn Express staff or it is felt a refresher is needed, they would definitely schedule another seminar, and he said he recommends it for all hotels.

“Even if you feel you don’t have this issue going on at all, for every hotel I would absolutely do a seminar,” he said. “It only takes an hour out of everyone’s time. If it can save one victim anywhere it’s worth it.”

On Aug. 23, the Holiday Inn Express Stony Brook hosted a 4-on-4 volleyball tournament with local fire departments, including Setauket, Centereach and Selden, competing to win and raise money for the Lt. Joseph P. DiBernardo Memorial Foundation. The money raised will help to buy “bailout systems,” which are personal escape kits, for fire departments in need all over the country.

The winners of the $1,000 prize money were members of New York City Fire Department’s Watkins Station Engine 231/Ladder 120 — Darren Fenton, Patrick Tulley, Connor Norman and Anthony Edrehi. The tournament winners and John-Paul Sabbagh, from the Terryville Fire Department who won the event’s 50/50 raffle, donated their winnings back to the foundation.

The event cost $20 to enter, and the tournament was judged by John Tsunis, owner of the hotel; Joe DiBernardo Sr.; and Leah Dunaief, publisher of Times Beacon Record News Media. Dan Keller from Stony Brook University’s athletics department served as referee.

Tsunis said the hotel hopes to make the tournament an annual event, adding, “It was a lot of fun to have all the firefighters there and all the community members we recruited to play.”

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An Aug. 23 volleyball tournament will help raise funds to buy bailout systems for firefighters through the Lt. Joseph P. DiBernardo Memorial Foundation. DiBernardo, right, is pictured with his father Joseph DiBernardo Sr., left. File photo

Local firefighters are training to serve up some fun and to help members of firehouses around the country.

On Aug. 23, a 4-on-4 volleyball tournament will be held at the Holiday Inn Express Stony Brook with fire departments competing to win and raise money for the Lt. Joseph P. DiBernardo Memorial Foundation. The money raised will help to buy “bailout systems” for fire departments who lack the vital equipment. The personal escape kits are used when rescue workers find themselves in fires that are difficult to escape, like when they are a few floors up, a building collapses or there is a backdraft.

Joseph DiBernardo after recovering from shattering both his feet and breaking bones below his waist. File photo

Tanya Lee, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing, said she came up with the idea for the fundraiser when DiBernardo’s father, Joseph DiBernardo Sr., stopped by the hotel to book a workshop. Lee, who is a volunteer with the Centereach Fire Department along with her son, said she was looking for a way the hotel could give back to the community and saw DiBernardo’s visit as a sign. She said she discovered while talking to him that many fire departments in the country don’t have the funds to pay for bailout systems and the training required to use them, which together can cost up to $1,000 per firefighter depending on the manufacturer.

“It was kind of like that ‘Aha’ moment,” Lee said. “Like he walked right in when I was looking to do something for the community.”

DiBernardo Jr., who was a volunteer with the Setauket Fire Department, was one of three New York City Fire Department firefighters injured during a tenement fire in the Bronx in 2005. Three firefighters also died in the blaze, and the tragedy was called “Black Sunday.” During the fire, DiBernardo Jr. helped his fellow firefighter Jeff Cool escape the building using a rope and then secured it to a child safety guard to lower himself from a window. The rope broke, and DiBernardo Jr. fell four stories, breaking practically every bone from his waist down and shattering both feet. During his recovery in the hospital, he suffered respiratory arrest and
developed pneumonia. While DiBernardo retired as a firefighter due to his injuries, he traveled the country and assisted in safety trainings for firefighters despite the physical pain he continued to suffer, according to his father. In 2011, the firefighter died from the injuries he sustained in the 2005 Bronx fire. In 2013, the DiBernardo family, members of the Setauket Fire Department and Cool established the foundation.

“We decided to [start] the foundation, so no other firefighter would have to die due to lack of personal safety ropes,” DiBernardo Sr. said.

Lee said the 4-on-4 tournament will consist of eight teams that will compete in a 15-point game until one team is left standing. For teams that are eliminated earlier in the tournament and for spectators, there will be a Cornhole toss, raffles, food and beverages. Attendees who stay overnight at the hotel will also receive a discount on their room.

“I just want them to feel good about helping their brothers, whether they’re a fire department in Schenectady or they’re a fire department here, they’re all brothers,” Lee said.

“I just want them to feel good about helping their brothers, whether they’re a fire department in Schenectady or they’re a fire department here, they’re all brothers.”

— Tanya Lee

So far there are five teams consisting of firefighters set to participate — FDNY, Hicksville, Jericho, Selden and Centereach. Kevin Yoos, fire commissioner with the Setauket Fire District and vice president of the foundation, said volunteers in Setauket are currently organizing a team. Lee said there will also be a team consisting of Gold Coast Bank employees.

The tournament was one that John Tsunis, the owner of Holiday Inn Express Stony Brook, said he was on board from the moment he heard about it. The hotel donated $1,000 to the tournament, and it will be awarded to the winning team, according to the hotel owner. Tsunis, who is also CEO and chairman of Gold Coast Bank, said he believes in giving back to the community the hotel serves.

“We’re not big hotels in Las Vegas or international banks in New York City,” Tsunis said. “We’re neighbors and friends, and we work together, and we live together.”

DiBernardo Sr., who is a retired FDNY firefighter, said his son wanted to fight fires since he was a kid. He would play with fire trucks as a child, and when he was a bit older, would visit his father at work at his station house in Brooklyn.

When he was 18, DiBernardo Jr. became a fire alarm dispatcher on Long Island, and the next year he became a volunteer with the Setauket Fire Department, according to his father. During his tenure with the department, he became a lieutenant and captain. In 1993, DiBernardo Jr. became an FDNY fire alarm dispatcher, and in 1995, his dream of becoming a firefighter in the city was achieved.

“That’s what he always wanted,” the father said. “It’s nice to see your son achieve his dreams.”

The father said he was touched when he heard about the volleyball tournament and the $1,000 donation.

“Someone would care in the community to do something for us like that … it’s fantastic,” he said.

The Holiday Inn Express Stony Brook is located at 3131 Nesconset Highway, Stony Brook. Entry donation is $20 for players and spectators and includes food and beverages. For more details about the event, contact Tanya Lee at 631-471-8000. Or visit www.facebook.com/HIExpressSB/ for a link to sign up. For more information on the Lt. Joseph P. DiBernardo Memorial Foundation, visit www.joeydfoundation.org.