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Middle Country

Legislator Nick Caracappa and Dawn Sharrock during TBR News Media’s in-person debate on Oct. 22. Photos by Julianne Mosher

County Legislator Nick Caracappa (R-Selden) is on the ballot again to keep his seat for the 4th District. 

After winning his seat in a special election following the death of Legislator Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma) in 2020, the 54-year-old father of five said he is “here for the people.”

“No one advocates harder than I do for the hardworking middle class,” he said. 

Previously, Caracappa was president of Local 393 Utility Workers Union of America and served as a trustee of the utility union’s national executive board. He worked for the Suffolk County Water Authority in maintenance for 34 years and was on the Middle Country school board for seven years. 

“I’ve been involved with my community since my first child was born,” he said. “I asked myself right away, ‘How can I make my family, my children’s lives better, while at the same time making my community better?’”

And it’s been a family affair for Caracappa. His mother, the late Rose Caracappa, was a county legislator and community advocate throughout most of his life.

“She’s the reason I’m sitting here today,” he said. “Seeing her service really struck a chord with me at a young age — I’m so thankful I had that opportunity. I wouldn’t know the value of giving back to the community the way she did and it’s very big shoes to fill.” 

His opponent, Dawn Sharrock, running on the Democratic Party line, has spent the last six years on the same school board, which includes serving as chairperson of the legislative committee. 

The 46-year-old mother of two high school-aged girls has lived in Selden with her husband for 19 years.

Sharrock is also on the executive committee of the Nassau-Suffolk School Boards Association —serving as chair of its finance committee — and is a board member of Reform Educational Financing Inequities Today, a consortium of school districts supporting equitable school funding.

“That’s really what is the catalyst to have me sitting here before you and wanting to run for county legislator,” she said during TBR News Media’s in-person debate last week. “It’s been my leadership on that committee, and the things that I was able to accomplish with working with elected officials on both sides of the aisle, that helped to get legislation passed.”

One of her greatest accomplishments, she said, was her help with getting swing-arm cameras onto school buses.

“I was instrumental in getting that legislation passed,” she said, noting that she helped work alongside both state and county officials to get the resolution passed.

COVID-19 and small business

Sharrock said that the COVID-19 pandemic divided the community and believes that it “has been politicized a lot.”

“I think as an effective leader, you are someone who has to bring people to the middle, and if you’re not doing that, you’re not being effective in the job that you’re in,” she said.

A main concern is small businesses which suffered during the pandemic.  

“We have to make sure that is something when we come to the table, we are remembering that small businesses, along with union jobs, they’re the backbone of our communities,” she added. “That doesn’t mean we don’t need big corporations, and that they’re not also beneficial to our communities, but the small businesses in particular, we really need to make sure that they’re able to strive and they’re able to continue.”

Sharrock believes that the county needs to do better budgeting, and make sure that grants are available from the federal level. She wants to make sure that “money is going where it is supposed to.”

Caracappa, a small business owner himself, agreed and noted that there were certain businesses across the country receiving PPP money that were not qualified.

“I think we need to have watchdog groups,” he said. “We need to make sure that there are advisories that are making sure that this money is being used where it was intended to be used for.”

He added that small businesses need to thrive in his district because they help grow the economy.

“The people that own the smaller businesses live within that community, as well,” he said. “So they’re giving back to that economy, they’re helping grow that economy, they’re very much active within that community and the schools.”

In the 4th District, Caracappa said that the ratio of big business to small business is greater for the small businesses — even the franchises along Route 25, which are owned by local families. 

“Our district represents probably a core of hardworking middle-class families more than anything else,” he said, adding that over the last year he has worked alongside the Town of Brookhaven, the local chambers of commerce and the IDA to help develop the area.

The two runners butt heads when it came to discussion of vaccines: Sharrock believes that the well-being of the community is important, and criticized Caracappa for holding an “anti-mandate” rally earlier this month in support of industry workers who are being let go of their jobs for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine.

Caracappa is vaccinated, himself, as are his family and staff.

“I would never say do not get vaccinated,” he said. “That is your choice to get vaccinated. I stand by that — those are constitutional rights.”

Sharrock said that a role of someone in government is to be “proactive instead of reactive.”

“I think that those are some of the things that I would bring to this seat is just being proactive, not necessarily reacting to a situation,” she said. “Make sure these things are happening the way they should before they actually go wrong.”

Environment

Caracappa has been vocal in his concern for the local environment and said he has been working to get more federal funding into the 4th District. 

“I work hard with my colleagues,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if they’re Republicans or Democrats — to get proper sewage in the ground.”

An immediate concern he said is the local waterways and our coastal communities which need sewage in the ground to replace cesspools.

Aa a longtime employee at SCWA, Caracappa said that we need to protect the aquifer and if we don’t, “we’re going to be in big trouble.”

While water quality is his main concern, he added that the advancement of local roadways will continuously be a challenge. Over the summer, he and a bipartisan group of his legislative colleagues, wrote a letter to former Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) asking for more money to be sent to the county to repair potholes. The letter resulted in an allocation of $30 million to roadway repairs, and a change in repair timeline from 2024-25 to 2022-23, Caracappa said.

Sharrock agreed that the environment and waterways need to be fixed.

“We have no more time left to not worry about the environment or the waterways, we have to make sure that we’re putting the resources in to make sure that we are protecting the environment, that we are protecting our drinking water,” she said. “And I’m not really sure what is happening — where is this money being put? These are the types of things that I want to know, and I want to when I’m sitting on the county Legislature.”

She said that we need “to make sure we’re leaving an environment for our grandchildren and their children and their children. We have to make sure we’re putting it into where it needs to go.”

Affordable housing

When asked about keeping young people on Long Island, Caracappa said his district has the most projects being built and worked on for lower income and affordable housing opportunities. 

“These opportunities are not only for young couples, but I’d like to see the young couples move into our homes,” he said, adding that empty nesters and senior citizens who cannot take care of a large property anymore need opportunities for more affordable living. 

Sharrock believes that creating goodpaying jobs that allow young people to stay is key. 

“If we want to be able to keep generations here, I think the jobs are very important,” she said. “We need to talk about growing apprenticeship programs so that we are making sure kids who are leaving high school are on a path.”

Crime and police

Sharrock said that law enforcement is one of “the toughest jobs and most important jobs out there.”

“They’re keeping our community safe,” she said. “I think that their pay should reflect that they put their lives on the line every day for us.”

She said that she supported the reform that was recently put out and was “needed, balancing out the People’s Plan.”

Caracappa, who was endorsed by the Suffolk County PBA, said that he “absolutely supports law enforcement.”

“That doesn’t mean they’re not accountable for their actions,” he said. “There are bad cops, bad teachers and bad priests, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to brush a broad stroke over the entire department, because it’s one or two bad cops out there.”

He believes that accountability is necessary, and is a huge advocate for body cams, “not only to protect police officers and the citizens, but also protect the county.”

Sharrock also supports body cams, adding, “It’s important for them and for the community.”

File photo by Desirée Keegan

For the past six years, Suffolk County Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) has represented Legislative District 12, which includes the southern section of the Town of Smithtown and western Brookhaven. This year she is running once again, and while Mike Siderakis will be listed as the Democratic candidate come election day, the candidate who ran unsuccessfully for state senator against Mario Mattera (R-St. James) last year stopped actively campaigning this summer.

Before taking on the role of county legislator, Kennedy worked for 13 years as a legislative aide for Donald Blydenburgh (R-Smithtown) and her husband John Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset), who for the last six years has been Suffolk County comptroller. When her husband won his bid for the comptroller’s seat, she stepped into his former position in a special election six months before she had to run again.

“I love my job,” Kennedy said during a recent phone interview with TBR News Media.

COVID-19

Kennedy said the last two years have been tough dealing with the issues the pandemic has presented as well as the restrictions that went along with it to curb the virus. She said the changing rules made it challenging.

“It created all sorts of new issues,” she said.

The former nurse said she believes in wearing masks and getting vaccinated, but she did take issue with the state’s shutdown orders of businesses. The legislator and her office staff were busy earlier in the year helping residents get immunized when it was first difficult to find appointments. She said they secured more than 500 vaccination appointments. “I think that our purpose should be to aid and assist human beings and not to torture them,” she said.

Kennedy also said she is concerned with some of the anti-mask and anti-vaccine rallies and some of the information and arguments that are out there, even though she respects everyone’s rights to express their concerns and opinions.

“They have the right to their opinions, but let me tell you my opinion and how I feel the way I do,” she said. “And then you can keep your opinion or you can think about mine.”

Legislative bills

Kennedy said regarding sponsoring bills she chooses wisely. “I tried to put in a limited amount of bills and just do more government,” she said.

She is most proud of her initiatives that have helped preserve land, and the legislator said it’s important to get out there and meet with all of the people involved and discuss all the options with them.

An example of her preservation efforts is the 2018 acquisition and preservation of the Hauppauge Springs that she led along with Seatuck Environmental Association. The 42-acre property is located on the south side of Route 347 in Hauppauge and there had been a builder interested in constructing eight houses on land at part of one of the headwaters of the Nissequogue River. 

Kennedy said she made sure to meet with both the owner of the property and the builder’s lawyer. It was an issue the county legislator was extremely familiar with, as she said it was on the county’s list of environmentally sensitive priority properties for more than 20 years.

“Putting up those houses would have been the end of the Nissequogue River,” she said, adding waste from them would go into the headwaters.

County budget

With more money coming the county’s way in 2022 due to COVID-19 aid, Kennedy said she agrees with paying off pension debts and other monies the county borrowed. However, she said Suffolk should also save as much as possible because she fears it will run out of funds by 2023.

“I would love to give everybody who wants things everything, but we can’t,” she said.

The 12th Legislative District includes Smithtown, Nesconset, Hauppauge, the Village of the Branch, Lake Grove and parts of St. James, Commack, Lake Ronkonkoma and Centereach. The district is bounded roughly by Route 25 to the north, Commack Road to the west, Townline Road to the south, and Oxhead Road to the east, with Veterans Memorial Highway running through the heart of the district northwest to southeast.

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Centereach High School

Middle Country Central School District announced its top scholars for the class of 2021. 

Photo from MCCSD

Isabel Rodriguez of Newfield High School and Aryan Sharma of Centereach High School have been honored as this year’s valedictorians, while Ilssa Siddiqui of NHS and Priyansh Parikh of CHS have been named salutatorians.

“As we approach the conclusion of the 2020-2021 school year, it is my distinct honor and privilege to celebrate the Class of 2021’s valedictorians and salutatorians — Isabel, Aryan, Ilsaa, and Priyansh,” said Roberta Gerold, superintendent of schools. “The district is immensely proud of each of you for your ambition to adapt to, and succeed in, the scholastic challenges that were presented throughout this school year. We applaud the four of you for your stellar academic achievements and commitment to the Middle Country community. We are confident that you will continue to achieve great things in the next chapter of your lives.”

Isabel carries a 102.6042 weighted GPA at Newfield with the potential to graduate with more than 40 college credits. In addition to her academic pursuits, Isabel serves as the treasurer for the Foreign Language Honor Society and vice president of the National Honor Society. She’s also a member of the Pit Orchestra, class of 2021 student government, the Leadership Club, Environmental Club, Tri-M Music Honor Society, and member of Newfield’s girls’ varsity soccer team. This coming fall, Isabel will be attending Vassar College.

Ilsaa, who is known for her incredible work ethic, achieved a weighted GPA of 102.1250 as salutatorian at Newfield. 

Coupled with her academics, Ilsaa has served as a member of Gerold’s Leadership Club, vice president of the Environmental Club, secretary of the Foreign Language Club, is currently a member of DECA, vice president of the National Technical Honor Society, secretary of the National Honor Society, and senior editor of the Yearbook Club. She has also volunteered at the Selden Mosque as an assistant teacher. Ilsaa has committed to Hamilton College where she hopes to pursue a career in either computer science or pre-law.

During his tenure at Centereach High School, Aryan’s academic fortitude has afforded him a weighted GPA of 102.00. For the last two years of his high school journey, Aryan’s academic workload consisted of all AP courses. 

His success in these courses helped him attain National AP Scholar status. Outside of the classroom, Aryan is active in extracurricular activities and community service. He is currently the GO vice president, and formerly held the position of junior class treasurer. Aryan is a member of the National Honor Society, the Spanish Honor Society, the National Technical Honor Society, the math team, and countless other clubs which he primarily serves in a leadership capacity. 

Aryan has been accepted to, and will attend, Stony Brook University in the fall where he will study biochemistry with plans to pursue a career as a cardiothoracic surgeon.

Centereach High School’s salutatorian Priyansh has excelled throughout his academic career and will graduate with a weighted GPA of 101.8. Priyansh’s academic workload has been punctuated with several AP courses, in which he excelled. 

He was recognized by the College Board as an AP Scholar with Distinction. Priyansh is involved in a multitude of extracurricular activities in school and in the community. In his role as GO treasurer, he played an active role in all of the activities that take place in the high school. Priyansh is also a member of the National Honor Society, National Spanish Honor Society, DECA Club, and participated on the winter track team. 

Photo from MCCSD

Post-graduation, Priyansh plans to attend Penn State University where he will pursue a degree in computer science.

Amongst the Middle Country Public Library’s many historical artifacts are a few that explain just how far the area has come from its pastoral roots. The picture and story below comes courtesy of a collaborative effort among the librarian staff.

This beautifully embroidered map was gifted to Middle Country Public Library, and is part of the Heritage Collection, the library’s local history archives. 

It shows a detailed and unique view of Centereach as it stood in 1937. Oriented in a west to east view from top to bottom, we can see the landmarks and homesteads that residents would visit and pass by daily. 

Near the top right of the image, we can see the New Village First Congregational Church prominently featured in white, just south of the Fairgrounds. It was such a major landmark that it needed no caption. The steeple, front door and footpath are skillfully embroidered in. Homes of many residents (Overton, Emery, Olsen, Ulrich, Duffield, Campbell, Moen, Scudder and Alvin Smith, Bertram, to name a few) are painstakingly labeled along with many prominent businesses. 

William Tobin’s “Ontheway” Rest, located on the northwest corner of Middle Country Road and Stony Brook Road served as a gasoline station and featured a lunch stand that Mrs. Tobin ran on the adjoining property. 

Other establishments depicted include the barbershop, the grocery store, Homeside Nursery, the lumber yard and Carl’s Tavern, along with the Wilkinson, Williams, Moller and Murray farms. 

If you look closely, a hen and her chicks are carefully stitched in, foraging about the Wilkinson’s farmyard. The fire house, fair grounds, and schools (both the existing and proposed new school sites), the Parsonage and Parish Hall are all here. 

Streets are not labeled, but we know that Middle Country Road runs from top to bottom down the center of the panel and we can see where paving is incomplete on the right margin (the north side of the map). The New Village Congregational Church which stands today on Middle Country Road just west of Elliot Avenue and residences such as the Henry house help us determine the location of other streets. 

We know that the Henry homestead was located at the corner of Middle Country Road and North Washington Avenue. We can also see William Wortley’s gas station which was situated on the south side of Middle Country Road opposite Wood Road, where the barbershop stands embroidered with the traditional red and white pole. 

For an entertaining treasure hunt, take a look to discover what other family names and landmarks you can find. More names and places can be found on this map than we could list here. Have fun!

 

Comsewogue’s Brendan Topper makes the play at first in a road game against Newfield June 5. Bill Landon photo

Trailing Newfield 2-1 to open the 4th inning, Comsewogue loaded the bases when Christopher Valazquez laid off a pitch for the walk to plate Aaron Freidman to tie the score, but it was Dominic Schuch’s bat that spoke next for a base clearing inside the park grand slam homerun to jump out front for a 6-2 lead.

But Newfield chipped away at the deficit loading the bases in the bottom of the 4th inning plating a runner when the batter was hit by a pitch then Mike Madina drove in Stephen Lumme and Dylan Johnson. Newfield’s Joe Hackel scored on a passed ball in the bottom 6th inning to make it a one run game when Medina struck again with a 2 run rbi double to take a 10-9 lead to open the 7th inning.

Newfield’s defense prevailed to close out the one run victory.

With the win Newfield improves to 13-2 for the top spot in league III with 3 games left on their schedule while the loss drops Comsewogue to 7-8.

Post season play begins Tuesday June 15. 

It was Ward Melville senior midfielder Summer Agostino who stole the show notching six goals for the Patriots in a Division I match up against Middle Country to lead her team to a 15-8 victory on the road May 10.

Kate Spinks’ goal with seven minutes left earned the freshman her hat-trick, and midfielder Amanda Lee and Jillian Gironda both scored twice.

Middle Country senior Alyssa Oddo found the back of the net on two occasions, as did sophomore’s Kate Timarky and Juliana Speziale. Sophomores Olivia Annuziata and Kaitlyn Ippolito each had one goal apiece.

Freshman goalie Ava Carillo had nine saves in net for the Patriots as Middle Country’s Tabitha Bernstein stopped seven.

The win lifts the Patriots 2-1 as the loss keeps Middle Country searching for their first win of this early COVID-compressed season.

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Amongst the Middle Country Public Library’s many historical artifacts are a few that explain just how far the area has come from its pastoral roots. The picture and story below comes courtesy of a collaborative effort among the librarian staff.

Over the years, a variety of land developers purchased acreage in the Centereach area even as far back as 1896, despite its distance from New York City. 

It took until the 1940s and 1950s for construction to begin in earnest. 

Shortly after WWII, the Ulrich family developed Cedarwood Park on the north side of Middle Country Road in the vicinity of Elliot Avenue, Lake Grove. Roads were put in and building lots surveyed and improved. The lots sold for $250 each with a down payment of just $10.

The rural landscape of Centereach began to change dramatically in the middle of the 20th century when the Kaplan firm began to build low-priced homes in a development named Dawn Estates. Homes in this development sold for $7,000. 

While the Kaplan brothers were among the first developers, the Krinsky Organization followed them with an even larger project. Fifteen hundred homes were to be built on a 400-acre site, but there were concerns about this project from the start. 

Doubters cited its remote location and the difficulty of obtaining necessary public utilities in what was considered an isolated area. These worries were soon overcome when the Krinsky Organization created its own water company with the capacity to serve 10,000 families. 

In addition, the Long Island Lighting Company agreed to extend its gas lines more than six miles beyond the existing distribution limit, bringing in electricity to serve the new homes.

On Sept. 6, 1953, the front page of the New York Times real estate section featured a picture of the new Eastwood Village exhibit home with its raised-hearth fireplace and its combination living-dining-kitchen area. 

While the first year’s sales were slow, within five years 1,250 homes had been sold. The prices for these homes ranged from $9,990 to $13,500. 

In 1954, Eastwood Village became a multiple builder venture as other builders erected models on already improved building sites. By 1958, 2,500 homes had been sold in the development. Due to expanding job opportunities and the availability of larger houses on bigger sites, increasing numbers of people flocked to the area. 

A study by Klein and Parker Realty in 1954 indicated that 60% of those looking at Eastwood Village came from Queens and Nassau, 20% from Manhattan and the remainder from other boroughs and New Jersey. 

It has been said that so many people came to Centereach from New York City that it became known as “a portion of Brooklyn in Suffolk County.”

In 1957, the American Institute of Architects selected Hausman & Rosenberg’s  Eastwood Village model as a winner in the annual “Homes for Better Living” competition. Cited for its architecture and original design, the home won the award in the A.I.A’s Class A category for merchant-built homes under $15,000.

With the influx of new residents came the need for more services. The first supermarkets in the area were Acme Supermarket, Hills, A&P and the Blue Jay Market. Benkert’s of Centereach and Smiles 5&10 became favorite haunts. 

In 1963, the Prudential Movie Theatre made its debut and the following year, Suffolk Federal Savings moved into its new headquarters on the south side of Middle Country Road. As a variety of stores, shopping centers and businesses appeared, the remaining farms began to fade from the landscape. 

The 400 acres of land described as “a wilderness covered with heavy timber” purchased in 1790 by Isaac Hammond of Coram for 100 pounds sterling ($250) has evolved into the largest Hamlet in the Town of Brookhaven (Three Village Herald, July 15-22, 1977).

From left to right: Frank Mathews, Corinne Behrens and Isabella Zimmerman. These three Centereach High School seniors chose to get vaccinated this month and are encouraging their friends and families to do the same. Photo by Julianne Mosher

It’s a month since Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced that all New Yorkers ages 16 and over would be eligible for vaccinations as from April 6.

Three seniors at Centereach High School took advantage of the vaccine earlier this month and wanted to share why they chose to do it and why they feel their friends should, too.

Corinne Behrens, 17, got her first dose of the Pfizer shot on April 21, said she chose to get the vaccine because she battled COVID-19 last year and didn’t want to experience that pain again. 

“My dad works in a hospital, so he got COVID last year right at the beginning, and then my brother and I both got it,” she said. “I actually had the worst symptoms of my family. For a solid month, I was out of it.”

Behrens said that after experiencing the horrors of the illness firsthand, living with a frontline worker, she knows the shot will bring things back to normal.

“I definitely have a couple of friends who are anti-mask wearers, and also who don’t think the vaccine is going to do anything,” she said. “They find it all pointless, and that COVID is just like a laughing matter, a big joke.”

But she hopes by sharing that she believes in the science, that others will “take it more seriously, especially definitely with the new variants.”

“We’re still finding out new things about it,” Behrens added. “And it’s definitely something that everyone should take seriously, because people have it and people are still dying.”

She said she’s looking forward to when there are less restrictions for her day-to-day life and for the time where she can sit around a campfire with her friends, again. She hopes to pick up where 2020 left off.

“Everything that I had planned out already wasn’t going to happen,” Behrens said. She missed out on visiting colleges, taking her SATs and fundraising with her school clubs for trips and events that would have normally taken place if it weren’t for the virus.

“Definitely try to get the vaccine if you can,” she advised. “Because then we’re all spending less time in this situation, and we all just want to get out of it and go back to our normal lives without a mask.”

Frank Mathews, 18, said that getting the vaccine was a no-brainer, opting to get it even earlier than his peers because he works at a supermarket. Mathews said his household has several high-risk individuals who he wanted to keep safe as he worked in the public throughout the pandemic. 

When he got his Pfizer shots in March, he was just sore at first but with the second dose he felt ill. In the end, he felt the day in bed was better than contracting coronavirus.

“It’s better to be prepared for it, rather than to give up,” he said. “Especially because we’re all young, high school kids. So, I think it’s better for us to get it now.”

Mathews said he knows a lot of people who are against the vaccine and wearing masks, and he understands their concerns. 

The senior who plans on attending Suffolk County Community College said he’s looking forward to going camping again, and having a sense of normalcy. He said his 16-year-old brother and older brother decided to get their vaccines, too. This extra line of protection in his home gives him hope that life can pick up where it left off. 

“We all have to act together on this,” he said. “We all have to keep our masks up, you know, wearing them properly, too. All these things are all factors to contribute and everything we all have to do together, and that’s the only way we can get through this properly.”

Isabella Zimmerman, 18, who committed to Utica College to study physical therapy, was unsure about getting the vaccine at first. 

“I was on the fence just because obviously I want my life back,” she said. “I want to be able to do things and not worry. But at the same time, it’s so early that we don’t know what’s going to happen in the future.”

After weighing the pros and the cons, Zimmerman decided to get her Pfizer shot the first week of April.

“I feel like, at the same time, if they’re making it so accessible it can’t be that dangerous,” she said.

Her parents both got the shot, she said, and gave her the option to choose for herself. 

“But I feel we don’t have much of a decision anymore because we’re at the point where we want to be young, and live our lives and travel still,” she said. “And all those things pretty much require a vaccine.”

She said at this point it was easier to get the vaccine instead of constantly worrying what she was allowed and not allowed to do. 

Zimmerman said she felt discouraged this year because she missed out on the highlights of her junior and senior years.

“I feel not enough people are acknowledging it, how hard it is on us,” she said. “It’s so hard to keep coming in and paying attention when everything is virtual or there’s nothing fun to do after school.”

By getting her vaccine, she said she’s looking forward to working her summer jobs hopefully without a mask, and getting back to her life prepandemic. 

“Going into college, it’d be nice to have some kind of group gatherings and parties to meet people,” she said. “It’s going to be hard going to school, especially if you’re going away … you don’t know anyone and there are no group gatherings. No one wants to become friends over Zoom.”

People can take as many pictures of their friends at the new interactive selfie museum. Photo by Julianne Mosher

It’s a new place to play and all are welcomed to it. 

Popup Speakeasy is an interactive photobooth museum, that allows people to come in and take as many pictures in different settings. 

“It really is for us a place where people can be creative,” said co-owner Catherine Ovejas. “It’s a selfie studio, you come and take your own pictures, or can come with a photographer, and you get access to the whole studio.”

Located at 1860 Pond Road in Ronkonkoma, like a speakeasy of the past, it’s hidden in plain sight. From the outside of the building, one wouldn’t know what to expect when they walk through the front door — a warehouse of 14 different stations from all different eras and scenes. 

Ovejas said that each season the stations will change.

Visitors of the Popup Speakeasy can choose from 14 different photobooth stations. Photo by Julianne Mosher

But right now, there’s a “record room,” decorated with a wall of vinyls and a boombox, a picnic scene where friends can pretend to pop champagne, and a pink repurposed Volkswagen bus tucked away in the back. 

“It’s a nod to pop culture,” she said. “I love retro things. So, you will see a lot of vintage things … things from the 70s, 80s and 90s.”

She said the idea for a selfie museum came amidst the pandemic. Between production, construction and the creation of each theme, they began the process a little more than six months ago, choosing Ronkonkoma as a central location that everyone interested can get to.

As far as she and her team know, she said, this is the first selfie studio in the whole state. 

“There are pop-up photo experiences that have taken place in and around Manhattan,” she said. “But those are more of a museum-type experience where you’re taking pictures of the exhibits, not so much of yourself.”

Oveja encourages visitors to express themselves. 

“We want you to go crazy,” she said. “We want you to interact with the scenes and the different themes and make it your own story.”

She added, “It’s not about looking at an exhibit and admiring it from a distance. I want you to actually bring your personality into the theme.”

For just $25 an hour (at the adult rate), visitors get access to the whole studio. Using an online booking system, the space is reservation-only. Social distancing is required, as are masks — except for when a quick photo is being taken in the scene.

Oveja said they are allowing one group at a time, and the whole studio (plus the props) are sanitized before and after each use.

Children are also encouraged to come and enjoy the studio, where kids ages five to 12 are just $15.

“This is a judgment free zone, we want you to be yourself, have a great time and bring your own personality to the table,” she said.

Co-owner Jose Rivera said the ultimate goal is to franchise, and those future locations will have their own vibe. 

“There’s no limit to how far we can go how far we can go,” he said. “We’re looking forward to collaborating with as many businesses as we can.”

To make reservations, visit popupspeakeasy.com.

Photo by Julianne Mosher

There’s a place for people of all abilities to play soccer, and it’s right in Centereach.

TOPSoccer is a new program within Middle Country Children’s Soccer devoted solely to children with physical, mental or behavioral disabilities.

Rob Draper, a financial advisor at Draper Asset Management in Smithtown and club president of SB Athletico Soccer Club, said he wanted to provide a place where all different types of people can run, play and score goals together without judgment or fear. 

“Soccer helped me experience my kids’ childhoods,” he said. “With soccer, there were times where I would go, ‘Wow. That’s great,’ and our goal is to give those moments to these parents so they can experience it, too.”

Draper teamed up with Dave Phaff, also of SB Athletico, and James Malone, president of Middle Country Children’s Soccer to make this dream a reality.

“We’re all just good-hearted people that just really enjoy working with children and watching them grow into young women and men,” Phaff said. 

Officially kicking off last weekend, the program is made up primarily of skills sessions that help teach the participants the game of soccer, while at the same time providing them with an environment that is fun and pressure-free.

Phaff said the whole process took less than three months to get off the ground, and everyone was immediately on board. 

Joining the team is Tara Phaff, Dave’s wife — who is also a Doctor of Physical Therapy — who helped create the best plans for each individual participant’s needs.   

According to Middle Country TOPSoccer, the team encourages any child or adult who is differently-abled to get involved — and its 100% free.

With no questions asked, Draper wanted to fund the program for the families who decide to join in.

“Rob said to me, ‘I really want to start a special needs soccer program and I’ll fully fund it. I don’t care what it costs, I’ll fund it,’” Phaff added. “He has a great heart.”

While other soccer clubs do encourage inclusivity, Phaff said there aren’t too many locations where kids of different abilities can play further out east. That’s why Centereach was a great, central spot to get the ball rolling.

On Saturday, April 10, the group held its opening day at Oxhead Road Elementary School where 25 individuals, ranging in ages five to 55, headed to the field to kick, run and enjoy the sunshine. 

Some of the participants have Down syndrome, some on the autism spectrum and two children were able to play soccer from their wheelchairs. One thing they all had in common was the giant smiles on their faces.

Each player, Phaff said, gets a buddy that works with them every practice. These buddies are volunteers and soccer players, themselves, who help the individual and stand beside them the whole time — and they are anticipating even more players to come join them this season.

“The whole purpose of this is to give these kids an opportunity to be accepted and feel like they are part of something,” Phaff said. “So, we won’t turn anybody down.”

TOPSoccer has their practices every Saturday at 10 a.m. at Oxhead Elementary School in Centereach. Families who are interested in joining can register online at mccsoccer.org.