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Nonprofit

Photo from Samantha Schwab

The goal is to help people in need and break the stigma surrounding “that time of the month.”

Samantha Schwab, a 17-year-old junior at Comsewogue High School decided last year that she wanted to become involved with a national group that has a very specific cause — menstrual products.

Her Drive is a Chicago-based nonprofit that provides bras, menstrual care and general hygiene products to people in need in an effort to combat period and hygiene poverty.

“I love the idea around it,” she said. “We have no idea how [limited access to personal and hygiene products] impacts people in our community.”

Photo from Samantha Schwab

From May 7 through June 9, people can donate products to the pink-colored box inside the Comsewogue Public Library — located at 170 Terryville Road in Port Jefferson Station.

Accepted donations include pads, tampons, individually wrapped pantyliners, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, deodorant, toothpaste, masks, baby wipes, diapers, bras and socks. 

Schwab said this is the very first local drive for the organization on all of Long Island. So far, she has received 6,000 menstrual products and 300 general hygiene products from the one location.

“I am overwhelmed by the generosity in the community,” she said. “My house is currently filled with boxes, and it makes me feel good to know that we’re helping people in need.”

She said that she will soon be dispersing the products among several local nonprofits, including Give Kids Hope Inc., in Port Jefferson Station.  

People who want to donate to the local Her Drive efforts can drop off products to the library or send Schwab a package using her Amazon Wishlist here.

 

Photo by Julianne Mosher

In an ongoing process to keep Nikola Tesla’s legacy alive on Long Island’s North Shore, the first-ever “Metal for Tesla” event was recently held, benefiting both the environment and the nonprofit’s cause.

The Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, located in Shoreham, is Nikola Tesla’s last remaining laboratory. A sad, but interesting history, the lab has been working toward becoming a science museum, that celebrates science, along with the history and contributions of the famed scientist and inventor. 

But the funds aren’t always easy to come by, and it’s taken the support from dozens of sponsors, fundraising, grants and crowdsourcing to get where they are today. 

On Saturday, March 20 from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m., over 250 people attended the site and more than 16,000 people around the world shared the event to recycle in their areas and donate to the Tesla Center online. The center partnered with Gershow Recycling. 

Science Center Executive Director Marc Alessi said they have recycled metal on the premise before, and since taking over the site, have recycled up to 62 tons (or 124,000 pounds) of metal. That has equated to be about $6,500.

This year, they raised approximately $9,500 in metal, plus the value of four cars, to support the rebuilding of Tesla’s lab into a museum and global science center for all. 

“It’s money that goes toward the mission, which is rehabilitating the lab and opening it to the public,” Alessi said. “But the mission is also spreading Nikola Tesla’s ethos … he was someone that was advocating for sustainability, conservation and the use of renewable energies in the 1890s. And in retrospect, he was right on the money.”

A man before his time

Alessi said that during the height of Tesla’s career, people didn’t know what he was trying to do. Born in what is now Croatia, and of Serbian descent, Nikola Tesla immigrated to the United States in 1884.

“But he was a man of the world,” Alessi said. 

He began working at the Edison Corporation, where he was immediately seen as a genius. Upon his research, he began realizing that alternating current systems — compared to Edison’s direct current systems — would be more beneficial and safer option. 

“With one power plant, you can power many neighborhoods and factories,” Alessi said. “Under Tesla’s use of AC, and the way he put it together, it could power motors …. Direct current, you would need a power plant every two miles. Can you imagine what our environment would be like if they tried to electrify doing that?”

He believed that energy didn’t have to be a rich man’s luxury. Energy could be available to all and powered naturally. He believed he could power the whole Northeastern seaboard with Niagara Falls. 

Tesla and Edison became engrossed in a battle, leaving Tesla to attempt to start his own company with plenty of struggle. Throughout his career, he had his ups and downs.

“Even though he had over 200 patents and invented radio, remote control, the speedometer, and the technology behind neon lighting, fluorescent lighting and early forms of X-ray,”  Alessi said, “Tesla didn’t look at other inventors as competition.”

For example, Guglielmo Marconi used 17 of Tesla’s patents to help create his single transmission. 

In the early 1900s Tesla acquired the Wardenclyffe property in Shoreham to test his theories of being able to wirelessly transmit electrical messages, funded by J.P. Morgan. The property housed a huge 187-foot tower for the purpose.

In 1903 creditors confiscated his equipment, and in 1917 the tower was demolished. The concrete feet used to hold the structure can still be seen on the property today. 

Tesla was eventually cut off, causing him to lose control of the site. The property became a film processing company in the early 30s, where harsh chemicals were dumped into the ground. The contaminated property was sold again and became shuttered in 1987. 

A decades-long cleanup ensued, and in 2007 the property was put back up for sale. 

The community — locally, nationally and even internationally — came together to fundraise to buy the property, preserve it and make it a real historic site. 

“They did a crowdfunding on Indiegogo, and at the time, it set a world record,” Alessi said. “They raised 1.4 million in six weeks, from 108 countries and 50 states — 33,000 donors,”

The site

Over the last few years, things have been moving along for the Tesla Science Center site. Through more fundraising and big-name sponsors (like Elon Musk who contributed some money), plans are continuously on the way. 

In September, renovations were completed on the chimney and cupola of Tesla’s historic laboratory, originally constructed by architect Stanford White in 1902. This project was funded by a grant from the Robert Lion Gardiner Foundation — a foundation here on Long Island that focuses on funding to restore historic sites.

Alessi said the project costs about $20 million and so far, $10.2 million has been raised. Permits with the town and DEC are still under review to begin working on the site’s visitor center — a small white house in the front of the property, which had nothing to do with Tesla. He’s hoping for the demo permit and the center to be completed this year. 

“We will continue to raise capital,” he said. “We need at least five-to-10 million to finish the lab building and put exhibits there.”

Part of the process includes rebuilding the significant 187-foot tower that was once on the property.

“It was the tallest structure on Long Island, it went up almost 200-feet into the ground,” Alessi added.

Tesla had envisioned 14 towers around the world, with power plants similar to what the Wardenclyffe lab was. 

“The beauty of it, is this guy wanted to provide free energy to everybody,” he said. “Imagine everybody having free power with 14 power plants. It’s a beautiful story — and that’s what the part of what the tower was supposed to be.”

Bringing the metal back

It all comes full circle, Alessi said, and it’s quite ironic. 

“When Tesla lost control of the property, they demolished his famed tower, sold it for scrap and recycled it,” he said. “So now, we’re asking people to bring metal back to the site, so that we can restore the site, and one day we build the tower, too.”

Alessi said that since taking over the property, the center has always encouraged people to donate recycled metal to the bin on site. This year was the first time a whole event was dedicated to it. 

“This is something we plan to do every year,” Alessi said. “It helps raise funding for the lab, but it also helps celebrate who Tesla was. I think it’s a really great event.”

And people can still continue to donate metal to the cause.

“This is a guy that in the 1890s said, ‘Don’t go down the path of coal … we need to be sustainable,” Alessi said. “We need to conserve, so it makes us feel like we’re making him proud by doing this on his site.”

This article was updated to fix historical inaccuracies. 

Photo by Julianne Mosher

A pandemic couldn’t stop a group of local residents from growing their nonprofit. 

Established in 2010, Strong Island Animal Rescue is a 501c3 that focuses on answering local calls regarding injured, abused and neglected animals.

“We started out with cats and dogs, and then we saw a need for wildlife rescue,” said vice president of the rescue Erica Kutzing. 

Just last week, president of Strong Island Animal Rescue Frankie Floridia, of Port Jefferson Station, helped save a raccoon in Bohemia that was trapped in a car grill, after the driver hit it and got stuck.

Within minutes, Floridia and other volunteers safely removed the animal, who is expected to make a full recovery.

Frankie with a baby deer. Photo from Erica Kutzing

“We’re available 24, seven days a week for abandoned and abused animals,” he said. “We’re a local rescue that likes to give back to the community and we’re always here for everybody. That’s the way it’s been, and we’d like to keep it that way.”

Whether it’s a trapped raccoon, a deer with a paint can stuck on its head, a mother cat and her kittens found in a shed or an abused puppy left on the side of a road, Strong Island has dedicated their lives to helping animals. 

Kutzing, of Sound Beach, has more than two decades of animal rescue and animal medicine experience.  

“I think back to when I was 12-year-old little girl who started out more than 22 years ago,” she said. “And I don’t think I ever expected this to actually happen. It was always a dream, but seeing it come to fruition has been like an out of body experience — even though we’re doing it during a pandemic.”

Floridia said that the pandemic has made it hard for fundraising efforts, since before the lock downs they were able to hold events.

“It’s been a tough year for us, not having those events that we have usually every other month,” he said. “Fundraising is all based online now, and thank goodness for that, but we can’t wait to get back to having an event in the place and being able to do stuff like we did before.”

And just this month, they were gifted one generous donation — a new property.

Neighbors of Floridia, Valerie Rosini and Alan Haas, had owned a home in the area that they knew would help the group out. 

Right now, the location is under wraps while they clean up the space, but Floridia said he plans on using the three-acre property as a clubhouse and meeting space for their dozens of volunteers.

Erica Kutzing and Frankie Floridia in front of their secret new clubhouse in Port Jefferson, joined by pup Dolly, daughter Shea, Valarie Rosini and Alan Haas. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Surrounded by woods, wildlife roams the backyard, making it the perfect spot for animals to feel safe, while animal lovers plan their next move. 

“He wants to do something good,” Rosini said. “These guys don’t even take a salary.”

The couple said they could have sold the massive property to developers but knew that the cottage and woods surrounding it are special. If they cleared the area, birds, deer and other wildlife could have lost their home. When Rosini sold the spot to the volunteers, it became a new partnership and friendship of neighbors helping neighbors.

“Alan’s been coming down, Val’s been helping out the rescue … so it’s not only getting them motivated to be part of the rescue, as well,” Floridia said. “We’re all helping each other and we’re saving animals.”

Kutzing said the property will give them the ability to turn the space into an actual meeting space, instead of utilizing their homes. 

“Eventually we’ll be able to turn this into our dream,” she said. 

And the extra room will be helpful as the team gears toward their busy season — baby season. 

To keep doing what they’re doing, Strong Island is always looking for the public’s help in raising funds and donations. 

Floridia said people who want to contribute can follow Strong Island Animal Rescue on Facebook or Instagram, and visit strongislandanimalrescueleague.org.

“We’ve always been the type of group that gives to the community,” he said. “And hopefully, it’ll come back.”

Ryan Degnan smiles big while playing at GiGi's. Photo by Julianne Mosher

A group of Long Islanders saw a need for a safe space for people with Down syndrome and, despite COVID-19, they made it happen.

Founded in 2003, GiGi’s Playhouse is an international network of achievement centers, providing free therapeutic and educational programs for people of all ages. This month, the nonprofit’s 52nd location — and Long Island’s first — will open in Patchogue. 

But families from across both North and South shores helped bring this safe space to life. 

Mike Cirigliano, board president. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Mike Cirigliano, board president and owner of Cirigliano Agency, said that GiGi’s Playhouse Long Island will help fill a void for families of loved ones with Down syndrome. Over the course of several years, the group tried to find the perfect site, scouting locations across Long Island. They eventually settled on 100 Austin St. (in Patchogue), where they took over three of the four units inside the building. 

Located right off Sunrise Highway, he said the spot is easy for families to get to whether they come from Nassau County or the Hamptons. 

“There is a true need for this on Long Island,” he said. “This is where people can come — a place where parents who need a place to go with their child can come play, hang out.”

But it’s not just a place to chill. Board member Karyn Degnan said it will offer programs for people with a prenatal diagnosis to those adults with Down syndrome.

“Moms and dads can go to this common place to talk and share their stories,” she said. “They can grow with the center.”

The new facility offers everything from fine motor skills to speech and socialization programs, to tutoring, exercise classes and even a kitchen where young adults can learn how to cook.

The Degnan family. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Degnan, a Centereach mom of three, said two of her children have Down syndrome: Sal, who’s 11 and daughter Ryan, who’s 5.

“As my kids grow, they have a teen center there — a place where people can go as they grow into their young adulthood life,” she said. “It’s a place where they can feel like they belong.”

Cirigliano said that although the fundraising aspect and search for a spot has been years in the making, they officially signed the lease in early February. Over the last month, the group of 50-plus volunteers helped turn the office spaces into a vibrant, exciting place.

“What’s really cool is I brought my kids with me so they can see the before and after,” Degnan added. “After we were done with the construction, I could feel their positive energy and their love for it. When they were able to witness it being all done, there was this happiness that was beaming from them.”

She said her 11-year-old can’t wait to hang out there with his friends. 

Derek DeProspo plays on a toy car inside GiGi’s Playhouse. Photo by Julianne Mosher

One of those friends is Derek DeProspo, an 8-year-old from Selden who also has Down syndrome. His grandmother, Elizabeth Rahne of Selden, is GiGi’s new program director.

“It’s an incredible organization and has incredible mission,” she said. “It’s giving parents and families the support they need to help their children become the best they can be.”

Rahne said groups like the ones at GiGi’s Playhouse are important for new parents.

“It’s an overwhelming diagnosis,” she said. “You don’t know how much they’re going to progress or what they’ll able to accomplish.”

But Derek runs and plays with the kids inside the center — an inclusive space where kids who are neurotypical, on the autism spectrum or who have Down syndrome can play, dance, create and socialize with no judgment or fear. 

“I’m so proud of what he’s able to do now,” she said. “I think people need to hear the story that our children do have some difficulties, but they can accomplish so much more than people think. We need to celebrate their uniqueness.”

Angelique Sternberger, of Port Jefferson Station, lost her 3-year-old son, DJ, eight years ago. 

“When DJ was born, the doctors came to us and told us he had Down syndrome,” she said. “They always focus on the worst things possible, but it’s all about what these children can do.”

She joined GiGi’s Playhouse in 2017 in memory of him and is now the board secretary. 

Port Jefferson Station’s Angelique Sternberger with her late son, DJ. Photo from Angelique Sternberger

“It’s helpful to have a place where you can go if you need some assistance,” she said. “I wish I had a GiGi’s Playhouse when DJ was born.”

This April, DJ would be turning 12 and, looking back, Sternberger thinks he would be thrilled to know what his mom has helped accomplish.“I’m sure he would love it here,” she said. “He was such a social child …  he was the mayor of his school, and he would love being able to interact with other kids.”

Run solely on donations and fundraisers, GiGi’s Playhouse is 99% volunteer based. The only paid employee is the site manager, who opens and closes every day. 

Cirigliano said that people who want to donate can do so online at gigisplayhouse.org. He said that they will be highlighting donors on their front door every month to say “thank you” for making this all possible. 

And the opening comes at a special time for the Down syndrome community: March 21 is World Down Syndrome Day, and the Long Island chapter of GiGi’s Playhouse is officially opening its doors one day before. From 10 a.m. until 10:30 a.m. on March 20, a virtual grand opening will be streamed through Facebook and online.

Everyone is welcome at GiGi’s Playhouse in Patchogue. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Due to COVID-19, families who want to start using the achievement center’s services must schedule an appointment online. 

“Children with Down syndrome like to follow their peers,” Sternberger said. “We want them to be able to socialize. So, come to GiGi’s and we’ll be there with open arms.”

GiGi’s Playhouse will be open Tuesdays through Saturdays. To view the hours of operation, visit gigisplayhouse.org/longisland.

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.

Melissa Paulson outside her new location. Photo by Julianne Mosher

COVID-19 has been tough on nonprofits,  but that isn’t stopping Melissa Paulson from helping others. 

Give Kids Hope Inc. is a 501c3 that Paulson started up nine years ago, after her daughter was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma at just 18 months old. 

Paulson, who is a stay-at-home mom, decided to devote all of her free time to charity. 

“I knew I wanted to do something to help other families in similar situations,” she said.

That’s when Give Kids Hope was born. Paulson created the nonprofit to help children and their families battling cancer.

But as the years went on, Paulson began seeing how many other people were in need around her. 

“There are so many less fortunate people in the community,” she said. “I never realized how many Long Islanders are struggling just to put food on their tables and a roof over their heads.”

An inside look at Give Kids Hope’s food pantry in Port Jefferson Station. Photo by Julianne Mosher

She began gathering supplies she knew people would need, especially around the holidays, to donate to shelters, housing units and food pantries — and she was doing it out of her home for many of those years. 

“I put a plea out and a generous donor gave me $5,000 dollars to open a center up,” she said. “It’s a facility so people can come and ‘shop’ completely free.”

The brick and mortar location opened up on July 1 and have so far helped nearly 7,000 families across Long Island, Paulson said. 

She added that people who need a helping hand will find her group on Facebook, through local churches and by word of mouth. 

“We get a lot of walk ins,” she said. “Sadly, it’s homeless people asking for clothing.

And she said the community has been “so responsive” to her cause, but she could use more help to reach out to more people.

“I think if people knew what we did then more people would get involved,” she said.

Compared to other similar nonprofits, 100% of everything they get goes directly back to the charity.  

Also, rather than a typical food pantry that gives canned goods and nonperishables, Paulson said her little “shop” stores perishable groceries one might need like milk, eggs, bread and juices.

And because of the COVID-19 crisis, she said she has been easier than ever. 

“We’ve been swamped because of the pandemic,” she said. “Whatever comes in goes back out.”

To meet that need, on Feb. 7, Give Kids Hope will be hosting a “Free Shopping Day and Pantry Day” to help people who might need a little extra help. 

Give Kids Hope’s hours. Photo by Julianne Mosher

So far, Paulson said, there are 700 families registered to receive clothes, toys and food. Registration is ongoing, or people can drive up to the parking lot that day to quickly grab what they need. The event will be held from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. 

“I’m in the community,” she said. “This is my home and it’s so important for me to help other people.”

The Feb. 7 event will be Paulson’s first “shopping day” since the pandemic. She plans on doing them at least once a month.

Give Kids Hope’s shop is located at 4390 Nesconset Highway in Port Jefferson Station and is open six days a week. 

“If there are families in need, they can reach out for us,” Paulson said. “We don’t judge and there are no questions asked.”

John Guido, of Sound Beach, stands in front of the bench that honors his mother, Jane Guido. He. along with his family, started a nonprofit foundation to continue her legacy of giving back. Photo by Kyle Barr

For years, if one wanted to talk to somebody in Sound Beach about donating or giving, that person was Jane Guido.

She was a volunteer and later the outreach director for St. Louis de Montfort R.C. Church in Sound Beach’s food pantry for well over 30 years, and even while she worked as an administrator at Brookhaven National Laboratory, she was in charge of its food drives. It was something her children couldn’t help but notice, and they were soon sucked into that world of giving back. She would do that work even as she struggled with diabetes. 

“What I used to do is I used to always help her out over there, it was a volunteer thing for everybody,” said John Guido, Jane’s son, who said in later years she was working at that place 80 or so hours a week. Some of her work went beyond food, even helping to provide oil to heat a person’s home in the winter. John, a senior manager at a real estate firm, said together with his friends and compatriots, he would help gather food or donations for whatever his mother’s outreach center needed at any one moment. 

After being diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer in 2017, Jane passed in August 2018 at the age of 74. In all those years, she never stopped giving. Her name now adorns the outside of the outreach center of the church she worked from, as well as a bench just outside its doors.

“She did that until the day she died,” John said. “The number of families she helped was huge.”

It was after her death that John and other members of her family decided they needed to do something to honor that legacy. That would come in the form of a nonprofit foundation bearing his mother’s name.

“The purpose of it was to help memorialize my mom, but it was also to keep her mission, keep her drive going,” he said. “Knowing that eventually, people are going to forget who Jane Guido is, but her drive and her mission will always be out there.”

The family organized and created a nonprofit in 2018, the Jane Guido Foundation and has worked since to provide people with food and other necessities, often working with established organizations such as the Port Jefferson Lions Club, who during this Thanksgiving season the Jane Guido Foundation donated 100 turkeys for the club’s annual drive. The foundation also donated toys and presents to 20 families through the Lions Club’s Christmas Magic program. It has also worked with Lighthouse Mission, which operates mobile food pantries all over Suffolk County, including in Port Jefferson Station and Rocky Point. Overall, John Guido said they touch about 70 families and a dozen different organizations through their efforts, and they are looking to grow those numbers.

The organization is looking for additional donations to help them grow its outreach efforts. People can offer support using the foundation’s website at janeguidofoundation.org or by contacting them at 631-258-8787 or [email protected]. John Guido said they also plan to host several events in 2021, one for spring, summer and fall. A calendar of events should be available on the website starting in the new year.

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Families are able to pick up essentials at Give Kids Hope, located on Nesconset Highway in Port Jeff Station. Photo by Courtney Rehfeldt

By Courtney Rehfeldt 

As many Long Islanders face financial hardship and food insecurity, struggling to make ends meet, Melissa Paulson, of Port Jefferson, is helping communities in need.

Donations for a back-to-school drive hosted at Give Kids Hope in Port Jefferson Station. Photo by Courtney Rehfeldt

A yellow wreath adorns the door to the Port Jefferson Station outreach center Give Kids Hope that Paulson recently opened along Nesconset Highway. Families who come to the center can pick up free food and other items, including toiletries and even toys or clothes. 

“It has been truly sad to see the amount of people who struggle with providing everyday basic needs for their family,” Paulson said. 

Eight years ago, Paulson initially started Give Kids Hope as a nonprofit to support children fighting cancer before pivoting towards helping the general public. 

“I started Give Kids Hope after my daughter was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma,” she said. “Having been faced with such a tragedy, I knew that my only hope was prayer and the hospital staff around us. The simple things, such as a toy gifted to my daughter through the worst time, cheered her up. I wanted to be that person to help other children going through the same thing.” 

Unfortunately, Paulson faced yet another challenge when her husband lost his job. Just as before, Paulson’s own challenging experience inspired her to help others in the same position. 

“After my husband lost his job for 16 months, we were faced with the same situation of families who are struggling,” the outreach center owner said. “Luckily, we had our savings account and family to help us through that time. I learned that even working people can lose everything so easily without any notice or warning. We are grateful to have had the option to come back from that situation. However, most families don’t have the support from others or other things to keep them afloat. I wanted to be that person that others can lean on during their crisis.” 

Paulson noted that the pandemic and subsequent job losses on Long Island has created a massive demand for food and daily essentials. She reported that Give Kids Hope assists 15 to 30 families a week with food items, and some weeks that number is even higher, averaging 40 to 60 families. 

“We have seen every type of hard situation that is imaginable,” she said. 

Even before the pandemic, Paulson said many Long Island families were already struggling and that the need for future assistance can occur at any time. 

“I feel the community isn’t aware of how many families are truly in need of basic essentials and living needs,” Paulson said. “Even for a working family who hits a crisis, it becomes a downward spiral of effects. There isn’t enough assistance out there that allows families to receive what they truly need. Some people don’t qualify for government assistance due to a few dollars over the allowed limit. Our goal is to provide assistance and support to them through their time of need.” 

Before opening the Give Kids Hope location in Port Jefferson Station, Paulson ran the operation out of her home. 

“We had a very generous donor who donated $5,000 to get us started,” she said. “We were limited with space and ability when doing it in my home. Now we can open 4-5 days a week for pantry items and other types of assistance.” 

Paulson emphasized that it has been challenging to raise funds, and notes that Give Kids Hope relies on the community’s support to keep it flourishing. 

“Our center is 100% free to others in need,” the Port Jeff resident said. “Since we opened, we have helped 662 families with clothes, toys, and food assistance. A lot of families are walk-ins that don’t have a computer. Our center has been a huge asset to the community and has grown tremendously. We have held free shopping events, back-to-school supplies drives, and we are currently working on a Halloween costume drive, Thanksgiving, and our big toy drive for Christmas.”

Paulson also added that the center is looking for volunteers and takes food and item donations. 

Give Kids Hope is located at 4390 Nesconset Highway in Port Jefferson Station. They can be contacted online by searching Give Kids Hope on Facebook or by calling 631-538-5287.

Stock photo

At a time when budgets will be extremely tight amid the gradual economic recovery caused by the virus-induced economic shutdown, investing in organizations that help people deal with mental health problems and substance abuse now could save considerably more money later.

That’s the argument Family and Children’s Association Chief Executive Officer Dr. Jeffrey Reynolds makes, particularly as Suffolk and Nassau County Executives Steve Bellone (D) and Laura Curran (D) urge more federal aid for Long Islanders.

“When you have untreated mental health and substance abuse disorders, the county will pay for that one way or the other,” Reynolds said in an interview. “The question is: do you want to pay for it upfront or on the back end,” with the loss of life from drug overdoses.

Jeffrey Reynolds, the CEO of the Family and Children’s Association. Photo from FCA website

Throughout Long Island, Reynolds, who had previously been the Executive Director of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, said the emphasis on basic needs among families has increased, particularly as the number of unemployed in the area has approached 200,000.

Many of the unemployed are “involved in low wage jobs to begin with” and are living “at the margins,” so there is a need for food, rental assistance, and housing, he said. The basic needs have increased significantly.

The transition to telehealth has been effective for those with mild or moderate challenges and, in some ways, is even easier than walking into a church basement or going to a center. The first step, which is often the hardest in entering any kind of treatment program, involves fewer logistical challenges and allows people to remain anonymous.

At the same time, however, some of these virtual efforts are problematic for those who are dealing with a significant level of impairment.

People who have a more acute mental health condition are “less likely to engage via telehealth” and the same holds true for people with severe substance abuse, Reynolds said. “A virtual session is not the same as seeing them in person and groups are not the same as they were before.”

FCA has seen an increased demand for services for people who were anxious or depressed. Fear or a lack of control brought on by the virus is bringing some of these symptoms to the surface.

“Across the board, we are seeing an increased demand for services,” Reynolds said. “There is now space in which we’re not seeing that request.”

The virus has made health care disparities more visible. The numbers of illnesses and fatalities in Brentwood, for example, are 12 times higher than in Garden City. That relates to preexisting conditions like obesity and diabetes, but also to the crowded living conditions in Brentwood.

The combination of the business closings such as gyms, restaurants, movie theaters, and other enterprises creates anxiety and impacts family structure and family functioning, Reynolds said.

Long Island has had to cope with previous recessions and downturns from disasters like Superstorm Sandy, but this is “even deeper. I imagine we’re going to see the ripple effects for a decade to come.”

Reynolds is concerned about people returning to their normal lives at some point, without addressing underlying problems in the communities or with other families.

Still, Reynolds feels fortunate to work for an organization that has existed and helped communities and neighborhoods for 135 years. That means the group was around during the Spanish Flu in 1918 and 1919.

“What keeps me going is that we’re always had to do more with less,” Reynolds said. “We found hope in people’s lives where it seems like there isn’t.”

Indeed, the group not only survived the Spanish Flu, but also made it through both World Wars, the Great Depression, 9/11, and numerous natural disasters.

Additionally, on the positive side, the FCA can provide services in a much timelier way. People who call with a drug or alcohol problem can get some help within ten minutes. The current environment provides the equivalent of “treatment on demand,” Reynolds said.

The FCA head urged people to get involved, which could mean volunteering time at a school, offering help to a local charity or checking on an elderly neighbor.

He urged people to dedicate some of the time they spend on social media to helping others.

Reynolds has spoken with numerous people who have alcohol dependency. When they finally get treatment, some of them have said, “If it was that bad, why didn’t anybody say something to me?”

He urged friends and family to care for each other, asking about weight loss or prolonged sleep. He suggested having conversations that go beneath the surface.

Children and families benefit from structure, especially in a challenging environment. Reynolds suggested a regular evening meal time and a consistent time and place for homework.

Ultimately, as the head of a 135-year old organization, Reynolds said people need to believe that “you can get through this,” he said. “Even if it feels like the world is ending, it’s not.”

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Scenes from the Eastern Long Island Mini Maker Faire in Port Jefferson Village June 9. Photo by Kyle Barr

Talking to the conductor once the STEM engine comes to a halt, it’s clear that for nonprofits pushing for education among young people, the track ahead is still uncertain.

Like many nonprofits, the Long Island Explorium in Port Jeff, a small haven for interactive learning on the North Shore, has been hit hard by the pandemic, but since so much of its revenue depends on schools’ field trips, the onus has shifted to a virtual approach. That, however, is something difficult for a learning center that has long emphasized interactivity.

Angeline Judex, the executive director of the explorium, said that once COVID-19 hit Long Island, her space along East Broadway was closed, while her museum employees were furloughed and her volunteers sent home. It would take until the end of April before she finally received her Paycheck Protection Program loans from the federal government, and she was able to rehire several people to help with administrative tasks. Their PPP loans will likely be exhausted by the end of July, Judex said. 

Meanwhile, all their teaching apparatus was transported online, specifically to video conferencing app Zoom. Keeping some of their regulars who often came to the explorium, they were able to transform one planned field trip into an online field trip, but the vast majority of booked school trips were canceled once the pandemic hit. 

Judex said the situation has made the explorium learn to innovate in new ways. So far they have conducted more than 80 live STEM workshops including a virtual science fair, impacting approximately 120 families and 400 students over the past few months. She said general reaction to the programming has been positive from parents and teachers alike.

“The Explorium will continue to scale up and expand on their virtual offerings over summer and beyond to ensure that students of all means, abilities and needs have access to high quality STEM programming,” she said.

One of the benefits of the last few years is that the explorium has started to diversify its revenue streams, from grants, school districts as well as individual donors. The explorium remains financially solvent, she said, despite the obvious hits from the pandemic. Much of their revenue normally came from their work with local school districts, so depending on how well districts are in the fall, which also depends on whether New York State will slash school aid, could leave the nonprofit without 30 to 40 percent of its normal revenue stream.  

“We’re hoping schools have this one year to get back to normal, and by hopefully next year things will get better again,” Judex said. 

The explorium is tentatively planning to open the museum location in August, though it will only be for private sessions, and how they do will determine if the place remains open for the rest of the fall. If not, then the museum has plans to open again in spring of 2021. Currently, she said the nonprofit has enough funds in the coffers to survive until then.  

“As a children’s museum, it’s supposed to be a high touch environment, but if they’re not allowed to touch anything, what are they going to do?” the executive director said. “That’s a huge challenge for museums everywhere, not only mine.”

After several months of hosting learning online, the challenges of keeping students’ attention became apparent. At first, Judex found their online programs became very popular, then when schools started to catch up with computer-based schoolwork, demand dropped. By April and May, she said students were tired of completing schoolwork on a computer and listening to teachers online. Judex said she’s finding the same challenge with her own children doing schoolwork from home. 

“I think I’m Zoomed out,” Judex said. “Meeting in person, there’s so much more warmth to it, whereas on a screen you have to make due. Several months of making due in virtual meetings, it was just too much.”

The explorium has three virtual summer camps coming up in the next few months, with the first one including 14 kids. The next, Judex estimated, will likely contain just 10 children.

She said her team found hosting a single Zoom call with 30 students to be nearly impossible, and they are loath to sacrifice the quality of their learning apparatus in order to facilitate more kids per group. 

“We’re not compromising on the quality of the experience,” she said.

Still, Judex said the online programs were well-received.

“The pandemic allowed us to focus even more on our mission of meeting the needs of all students regardless of means, abilities and needs as well as advance our strategic plan to explore distance learning,” she said.

Port Jefferson village Mayor Margot Garant said multiple nonprofits in the village have struggled to maintain during the worst months of the pandemic. The building the Long Island Explorium occupies right next to the Village Center is in year 12 of a 20-year lease and they are up to date with their rent at $750 a month. 

The explorium requested some kind of rent relief, and at its July 20 meeting, the village board unanimously voted to reduce the nonprofit’s rent by $250 so as to cover utilities. 

“It’s real tangible support, that every little bit counts,” Judex said.

Towards the end of summer, the explorium is crafting its Reimagining the Future strategic plan with steering committees set up with members of the community. This would outline how our explorium will move forward in the next stage of the pandemic.

One of the most well-known activities for the explorium is the annual Maker Faire in Port Jeff. This year’s event got pushed back from June to September, but this week it was announced that all of maker faires in New York State were combining forces to host the online Empire State Maker Faire Oct. 16 and 17, including demonstrations of art, crafts, technology and robotics. The event is free and open to the public. 

People can offer support to the explorium at: longislandexplorium.org/support-us/ or visit the website for a full list of programs at www.longislandexplorium.org.

This article was updated to include info about the Explorium’s future strategic plans.

This article was updated July 30 to add extra info about the explorium’s online learning live streams.