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Senior Citizens

Stony Brook University President Maurie McInnis, Stony Brook Medicine Vice President for Health System Clinical Programs and Strategy Dr. Margaret McGovern, 25,000 COVID-19 Vaccine recipient and Southampton resident Veronica Lang with her husband James, SBU mascot Wolfie, and Lisa Santeramo, assistant secretary for intergovernmental affairs. Photo above from Stony Brook Medicine

By Rita J. Egan and Julianne Mosher

With last week’s announcement that Suffolk County Community College in Selden will be the county’s third mass-vaccination site, in addition to the SCCC campuses in Brentwood and Riverhead, more people are itching to get their shots.

Many, who over the last several months expressed discontent with the vaccination process, were finally able to get their appointments.

Mary McCarthy, a 98-year-old Sound Beach resident, was anticipating her shot. Earlier this week, she got her first injection. 

“It didn’t hurt a bit,” she said. “I feel fine. No aftershock or anything, and I hope after the shots we’ll get back to normal so I can go see my friends again.”

Mary McCarthy, of Sound Beach, received her vaccine at Walgreens in Medford. Photo from Kevin McCarthy

The senior said she is most excited to get back with her group, where in pre-COVID times, they’d play cards every week.

Her granddaughter helped McCarthy set up the appointment at Walgreens in Medford. Her second shot will be 28 days from the first round, closer to home in the Miller Place location.

She has advice for people who might be skeptical.

“Don’t be afraid,” she said. “It didn’t hurt a bit, and you’ll feel better knowing that you won’t get anything else.”

Three Village resident Stefanie Werner went to the vaccination site at Stony Brook University with her 81-year-old father. As a teacher, who also has an underlying heart condition, Werner was also able to get the vaccine.

“Even though booking our appointments was stressful and nerve-racking, the actual experience was anything but,” she said. “The site is extremely well organized, with all aspects, from check-in to our 15-minute post-observation, coordinated and easy to follow.”

Werner commended the individuals working at the SBU location “from the officer at the entrance, to the members of the National Guard guiding the outside check-in — out in the snow no less — to the RNs at the registration desk and the vaccinators who were friendly and comforting, all while plunging a needle swiftly and painlessly into our arms.”

“These people are the frontline to our return to normalcy,” she said. “They are deserving of recognition for their hard work and empathy as we continue our ascent out of this pandemic.”

Due to her health problems, Werner said she has been vigilant during the pandemic.

“I honestly don’t think I am going to change my ways much after the second dose, especially with all the new variants and the fact that my daughter is in school five days,” she said. “There are still too many unknowns, and I absolutely feel more people should be vaccinated before I return to some semblance of my old normal.  It’s my hope that people maintain COVID protocols until our safety and security is more certain.”  

Adam Fisher of Port Jefferson Station also headed to the university with his wife where they “deeply appreciate the perfect organization. Our thanks to the person or persons who organized this program and all the people who staffed the site. The people were helpful, cheerful and welcoming. The shot itself was painless.”

He said the entire process went well and was a smooth process.

“From start to finish we were guided through it,” he said. “The staff was helpful, cheerful, welcoming — they could not have been nicer. The vaccination itself was painless — the most pain-free injection I ever had.”

Fisher said he felt “absolutely fine,” with the exception of a mild headache that two Tylenol tablets fixed.

“I urge everyone to be vaccinated,” he said, adding that after their second shots, the couple are looking most forward to being together with their children and grandchildren again. 

On Feb. 18, the university announced it reached 25,000 people with vaccinations within one month since the first vaccines were shipped for the general public.

“The fight against COVID-19 has been a difficult and long one, but SUNY campuses have remained steady each step of the way as the target has moved in beating back the pandemic,” said State University of New York Chancellor Jim Malatras in a statement. “I thank Stony Brook University President Maurie McInnis and her leadership team for making this effort a priority, and for ensuring that Long Islanders have the protection they need to end this pandemic.”

The new SCCC site will add about 8,000 more vaccines as of this week. 

Paul Guttenberg, of Commack, is about to turn 52. As an EMT/driver for the Commack Volunteer Ambulance Corps, he was able to get the vaccine and has already received both doses at the Long Island Ducks stadium through the Northwell Health program.

“I had no side effects other than a sore arm and was tired for about one day,” he said, adding it was the same for both times.

Guttenberg, who is a sales rep in field sales, said he would like to return to a normal work schedule. He is also looking forward to traveling again and seeing his family, including his parents who live in Cincinnati, Ohio, “without fear of getting others sick with COVID.” 

“What would make me happy is to see 80% or more of this country get vaccinated and put an end to this pandemic,” he said.

Tara Shobin, 45, of Smithtown, was able to get the vaccine because she’s a teacher. She received her first dose of the Moderna vaccine Feb. 6.

“I was lucky enough to have my cousin let me know that appointments were available at Nassau Community College which was only available to teachers,” Shobin said. 

The Smithtown resident said when she showed up for her Feb. 6 appointment, she waited no more than five minutes.

“As I was waiting, I was holding back tears because I finally could see an end to this horrible virus,” she said.

After getting the shot, Shobin was told to go to the waiting room for 15 minutes so she could be monitored. She said she felt fine until the next day but her reaction was mild.

“I had a very sore arm and a slight headache,” she said.

Shobin said she’s looking forward to life returning to normal and doing things with her family, which includes her husband and two children, such as going on vacation, visiting museums and socializing.

“It crushes me to see my children’s life hindered so much,” she said. “I try to help people get appointments if I can. I can’t wait to see this horrible virus behind us. Let’s crush this virus!”

State Senator Mario Mattera at the podium. Photo by Kimberly Brown

By Kimberly Brown

Republican elected officials gathered at a press conference in Hauppauge Thursday, Jan. 14, calling out Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) on the state’s failed vaccine rollout.

Elected officials in Hauppauge. Photo by Kimberly Brown

State senators, including Mario Mattera (R-St. James) and Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), demanded that Cuomo implement a plan to fix issues that have arisen since the vaccine was authorized to be distributed.

Senior citizen and West Babylon resident, Anna Foley, shared her experience of how difficult it has been to obtain the vaccine, which she has still not received.

“I’m 83 years old, fighting two types of cancer and other underlying medical problems,” she said. “I can’t seem to get anyone to help. I have looked at the New York State website, called pharmacies, doctors, hospitals, and I even tried my union to see if I can get any information, to no avail.”

Foley mentioned the difficulties senior citizens are facing while trying to make an appointment for the vaccine, saying that most people ages 80 and over are not computer savvy, and the locations where the vaccine is administered are too far to drive to.

Mattera pointed out how the federal government still has not released the new vaccine to pharmacy chains like Walgreens and CVS, giving residents fewer options of locations where they can receive the vaccine.

State Senator Mario Mattera at the podium. Photo by Kimberly Brown

In his plea to the governor, Mattera said, “Get the vaccine here and get more locations. Right now, there are four locations, and do you know what they say? They say, ‘We don’t know what to do, we can’t help you.’ It’s unacceptable.”

The partial and full closings of businesses, mandated by Cuomo, were intended to combat rising numbers of COVID-19 cases. However, Palumbo said even though businesses are partially closed, the cases are still increasing.

“The Legislature needs to get involved, we need to get control back,” he said. “We need to get those vaccinations out, and as quickly as possible — not throw them in the garbage.”

Many of the politicians also discussed the bill Cuomo signed into law June 17, which would allow every pharmacist in New York state to administer the COVID-19 vaccine. State Assemblyman Doug Smith (R-Holbrook) demanded to know why the bill has not been put into full force.

“Now we’re in January, governor, where is your plan?” Smith said. “Why is every single pharmacy in the state of New York not able to administer this vaccine?”

 

Brightview Senior Living is looking to construct a 170-unit facility on about nine acres of land off Route 112 in Port Jeff Station, illustrated above within the red box. Image from Google Maps

Another large-scale development project is in the works for the Port Jefferson Station area.

Brookhaven Town approved a zone change at its July 12 meeting paving the way for the construction of a 170-unit assisted living facility on Route 112 in Port Jefferson Station on a parcel near The Meadow Club banquet hall. With plans already progressing in recent months to construct a 244-unit residential complex for senior citizens on North Bicycle Path just off of Route 112 and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s allocating of $8 million in funds for a roughly 100-unit project for affordable and homeless housing on Route 112 near East Grove Street, this will be the third property set for massive development in a roughly mile and a half stretch of the state highway.

Baltimore-based developer Brightview Senior Living will be building and operating the assisted living facility, as it does with each of its 35 properties, according to Vice President of Development David Holland, who spoke during a town public hearing on the zone change July 12.

“We intend to be long-term citizens of Brookhaven and strive to be good neighbors to all who are around us,” Holland said.

The VP said the company expects the majority of its tenants to be in their 80s and 90s and in need of regular, daily care. Brightview’s current site plan for the approximately nine-acre plot of land includes a three-story building with dining venues, a theater, a pub, a library, indoor and outdoor lounges, as well as its own sewage treatment facility for the site.

The property was previously owned by area resident Jeff Kito and his family dating back to the 1950s, he said during the hearing. Kito is the former president of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association and lives on the nearby Canal Road currently. He said he and his brother decided to sell the property about three years ago and sought to find a developer interested in building something along the lines of what Brightview proposed. He said he has met with neighbors in the vicinity to discuss the plans.

“I think we’ll have a great facility for the community,” he said.

Kito’s former colleagues in the civic association submitted a letter to Brightview dated Jan. 25, 2017, stating the members had no objections to the project.

“We look forward to working with your firm as this assisted living facility proposal is further developed in our Port Jefferson Station Terryville Hamlet,” said the letter, signed by then-President Ed Garboski, who is now the vice president.

Current President Sal Pitti said in an email the civic association still has no objections related to the project. Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) and Anthony Guardino, an attorney representing the applicant at the July 12 hearing, each said they had received a single letter from a community member in opposition of the development in addition to several in favor, including one signed by all homeowners on Patty Ann Court, which is also nearby the boundaries of the parcel. The property is expected to have a significant buffer from other residential properties that will include sizable evergreen trees.

Holland indicated a demand for such a facility exists in the area, as Brightview determined about 1,500 assisted living beds are currently available in the town.

About 16 percent of Suffolk County’s population is 65 or older, according to the website www.censusreporter.org, which is slightly higher than the New York state and United States rates. Port Jefferson Station’s 80-plus population is substantially larger — about 20 percent — than that of the state and surrounding region, according to the site.

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By Desirée Keegan

The fireworks came a day late for a group of Suffolk senior softball players.

A thriller ensued in a battle between some of Long Island’s best 65 and older softball players. Down 7-6 in the bottom of the ninth inning, Tim Rocklein smacked a pitch to right field with runners on first and second with no outs, and Ed Carney hit a sacrifice fly to score Dave Argenzio in a walk-off, 8-7 thriller as Suffolk edged Nassau in the first-ever Super Seniors All-Star game July 5.

“It got closer and closer, and why get a lead early when you can get the lead and go home?” head coach Paul Killian said, laughing. “I was losing so much sleep afraid that, A, it was going to rain, and, B, it wouldn’t’ turn out right. I couldn’t be happier with the way it ended.”

Rocklein’s game-tying single served as a bit of redemption. The Islip Terrace resident had made back-to-back errors in a four-run second inning for Nassau.

“It’s really wonderful how the team came through at the end,” said Rocklein, a former student of Killian’s at St. John the Baptist Diocesan High School in West Islip. “It was a team effort. We all won.”

The Suffolk offensive onslaught was contagious. Down 6-1 heading into the bottom of the seventh, base hits by John Carmichael and Carney set up an RBI-single for Louis Re. Later in the inning, Mike Cavanagh hit an in-the-park bases-clearing home run to pull Suffolk within one, 6-5.

“We were just hoping to be competitive,” Cavanagh said. “I flew out the first two times, so it felt great to come through with a hit.”

Rocklein said he saw the hit a bit differently.

“You could feel everyone’s spirits go from 20 to 190,” he said, grinning from ear to ear. “It’s an emotional game. We didn’t give up. We were all there for each other, and in the end, we prevailed.”

Assistant coach Victor Scalone, of Sound Beach, said he was impressed by his team, especially considering the Nassau team had three more full league teams to choose from when assembling its All-Star roster. Suffolk pulled off three double plays, with middle infielder Fred Taal helping turn two of them to John Petraglia at first. Catcher Tony Laino, who led off the bottom of the ninth with a single, helped complete the other, which ended a Nassau scoring threat. Tom Gomez went the distance on the mound, also collecting two hits.

“We’re all older players, and we just wanted to look respectable in this game,” Scalone said. “We’ll be talking about this for a long time.”

The assistant coach pointed to the home run by Cavanagh as having ignited the team. Killian, a Holbrook resident, said he’s in awe of what the sport can do for him and his players.

“I feel like I’m 16 again,” he said. “The fireworks were a day delayed, but they’re here.”

Developer to get financial assistance from Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency

The location of the future senior residential community The Vistas of Port Jefferson off North Bicycle Path in Port Jefferson Station. Photo by Alex Petroski

What is currently an open field on North Bicycle Path in Port Jefferson Station will soon be home for some.

A new 244-unit residential rental complex for senior citizens proposed

27 acres of vacant land on the west side of North Bicycle Path, north of Comsewogue High School, has been greenlit. The Brookhaven Town Industrial Development Agency announced in an April 26 press release it had approved an application for economic incentives with Benjamin Development Co., operating as The Vistas of Port Jefferson LLC, which will also be the name of the new community. The IDA is tasked with selecting projects that “promote the economic welfare and prosperity of the Town of Brookhaven by assisting in the acquisition, construction, reconstruction, and equipping of commercial and industrial facilities.”

As part of the financial assistance agreement between the agency and developer, The Vistas of Port Jefferson will make payments in lieu of property taxes for 13 years, starting with a $52,000 installment in year one, jumping to about $90,000 in year four, and concluding with a $1,516,043 payment in the final year of the agreement. In total, the company will pay about $8 million in lieu of higher town property taxes during the 13-year agreement. The total cost of the project is expected to be about $65 million.

The area boxed in red represents the location of the future senior residential community The Vistas of Port Jefferson off North Bicycle Path in Port Jefferson Station. Image from Google Maps

Lisa Mulligan, chief executive officer of the IDA, declined to comment on the agreement in a phone interview beyond what the agency offered in a press release, though she said the ball is in the court of attorneys on both sides to officially close the deal, which she said she fully expects to take place.

A request for comment to Benjamin Development Co. was not returned.

“As a result of IDA assistance for the development of this project, hundreds of new construction jobs will be added to the region,” the company’s application to the IDA stated. “The project development will also benefit local/regional firms through purchases from suppliers, subcontractors, etc. Finally, the project will create new full-time jobs and 245-plus new residents that will assist in the stimulation of the local economy through daily household spending.”

The project is expected to create more than 400 new construction jobs as well as 24 new permanent positions, according to the IDA press release. The Vistas of Port Jefferson will offer 64 two-bedroom townhouses, 36 one-bedroom units, 144 two-bedroom apartments with a clubhouse and a sewage-pumping facility. Construction is expected to take about two years. The facility is billed as a community for tenants age 55 and up. Fifteen percent of the units will be designated as affordable housing, available to prospective tenants earning less than 80 percent of the area’s median income, which was about $90,000 per household from 2012 to 2016, according to the United States Census Bureau.

Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said in an emailed statement through Legislative Secretary Carolyn Fellrath the town IDA is a separate entity from the board and does not seek input from councilmembers in making decisions.

“This proposed project has generated concern in the community,” Cartright said. “The re-zoning of this parcel in 2010 pre-dates my tenure. However, based on the community concerns raised to my office, I am not sure the decision to re-zone this parcel to Planned Retirement Community would be granted if this application were before this town board today.”

Siena Village in Smithtown. Photo from Facebook.

A Suffolk County legislator is calling for the revocation of tax benefits given to a Smithtown housing complex
after managers allegedly threatened dozens of senior citizens with eviction.

Suffolk Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) submitted a formal request to the Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency Feb. 22 asking it rescind tax breaks granted to Siena Village as he called into question the management practices of the complex’s management company, PK Management.

Valencia Burney, property manager for Siena Village, said that PK Management sent out approximately 70 notices dated Dec. 29 to residents notifying them of  outstanding balances for their apartment rents.

A copy of one such letter shared with TBR News Media reads, “Please be advised that PK Management, LLC., the managing agent of the property at 2000 Bishops Road, Smithtown, NY 11787, does hereby terminate your tenancy at this property.” It then cites that “in accordance with HUD guidelines” the resident’s lease would end Jan. 8, only 10 days after the date of the letter.

There is little evidence to believe that the residents of Siena Village are going to be treated with the decency and respect to which they are entitled.”
— Rob Trotta

One Siena Village resident, who spoke with TBR News Media on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, and was very scared and disturbed to receive the letter.

“You don’t do this to seniors,” the resident said. “I’ve worked all my life. I’ve paid my dues. Now, I need help. I don’t think anyone thought they would go this far.”

Trotta said his office received “numerous complaints” from Siena Village residents in January who said they received letters like the one cited above, being unfairly threatened with eviction.

“PK Management’s threatening tactics have thrown this community into turmoil, driving many elderly residents into a frantic state with some even being hospitalized as a result,” reads his letter to Suffolk IDA.

Trotta said Feb. 15 a community meeting was held with PK Management representatives, who apologized for the letters claiming they were sent in error. Yet, the legislator alleges PK Management informed the citizens in attendance that New York State law allows them “two days to evict,” and the company provides 10. Trotta said this is not in accordance with state law, in which the eviction process can take several months to process through the courts — a fact he claims the complex has hidden from its residents.

“There is little evidence to believe that the residents of Siena Village are going to be treated with the decency and respect to which they are entitled,” Trotta wrote in his statement.

According to the legislator, PK Management was provided with tax abatements in excess of $600,000 by the Suffolk IDA. Now, he is calling for the IDA to revoke those benefits immediately given their treatment of the Smithtown residents.

PK Management did not respond to requests for comment on Trotta’s demand.

“The Suffolk IDA has received Legislator Trotta’s letter and is looking into the matter,” said Tony Catapano, director of Suffolk IDA, in a statement.

The Smithtown Residential Repair Program team prepares for a day full of helping elderly citizens. Photo from Laura Greif

By Joseph Wolkin

Smithtown’s Residential Repair Program is out in full force this summer. With no cost of labor, participants must only provide the materials being used.

Assisting seniors 60 years old and over, the repair program looks to make an impact on the local community, giving back to those who don’t want to risk any injury while making a repair.

Laura Greif, program director, said residents are responding well to the service.

“I think people love this program,” she said in a phone interview. “It’s nice to know the community can assist seniors in their homes. This program is for renters also. You can have someone come do a repair for you instead of having the charge of paying for a plumber or electrician. But it’s only minor repairs.”

The repair program has five part-time workers, with hopes of hiring a sixth one shortly, Greif said. Serving anywhere from 10 to 15 people a day, the program director believes the organization is making a great impact on the local community.

Services range from changing light bulbs and smoke detectors, to repairing faucets and even cleaning first floor gutters.

Funding for the Residential Repair Program is provided by the New York State Office for the Aging, Suffolk County Office for the Aging and Town of Smithtown.

“The program is a state, county and town-funded program,” Greif said. “The idea of this program is to keep our seniors safe in their homes. We provide small repair services for them, like light bulbs changed, smoke detectors, weatherization, their faucets are leaking or they need them changed, and all they do is pay for the materials.”

Steve Ingram, an employee who works for the program, recognizes the impact they make within the Smithtown community.

“We go into the homes and work on minor plumbing, replace a faucet, the insides of a toilet, minor electrical work, replace light switches and outlets, change light bulbs that the seniors can’t reach, minor carpentry and just safety-related items,” Ingram said in a phone interview. “We do minor repairs that don’t require a licensed electrician or plumber to do the work.

But Ingram said the safety jobs are the most crucial service they provide to seniors.

“The most important things we do are the safety-related items, like changing carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors, because it’s just important we get right on top of those,” he said. “When they call those in, we’re usually on them by the next day.”

The employees are maintenance mechanics, but are not licensed plumbers or electricians, Greif said.

The positive feedback ranks among the most enjoyable parts of helping out the seniors of Smithtown, according to the workers involved.

“It is a great feeling to help the seniors,” Ingram said. “When I first took the job, I anticipated that I would get some type of satisfaction in helping them. The feedback that we get from them is what helps the program as well. It’s great for all of us.”

For people who want a service performed at their house, call the organization’s office at 631-360-7616. All patrons must complete a work order that states what services they need done, along with answering a few additional questions for the program’s reporting purposes.

Residents living with dementia and their care partners watch a clip from ‘The Wizard of Oz’ at a past Making Memories at the Movies event. Photo from Raj Tawney

Huntington’s Cinema Arts Centre is taking residents with dementia down memory lane with its innovative and unique program series titled Making Memories at the Movies.

The community-based event, which social worker Marcy Rhodes established last year and which returns on Monday, March 21, targets people living with dementia as well as their care partners. While the event helps these residents socialize with others, it has also helped many of them remember parts of their past.

“The idea is to invite people with dementia and their care partners into a creative environment where they have an opportunity to relate to the arts, and to engage in conversation and be inspired by the art,” said Rhodes.

Rhodes screens clips of six to eight iconic old movies or television shows that attendees may have seen during their youth. With winter winding down and spring on the way, the theme of next Monday’s program is Springtime. The event will feature clips of films like “Singin’ in the Rain.” Rhodes also mentioned “Easter Parade” as a film option before she finalized clips for the upcoming show.

She hesitated to disclose the names of all the clips as participants try to identify the film or TV show. Many of these clips include musical numbers as music helps people connect with one another, Rhodes said.

“People really get into it. They laugh, they talk, they share memories,” said the CAC’s director of publicity, Raj Tawney. “It’s just a really wonderful experience to watch.”

The Cinema Arts Centre is just one of a few places in the Town of Huntington that offers this program. While the Whaling Museum and Education Center of Cold Spring Harbor started offering a similar program in December of last year, the Heckscher Museum of Art established its program three years ago. Rhodes said word of the program spread among close-knit organizations like the CAC and museums.

Although Rhodes started the CAC’s Making Memories program, the concept of the program originated in Boston and has become an international effort that has extended from The Museum of Modern Art in New York City to the Louvre in Paris and Art Institute in Australia.

Marcy Rhodes speaks to event attendees at a past Making Memories at the Movies event at the Cinema Arts Centre. Photo from Raj Tawney
Marcy Rhodes speaks to event attendees at a past Making Memories at the Movies event at the Cinema Arts Centre. Photo from Raj Tawney

“It’s a social opportunity for people [with dementia] and their care partners to engage in an activity that is typical,” Rhodes said.

According to Tawney, many of these residents living with dementia rarely leave their homes, which further affects their mental health.

“Their minds can deteriorate if they go unsocialized,” Tawney said. “So when they come here, they get to see movies, they get to have a conversation with each other. It’s a very interactive program.”

Community members with dementia and their care partners can register for Making Memories at the Movies on March 21 at 11 a.m. at the Cinema Arts Centre, 423 Park Ave., Huntington, by calling 631-423-7611. Admission is $5 per person. Popcorn and beverages will be served.

Residents who can’t make Monday’s program will have another chance to challenge their memories on May 23 and July 25 at 11 a.m.

Family is the most important thing in Mario's life. She celebrated her 108th birthday in February. Photo from Elaine Campanella

Much has changed since Anna Mario lived in her first-floor Brooklyn apartment back in the 1920s.

In those days, people were friendlier, they said hello to each other, and they were more attached to their friends and neighbors, according to the 108-year-old, who now lives in St. James Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

“People are more independent now. They don’t help each other, they think they are better than you,” Mario said. “I don’t want to be better than anyone, I want to be what I am and I’m happy,” she said.

A positive outlook has always played a part in her life, according to Mario’s daughter Elaine Campanella of Hauppauge.

“She’s got a good attitude,” Campanella said. “She believes that anything you do, you do with happiness. She says if you smile, the world smiles back at you.”

One of seven children, Mario was born in New York City in 1907. She worked in the garment industry as a machine operator in a factory that made pajamas.

“I worked most of my life and I loved every minute of it,” she said. “We made the most beautiful nightgowns.”

Mario’s husband passed away in 1975, but she stayed in Brooklyn until 1990 when she moved out to Port Jefferson Station. Campanella said her mother remained active after the move, taking bus trips to Atlantic City and participating in senior clubs, even becoming president of one.

According to Campanella, no one in Mario’s family has lived past 100 years old, let alone 108. Mario’s father died when he was 80 and her mother at 62.

Campanella doesn’t think there is a secret to her mother’s longevity, but she did say she always cooked well and she rarely took medication except for the occasional dose of Tums. Her faith always remained important to her.

“If anyone was in trouble or sick she would say a prayer and say it was in God’s hands,” Campanella said.

She said her mother always lived a simple life, never shying away from crises but always handling it as best she could.

“She always tells everyone that if you have a problem, you deal with it. If there is nothing you can do, then you move on.”

Mario lived on her own until she was 106 years old, doing all of her own cooking and cleaning. Heart problems that year put her in the nursing home, where she has been ever since.

“I have a nice life here,” Mario said of the nursing home. “Everyone is friendly and I have a nice time. If I can’t be home, this is the place to be. They make me feel at home.”

She occasionally leaves the nursing home to join her family for holidays and special events, she said.

According to Lori Sorrentino, recreational therapist at St. James, Mario keeps busy practicing tai chi, socializing with friends, dancing in her wheelchair at facility dance events and playing Bingo, one of her favorite pastimes.

Sorrentino called Mario “very spunky,” adding that she has had a great attitude since coming to the facility over a year ago.

“She is very funny and very inspirational. She is just full of life and age does not stop her,” Sorrentino said. “She always says that its good friends and family that keep her going.”

Mario’s family includes four grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and many nieces and nephews. Campanella said her mother hates to see the younger generation glued to iPods and cell phones.

“It’s just not social — she sees it as detachment,” Campanella said. “It hurts her.”

At her 108th birthday celebration last month, Mario made a toast to her family, urging them to avoid that detachment.

“She made everyone cry when she said how much she wanted the family to stay together,” Campanella said. “Family is what she loves about life. That is her philosophy.”