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Susann Crossan

Brianna Florio, on right, was honored by the Sound Beach Civic Association and president Bea Ruberto, on left, for her community involvement. Photo from Sound Beach Civic Association

A Sound Beach Girl Scout recently solidified the organization’s highest honor by helping children who live in a temporary shelter feel a little more at home.

Brianna Florio, an 18-year-old Sound Beach resident and a member of Rocky Point Girl Scout Troop 2945, has been working since last year to better the lives of 16 children who reside at Halo House in Sound Beach, a shelter for families in crisis.

While staffers within the home — which gets its funding from the Department of Social Services — do all they can to help the four families currently living under one roof get their cases under control, find employment and locate more permanent housing, helping young children adjust to their new environment is a constant challenge.

Brianna Florio will be receiving her Gold Award next month after working with children at Halo House in Sound Beach to paint a mural to make the place feel more like home. Photo from Brianna Florio

So when it came time to pick a community outreach project in summer 2016 to fulfill the requirements for her Gold Award, the Rocky Point High School graduate, who learned of the shelter from one of her troop leaders, set her sights on making it more kid-friendly.

“I knew this would be a good fit for her,” said Donna McCauley, her troop leader who first became aware of the Halo House through St. Louis de Montfort R.C. Church in Sound Beach. “Brianna is very dedicated, has a very generous spirit and is always ready to help anyone in need. It also gave her a way to express herself creatively, which she’s very good at.”

Florio utilized her artistic talent and painted a large mural on the wall in the shelter’s dining room depicting animals having a tea party, installed a bench to be placed in the property’s yard and hosted a toy and book drive at her high school. Through that event, Florio brought multiple boxes of donated entertainment for children of different ages to the Halo House — items that are sorely needed, according to shelter manager Joe Pellegrino.

“[Brianna] definitely helped bring the kids a sense of community within the neighborhood of Sound Beach,” he said, adding the children in the shelter were eager to be involved in her mural project. “The younger ones would wait for her to come, and when she got here, they would say, ‘Can you paint a snake? Can you put a hat and bowtie on it?’ It betters the children’s state of minds when they’re at the shelter, because they get a sense that it’s a home and not just a place they’re forced to live in.”

Pellegrino said the mural has become a center of pride in the home and is even used as an educational tool to teach the children about the different animals depicted.

“It really warmed my heart to see the kids and their smiling faces and just how excited they were about it,” Florio said of the mural. “It was really nice to see it all finished, because I didn’t think I was going to be able to do it.”

She will officially receive her Gold Award from the Girl Scouts of Suffolk County council in December.

Although it was an independent project for the Girl Scout, Florio was able to acquire paints and various supplies through local donations, like from Costello’s Ace Hardware of Rocky Point. She also received support from her school district, where she was a member of the Be a Nicer Neighbor Club, a group that cooked for the homeless and performed songs at senior citizen homes during the holidays.

“Brianna is very dedicated, has a very generous spirit and is always ready to help anyone in need. It also gave her a way to express herself creatively, which she’s very good at.”

—Donna McCauley

“I think if anybody is deserving of a Gold Award, it’s Brianna,” Rocky Point High School Principal Susann Crossan said. “What sets her apart from everybody else is she has a constant concern for other people. She’s been involved in so many activities within the high school that involve giving back. She was an extremely well-rounded and kind student.”

Florio’s project was also no surprise to Nancy Kloska, the director of an aftercare program for children at Mount Sinai Elementary School, where Florio currently serves as a mentor helping students with homework, playing games with them and leading fun activities.

“She’s warm, approachable, responsible and the kids really love interacting with her — Brianna always has a large group around her,” Kloska said. “I think she just brings out the best in the kids and is such a positive role model. I can’t say enough good things about Brianna. I think she’s wonderful.”

Florio was bestowed a certificate of appreciation by elected officials and community members for her Gold Award efforts during a Sound Beach Civic Association meeting Nov. 13. Civic president Bea Ruberto later said in an interview that Florio is a shining example of upstanding youth in the community.

“We were so proud to honor Brianna at our meeting — she’s very community-minded and is always there to help and give back,” said Ruberto, pointing out that Florio has helped with the civic’s pet adoption efforts and contributed a drawing in honor of the civic’s 40th anniversary. “We often hear about all the kids who behave badly and do this or that, and we really make an attempt in the civic to showcase the good kids. She’s a very fine young lady.”

Florio is currently pursuing a career in computer science and game programming as a freshman at Stony Brook University.

The Miller Place, Mount Sinai, Rocky Point and Shoreham-Wading River school districts have named the students who reached maximum potential at the high school level.

“I am extremely proud of all that the Class of 2016 has accomplished in the classroom, on the stage, on our athletic fields and in the community,” Rocky Point Principal Susann Crossan said. “They are a class who came together and generously raised money for many charities and continuously contributed positive energy to build school spirit. I wish the Class of 2016 a rewarding journey and ask that they remember to dream big.”

In Miller Place, with a whopping weighted GPA of 99.6, Elizabeth Whitlow was named the valedictorian. Whitlow, who plans to attend Northeastern University in the fall and major in American sign language, was a captain on the varsity softball team while also a member of the volleyball team, drama club, Foreign Language National Honor Society, National Thespian Society, mathletes and athletes helping athletes.

Joining the advanced placement scholar with honor at the top of the list is salutatorian Clara Tucker. With a weighted GPA of 99.5, she said she plans to attend Stony Brook University and major in biology. Tucker got her start at Stony Brook in the science research club on campus and was part of the school’s science club, art club and varsity track and field and cross country teams, while also being a member of the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra, Intel Talent Search, Foreign Language National Honor Society and National Honor Society.

In Mount Sinai, Patrick Hanaj, with a weighed GPA of 105.2, was named class valedictorian. A class president his sophomore year and secretary his junior year, Hanaj was a member of Moody’s Mega Math Challenge team, was on the math team and was a member of chamber orchestra all four years of high school, and was the National Honor Society president this year. A national AP scholar and National Merit Scholarship finalist who was a member of the Columbia Science Honors Program, he will be attending Harvard University in the fall, majoring in applied mathematics with a minor in computer science.

Justine Quan, with a weighted GPA of 104.3, was named the salutatorian. The student council president and peer leader, who was a part of the history club and environmental action club, was also a member of the Mount Sinai Sunshine Fund and National Honor Society. Receiving the U.S. Rep. Tim Bishop Civil Service award, Quan will be attending New York University in the fall and majoring in political science.

“Justine is an integral member of her class; she is one of the most active and charismatic leaders that we have ever had in our building,” her district said. “Her participation is truly authentic, as she immerses herself fully in her activities for the benefit of others and for the good of her school and community. Justine is highly intelligent, one of the kindest individuals you will ever meet, extremely polite, always positive, efficient and highly organized. She is a representation of the best anyone can ask for from a high school student.”

James Gohn was named the valedictorian at Rocky Point. With a weighted GPA of 106.2, he is an AP scholar with distinction, member of the National Honor Society and New York State Mathematics Honor Society. Outside of the classroom, Gohn performed with the school’s orchestra, was the captain of the varsity soccer team and a member of the varsity lacrosse team. He is a dedicated volunteer, serving as a math and chemistry tutor and altar server, and dedicates many hours to several other charitable organizations. He will be attending Stony Brook University this fall to major in mechanical engineering.

“James is an exceptional student who has devoted himself to being the best he can be,” Crossan said. “He is a student with strong values and character and is gifted in the classroom as well as in his many extracurricular activities.”

Matthew Brewer, with a weighted GPA of 104.9, was named the class’ salutatorian.

An AP scholar with distinction, Brewer is also a member of the National Honor Society, New York State Math Honor Society and is president of the Class of 2016. He was a member of the high school’s mock trial and math teams and was secretary of the school’s science club. Team manager for both the varsity wresting and baseball teams, Brewer has also worked as a senior counselor for the North Shore Youth Council Summer Buddies Program since 2014, and previously was a junior counselor. He will be attending Fordham University in the fall to major in economics.

“Matthew is a bright, articulate and ambitious student who flourishes in an intellectually demanding setting,” Crossan said. “He has a gift of sharing his many talents with others by participating in many volunteer activities.”

Over in Shoreham-Wading River, Kelvin Ma, with a weighted GPA of 102.7, was named valedictorian. Graduating with an advanced regents diploma with mastery in math and science, Ma is a self-taught graphic designer and code designer who volunteered at Brookhaven National Lab during the past two summers. He was sponsored by Wikimedia Foundation to attend the Libre Graphics Meeting, where he gave a lecture on vector graphics and was awarded second place at the 2015 Long Island Junior Science and Engineering Fair.

A member of Moody’s Mega Math Challenge team, he was accepted into the Institute of Creative Problem Solving for Gifted and Talented Students as a freshman. He is a National Merit Scholarship finalist, and awarded the Suffolk County Math Teachers Association Award several times. Ma, who earned the New York State Merit Scholarship for Academic Excellence, will be attending the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and major in engineering.

Nick Maritato also reached a peak performance level. With a weighted GPA of 101.2, he was named salutatorian and will be attending John Hopkins University in the fall, majoring in biomedical engineering.

An Eagle Scout, Maritato volunteered as a camp counselor, performed in summer pit orchestra and interned at St. Charles Hospital in the biomedical department. A member of the Nexus club, Moody’s Mega Math Challenge team, jazz band and varsity volleyball and track and field teams, he received a New York State Merit Scholarship for Academic Excellence, the Science Teachers’ Association of New York State 2015-16 outstanding senior science award, and Shoreham’s Ralph Gilorenzo humanitarian award.

“As a class, their leadership and commitment to public service and community, as well as personal, athletic, and academic successes are unparalleled,” Shoreham-Wading River principal Dan Holtzman said of the top of the class. “It is these attributes that make our school, district, and community the special place it is.”