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Volunteers

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Photo from Rebecca Kassay

To maintain and keep Port Jefferson village’s pollinator gardens, Trustee Rebecca Kassay has implemented a new program and is looking for volunteers to help. 

According to Kassay, the village is home to several gardens that attract bees, butterflies, insects and some birds that help keep plants and flowers growing. These gardens full of plants naturally attract, feed and provide habitat for different wildlife. 

Starting this week, Kassay is looking for the community to come together and learn about these different gardens. On Friday, Sept. 10 from 2 p.m. until 5 p.m., interested gardeners can meet with like-minded people at Harborfront Park Gardens, to focus on the border along the traffic circle by the Village Center. 

“Whether you’re an avid gardener, or this is your first time working with pollinator plants, we encourage you to join for these hands-on working and learning sessions,” Kassay wrote in the Port Jeff community garden newsletter. 

The program is open to volunteers ages 10 and up. 

“Volunteers will learn about pollinator and native gardens, and their ecological importance, as well as getting to know specific pollinator plants,” she added. “How to care for them, where to source them and more — all while pruning, weeding, digging  and making the village’s pollinator garden’s look as attractive to humans as they look to wildlife.”

There will be two more meet-ups, one on Sunday, Sept. 26 at Harborfront Park and another on Oct. 17 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the triangle garden at High Street and Spring Street. 

Those interested can email Kassay at [email protected]

Volunteers are always needed at Bethel Hobbs Community Farm, 178 Oxhead Road, Centereach. Help with planting, weeding, harvesting, working in the greenhouse, property maintenance and more. Volunteer hours are Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (hours subject to change) and Sunday by appointment. For more information, call  631-774-1556 or visit www.hobbsfarm.info.

Pixabay photo

The Village of Port Jefferson seeks volunteers ages 13 and up for a Community Garden Build at Beach Street Parkland (150 Beach St.) in the village on Saturday, May 22. Choose a session (9 a.m. to noon, noon to 3 p.m. or 3 to 6 p.m.) to help assemble garden bed kits, fill beds with topsoil, dig post-holes and install fence posts and staple up deer fencing. Snacks and gloves will be provided. Masks are mandatory. To RSVP, email [email protected]

Photo by Rachel Shapiro

Long Island’s largest freshwater lake needs a little help. Join volunteers from the Lake Ronkonkoma Improvement Group for a cleanup at Lake Ronkonkoma on Saturday, Oct. 17 from 10 a.m. to noon. Help clean the beach front, paint a wall to prep for a mural, and clear debris from a wooded area. Students will receive community service hours. All cleaning supplies will be provided except gloves. Children under 11 must be accompanied by an adult. Meet at Michael P. Murphy Beach, Lake Shore Road, Ronkonkoma. This community event is sponsored by Sachem Public Library. Questions? Call Evelyn at 631-588-7599.

Dr. Richard Elinson
Researchers, tour guides, gardeners, curatorial interns

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, like most museums, would find it difficult to operate without volunteers.

According to the American Alliance of Museums, the majority of people who work in museums are volunteers. Overall, U.S. museums have six volunteers for every paid staff member. And even in the largest museums, volunteers generally outnumber paid full-time staff two to one.

 At the Vanderbilt, volunteers enthusiastically assist the staff by conducting tours, greeting visitors, beautifying the grounds and undertaking curatorial and conservation projects. They also work as interns or staff aides in various departments, examine marketing and branding, decorate the Mansion for the holidays, and perform music on the 1,476-pipe Aeolian organ. Approximately 100 volunteers generously donate countless hours each year.

“Volunteers love this estate, work hard, and make invaluable contributions,” said Lance Reinheimer, executive director. “Their work saves the museum a lot of money each year and helps us to support Mr. Vanderbilt’s original educational mission. We’re very grateful to them.”

Mary Schlotter

Mary Schlotter

Mary Schlotter and her daughter, Krishtia McCord, have volunteered their talents for years to create holiday magic in the Mansion, as have members of local garden clubs. The mother-daughter design team owns and operates Harbor Homestead & Co., based in Centerport.

“My love of design, history and flowers is what drives me to volunteer,” Schlotter said. “I find myself brainstorming in June for the holiday designs. Volunteering is so important if we are to keep Long Island treasures like the Vanderbilt looking their best. I often refer to it as a jewel in my backyard!”

“One cold November night, I had just finished my design and I looked back at the Mansion. The lights were on and the Christmas lights were glistening. I wondered if William and Rosamond would like what we had done,” she added.

Matthew Titchiner

Matthew Titchiner

Before moving to New York, Matthew Titchiner managed Harewood House, one of England’s premier historic estates. His responsibilities included staff, operations, visitor experience, marketing and branding. 

“My wife is a pediatric resident at Stony Brook University Hospital, and I wanted to familiarize myself with the American museum world before starting full-time work,” he said. “So, I reached out to the Vanderbilt.”

Titchiner first researched and cataloged the Vanderbilt collection of ancient weapons, then undertook an in-depth project that examines the museum’s branding. This 66-page report analyzed signage, the website, communications and the application of audience data and feedback.

“Matthew brought his deep museum experience and discerning eye to his analysis of how the Vanderbilt presents itself to the world,” Reinheimer said. “His keen insights will be valuable as we continue to improve how the museum reaches out to and communicates with its diverse and growing audience.”

“The Vanderbilt’s interesting mix of historic mansion, park and planetarium is a unique selling point,” said Titchiner. “It’s a museum of a museum, a snapshot in time.”

Bill Caputi

Bill Caputi

Bill Caputi plays beautiful classical music on the Mansion’s grand Aeolian pipe organ. The retired electrical engineer has played for more than 20 years for guided tours and during the museum’s annual holiday and Valentine’s Day banquets.

 “I studied piano as a boy,” he said. “I took lessons from a music teacher on the school’s huge pipe organ and played occasionally in a nearby church. And I was the pianist for my college glee club. When we moved to Centerport, I learned that the Vanderbilt pipe organ had just been renovated so I volunteered to play.” 

Founded in 1887 by William Tremaine, the Aeolian Company grew to be the largest musical instrument manufacturer in America by 1920. Pipe organs were installed in most elite mansions in the early 1900s. The Vanderbilt organ was installed in 1926. 

“I’m glad visitors and staff enjoy the music,” Caputi said. “I often play Grieg, Rachmaninoff and Broadway tunes. At Halloween, I like to play scary music.”

Dr. Richard Elinson

Dr. Richard Elinson

Wearing protective curator’s gloves, Dr. Richard Elinson has inspected nearly 1,400 vintage books in the Vanderbilt Mansion Library. “The books had been cataloged, but needed to be examined closely,” said Elinson. “I’ve been doing condition reports. I make note of damaged bindings, water damage or just interesting things I notice.” 

A retired professor of biology at the University of Toronto and Duquesne University, Elinson has worked with the Curatorial Department for the three years. The collection includes volumes that reflect Vanderbilt’s interests — the chronicles of 18th- and 19th-century naturalists and explorers and the women’s suffrage movement championed by his mother, Alva.

“It’s an enjoyable three hours once a week,” he said. “It’s a real thrill to sit in that old library. You feel like you’re in a different world.”

Gloria Hall

Gloria Hall

A retired Northport elementary school teacher, Gloria Hall leads the volunteer gardeners program she created in 2002 with her late husband, Bill. Both graduated from the Cornell University Master Gardeners Program. Today, an average of 20 gardeners work from May to October.

“I was brought up ‘playing in the dirt,’ exploring seed catalogs, trading plants with friends, and just enjoying a calmness that being in the garden brings,” Hall said. “To share my knowledge and enhance the Vanderbilt grounds gives me great pleasure.”

 

 

 

Ellen Mason

Ellen Mason

Ellen Mason began volunteering in 2006, after retiring as a high school English teacher. She was invited by a colleague and friend, Gretchen Oldrin Mones, first vice president of the Vanderbilt board of trustees. Mason began as a greeter in the Hall of Fishes.

“I was asked to do a walk-on part during Living History Tours,” she said. “I played Olympic skating champion Sonja Henie, a close friend of the Vanderbilts. I spoke just two lines.” She has played many historic roles since.

 “I am very fortunate to be part of the museum and have a strong appreciation for its physical beauty,” Mason said. “For 13 years, I have repeated the same mantra when I arrive here: ‘Thank you, Willie, for giving us this.’ I constantly learn and laugh with the staff. We are all so protective of this magical place.”

Photos courtesy of Vanderbilt Museum

 

 

Dozens of volunteers were willing to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty to show their love for Smithtown’s state park this weekend.

Boy Scout Troop 565 of Smithtown and Girl Scout Troop 2861 of Hauppauge participated in the annual New York State Parks & Trails I Love My Park Day May 5 at Caleb Smith State Park Preserve. The scouts worked alongside resident volunteers to restore trails and plant flowers.

The groups were part of the more than 8,000 volunteers who lent a helping hand at one of the 135 parks, historic sites and public lands in celebration of New York State’s park system, according to New York State Parks & Trails website. The annual I Love My Park event is hosted in partnership by New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the National Park Service, Excelsior Conservation Corps and the New York Commission on Volunteer and Community Service.

By Sara-Megan Walsh

More than 95 Smithtown-area teens rolled up their sleeves to help ready Hoyt Farm Nature Preserve for visitors.

The Town of Smithtown hosted a volunteer cleanup for high school and middle school students at the Commack park April 21 in honor of Global Youth Service Day, also a day ahead of Earth Day. The teens were put to work helping clean up the pollinator and butterfly garden, clearing fallen branches and debris from the apple orchard and sprucing up the animal pens.

Jeff Gurmin, director of Hoyt Farm Nature Preserve, and his staff provided educational lessons on the rescued animals while the students were performing the cleanup. One of these lessons involved learning the importance of Mason bees in the ecosystem and installing new nesting jars for the bees inside the pollinator gardens.

Lawsuit alleges FaceBook post made after September 2017 vote led to unfair suspension, harassment

The St. James firehouse on Route 25A/Lake Avenue. Photo from Google Maps

Two volunteers are suing the St. James firehouse and its leadership for violating their constitutional rights in the aftermath of the September bond vote.

Siblings Richard Weisse and Tricia Weisse, third-generation volunteers with St. James Engine Company #1, allege the St. James Fire Department, St. James Fire District, Chief Edward Springer Jr. and First Assistant Chief Ryan Davis illegally prevented them from attending any social events due to a Facebook post made after the bond vote in September. The pair is seeking money for their “emotional distress, mental anguish, embarrassment and humiliation.”

“We believe that the plaintiffs here were wronged, it’s a clear violation of their First Amendment and Fourth Amendment due process rights,” said David Erhlich, a Garden City-based attorney representing the Weisses. “We believe a jury will be sympathetic and side with our clients.”

The [firefighters] actions against [Richard and Tricia Weisse] amount to sore losers who are taking revenge on the ‘winners”
— Lawsuit

The Weisse family has a long history with the fire department, with their father, the late Richard Weisse Sr. having been a 42-year member and prior captain who was given the title of honorary chief upon his death, Erhlich said.

Tricia Weisse posted a picture of the historic St. James firehouse, located on Route 25A/Lake Avenue, on Facebook Sept. 24, after a $12.25 million capital bond vote failed Sept. 19, according to the lawsuit. Erlich said both siblings were vocal advocates against the bond.

Another person, who was not identified in the lawsuit, wrote a comment under the Facebook post reading, “St. James Fire Dept. Engine Company #1. It is tough, unless you are looking for a new place to party, to see these pics and remain absolutely unemotional about tearing it down. Nice pics,” according to the court documents.

Based on this comment, Richard Weisse and Tricia Weisse claim they received a letter signed by Springer that suspended them and another volunteer, John Tyson, from attending all social events and functions for three months as the comment violated the district’s social media policy. The Weisses said they requested a hearing to have their suspension reviewed, but the district refused.

“The [firefighters] actions against [Richard and Tricia Weisse] amount to sore losers who are taking revenge on the ‘winners,’” reads the lawsuit. “Springer and Davis used and abused their power in the department to punish the plaintiffs for their political decision on the bond issue.”

During this three-month suspension, the fire department hosted several events including its Veterans Day parade, Christmas parade, and Breakfast with Santa where the siblings had traditionally dressed up as Santa and Mrs. Claus. Instead, the siblings were forced to sit out.

We made an attempt to reach out to the fire department and fire district via letter and via phone, to resolve the matter”
— David Erhlich

Richard Weisse also alleged in November 2017 that Davis directed that he and other members of Engine Company No. 1 not be transported to a mandatory training, for which he took time off work to attend, and was not able to make it up within the required time frame. As such, Richard Weisse was suspended as a volunteer, according to court documents, and harassed by other firefighters.

“Springer, Davis and the department encouraged and condoned the harassment of Richard,” reads the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges that the Weisse siblings’ “expression and advocacy against the bond issue — including the comment which was wrongly attributed to [them] — are an expression on the issue of public importance and is protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution from government interference or restriction.”

The siblings’ attorney also makes case for a violation of the Weisses’ Fourth Amendment due process right, claiming New York General Municipal Law Section 209-1 requires firefighters receive procedural due process before being discharged or suspended.

“We made an attempt to reach out to the fire department and fire district via letter and via phone, to resolve the matter,” Erlich said. “All we received back was a letter saying they we are supporting the fire district.”

Jessica Novins, a spokeswoman for St. James fire department and district, commented only, “Should there ever be any litigation against the fire district, the district would not be at liberty to comment.”

Centereach Fire Department teamed up with Operation Christmas Child to collect shoeboxes filled with gifts to be donated to needy children. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

It wasn’t quite Santa’s sleigh, but it was large, red and carried presents, so an ambulance was good enough for the Selden Fire Department, which took over Santa’s duties last week and stuffed 100 shoeboxes with gifts for poor young children all over the world.

Volunteers help fill a Selden Fire Department
ambulance with shoeboxes for Operation Christmas
Child. Photo by Kyle Barr

“Most of these boxes are going to go to kids who never even get a gift,” Selden Fire Department Treasurer Vincent Ammirati said. “This is something that will put a smile on a face, and this is the fire department — everything we do here is for other people. All we do is try put a smile on people’s faces.”

The shoeboxes were collected as part of Operation Christmas Child, a function of the evangelical Christian humanitarian aid organization Samaritan’s Purse. The organization takes the shoeboxes from drop-off points in local churches before sending them to distribution centers that will ship them to poor communities in Africa, South America, Asia and others. The shoeboxes are labeled by age and gender, and usually contain toys like inflatable soccer balls or stuffed animals, but mostly they contain hygiene products like soap and toothbrushes along with school supplies like books and pencils.

All seven companies within the Selden Fire Department helped contribute to the stack, with some companies acting as a group and other members of the fire department contributing indipendently.

Children in Uganda receive shoeboxes of gifts from
Operation Christmas Child last year. Photo from
Danielle McCarthy

Volunteer firefighter and Operation Christmas Child Long Island Coordinator Danielle McCarthy headed the fire department’s collection drive. She said she got the idea of filling an ambulance full of shoeboxes from watching the Los Angeles Police Department and how a funeral home had pulled in with a hearse full of shoe boxes.

McCarthy has been involved with Operation Christmas Child for more than a decade, first packing boxes before becoming a local packing leader, and then area coordinator. In 2012 McCarthy travelled to Uganda to help hand out shoeboxes.

“As we put shoe boxes into their hands and they opened up those boxes I saw their delight,” she said. “To look at them having physical needs met, to be able to see the joy that came to them from these simple things like school supplies and toys and that sort of thing, that impacted me. But what really impacted me even more, and what keeps me packing shoeboxes, were all the kids standing outside the place who didn’t get shoeboxes because there wasn’t enough to give to everybody.”

Shoeboxes for Operation Christmas
Child were collected with gifts to be
donated to needy children.
Photo by Kyle Barr

Every box also comes with a picture book called “The Greatest Gift,” put inside after each is packed. The book depicts a number of biblical stories told in that country’s native language. There was a $9 fee for every package, which pays for both the book and shipping costs. The fire department pulled together $900 to go toward this cost.

“Every one of these shoeboxes to us is not just a gift that we’re giving to a child, but around Christmas time Jesus is a gift we try to give, too,” said Victor Rossomano, an Operation Christmas Child Suffolk County-area coordinator. “It’s in their language and their culture. We try to keep it within their culture; we try not to send America to them, we want them to be who they are.”

Ammirati helped McCarthy drive the shoeboxes to the drop-off point at the Grace Gospel Church in Patchogue. He said he plans on using his officer status with the Suffolk County Volunteer Fireman’s Association to try and spread the idea out to all the different fire departments in the county.

“It’s a great way to show our community presence with the fire department and also for Operation Christmas Child,” McCarthy said. “It’s taken a few years to get this rolling, but when we challenged the fire department to fill the ambulance, as you can see, the guys stepped up.”

The 100 boxes kicked off national collection week, which ran from Nov. 13 to 20. In 2009, Suffolk County gathered 7,100 boxes, but the number has grown. The group is hoping to have 20,000 boxes packed this year

A rendering of what the front of the proposed new St. James firehouse would look like. Image from St. James Fire District

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Firefighters are known for running into danger, but it can be difficult to get to the scene when firefighters are facing significant risk simply getting to their trucks.

St. James fire commissioners are asking residents to consider a $12.25 million capital bond project to build a new 22,458-square-foot Jefferson Avenue facility Sept. 19.

“We are not looking to build a luxurious firehouse, as other communities have,” St. James Fire District Chairman Lawrence Montrose wrote in a letter with other commissioners. “We are simply looking to provide our dedicated volunteers with the basic and modern resources they need to effectively do their job — a job that protects and serves the residents of this community in their greatest times of need.”

The proposal being voted on in the St. James Fire District includes tearing down the Jefferson Avenue firehouse and replacing the structure with one nearly three times as large. Photo from Google Maps

The fire district’s existing Jefferson Avenue facility sustained significant damage in an August 2016 storm. The building’s pre-existing infrastructure issues allowed 6 to 18 inches of water to rise up through the floors, flooding the building, according to the St. James Fire District commissioners through a spokesperson. The flood caused cracks to the weight-bearing walls in the truck bay and worsened stress cracks in the fire chief and commissioner’s offices, in addition to plumbing and electrical damage.

Since the flood, Jefferson Avenue volunteer firefighters have been getting into their gear in one building before running across the parking lot to get on a truck. While this is happening, the fire commissioners said other volunteers are often still entering the parking lot, creating a major safety concern. Volunteers are in danger of being hit by incoming vehicles as they cross to the trucks.

“One instance was almost a catastrophic event,” said the fire commissioners. “One individual fell in the parking lot and was almost run over by an exiting fire truck.”

Other safety issues have arisen. Two of the district’s fire companies are operating out of what was originally the storage and maintenance structure built on the rear of the property. Trucks responding to one of the district’s 1,298 calls in 2016 also had to maneuver through the traffic. Fire commissioner chiefs compared the situation to playing the video game Frogger.

The proposed Jefferson Avenue facility, if approved by voters, would be more than three times the size of the existing 7,407-square-foot building. The additional space would include spaces to serve as accommodations for firefighters and community members during storms or major emergencies, in addition to a meeting room for district and public use. It would be built in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, as the current firehouse is not.

St. James fire commissioners will be moving forward with selling the historic firehouse on Route 25A/Lake Avenue. Photo from Google Maps

If voters approve the project, construction of the new Jefferson Avenue facility would start around six months after the vote and would be completed within one year. Volunteer response to emergencies would not be interrupted by the construction, according to the district.

Regardless of voters’ decision, St. James fire commissioners said they will move forward with selling off the Route 25A/Lake Avenue building, purchased by the district for $500,000 in 2013. Due to the facility’s age, it’s not suited for the district’s needs.

The estimated cost of the proposed plan to consolidate to one Jefferson Avenue facility would be an increase of approximately $118 to $198 a year for taxpayers based on their home’s assessed value.

St. James Fire District will be holding a public information session for those who wish to learn more Aug. 29 at the Jefferson Avenue firehouse at 7 p.m. Residents can also tour existing facilities Sept. 9 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sept. 14 from 7 to 9 p.m. and Sept. 17 from 1 to 3 p.m.