St. Agnes Cathedral provides special needs mass for families

It’s the middle of the Gospel. One boy lets out a high pitched “eek” as his chair scrapes against the floor. Another has a stockpile of Men’s Health magazines next to him, while a little girl in a green dress runs up and down the aisles. A tall boy with blonde hair who has Autism sniffs the priest’s robe.

St. Agnes Cathedral held its special needs mass last Saturday, as it has done every fourth Saturday of each month for the past 10 years. As Autism Awareness Month approaches, Father Ryan Creamer said he wanted families to feel welcomed to celebrate their faith without fearing embarrassment if their child acts out during the service.

“I have newspapers saved from 30 years ago when I used to fight for my son’s right to participate in normal activities, even though he was different from all the other kids,” Diana Cacopardo, whose son suffers from Autism Spectrum Disorder, said. “I almost became a nun, so my faith is obviously very important to me, and it’s wonderful to feel so comfortable with my son at mass.”

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People with developmental delays, behavioral issues and physical challenges, ranging in age from kindergarteners to adults, stand at the altar and read previously assigned parts of the Old and New Testaments that are easy for them to understand. The priest asks simple questions to hold the children’s attention.

Only fifteen Catholic churches on Long Island offer masses specifically for the disabled.

“[After the wafer and wine are put on the altar] we all go up to the altar table and that part of the service is quite intimate, quite enjoyable, and quite different,” Eric Waxman, head of special needs masses at St. James Roman Catholic Church, said.

Everyone participated during the ceremony, so that the priest could capture their attention and keep them engaged. Specifically, children with Autism have a difficult time focusing on topics that aren’t interesting to them or are not engaging enough. But during the special needs mass, they went up to the altar and read small parts of The Letter of Paul.

“We design the ministry to meet the needs of the people,” Rev. Dr. Daris Dixon-Clark, reverend of First Baptist Church in Bay Shore, said. His church currently does not hold special needs services, but he expressed that churches in communities exist to cater to the needs of their parishioners. “If you have those needs in the community, then absolutely, there needs to be some type of component in the ministry that could reach out to [people with special needs].”

In the past, families have requested support from religious establishments for different types of religious masses and ceremonies, Nicole Ness, a behavior analyst with over a decade of experience working with people with developmental disabilities, said. “When the church is providing services, parents feel more welcomed and more at ease.”


Exhibit in Islip showcases art of female Long Islanders

A 70-year-old man wearing a light brown hat stares at a watercolor full of green, yellow and pink. The painting of a seahorse brings to life an otherwise pale yellow wall at the Bayard Cutting Arboretum.

From Sunday, April 9 to May 21, Women Sharing Art, Inc. will host an exhibit at the arboretum in Islip. Until that day, more than 20 female artists from Long Island will be presenting their photographs, watercolors, mosaics, pottery and sculptures.

“I feel it is women’s freedom of expression that is sometimes so internal and suppressed and the point of a not-for-profit was to help support these women to have an outlet,” Sue Miller, president of Women Sharing Art, Inc., said. “We want to provide avenues for women artists to nurture and encourage one another to further their artistic accomplishments.”

Their mission is clearer than ever, since women are still underrepresented in museums across the nation. At the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, only 7 percent of the artwork on display was attributed to women. Globally, it is estimated that less than 5 percent of the artists shown in major art galleries around the world are female.

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For eight years, the organization has fundraised to give scholarships to female high school seniors who are interested in pursuing art. This year, they also awarded two grants to two of their own members.

“We make up greeting cards and with the sales of the greeting cards that feature our member’s art, we pay it forward and give a high school senior a scholarship to help defray the cost of what it is to be an artist in school,” Julie Kirk, attending artist and treasurer of Women Sharing Art Inc., said. “We have three $1,000 scholarship recipients today.”

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Since the exhibit took place at the arboretum, most of the women showed work inspired by some of the natural elements that can be found on the 691-acre property.

“There’s a lot of nature, a lot of birds and a lot of colorful things,especially in the summer,” Carole Amodeo, an artist and photographer, said. “So I just kind of wing it in terms of landscapes and flowers.”

Even though it was primarily based on the theme of nature, a variety of pieces were featured. “It’s different types of artwork, it’s not just one modality,” Linda Blake, who was brought to the exhibit by her friend, Lee, said. “I love beauty, and I love art.”

Women Sharing Art, Inc. does not profit from the work of any of its artists. The money goes directly to the artist and/or venue. They rely on the help of volunteers to make sure that all of their functions run smoothly.


Ultra marathon season on Long Island kicks off with Paumanok 70k

Alan Davidson wore skin tight black Under Armour running shorts, with the number 11 safety pinned to his left thigh. He stretched his calves against a white Dodge Ram on a foggy morning as he got ready for the 43.3 miles ahead of him.

On Sunday, Apr. 2, 2017, 45 solo runners and some relay teams competed in the Paumanok Pursuit 70k.

Anything above 26.21 miles qualifies as an ultramarathon, according to the International Ultrarunning Foundation. Participants spend months training for anything from a 50k to a 24-hour track race.

“Maybe ultrarunners are a little crazy, or have addiction problems, I’ve heard a lot of that,” Davidson said. “But I would say in some ways there’s a lot of truth to that stigma, for sure.” Even though he had the option to run as part of a relay team in the Paumanok Pursuit, Davidson conquered his run alone, finishing second in the solo male division.

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The Paumanok Pursuit was started by Dave and Jennifer Gatz, who also founded Jayasports in 2001. Jayasports is an organization that integrates athlete development with race experience by studying the physical impact of running on the mind and body. The race is meant to give runners a different experience, specifically one that is more therapeutic since it is on different trails in the woods. The route starts in Rocky Point and ends in Hampton Bays.

“It’s all trail, and there are five legs,” Jennifer Gatz said. “It’s not like normal running at all, so the pace is a little bit slower. Running trail as opposed to road, the trail is just so much more peaceful and challenging. You don’t think that Long Island is really hilly until you’re running on it.”

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The trend of ultrarunning formally started in the 1980s, when the International Association of Ultrarunners was founded. They host world and continental championships each year.

“People started off running around their block, then they started running 5ks, and then they did 10ks, and then graduated to marathons,” Ron Bowman said. He is an ultrarunning coach, and has completed over 118 ultra marathons. “A lot of runners now are starting to get fulfilled by marathons, and are looking for something more to do.”

On Mar. 28, the American Journal of Kidney Diseases released a study that determined that even with proper hydration, runners should limit themselves to running less than 26 miles at a time. Anything amounting over that has the potential to put too much strain on kidneys.

“Risks can all be managed and minimized and are not exclusive to running a 50k or more,”  Ellie Greenwood, a two-time ultra marathon world champion from the United Kingdom, said.

Coach Bowman advises those wishing to participate in an ultramarathon to get a physical checkup and talk to a doctor about any underlying issues that may be exacerbated by the endurance required when running an ultramarathon.


Polar Plunge in Oyster Bay raises $65,000 for the Special Olympics

It was 32 degrees and windy. But at 11:30 in the morning, over 400 people lined the shore at Tobay Beach. One woman wore a swimsuit with a crown of flowers, while one man wore a Deadpool costume. They all waited with anticipation to run into the freezing water.

The Town of Oyster Bay hosted its fourth annual Polar Plunge on Saturday, Mar. 18 to benefit Special Olympics New York. It costs $400 to sponsor one Special Olympics athlete for an entire season and athletes compete without any cost to themselves. Special Olympics New York offers training and year-round competitions for athletes with disabilities. Oyster Bay’s plunge raised $65,000 for the sponsorship of 162 athletes.

Polar Plunges are events held during the winter months where participants run into bodies of water despite frigid temperatures, usually to raise money for charitable organizations.

“The whole event was an amazing experience,” Tracie Kulich-McCarty, a first time participant at the plunge, said. “Lining up and moving closer, the adrenaline rise as you run down to the water and come out. It was a great experience for a great cause.”

Many participants return to plunge the following year. “My son saw a flyer in school and got really excited when he found out he could help raise money for the Special Olympics,” Jamielynn Fuentes said. This was her son’s second year participating. He and his friends raised over $4000. “He had such a great time last year. Even though it was fun jumping in the water, I really think he enjoyed raising the money even more.”

“Events like the Polar Plunge bring the community together,” Rose Walker, Nassau County Legislator, said. “It gives members of our community the opportunity to partner with sponsors and organizations from other areas as well, all working together toward a common goal. It warms my heart to see what we can accomplish when we all come together for such a wonderful cause.”

Brands and businesses showed up to sponsor the event, such as Nesquik, Chick-fil-A, and BLI Radio. “One of our most important core values is making a positive impact on our communities and the people in them,” Lashawna, a representative from Chick-Fil-A headquarters, said. “Locally funded sponsorships are something that occurs with each individual owner operator of Chick-fil-A.”

The Polar Plunge gives participants an opportunity to step outside of their comfort zones. “It breaks down stereotypes of what we can and cannot overcome,” Joseph Saladino, Town Supervisor of Oyster Bay, said. “It’s fun and allows people to build camaraderie while strengthening our power to overcome fear.”

The Oyster Bay Polar Plunge was one of three recent polar plunge events. North Hempstead hosted their 13th annual Polar Plunge Mar. 4 and raised $60,000. Rockaway Park will host a Polar Plunge on Mar. 25 at 10:00 a.m. at Jacob Riis Park.


Eleven-Year-Olds shave their heads to raise awareness for cancer

Two eleven-year-olds became the top contributors for a fundraiser benefiting childhood cancer on Saturday, by shaving their heads to help Fulton’s Gate Irish Pub exceed its $6,000 goal.

The event contributed over $8,000 to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a charity that raises money and awareness for children with cancer. This is the first time the pub surpassed its goal in the three years that it has been hosting the fundraiser, due largely in part to the two sixth-graders, Daclan Lukowski and Kyle Toscanini.

“I want to help end this disease, because I know it takes lots of people every year, so I decided to sign up for it,” Lukowski said. He raised over $2,200 and dyed his hair blue before he shaved it, in honor of a relative who passed away from colon cancer.

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“I’m probably going to do it every year,” Toscanini said. Inspired by his best friend, Toscanini raised $1,300 to shave his head too.

His mom, Jennifer Toscanini, told of her son’s enthusiasm for the event. “He came home and said, ‘can I shave my head for childhood cancer mom? Because some kids get really sick and they don’t ever get better,’” she said. “I am so unbelievably proud of him, it’s such a wonderful feeling to see that your child cares that much.”

The charity promotes similar shaving events throughout March every year.

“We want to not only be able to cure all childhood cancer one day, but also make sure during the treatments kids have, that they’re not suffering from side effects,” Cristine Lovato, media manager for the foundation, said. “People from all different ages and backgrounds come together for one common cause.”

A few years ago, it was revealed that organizations were spending more money on their administrative and internal fees than they were donating to cancer research. In 2012, Susan G. Komen for the Cure came under scrutiny for only donating around 20 percent of its funds to cancer research. St. Baldrick’s donates 77 percent of its funds, according to Charity Navigator.

An integral element to these events are the professionals who donate their time to shave hair.

“It makes me happy, it’s good to just do good things for people sometimes,” Kristine Murillo, a hairstylist, said. She owns Fedora Lounge, a hair salon in Port Jefferson. “There’s really nothing not to like about it.”

While having no hair might seem like a big adjustment to some, others are honored to show their support.

“I think people have a fear of shaving their head because they are so exposed to what they look like in public,” Brian Caffrey said. Caffrey’s a nurse at Stony Brook University Hospital and works with pediatric cancer patients four days each week.

For Lukowski’s mother, Kerry, the event is an emotional one. “I was literally in tears, the whole place was clapping and cheering.”


Owners frustrated over rejected alcohol sale proposal

On St. Patrick’s Day, businesses in Long Beach will serve alcoholic beverages to paying customers, but concessions on the boardwalk will have their doors closed.

These food stand owners recently backed a proposal that would have allowed them to renegotiate their leases, adding an adjustment that permitted them to sell alcohol. The proposal was rejected in a 4-to-1 city council vote.

Concession owners like Sean and Kelly Sullivan, who own Beach Local Cafe, hoped selling alcohol would have enabled their businesses to stay open year-round, instead of just during the summer months. Their frustration has been imminent for some time, as they had been under the false impression that the city would allow them to serve alcohol.

“At this point I’m much more disappointed by the way that we got run around for the last 6 months than with the actual decision itself,” Sean Sullivan, owner of Beach Local Cafe, a concession stand on the boardwalk, said. “They wasted everyone’s time calling a public hearing, I mean it’s complete bullshit,” Kelly Sullivan, Sean’s wife, said.

One Long Beach City Council member was, in fact, on the Sullivans’ side. And he is still disappointed in the way the vote turned out.

“In my opinion, this was a missed opportunity to slowly implement the limited sale of alcohol with an abundance of caution,” Anthony Eramo, Vice-President of the City Council, said.

A Long Beach Native, Ally Golden, who lives within walking distance of the boardwalk, was on board with the proposal but acknowledges its drawbacks. “The sale of alcohol on the beach would be great for local businesses,” Golden said. “[But] the kids in Long Beach already drink like sailors, alcohol is crazy accessible,” she conceded.

In fact, according to Long Beach Aware, a group that opposes the sale of alcohol on the boardwalk, the amount of high school students drinking alcohol in the city has seen an over 20 percent increase in two years.

“The number of establishments in a community where you can purchase alcohol is directly related to the amount of underage drinking that goes on in that community,” Judi Vining, Executive Director of Long Beach Aware, said.

The Sullivans sold their successful barbecue restaurant in order to open on the boardwalk, in hopes of one day serving alcohol. But now, almost their entire business plan has seemingly been thrown out the window. “I feel like the decision was made before we had a hearing,” Sean Sullivan said.

Even owners of local bars in Long Beach that could have ended up competing with Beach Local Cafe for patrons were rooting for the proposal to pass.

“We have a lot of cocktails that are very specific to our restaurant that no other place down here make, so I don’t think It would’ve hit our particular business badly,” Michelle Farley, manager of Jetty Bar and Grill, said.

While the movement to get alcohol on the boardwalk may be on hold for now, some of its chief proponents still hold out hope. Anthony Eramo implored locals to ponder what a summer night on the boardwalk would be like if visitors could enjoy a casual drink by the ocean.

“I think it would have been great,” Eramo said. “Cheers.”

“Plant-powered” organic dog treats are making their way onto store shelves

study published on Feb. 17 by Informa furthered the scientific support of the effects of medicinal plants. Today, Benji’s Farm Organic Botanical Dog Treats is discovering that plants with medicinal purposes for humans may have the same effects for dogs.

Rocky Graziose, a botanist, and his wife Allison, a health wellness teacher, created the company, using their backgrounds to develop “plant-powered” treats.

“We think the focus on meat in the dog food industry is neglecting the value and the virtues the plants have to offer,” Rocky Graziose said.

Graziose has been interested in plants since he was a child. He earned his Ph.D. in botany studying medicinal plants at Rutgers University. Each flavor of Benji’s Farm dog treats incorporates a unique combination of medicinal herbs.

Their flavor “Sleepy” is most popular. It uses lavender, passionflower and chamomile to induce calmness and relaxation.

“My dogs have very high energy,” Denise Loughlin, a customer, said. “Believe it or not, I definitely notice a calming effect after about 15 to 20 minutes.”

Interest in the treats can also be attributed to how they are gluten free. The global gluten-free food market size is predicted to nearly double from 2015 to 2020 according to Statista, a market research agency. A gluten-free diet has become trendy for humans in recent years, but is it healthy for this trend to spread into the dog world?


“I have seen many dogs get sick from gluten especially and many grains,” Dr. Marcie Fallek, a veterinarian specializing in holistic treatment, said. Fallek, who is also a staff writer for Dogs Naturally magazine, said that dogs’ digestive systems are not suited for gluten.  “Some tend to get diarrhea and all kinds of digestive problems.”

Some dogs, like some people, cannot tolerate gluten, according to a study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. For humans, the condition is called celiac disease. For dogs, it is known as gluten-induced enteropathy.

The vegan-friendly aspect of the treats is gaining praise as well. “We appreciate and commend their work,” Erika Galera, the marketing manager of the Food Empowerment Project, a non-profit vegan justice organization, said. “We would advocate for dogs to try vegan diets.”

Many vegan products find ways to draw protein from sources other than meat. Benji’s Farm uses peanut flour in their mixture, which faces some criticism.

“Just because something is marked organic and gluten-free doesn’t mean it is healthy,” Susan Blake Davis, a pet nutritionist, said. “These treats are loaded with carbohydrates like peanut flour and molasses. Excess carbohydrates can lead to ear infections and skin problems among other things.”

Although the treats continue to draw in customers looking to feed their dogs on vegan or gluten-free diets, they were not created with this intention.

“We don’t particularly endorse or discredit vegetarian diets for dogs,” Rocky Graziose, the co-creator of the company, said. “It is the customer’s choice that they should consult with their veterinarian.”

Another flavor that uses a new combination of herbs for a different effect is currently in development, said Rocky Graziose. The new mystery flavor will not be revealed until next month.

DACA and the destruction of a dream

Within the next month, there will be a new policy regarding undocumented students protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

An executive order was leaked proposing to end DACA, leaving many young immigrants in a state of uncertainty.

In New York, DACA provides 47,000 unauthorized immigrants who entered the U.S. before the age of 16 a great deal of stability, allowing them to attend university, be granted working papers, and be exempt from deportation.

Suffolk County Community College student Willy Flores is one of over 7,000 undocumented immigrants eligible for DACA in the county. He arrived in America as a child when his family fled the Guatemalan Civil War, and DACA “has given me opportunity to work so I can go to school and educate myself,” Flores said. “School is a lot easier when I don’t have to worry about being deported over a simple traffic stop.”

A professor at the college, Cynthia Eaton, explains that “Trump’s unpredictability, temperament, and past statements about immigrants have caused students to have a generalized anxiety.”

“Eliminating DACA either by fire (ending it) or by ice (letting is expire) would be a tragic humanitarian turn of events,” Michael Olivas, professor of law at the University of Houston-Downton, said. “It is a demonstrably successful program, which has stopped the possible-deportation-clock for over three-quarters of a million students. We have all benefited from this program.”

The institution has more than 500 undocumented students and Olivas does not see a benefit to the disposing of DACA.

But not everybody shares the same view. The Federation for Immigration Reform aims to reduce the number of immigrants coming into the U.S. Ira Mehlman, the organization’s Media Director, described what would happen to undocumented students if DACA no longer existed.

“They’ll revert back to the status before President Obama,” Mehlman said. “It is considerably questionable whether or not he had the authority to do this in the first place.”

If DACA were repealed, education is among one of the last worries for undocumented students. It would become even more of a struggle for undocumented students to work and pay for school.

“They lose any kind of status that they gained under DACA and essentially they become targets for deportation,” Aleka Filindra, an associate professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said.

To beneficiaries of the program like Dale St. Marthe, a computer science major at CUNY York College, that security isn’t taken for granted.

“Ending DACA would be like opening a pothole right under me,” St. Marthe said. “I would have to stop literally in the middle of my college career, and revert back to what I feel is an empty state of limbo in the U.S.”

A number of advocacy groups have already begun speaking out in opposition to Trump possibly repealing DACA. Among them is the Long Island Immigrant Student Advocates, where founder Osman Caneles describes the impact DACA has on students.

“DACA gave these students hope, and allows them to dream, and work for their dreams,” Caneles said.

St. Marthe is among those grateful for the opportunity to work toward his dreams. “Any shortcomings when it comes to jobs, education and career, I have the privilege of saying that it’s my fault, and not that I simply am unable to.”