Gaughran Win Helps Flip NY Senate

 Democrat Jim Gaughran defeated 23-year Republican incumbent Carl Marcellino in the 5th New York Senate District – one of four senate seats gained by democrats to give Democrats a majority.

Democrat Jim Gaughran defeated 23-year Republican incumbent Carl Marcellino in the 5th New York Senate District – one of four senate seats gained by democrats to give Democrats a majority.

By Connor Beach

cbeach@longislandergroup.com

Democrat Jim Gaughran’s successful bid to unseat veteran Republican State Senator Carl Marcellino helped flip control of the state senate, while elsewhere in races around the Town of Huntington incumbents from both parties held onto their seats.

Tuesday’s election was billed as a litmus test of the country’s political climate. In national election results, Democrats took control of the House of Representatives, while Republicans expanded their majority in the Senate.

In the 3rd Congressional district, Democratic incumbent Thomas Suozzi won a second term with 58 percent of the vote against Republican challenger Dan DeBono. Suozzi, 56, of Glen Cove, earned 145,060 votes to DeBono’s 103,278.

“I am so honored to serve as a member of the United State Congress, and I’m feeling pretty good that we are going to be in the majority come January first,” Suozzi told Nassau County Democrats Tuesday night.

State Senate Changes Hands

At the state level, Democrats now control the governor’s office and both houses of the legislature. Governor Andrew Cuomo easily won re-election against Republican challenger Marc Molinaro, and Democrats flipped a 32-31 Republican majority in the senate.

State Senate Majority Leader Republican John Flanagan, of East Northport, won his re-election campaign for the 2nd Senate District against Democratic challenger Kathleen Cleary with 55 percent of the vote, but conceded the senate majority following last night’s election results.

“Regardless of any election outcome, the Senate Republican Conference will continue to be a strong and important voice in Albany,” Flanagan said in a statement Wednesday.

After their race two years ago was decided by just 1 percentage point, Gaughran once again challenged Marcellino for the 5th State Senate District. This time around Gaughran earned 62,933 votes, 10,050 votes more than Marcellino, who has held the seat for 23 years. The race was one of the most expensive in the state, with both sides spending over a million dollars to win the important seat.

“I came close two years ago, and the number of people who got involved I think was the big difference,” Gaughran said in an interview Wednesday.

Gaughran will join six Long Island Democratic senators heading to Albany in 2019. He said the argument that Republican control of the senate is needed as a check in state government was “turned on its head.”

Entering Albany as a member of the new senate majority, Gaughran said he hopes to see the Child Victims Act, common sense gun control and electoral reform legislation move forward in the senate.

Incumbents Keep Assembly Seats

 Republican incumbent Andrew Raia celebrates winning re-election in the 12th state assembly district Tuesday night against Democratic challenger Avrum Rosen.

Republican incumbent Andrew Raia celebrates winning re-election in the 12th state assembly district Tuesday night against Democratic challenger Avrum Rosen.

In the 12th Assembly District, veteran assemblyman Andrew Raia held off a challenge from Democrat Avrum Rosen. Rosen, 64, of Centerport, entered the race in August after the first choice Democratic candidate, Michael Marcantonio, lost a legal challenge over his eligibility and was tossed from the ballot.

“I look forward to working with my colleagues on the other side of the aisle to make sure we stick together on Long Island- Republicans and Democrats- to ensure that we get our share of state resources,” Raia said Tuesday night.

Raia, who was first elected to represent the district in 2002, also said he felt “one party rule in Albany spells disaster for Long Island.”

In the 10th Assembly District, Democratic incumbent Steve Stern won 60 percent of the vote against 22-year-old Republican challenger Jeremy Williams.

Stern, who was elected to the seat in an April special election, said Wednesday his “record of delivering results” helped his message resonate with voters.

“I’m looking forward to introducing legislative initiatives that will have a beneficial impact for our local economy, protect our taxpayers and ensure opportunities for our district,” Stern said.

 Democrat Joan Cergol watches as results confirm her election to the Huntington Town Board on election night.

Democrat Joan Cergol watches as results confirm her election to the Huntington Town Board on election night.

Dems Win Special Elections To Town Ofices

In the Town of Huntington races, two Democratic incumbents held onto their seats in their first bids for election.

Councilwoman Joan Cergol, who was appointed to her seat in December, held onto her seat on the Huntington Town Board against Republican challenger James Leonick.

Leonick, of East Northport, who ran an unsuccessful campaign for town board in 2017, congratulated Cergol after election results were announced Tuesday night.

“We had a lot of positive reactions from the people we connected with throughout the campaign,” Leonick said. “We saw the best of what the town and the people have to offer.”

Cergol said in an interview Wednesday that her election was an “important affirmation by the voters” of her work thus far on the town board.

“It was great to know my message was heard and resonated with people,” Cergol said, adding that she felt campaign ads unjustly targeted her professional career.

“At times I was under attack and supporters told me to push back, but that’s not my way.”

Cergol said Republican Supervisor Chad Lupinacci “was the first person to call and congratulate me” after election results were in Tuesday night, and she said she is looking forward to working with Lupinacci and the rest of the town board to “promote more inclusion, understanding and cooperation” in the town.

The race for town Receiver of Taxes between incumbent Democrat Jillian Guthman and Republican challenger Janet Smitelli saw the candidates earn 39,970 and 36,210 votes, respectively.

Guthman, who was appointed to her position in December after longtime tax receiver Ester Bivona retired, won 52.46 percent of the vote.

RESULTS AT A GLANCE

3rd Congressional:
*Thomas Suozzi (D): 145,060
Dan DeBono (R): 103,278

2nd State Senate:
*John Flanagan (R): 62,748
Kathleen Cleary (D): 50,581

5th State Senate:
James Gaughran (D): 62,933
*Carl Marcellino (R): 52,833

10th State Assembly:
*Steve Stern (D): 26,687
Jeremy Williams (R): 18,176

12th State Assembly:
*Andrew Raia (R): 26,705
Avrum Rosen (D): 21,080

County Clerk
Judith Pascale (R): 253,926
Du Wayne Gregory (D): 218,553

County Comptroller:
*John Kennedy (R): 246,690
Jay Schneiderman (D): 238,067

Town Board:
*Joan Cergol (D): 40,741
James Leonick (R): 35,884

Town Receiver of Taxes
*Jillian Guthman (D): 39,970
Janet Smitelli (R): 36,210

* indicates incumbents

Results from Suffolk and Nassau County Board of Elections

Uber Driver Charged In Teen's Death

 Danyal Cheema allegedly allowed a teen to car surf with fatal results.

Danyal Cheema allegedly allowed a teen to car surf with fatal results.

By Sophia Ricco
sricco@longislandergroup.com

An Uber driver is facing manslaughter charges following the death of a 15-year-old Cold Spring Harbor teen who fell off the roof while car surfing, the Suffolk District Attorney said.

The fall was fatal to Ryan Mullen, who died in his sleep at home the night of the accident.

The driver, Danyal Cheema of Huntington Station, was arrested by Suffolk County Police on Nov. 4 and charged with felony second-degree manslaughter for the accident that occurred Sept. 23 on Cove Road in Huntington. According to the DA Tim Sini’s office, Mullen was one of three intoxicated teens who called Uber to hail a ride.

Cheema picked up the teens around midnight and was driving them to their destination when the passengers offered him $70 to let them get on the roof of the vehicle and “car surf,” the DA said.

Two of the boys climbed on top of the car, while the third recorded the scene on Snapchat, Sini said. Mullen tumbled off the moving vehicle on Cove Road and struck his head.

“In this day and age, we often encourage people to use ride sharing services because it’s a safe alternative to drinking and driving,” Sini said. “These boys were doing that; they were drinking that night and they made the right decision to contract with a car service. Unfortunately the defendant made a reckless decision and engaged in reckless conduct that caused the death of a young boy, and he will be held accountable for that.”

Following the fall, Cheema drove the teens to a residence, where he dropped them off. Mullen died in his sleep, the DA said.

 Ryan Mullen died in his sleep at home the night of the accident.

Ryan Mullen died in his sleep at home the night of the accident.

Suffolk County District Court, Judge Jennifer Henry set set bail at $200,000 cash or $400,000 bond. Cheema’s license was also suspended.

Cheema faces five to 15 years in prison if convicted. He will return to court Nov. 9.

Cheema’s attorney Christopher Renfroe did not return a call for comment by deadline.

“This was an incredibly bad decision by the defendant and a bad decision by the boys involved,” Sini said. “But at the end of the day, this defendant is an adult who was contracted to safely bring those boys home and he failed to do that.”

Hoping To Put A Stamp On History

 Rep. Tom Suozzi, third from right, joined local historians and members of the Long Island Woman Suffrage Association on the steps of the historic home of Ida Bunce Sammis in Huntington.

Rep. Tom Suozzi, third from right, joined local historians and members of the Long Island Woman Suffrage Association on the steps of the historic home of Ida Bunce Sammis in Huntington.

By Connor Beach
cbeach@longislandergroup.com

A Huntington suffragist was one of the first two women elected to the New York State Assembly.

Congressman Thomas Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) joined local historians Monday on the steps of the historic 70 Main Street house in Huntington to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the election of Ida Bunce Sammis to the state assembly on Nov. 5, 1918.

The site was once the home of Sammis, who with New York City resident Mary Lilly was one of the first two women in the New York assembly.

“She served on a ticket of good, clean, honest administration,” Suozzi said.

 Ida B. Sammis

Ida B. Sammis

Antonia Petrash, founder of the Long Island Woman Suffrage Association, praised Sammis’ election in 1918 as a major achievement. The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was not ratified until two years later in 1920, but New York State passed a law in 1917 giving the women the right to vote and hold office.

“It was the culmination of a 72-year struggle,” Petrash said.

Huntington Historical Society Trustee Toby Kissam said Sammis moved to the house at 70 Main Street after she was married, and it was where she held meetings and rallies promoting women’s suffrage.

Speaking at the house on the day before Election Day, Suozzi encouraged residents to remember the struggle of Sammis and others like her who fought hard for the right to vote.

“It’s important that everyone gets out to vote tomorrow, no matter who you’re voting for,” Suozzi said. “Throughout the history of our country, so many people fought long and hard for the right to vote. Let’s not see their efforts, on our behalf, be in vain.”

Suozzi also announced that he had sent a letter to the United States Postal Service’s Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee requesting a commemorative stamp to honor the upcoming 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, as well as the election of Sammis and Lilly to the New York State Assembly.

Show Of Unity At Jewish Center

 Hundreds of people gathered at the Dix Hills Jewish Center to reject anti-Semitism and show unity with Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue.

Hundreds of people gathered at the Dix Hills Jewish Center to reject anti-Semitism and show unity with Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue.

By Connor Beach
cbeach@longislandergroup.com

Hundreds of people of different faiths gathered Monday night at the Dix Hills Jewish Center to mourn and remember the 11 victims of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg on Saturday.

The solemn vigil mirrored thousands that took place around the country during which people of all faiths rejected and condemned the kind of anti-Semitism and hatred expressed by the lone gunman, Robert Bowers, who was captured alive after a shootout with police.

Rabbi Howard Buechler opened the ceremony and encouraged a sense of unity among all those who gathered in the house of worship.

“Tonight we stand together to seek comfort and to condemn hatred,” Buechler said. “Together we stand together representing a beautiful mosaic of diversity that is our community to teach our children never to be biased or bigoted, and never to let fear hold sway over your lives.”

Linda Beigel Schulman, of Dix Hills, whose son Scott Beigel died in February during the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, also gave an emotional speech during the rally.

“Living through the Parkland massacre once was enough for anyone, but reliving that again this past Saturday has brought back such a flood of emotion that I can not even begin to express my outrage,” Schulman said.

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart told mourners that the Suffolk Police Department stood with them, and that police would increase patrols in and around houses of worship “into the foreseeable future.”

“It is critical to us that we do all we can as a police department to make sure that you feel safe as you join together to worship,” Hart said.To end the vigil, attendees joined together in solidarity and sang “God Bless America.”

Buechler said, “Tonight we might be standing in Dix Hills, but tonight we are all in Pittsburgh.”

Town Breaks Ground On Veterans’ Housing

 Veterans groups joined town officials for the groundbreaking of the future Columbia Terrace in Huntington.

Veterans groups joined town officials for the groundbreaking of the future Columbia Terrace in Huntington.

Construction of Columbia Terrace is officially underway following a ceremonial groundbreaking by town officials, veterans, and the construction company.

The groundbreaking was held Tuesday, Oct. 30, on the grounds of an affordable housing development for veterans. Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci, Town Board members Joan Cergo, Mark Cuthbertson and Ed  Smyth, Community Development Agency Director Leah  Jefferson, Assemblyman Steve Stern, representatives from Lipsky construction and members of the American Legion, VFW and the veterans advisory board attended the groundbreaking.

“Huntington Station has been waiting decades for neighborhood and economic revitalization, which over the past several years has began to mobilize,” Lupinacci said.

The town’s Community Development Agency acquired the property in 2010.

“Affordable housing is so far out of reach for so many people living here on Long Island,” Jefferson said. “So the more than we can provide affordable housing and the gift of the American Dream of home ownership, I think is really important, particularly here in the town of Huntington. Not only can home cost be expensive, but the taxes can also put a home out of reach for individuals.”

Affordability was always a goal for the project but in 2015, the CDA earmarked the homes for veterans and their families. Those who have served our country will have a chance to own one of the 14 homes through entering a housing lottery.

“Our veterans and their families make many sacrifices to keep us safe,” Lupinacci said. “When they come home, we owe them the opportunity to have the stability of owning a home that they can live in.”

Lipsky Construction won the contract to build the homes with a $2.94-million bid. The goal is to have veterans moved in by Sept. 30, 2019.

For Lipsky, the project is special.

“We took special consideration of this bid when we gave our pricing, that it was for veterans,” Barry Lipsky, president of Lipsky Construction,  said. “Our company is in the third generation, my brother and myself are the third generation, and my grandfather started it, who was a World War II vet.”

“This is very exciting day and project for our community, but most importantly for those that serve all of us,” Stern, a member of the Veterans Affairs committee in the Assembly, said. “With the Lipsky family we know that can look forward to an outstanding project that will make all of our veterans and our community proud.”

Jefferson hopes it will be a model and inspiration for future projects.

“With all of the service they [veterans] have provided to residents here and across the nation,” Jefferson said. “They face hardships and issues with the healthcare crisis, coming back and dealing with war or maybe dealing with other obstacles. Home ownership might out of reach, so we want to provide them with the affordability of owning a home, especially first-time home buyers.”

The housing lottery will be held about two months before the project is completed, CDA officials said.

Robotics Team Readies For Competitions

 Mentor, Donald Fisher works with Huntington High School students, Anthony Amitrano, Nick Bozsnyak and Patrick Langton to build a robot.

Mentor, Donald Fisher works with Huntington High School students, Anthony Amitrano, Nick Bozsnyak and Patrick Langton to build a robot.

By Sophia Ricco
sricco@longislandergroup.com

 

You can create anything you put your mind to and the Huntington High School Robotics team is a prime example of this, with four World Championships in the bag the Robotics team is looking to have another sensational year.

But robot parts don’t come cheap. This is why Huntington Robotics Incorporated is hosting their third annual Robotics Fundraiser on Nov. 5 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Launchpad of Huntington, 315 Main Street. It will be a fun, casual cocktail party with beer provided by Six Harbors Brewery and food by Babalu Cuban Bistro.

Huntington Robotics Incorporated is a nonprofit that supports Team 5016 through fundraising money and providing mentors. President of the Parent Association of Huntington Robotics, Peggy Low, got involved through her son and daughter’s participation in the group. She admires the clubs values of building and involvement with STEM, their community outreach and the business skills it teaches students, but admits that the venture is a costly one.

“Running a competitive robotics team with the FIRST organization, our league, is a very expensive endeavour,” Low said. “The entry fee to a competition is $5,000 and we try to do two competitions a year.”

Huntington High School has been a great help to the team by giving them financial support for competitions and transportation, but this funding still is not enough to completely run Team 5016. This leaves it up to Huntington Robotics Incorporated to fundraise and the high school students to secure corporate sponsors. If a parent gets a lead from a corporate sponsor, they will tell the students and help make the introduction, but after that they step back.

“The students themselves have to communicate with the corporate sponsor, try to get an appointment for a presentation, make a pitch presentation and close the deal,” Low said.

It is truly up to the students to run their team, with advising from faculty members, Omar Santiago and Brian Reynolds. The kids have a business plan and voting procedures, along with governing themselves. This fall Huntington Robotics students have been planning and coordinating their community outreach, as well as crafting a method on how they will educate and train next year’s team.

For the team, their community outreach is a major component of their season. Team 5016 wants to promote STEM learning in the area through initiatives and meeting with other students. Coming up, the team will be holding a Women’s Empowerment Symposium on Nov. 19 that is open for all to attend.

“We’ve gotten a lot of kids involved in the community with STEM that didn’t think they were interested,” Low said. “The kids basically do everything themselves.”

From where it began in 2013, with around nine students involved, the Robotics team has grown with over 50 students, many of them female and spanish speaking students. In their six years as a team, Team 5016 has attended four World Championships. Their most recent being in Detroit last April.

Looking forward to this year’s World Championships, the group will not know any of the details of the challenge until January 5th, when the FIRST League releases it. From there, they have six weeks to build a robot that will score them as many points as possible. It is “a lot like a real world problem”, because it requires being solved quickly while also working well.

“Once they release the ways in which the robot can score points, the designers of the robots, the programmers and the developers, who are students, sit down together for a week or two to come up with a prototype of what they want to build,” Low said.

A team like Team 5016 gives students the ability to work together for a common goal, while showing them strengths they may never have known they possessed.

“Many don’t realize that their particular skill set that they already have - whether it’s leadership, the ability to do coding, or they’re just good builders - can be applied to a team effort like robotics,” Low said. “Robotics is sort of like a sports team for the mind.”

Parents of the robotics team, board of education members and administration members from the school district, and sponsors will be attending the event. All are invited and welcomed to attend and support Team 5016. Tickets are on sale for the event for $75. Purchase by visiting team5016.com.

Northport Man Arrested After 'Proud Boys'' Melee

 Northport resident Douglas Lennan appears in Manhattan Criminal Court following his arrest on riot and assault charges for a clash that occurred between right- and left-wing extremists groups in Manhattan this month.  Pool photo/William Miller

Northport resident Douglas Lennan appears in Manhattan Criminal Court following his arrest on riot and assault charges for a clash that occurred between right- and left-wing extremists groups in Manhattan this month. Pool photo/William Miller

By Sophia Ricco
sricco@longislandergroup.com

A Northport man was among five men arrested in the wake of a violent clash earlier this month outside the Metropolitan Republican Club that made national headlines.

Douglas Lennan, 40, of Northport was charged with riot and assault by New York City Police after the far-right organization Proud Boys clashed with members of the far-left, anti-facist movement Antifa on Oct. 12. The fight broke out after Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes made a speech at the Metropolitan Republican Club on New York’s upper east side. Video of the brawl obtained by police and released to aid in the search for suspects resulted in additional arrests, including Lennan’s.

A spokesman for the NYPD Office of the Deputy Commissioner, Public Information, confirmed Lennan was taken into custody by police in the 19th Precinct at approximately 10:45 a.m., Oct. 22. He was arraigned that day in Manhattan Criminal Court.

Lennan was represented by a Legal Aid attorney at his arraignment. His next apearance is Oct. 30.

The all-male Proud Boys is an extremist organization whose members advocate against “political correctness” and “white guilt,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

On a show streamed on the Compound Media platform, McInnes claimed western culture is superior, racism is a construct invented to make white people feel guilty, Islam advocates for violence and feminism exists to take away men’s masculinity.

Good Cause Helps With Marathon Training

 With help from his fiancé, Kathy Wagner, Vogel has been training by running 5ks, 10ks, and half marathons.

With help from his fiancé, Kathy Wagner, Vogel has been training by running 5ks, 10ks, and half marathons.

By Sophia Ricco
sricco@longislandergroup.com

Running a marathon is a huge challenge to undertake, but as Sean Vogel of Huntington proves, anything is possible when you have a cause that you are passionate about to motivate you.

The New York City Marathon is approaching, and Vogel has been hard at work training for the race and raising money for his charity, United Way of Long Island. He will be running the 26.2 mile race for the first time on Monday, Nov. 4.

“The distance is more than I’ve ever done, but I’m confident in my ability,” Vogel said. “From a guy who four years ago, never run, smoked a pack and half of cigarettes a day, and I weighed almost 400 pounds. I quit smoking and dropped a ton of weight, so every year my goal has gotten a little bit tougher.”

For last four years, Vogel has been on a journey of dedication. After being shocked by the number on the scale, Vogel went to his sister for help. She had a friend put together a workout and diet plan for him to follow.

Vogel began walking around the neighborhood, progressed to jogging and in time has run 5ks, 10ks and half marathons. Now, he will be taking on his biggest race yet, running for Team Mission United and the 120,000 veterans and military families in Nassau and Suffolk that the organization supports.

“I am truly honored and humbled to be doing this on behalf of the United Way,” Vogel said.

The program assists veterans with many services, like employment readiness, emergency financial assistance, case management support and housing.

“Honoring our veterans and doing everything we can for them is major part of my life,” Vogel said. “I specifically look to go out and do everything I can do support that.”

As a charity partner of the New York City marathon, United Way’s team of four runners are tasked at raising $15,000, with each runner encouraged to raise $3,000. Vogel feels confident he will be able to raise his share with the help of his co-workers at Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Many have donated and help spread the word about his cause.

 Sean Vogel of Huntington will be taking on the 26.2 mile course of the NYC Marathon on Nov. 4.

Sean Vogel of Huntington will be taking on the 26.2 mile course of the NYC Marathon on Nov. 4.

“I’m lucky enough that I work in a place like Enterprise, where we all work together, it’s all about teamwork,” Vogel said. “I’m friends with a lot of these people outside of work and we support each other. When you’re passionate about something, everyone around you rallies around and comes together and help you anyway they can.”

Vogel became involved with the United Way through Enterprise, which encourages employees to support the charity through charitable acts and financial giving. He has been the leader of the employee giving campaign and has helped sort donations for the United Way.

“Enterprise is extremely proud to be sponsoring a Team Mission United runner for the second time,” said Henry Hong, Regional Vice President at Enterprise Holdings. “Sean is a dedicated employee, and we know that he will bring that drive and passion to helping raise awareness for the struggles that veterans on Long Island face each day.”

His devotion to the United Way of Long Island comes from his close connection to veteran causes and the charity’s outreach helping those on Long Island.

“When I look for races, I try to find races that benefit veterans specifically,” Vogel said. “My grandfathers were in WWII, my sister and brother-in-law both went to the Naval Academy and I went to SUNY Maritime. I love to give back and support veterans, doing my part to ensure they are being taken care of. I run to support those who maybe are unable to run themselves, or just need the support of their community.”

To prepare for the marathon, Vogel has been running many races that support the armed forces. He recently ran the Army 10 Mile Race in Washington, D.C. and has completed around 50 races just on Long Island, but none as long as the marathon.

“It’s challenging, you look at it and think 26.2 miles is longer than my drive to work,” Vogel said. “It’s an intimidating number but you know I am confident in my abilities of how far I’ve come and what I can do, that I will be able to do it.”

Vogel has been running and cross training in the gym with his fiancé Kathy Wagner, who ran the NYC Marathon two years ago for Team Mission United. As an experienced marathon runner, she has been guiding and motivating him.

“On days when you go, ‘Oh my god, I just ran 10 miles and I’m exhausted, how am I gonna do another 16.2?’ She does for me what I did for her,” Vogel said. “She tells me, ‘You’re gonna be fine, relax. You’re gonna be okay, you got this. This is just training.’”

With a cause to motivate him and streets lined with people cheering him on, Vogel is looking forward to completing his first marathon for the United Way.

“Everybody has their own reasons for doing anything, but as long as you’re passionate about it, you can be successful,” Vogel said. “You can do anything and this is coming from a guy who was 400 pounds and was smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, who can now run an eight minute mile. Set your mind to a goal and you will accomplish it, but it won’t come overnight.”

Autistic Worker Earns Employer Award

 Joseph Penzel, right, and his father, Fred, at a fundraising figure skating event.

Joseph Penzel, right, and his father, Fred, at a fundraising figure skating event.

By Sophia Ricco
sricco@longislandergroup.com 

Huntington resident Joseph Penzel is a symbol of hard work and perseverance at his job. He has not allowed autism to stop him from being a productive worker and is now being recognized for his exceptional work ethic.

Since the 26-year-old began working at Spectrum Designs Foundation six years ago, Joseph has proven himself to be a major asset of their team, with the ability to effectively operate any of the machines in the 7,000 square foot plant. After being nominated by the company, he won the William B. Joslin Outstanding Performance Award from New York State Industries for the Disabled, Inc. He will be presented the award by state senator, Elaine Phillips on Oct. 30 at a reception at Spectrum Designs.

“He is an outstanding example of what special people are capable of when given the right opportunities,” his father, Fred Penzel said.

After graduating from HuntingtonHigh School in 2013, Joseph was in search of an employer who would hire someone with special needs. He found his autism was a roadblock.

After reading an article in a disabilities publication about Spectrum Designs Foundation, a Port Washington company that employs workers with disabilities, Joseph’s father reached out.

The business works on fabric printing and embroidery, creating custom apparel for companies like Uber and Facebook. At work, Joseph is “quasi-supervisor in his own right,” helping to train others on the machines when they come in.

“At his job, Joe is really one of the employees who can work independently. They find him a job and tell him what do and he just goes and does it,” Fred said. “He doesn’t need anyone supervising him or standing over him. He will stay with that job, and get it done. In fact, if he finishes, he will go and look for more work for himself somewhere else.”

Joseph is very independent and takes care of his own belongings, makes his own food, and does his own laundry. He enjoys taking photographs and working on the computer.

“Joe speaks through his actions more than his words,” his father said, noting when Joseph went to his interview at Spectrum, instead of going to the interview he went right to a table where he saw others working.

“When he saw what they were doing, he started to do it and put himself to work without anybody telling him anything,” his father said. “He saw work that needed to be done and he got busy.”

With an his eye for precision, Joseph has demonstrated that he can put in the same hard work any employee could. Many misconceptions exist about those with autism, but Spectrum recognizes people with disabilities can still be exceptional workers. Along with Spectrum Designs Foundation, they have Spectrum Suds, a boutique laundry facility and Spectrum Bakes, where they bake granola bars and sell them to businesses.

“It’s just not good for them to sit at home and have nothing to do, no place to go. It’s not very stimulating, it doesn’t help them to improve, advance, or grow in any way,” Fred said. “It’s as important for them to work as it is for anyone else. For their sense of self-respect and self-image, their ability to be productive is important.”

Along with receiving the William B. Joslin Outstanding Performance Award, Joseph has won gold medals at the Special Olympics as a figure skater, and numerous medals and ribbons from horseback riding. He also enjoys ice hockey and baseball.

His father said Joseph has remarkable hand-eye coordination, evidenced by his success in these sports.

“We hope that he will inspire other families to encourage their special person to take part in different sports and other activities, where before they might have thought that they weren’t capable but they really are if you just give them a chance,” Fred said.

“They’re capable people… They’re capable of learning and doing productive work,” his father said. “They have a contribution to make.”

Former Councilwoman To Lead Habitat

 Former Huntington Councilwoman Tracey Edwards has been named executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Suffolk.

Former Huntington Councilwoman Tracey Edwards has been named executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Suffolk.

By Sophia Ricco
sricco@longislandergroup.com

 

Former Town Board member Tracey Edwards, who last year gave up her seat in an unsuccessful bid to become Huntington Supervisor, has been named executive director for Habitat for Humanity of Suffolk.

Edwards, who retired from Verizon as regional president for Long Island and upstate New York, was a town councilwoman from 2013-2017. She is also regional director of Long Island NAACP.

“Habitat for Humanity of Suffolk is a perfect fit for me because of my passion for helping the community and passion for providing housing for families in Suffolk county,” Edwards said. “This is absolutely where I belong.”

“Mrs. Edwards epitomizes the sense of community activism that we value at Habitat Suffolk,” said Raymond Homburger, chairman of Habitat Suffolk’s board of directors. “Through her career and volunteerism, she has improved the lives of those she has served, and we know her fresh perspective and enthusiasm will be an asset to our organization.”

Habitat for Humanity is a national organization that builds homes for low incomes families in the U.S. and internationally. Edwards’ team is in charge of helping families in Suffolk county achieve home ownership. As a Huntington native, Edwards feels she understands her community’s needs.

“What better way than to have someone who is from Long Island, serve Long Island,” Edwards said.

In her position as executive director, Edwards is in charge of recruiting volunteers and sponsorship opportunities that will further the organization’s projects. Since all the home building is volunteer, they are crucial in completing a home. Anyone can walk in and start volunteering. Students can complete community service hours through building or businesses can form a team of volunteers that doubles as a team building exercise.

“I have to make sure we are growing the organization,” Edwards said. “So that we are providing more and more homes for low income families… I’m the biggest cheerleader for the team.”

During her time as a councilwoman, Edwards supported and co-sponsored affordable housing legislation that requires new developments devote 20 percent of occupancy to affordable housing.

“I understand from my role as councilwoman, the needs for the community,” Edwards said. “Long Island is viewed as a place of wealth but we have a lot of struggling families that do not have a place to live or they are unable to have a home of their own. Those experiences that I’ve been afforded makes me clearly understand that there is a need there for low income safe housing that can uplift not only the family, but the community as well.”

Habitat for Humanity bases eligibility on income, which helps keep families on Long Island.

“If we don’t take steps to provide affordable housing then people are going to leave Long Island. And no one should have to relocate, we should be able to provide housing opportunities at every level,” Edwards said.

In her first week as Executive Director, Edwards visited the eight homes Habitat for Humanity of Suffolk is currently working on. Some will be ready next month, while others have just begun. Edwards feels confident she will be able to bring in more volunteers for the organization from all walks of life.

“I want to recruit volunteers from everybody,” Edwards said. “We have a wonderful community on Long Island. One thing about Long Islanders is that when the need arises and you ask, they are more than willing to step up and help,” Edwards said.

Interested in volunteering for Habitat construction projects? Contact Edwards through habitatsuffolk.org.