Bee Charmer, Wildlife Rehabber and an Unsung Hero: A Life Dedicated to Preserving Long Island’s Ecosystem

By Amy Nicole Tangel

It takes all kinds to make the world go round.  By committing her life to helping animals and keeping the environment thriving, keeping the world going has been an ever-growing demand for one Long Island woman.

Samantha Boyd said she has been an animal lover her whole life and knew from early on this was her calling.  Certified dually as a New York State (NYS) Wildlife Rehabber and a NYS Veterinarian Technician, the lifelong Northport, N.Y., resident has saved countless wildlife creatures over the years and continues to grow new life through her mission to help save the endangered bee population. 

“I’ve been rescuing animals since I was 6-years-old; all kinds,” she said.

All kinds seemingly is a vast understatement, but her current life surrounded by bees stemmed initially from her passion for gardening and the shared interest with 21-year-long life partner, Neal Wechsler.  Samantha said it was about 15-20 years ago when she said they started noticing there were not many bees in the garden anymore.  After having huge vegetable gardens for years and seeing fewer and fewer bees, Samantha said Neal suggested they think about raising bees themselves.

In 2010, Samantha and Neal decided to forge ahead and took their first bee keeping classes with a Master Beekeeper on Long Island to learn all about them.

“In 2011, we got our first hive and we just fell in love with it,” she said.

Soon enough, Samantha said it got to be they had more and more hives and had so much excess honey they decided to start selling it at local farmer’s markets.

With the profits from the honey sales the couple decided to put it towards the wildlife rehabilitation facility Samantha founded and the exceeding costs that Samantha said comes along with the ever-growing demand of her rescue.

“Basically, all the profits (from the honey) get funneled into the animals, because there are just so many and it is just so costly, so that enables me to do all the wildlife work,” she said.

People donate occasionally which Samantha said helps immensely and a lot of times those who drop off babies will give whatever they can even if it’s just a few dollars, but it doesn’t go very far when hundreds of babies are being cared for throughout the year.

In 2020, Samantha’s Safe Haven Wildlife Rehab Facility rescued 183 babies, and this year she said she has already rescued more than 300 in the first half of 2021 alone.  Samantha rescues wildlife such as squirrels, opossums, rabbits, chipmunks, and little baby birds such as pigeons to name a short-list of her most common rescues.  What would seem to be a daunting task for anyone, is simply a life that Samantha said she wouldn’t have any other way.

In addition to her rescue and beekeeping, Samantha is a veterinarian technician by profession and said she has 30 pet rescues of her own; taking in any pets she can in need of a home.

“Basically, anything that needs help comes my way,” she said.

Samantha said Northport was much more rural when she was growing up with bigger animals such as horses and goats, but even though it is very developed now a lot of wildlife still exists in the area. Living with close access to a very wooded area near the Makamah Nature Preserve in Fort Salonga, Samantha said provides her a perfect location with deer, fox, and opossums to release most of her wildlife rescues.

If raising bees, rescuing and rehabilitating wildlife on top of caring for family pets is not enough for one, Samantha also works full-time at the Veterinary Referral & Emergency Center of Westbury as an oncology technician who gives chemotherapy to dogs and cats.

Samantha said the people she works with are simply wonderful and very kind in allowing her to bring her babies to work with her, even helping her carry them in and out of the car. Just last week, she said she had 45 babies with her at work, and even though it’s a 24-hour a day job, she loves it with all her heart and wouldn’t change anything.

“It’s a project.  It takes an hour to just get them all loaded into the car,” she said.

When Samantha rehabilitates and releases an animal she rescues, she said it means just as much to her every single time, because every little one is different with their own personalities and traits, so she gets to know them all specifically.  Whether they want a worm or a seed, she said she knows and loves them all.

“I love it.  I love being able to save them.  They’re all little souls,” she said.

Educating the public is just as important to Samantha and Neal respectively to spread awareness and knowledge to others across Long Island about the importance of not only bees, beekeeping, and the health benefits of honey, but what people can do themselves to help the wildlife ecosystem. 

The couple offers simple tips in their lectures such as putting a dish of water out when it is hot for squirrels to drink and having a bird house up in your yard, to knowing if a baby opossum falls off its mom it will always need a rehab; all differences Samantha said people can make that go a long way. 

“They (mother opossums) have so many, they can’t count and if one tumbles down…mom leaves and she’s never going to come back,” she said.

As many people would feel, the first time Samantha encountered her bees she said she was scared to death.  For Samantha, who has come to love beekeeping, the first few times she put the suit on and opened the hive to pull out almost 50,000 bees swarming, her heart raced to say the least.  Samantha said she quickly got over her fear though and the bees are actually gentle and calming even though they try to intimidate you.

“If you move slowly, you have a rapport with them,” she said.

When describing the experience in the hives once acclimated, Samantha said, it is beautiful and the only time they really get upset is when the honey is taken, which usually only happens once a year.  What started out as one hive quickly grew to countless hives, mostly due to separating and moving hives to prevent swarms, said Neal, but at the end of the year they are typically left with 70-90 pounds of honey on each hive.

Neal, who became a Master Beekeeper through Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., said they started out thinking one hive would make a difference and realized after the first year it really didn’t make a difference having just one, so they continued to grow in numbers.  With a calling to help the declining bee population and the knowledge that everything humans consume foodwise needs to be pollenated, Neal said bees really need our help in order to survive.

“They are vitally important and that’s why we do this,” he said.

Throughout the summer, Samantha said they will be selling their BeeWitched Bee honey products at local farmers’ markets across Suffolk County.  BeeWitched Bee can be found at Northport Farmers’ Market and Tanger Outlets on Saturdays, and on Sundays at the Patchogue Outdoor Market and Smith Haven Mall’s farmers’ market.  BeeWitched Bee can also be purchased at Stony Brook Farmers’ Market inside the hospital, as well as the Farmingville Historical Society Market.

For more information on Samantha’s Safe Haven Wildlife Rehab Facility and BeeWitched Bee, visit www.beewitchedbee.com or call 631-606-3330.

A Heart Called to Help

By Amy Nicole Tangel

With the resurgence of live entertainment upon us, people everywhere are ready to get back out and come together with a newfound appreciation, but for one man who has dedicated his life to entertaining while helping others, it is now a time to give back more than ever.

John “SohoJohnny” Pasquale, has a spark in his smile and a compassion in his heart that seemingly shines through in everything he does.  An entertainer, philanthropist and commercial real estate company owner, John describes himself as “somewhat of a mad scientist” when it comes to the missions his heart is called to.  Through producing live events and a passion for bringing people together with music, John said his real work is simply to spread joy to others.

“We need this stuff. We need content.  We need people to be uplifted,” he said.

To understand the philanthropy of John and the platform of SohoJohnny, John said the root of who he is lies in the positive influences his parents imparted on him from childhood.  His mom was a music and arts advocate who John said performed some Off-Broadway plays here and there, but the foundation really came from her always playing music in the household.

His dad grew up in the Great Depression, and John said because of his father’s humble upbringing he seemed to always have had the ability to make people feel good.  It didn’t matter to him what people had or what people didn’t have.

“He had that sense of humility and humanity.  That’s part of what I picked up from my dad,” he said.

When he was growing up, John said he had a studder and from that he subconsciously evolved into a class clown; a shield of nerves filling his heart with the need to entertain and relate to people.  With a lifelong passion for bringing people together through music, John said it all started in his garage during high school days having friends over and playing DJ. It became the place to be, and he said parents were just happy their kids weren’t roaming the streets.

Home to John is within four generations of family in Manhattan’s historical district of SoHo.  John started working for the family trucking business alongside his dad in the 60’s and 70’s and he said growing up and working in a city that is probably the biggest melting pot in the world helped define the man he is today.

“For me, I consider that a second education, a valuable education; how you see people from all walks of life and adversity,” he said.

In the 80’s, John said is when he went into commercial real estate and began planning and putting on events purely based on an ever-growing passion.   For a number of years John said he would DJ various events and put on small family-style parties, until 1994 when his father passed away from cancer.

In that moment in time as John reflected on the fleeting nature of life and wanting to live life to the fullest, he said he decided to take his event and party planning to the next level.  John said he wanted to take a step up and channel his grief to do something good for others to honor his father’s life through celebration.

“It’s my privilege to be able to lead the charge in my own little way for that upheaval of good-nature, love and celebration of life; appreciation of what life has to offer,” he said.

John is the co-owner of PEP (Property Enhancement Programs) Real Estate based in Soho, a full-service real estate management company which separates itself from the rest by offering event planning and management for clients to their list of services.  John said it is everything he has done with his work in real estate that has enabled him to be able to pay forward in such impactful ways.

The first organization John began working with was the American Cancer Society.  For John, he said hosting events for such a cause to benefit the fight against cancer with the American Cancer Society was like the “trifecta” of helping people; and being able to work with so many “like-minded” people opened so many other doors.

“It was such a feel-good thing to do, and I chugged from there, and slowly but surely…the entertainment organically grew more and more and more,” he said.

What followed were new branches in representing artists and another that got John involved in the film industry co-producing movies. Earlier this year, John once again took his passion for music to another level launching Tribeca Records and SohoJohnny Records (SohoJohnny LLC) with the assistance of entertainment executive John Velasco.

The respective modern-independent labels have most recently signed project, AniMaze X, a metal show for all ages formed by members of Walt Disney Records D-Metal Stars, renowned musician, producer and composer Randy Edelman and solo artist April Rose Gabrielli, to name a few.

Sadly, like many others effected by Covid, John lost his mother, age of 93, to the illness, and that is when John said he started to think outside the box once again; growing another branch and forming a new foundation to help various charities across the board.  Let Me Help, Inc, a foundation created to support different charities for multiple causes was founded in large part through John’s wanting to help others and a vision to continue to do more, but he said he owes most of the credit to the team that carries out the missions.

“I owe it all to the team around me and some blessed people who have supported me,” he said.

Let Me Help, Inc., was launched with a six-hour Celebrity Benefit Concert: Mandate for Humanity, an event John said included footage, shout-outs and performances from artists and celebrities all stepping up to the plate to support and contribute.  Celebrities included dozens of artists and top entertainers such as, Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne, Jeff Goldblum, and Cedric the Entertainer.  Causes the foundation supports presently are prostate cancer, anti-bullying through the support of Andrew Cole’s #IamNoJoke campaign, and Covid-19 Relief.

John said the commitment and charity of others is a testament toward the ethics and the spirit of humanity, and that in itself is the spirit of the SohoJohnny platform he helped build.

“It was a wonderful event.  We raised some money, and everybody that was part of it, all the celebrities; they just gave,” he said.

“Mandate for Humanity” is also the title of a yet-to-be released comic book to benefit Let Me Help, Inc., conceptualized by John with a theme he said was gestating with him right before Covid.  He said the timing became clear. It was meant to come to life during the pandemic as a way to share joy and lift people’s spirits when they needed it the most.  John said the premise of his character, “SohoJohnny” is his mission to go out and spread cheer across the world when the world is depressed in almost like a “Covid-Pandemic World.”

Friends of John’s in real life and fellow collaborators, Scott Page of Pink Floyd, DJ Monti Rock III from Saturday Night Fever, and PR agent Howard Bloom all become characters in the story who each have special powers they bestow upon “SohoJohnny” to help him help other people become happy again.  John said his character’s main goal is to get people out of the shells and ruts they have been in.

“The timing of it was almost predestined that we made the comic book during that (Covid Pandemic),” he said.

The summer season into fall is filling up rapidly for John with events across the country and with live entertainment coming back to life, people can find him presenting events from Montauk, N.Y., to Los Angeles.  In addition, Let Me Help, Inc will be sponsor to The Marshall Tucker Band in August to support renovations needed for the Montauk Lighthouse. 

As for the acting and producing branch of John’s creative tree, he is the producer of interview talk show, “Profiles,” hosted by his friend and mentor, Mickey Burns. Most recently, John has started shooting a new talk show called, “Soho at Night,” and there is no stopping there as he is also launching a new membership club for models and actors. Soho Innovative Studios, located in SoHo, is a membership modeling/acting school with a special focus on art fashion, and just one more way John is working diligently to open doors in the arts.

“Re-Light Broadway” is another upcoming project John is currently working on for the fall to help support getting Broadway back on its feet, and with the demand he said he is seeing in content entertainment as a whole he predicts the second half of the year to be one for the records.

As far as humanity as a whole coming out of Covid, when people have been isolated, homebound and who are now coming out, John said he hopes people will not make light of anybody else’s suffering and always try to help others in good faith and love.

“It doesn’t matter what you have or what you don’t have.  If you get on a bus and you see an elderly lady sitting, just say something nice to raise her spirits,” he said.

On July 24, 2021, SohoJohnny will be taking part in a VIP Art / Charity reception at Steven Calapai’s Park South Gallery on Long Island to benefit Let Me Help, Inc, with a portion of proceeds from the evening’s art sales going to support the foundation.  The night is scheduled to have live musical performances and special guest appearances. For those interested in celebrating an evening of exclusive original art and to help others through purchase, RSVP via email to calapai@gmail.com.

For all things happening with “SohoJohnny” and more information on how you can help support any of the foundation causes, visit sohojohnny.com and letmehelpinc.org.  John can also be found on Facebook @sohojohnnyLLC and Instagram @sohojohnny.  For more information about PEP Real Estate and the services provided visit, peprealestate.com.

Photos courtesy SohoJohnny

Feeding a Community with Love and Charity in Tashana’s Kitchen

By Amy Nicole Tangel

It may seem impossible to imagine how one can withstand trial after trial and still seem to rise.  But one woman who has selflessly dedicated her life to caregiving for others has found a way to rise again taking her passion for cooking to new heights and spreading love throughout her community with food from the heart.

Tashana’s Kitchen all started six years ago at Tashana Small’s Patchogue, N.Y., home as a simple love for cooking that eventually turned into a catering business, and a means to help with additional expenses for her 31-year-old daughter Ishana “Shani” Small, who has suffered a lifelong battle with Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome (LGS).  LGS is a severe form of epilepsy onset during childhood with symptoms of countless seizures and cognitive dysfunction. 

The seizures of LGS are known to be difficult to treat with antiseizure medications, and the single mother of two has openly shared not only her fight to keep her daughter alive, but also her advocacy with the public on the effective medical marijuana treatment Ishana has experienced.

“I am just going to keep moving,” she said.

Right before Covid hit, Tashana said Ishana became gravely ill and suffered from aspiration as a result.  During this time, Ishana was discharged from her day program and when Covid came along Tashana said there was no place for Ishana to return to when she was well. The day program re-enrollment is still on hold according to Tashana, because of staffing related issues, no weekend respite, and now she has been left with not being able to work outside the home as a result of her need to provide round the clock care with limited help.

When everything shut down, Tashana was hit with a second blow when there was nothing to cook for anymore.  She said she couldn’t sell dinners or have a function, but through it all she stayed in a grateful heart and just did what she had to do to keep going.

“I have been affected by it (Covid) in such a traumatic way,” she said.

Catering is Tashana’s biggest endeavor in cooking presently, and is available in Nassau and Suffolk counties as well as all five boroughs.  Tashana works alongside her sister, Jazmin McCain, entertainment company owner and manager of Tashana’s Kitchen.  Tashana said for years prior to opening her business she would regularly entertain family and friends on weekends, and they would always tell her how much they loved her food; building her passion to take it to the next level. 

The first place Tashana said she ever cooked professionally was for a jazz place in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn that needed someone to cook food to bring in clients.  Tashana said the owner’s daughter continued to reach out to her after she moved on to tell her the people missed her food.

“The people loved the food even after I left there,” she said.

Tashana said growing up in Brooklyn, she had to grow up very fast and had a very hard life.  Her parents both suffered from addiction, so Tashana lived with her grandmother and helped raise her brother and sister.  It was during this time, when Tashana said she learned to cook from a young age.  She would watch her grandmother in the kitchen, and she said she naturally got a knack from that to cook.

When she was 14 years old, Tashana said the first dinner she ever cooked was beef stroganoff.  After her grandmother ate her meal, Tashana said she remembers her grandma calling her friend and telling her she couldn’t believe how good it was.

“It’s really engrained in me from my grandmother and my family,” she said.

Before cooking became her full-time mission, Tashana was an Aide and LPN in nursing.  Now retired from that profession due to a car accident that left her with severe back injuries, she has taken that same passion for caring for people as a nurse and applied it to her passion for sharing love through her cooking.

Six years later to date, Tashana said in spite of the Covid setback, she has watched the business grow tremendously.  Between social media and always having so many of her self-described “bonus kids” around the house with her 17-year-old athlete son, Joseph Harrison, word-of-mouth has traveled. Her regular dinner nights open to the public happen as often as she has the means to do it, she said, but hosting them as often as possible is her goal to take the business to the next level again; saving enough money to buy a food truck and expand her brand.

“I am at a place now where I want to truly branch out and make it a big business,” she said.

Living in Patchogue for the past 21 years, Tashana said she has never cooked for restaurants or any other business than for her family, friends, and community other than through Tashana’s Kitchen, and is primarily supported with the help of her best friend, Cheryl.  Not only does Cheryl help in the kitchen, but Tashana said she is a constant help with Ishana as well. 

“You’ve got to start from somewhere.  I stay humble and I am blessed because of it,” she said.

While Tashana and her volunteers run multiple ovens, grills and smokers built one piece-at-a-time surrounding her outdoor kitchen, members of the community come and go steadily to pick-up food. For now, Tashana said she pays forward by giving food to her volunteers and their families but she said she hopes one day soon to able to have a paid staff.  Tashana tries to make everything as welcoming as possible and even has a section of comfortable outdoor seating set-up for people to wait for their orders.  At any given time, you can hear people talking amongst themselves and sharing stories of how they met, know, and love Tashana.

Thanks to her passion for cooking and the support of her community, Tashana has been able to also host dinner events to help keep up with necessities such as repairs for Ishana’s handicap accessible van.  Tashana said she was blessed to have purchased the van for only $1 from a dear friend who wanted to help the family stay on their feet, but when the van needed thousands of dollars of repairs, she didn’t despair and turned to her cooking.  In the one weekend of opening her kitchen door for the event, Tashana said she earned enough money to cover costs for all of the repairs and couldn’t feel more blessed for all the people who continue to enjoy her food.

“I used my God-given gift to do the fundraiser.  That’s what I do,” she said.

Sundays through September starting this Sunday, June 13, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tashana will be selling take and bake gourmet baked macaroni and cheese cupcakes at the Patchogue Outdoor Market in the LIRR parking lot.  Continuing to pay forward, Tashana’s Kitchen will be selling meals at the first annual Robert Permenter Memorial Car Show on June 19, 2021 in honor of her son’s best friend who tragically passed away in a car accident.  Tashana said helping others means everything to her and she will be donating half of her proceeds to the Robert Permenter Scholarship Fund.

“The family lost their son, their only son, and then their father a year later,” she said.

As far as favorite foods to cook, Tashana said she loves to cook anything seafood, but no matter what she cooks it is making others happy and she said she lovesthe reaction to people when she gives them their food that she loves the most.  Dinners such as crab clusters, jumbo shrimp, smoked sausage, and shrimp jambalaya are favorites. 

“It’s not one specialty.  I have been blessed. Anything I put my hands on and my mind to I have mastered it,” she said.

Tashana’s Kitchen is located at 76 Thorne St. in Patchogue.  Customers are encouraged to call 631-627-9201 to book a catering event or to order meals in advance.  You can also follow Tashana’s Kitchen on Facebook and Instagram for future dates and new menu items.  For more information about catering and everything else Tashana’s Kitchen, you can visit tashanaskitchen.com.

Feature Photo: Amy Nicole Tangel

Gallery photos courtesy Tashana Small

The Process of Country-Pop Artist Arizona Lindsey

By Amy Nicole Tangel

If you looked at country-pop singer Arizona Lindsey and saw her bubbly disposition, one would probably never imagine what adversity lies beneath, but with her recent second album release, “The Process,” she opens the door to her own trauma with hopes of letting others know they are not alone.

With an emerging career as a recording artist, the 24-year-old Lindenhurst, N.Y., native has been a musician and performer for almost her entire life, and with that she has also dedicated her life as a counselor who advocates for mental health.  Although she said she has always been completely open in talking with other people about mental health it was when she was recovering from her own life-altering event when she decided she was going to share her experiences with others in hopes to help and heal through her music.

“’The Process’ is a concept album that is about going through life-altering trauma and entering into the trauma recovery process,” she said.

Arizona said the reason she describes her recent work as a concept album is because it starts out from a place of being stuck in mental illness, and the aftermath of what she refers to as being diagnosed with “complex trauma,” leading to her getting help.  In the past two years, Arizona has opened-up with her own personal trauma as a childhood abuse survivor singing her opening track, “The Desired Way,” and said like a lot of people who have been through what she has, she thought she would just “get over it” into her twenties; until a tragedy happened.

“I was hit with a pretty major trauma which was my mom’s unexpected passing, and it seemed to have sparked something in my brain where I was having uncontrollable symptoms of what I later learned was a trauma disorder,” she said.

Arizona suffered paralyzing flashbacks of childhood abuse stemming from her mother’s passing and panic attacks that eventually got to a point where she said she was dealing with severe suicidality. It wasn’t until some time later, when Arizona said she finally got help and pretty much wrote the second half of the album in the hospital over a two-month-period.  This June, it will be three years since her mother passed and it was the year following her passing when Arizona said she had her first intervention with trauma disorder.

“It got to a point I was completely debilitated.  Not getting out of bed, not eating, not showering; I was scared to move,” she said.

This past week, Arizona announced she has recently collaborated with Darryl “DMC” McDaniels of Run-D.M.C., and will be releasing a yet, unnamed bonus track, to the album this upcoming September as part of awareness during Suicide Prevention Month.  McDaniels is the author of, “Ten Ways Not to Commit Suicide,” a memoir that shares his own personal story about his battles with depression and fighting suicidal thoughts.  Arizona said she is so excited to have the opportunity to create a song with him geared towards suicide prevention.

The music in Arizona’s heart has led to an emerging career as a performing artist that began at a young age in the second grade when she started lessons with drums.  In junior high, she picked up the guitar, and from there it was highlighted by theater work, primarily as an actor until she started focusing on her voice years later.  She continued with classical percussion all the way up to college, and it was on the day of college orientation when she said she decided to switch gears, eventually going to school for psychology.

Growing up doing musical theater and playing in pits on percussion, Arizona said it was a sudden switch of gears when the passion to help people grew stronger, but she followed her heart and decided she wanted to learn how to help people first and then she would be a band teacher.

“As that grew, this love for counseling and this love for learning how the human brain works grew,” she said.

In May of 2019, Arizona won the Gold Coast Arts Center’s Young Big Break Competition and met contest judge, former pro-wrestler and founder/host of The Grindhouse Radio show, William “Brimstone” Kucmierowski, who eventually became her manager after much self-described persistence.  Arizona said Kucmierowski introduced himself to her during the competition, and not only shared his appreciation for her work, but was the first person who really thought she could do it; what followed as a new manager and a revelation to bring the two missions together.

“He helped me to at least build the courage; I can do this,” she said.

Initially in her solo-music career, Arizona said she looked at her work as a mental health advocate working in the court systems helping  people convicted of felonies and being a musician as two separate careers.  After facing her own battle, she realized her destiny to bring the two together was meant to be and trusted she was on the right path to do more.

“When people found out that I was a trauma survivor there was a sense of quick acceptance versus a pushback of questioning it,” she said.

In addition to presenting herself from an authentic place through her music, Arizona said she also takes into account the importance of her social media presence and tries to make everything she puts out there a true-impression of who she is.  Whether it is putting a disclaimer out there every time she uses a filter to let other young people know it is not a realistic-image, to adding her touches of comedy every chance she can with her dancing videos and written dialogue, Arizona said if she had a second-life as a comedian it would be hilarious to her.

The pandemic hit Arizona just like most other musicians, and she said she used the down-time to learn to grow when she worked on trying to “put her guitar down and just sing.”  For Arizona, she said her guitar has always been her comfort zone with singing, but she was ready to challenge herself further to continue to build. 

While things continue to open back up, finding places to sing on a regular-basis is not only something Arizona said is necessary financially, but it’s the best way to build a fan-base; creating fans who come back and fans who request songs. Arizona plans on heading back to splitting her time between New York and New Orleans in the fall, but until then she will be spending the summer singing across Long Island.  As part of making that happen, you can see Arizona perform tonight for the first-time ever at Daisy’s Nashville Lounge in Patchogue as part of their new monthly event, “Bluebird Tuesdays-Songwriters in the Round,” featuring local country-pop-rock artists from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.

For all happenings with Arizona and to find local dates to check her out, you can find her on Instagram @arizonalindseymusic, Facebook, Tik Tok, and Twitter.  Arizona’s music can be found on all streaming platforms.

Photos courtesy Arizona Lindsey

Entertainment Diva Sonia Caligiuri Turns Adversity into a Life of Inspiration

By Amy Nicole Tangel

Setting goals in life and achieving milestones are drives of human nature. Although it has been an uphill battle for one entrepreneur who is expanding her career in entertainment amidst great challenges, she is determined to rise above and never give up.

Event planner, cake artist, model, actress and creator, Sonia Caligiuri has been building her brand Heaven Desires, LLC one venture after the next and if that wasn’t enough for one person, she is now adding author to her list of titles with her upcoming new book, “The Rise of a Broken Woman.”

Appropriately titled, the book reflects the adversity Sonia has faced not only in her personal life with an emotionally and verbally abusive relationship but her own quiet battle with cancer. Through the struggles Sonia has not let any of it slow her down. In fact, with every challenge Sonia said it has only made her drive stronger.

“I feel you can be anything you want to be no matter what,” she said.

While Sonia is still waiting for surgery to remove a tumor in her small intestine, she said she is expected to only have a few more rounds of chemotherapy when all is said and done and is looking forward to getting on with the rest of her life from there.  Sonia has lived by action and has continued to live life as much as possible everyday baking cakes for events, working on her book and filming in a new upcoming action/drama series, “The Italians.”

Sonia said staying busy with her ventures and remaining productive through it all helped her a lot and kept her going.  For Sonia, she said there was time when it was a little touch and go, but she is grateful she was able to fight it and make it through to today.

“It’s a little bump in the road; I didn’t let it bring me down,” she said.

With a career that began primarily as a cake artist, Sonia said her passion is driven by her love for creating and for making other people happy.  Sonia credits herself with being primarily self-taught thanks to the help of YouTube and Google, and said her process is easy and complicated at the same time.  Sonia said taking the time to really listen to her clients and customers is the key to get a feel and vision for each event.

“I’ve always been artsy. I’ve always drawn.  I was always playing with playdough as a kid; that’s how my mom kept me busy.  I’ve always loved to create,” she said.

In March 2019, Sonia said a highlight of her cake artistry career came when she had the opportunity to bake and present a Wonder Woman birthday cake to the late and legendary Mary Wilson of The Supremes at Big Apple Comic Con in NYC.  Sonia said it was an honor that she never imagined possible to see Mary so happy and amazed, and Sonia said she still looks back in awe of the memory.

“It was an amazing moment in my career as a cake artist.  It started out as a hobby, winded up being a business, and I love it; I just love it,” she said.

Prior to Covid, Sonia’s career had continued to expand in what she said were completely unexpected happenings when she began acting only to be followed-up by modeling; resulting in a television series role and becoming a Human Canvas Magazine cover girl.

Sonia said she went into acting as a fluke when “The Italians” creator and producer, Zach de’ Epey was filming in an office building where she was working at the time, and randomly approached her to consider acting.  Sonia said she told the producer that she wasn’t interested and didn’t take it seriously until he had searched the entire building for her after their meeting.  The rest was history for Sonia, and she said from that day on she and de’ Epey have been friends with a great working relationship.

“I am excited.  It’s my first-time-ever acting,” she said.

Just like acting for Sonia, she said modeling was also something that “just happened” when she accidentally walked into a fashion show at a photoshoot for “The Italians” when designer, Queen Iris of Queenslay Clothing, simply looked at her and threw something at her to put on.  Looking around at a room full of women younger than half her age, Sonia said she couldn’t believe what was happening and thought for a second there was no way she could pull it off, but ultimately she said to herself, “What the hell? You only live once.”

In that moment, Sonia began her modeling career and since then she said Queen Iris has become her mentor, promoter, and business partner. Most recently, Sonia did her first body paint shoot and said she felt a little out of her element, but in her true fashion she didn’t let it stop her, and as a result ended up as a centerfold on the cover of Human Canvas Magazine.

“Something that I was uncomfortable with and going out of my element turned out to be a very good outcome,” she said.

When Sonia said she realized she didn’t have to stay on the straight line in her career she knew she could do whatever she dreamed of and all the doors opened.  Sonia carries a strong-willed mindset and said she doesn’t care what people may think of the risqué edge to her photo shoots.  As a woman she said she feels good and is grateful to have a second chance, so she is living her life to the fullest in whatever way she can.

Like many others in the entertainment industry, Sonia was home during Covid and searching for ways to continue to expand her brand, Heaven Desires, LLC.  She said cakes were down, because nobody was having parties, and any fashion shows or performing was out.  While she has an existing line of jewelry, clothing, and makeup; brainstorming and creating during the pandemic led Sonia to expand from lip glosses, plumpers, and mattes to now developing eyeshadows.  All the while she said she just keeps asking herself, “What can I do next?”

To keep up with all things the ever-versatile Sonia Caligiuri is doing next or to inquire about any event services, you can contact and follow her on social media through Facebook at Sonia Caligiuri of Heaven Desires Events and Instagram @heaven.desires.llc.customs.

Photos courtesy Sonia Caligiuri

Reality TV Chef Barret Beyer talks life, cooking and moving forward

By Amy Nicole Tangel

Overcoming adversity has been a silver lining of hope throughout the pandemic, and for many in the restaurant industry who have been in the midst of having their careers brought to a halt, it has now become a time to rise to new beginnings for one renowned chef.

Long Island native and Reality TV Chef Barret Beyer made his mark on television appearing on Season 11 of “Hell’s Kitchen” with Gordon Ramsay, continuing on to other notable shows such as Food Network’s “Cutthroat Kitchen” Season 6 and “Kitchen Casino.” Barret has also appeared on VH1’s “Mob Wives” and FYI Network’s “Midnight Feast.”  This is the surface work to the real heart of a chef who has built a culinary career based upon a deep-rooted passion for cooking.

Prior to Covid, Barret was most recently living his life as head chef of Tiltz Sports Bar in Brooklyn, N.Y.  The restaurant and bar drew in a successful following with their classic arcade games, outdoor seating events; primarily known for it’s showing of UFC and MMA fights, and the arcade-themed dishes.  But Barret said between Covid and a failing partnership, he knew it was time when he closed the doors in October 2020 and began moving on to a new chapter; taking on a new culinary venture and relocating to Florida.

“I love the energy in Florida; I love the sunlight in Florida,” he said.

With more opportunities for people working in the restaurant and entertainment industries becoming available in Florida, performers and chefs alike are embracing and gravitating from New York to where the work lies.  Barret said this was not an easy decision for him, having grown up in Holbrook, and leaving behind family and friends to head to Florida, but the time has come to put New York in the rearview mirror. 

Luckily, he said he is taking a piece of home with him as he sets out to partner with one of south Florida’s largest catering companies, Potions In Motion owner Jason Savino.  Ironically, as life would have it, Barret said not only did he and Jason grow up together as childhood friends in Holbrook, he essentially started his career with him years ago with a business venture non-related to cooking. Now, he is looking forward to coming full-circle when they join forces again in the kitchen.

“I wouldn’t work with somebody if they had no vision to grow.  It’s funny how life comes 360,” he said.

In addition to being able to work with a lifelong friend, Barret said he is also excited to work alongside fellow colleague “The Sexz Chef” and Potions In Motion’s Executive Chef Justin DeSimone. Barret said ever since day one when he would walk into DeSimone’s kitchen even if it was just to use it for a special event he had in Florida, he was welcomed with open arms.

“Everything was made accessible to me. He’s not like most chefs; he doesn’t have an ego,” he said.

Barret said growing up he started cooking at the age of 13 when his dad taught him how to make spaghetti with eggs and cheese and remembered it being an amazing breakfast that inspired him to cook other things.  From that point on he said he had always enjoyed cooking, but he didn’t focus on it until he joined the U.S. Coast Guard in 1994 after high school.  It was during that time from 1994-1997 that he began cooking for his fellow Guardsmen and eventually attended Star Career Academy in Syosset, N.Y.

Two weeks before graduation, Barret said he applied for a sous chef position at The Black Wolf in Syosset and met with the executive chef who was a consultant. Barret said the key for him in such a poignant moment was to say yes to everything and figure out what he didn’t know along the way. At the time, Barret did not know this was to set the tone for the career ahead and his evolution toward cooking competitively.

“I was running the place within three months out of culinary school; which is unheard of,” he said.

A chef with an edge, Barret is infamous for wearing his heart on his sleeve and staying true to himself at all costs.  Barret said he feels to be a successful chef you not only need to have a big personality, but a big “inner-personality” more than anything.  In spite of big-personality mentality, Barret humbly does not care for the term “celebrity chef,” and said he feels the term is used too loosely for chefs who make one brief appearance on an episode and are suddenly coined with the term.

Of course, no matter what level a chef is, an opportunity to work alongside Gordon Ramsay is something most would seemingly hold as an unforgettable experience; for better or worse.  Barret said Ramsay was a great mentor, and the real-side of the drama-filled show is that when Gordon sits down and talks with the chefs that is who he really is.

“He cares about people, but he knows how to get ratings.  He will give you motivation, and he’ll tell you what he sees you doing wrong and things you need improvement on. That’s who he really is,” he said.

At the end of the day, Barret said his time in the military was what helped him pay attention to detail and because of that he is very focused in his cooking.  It is during times in the kitchen when things are all over the place and Barret is prepping 15 meals at once when he said his ability to have a specific tunnel vision helps make him a successful leader.

“It helps to be a leader.  You’ve got to lead the cooks through a service, you have to lead the servers through a service; you know, you’ve got to lead everybody,” he said.

Aside from a new venture in Florida, Barret said as far as Reality TV is concerned the next show on his radar is “Chopped.”  Until now, Barret said he thought he was never ready for the show, because of the eccentric dishes thrown at contestants, but now he said he feels ready for the challenge if the opportunity arises. 

To keep up-to-date with Chef Barret Beyer you can follow him on Facebook.com/PalatePirate and Instagram @chefbarret.

Feature photo credit Kate Fox. Gallery photos courtesy Barret Beyer

Renowned Counselor and Author Ron Villano Carries on through Tragedy and Dedicates Life to Mental Health Awareness

By Amy Nicole Tangel

With May being Mental Health Awareness Month, many people may be checking in and asking themselves how they are dealing with everyday life and the struggles along the way; wondering if therapy is the answer to a better quality of life.  Nationally renowned counselor and author Ron Villano, who has dedicated his life to helping others after suffering his own personal tragedy, said he believes mental health is necessary for everyone in good times and bad.

With offices across Long Island and beyond, Ron Villano M.S., ASAC is the current Director of Family and Personal Counseling in St. James, N.Y., and additionally operates a private psychotherapy practice in Bohemia.  Ron has built his career in personal and professional counseling based upon his heartfelt life’s mission to help people, and eventually he became an inspirational speaker to help grieving parents after the loss of his youngest son Michael in a tragic car accident on July 22, 1998.

Although Ron said he had practiced therapy part-time before the loss of his son, it was after going through his own healing process and darkest hours when he had the revelation to make not only celebrating his son’s life his focus through helping others, but to truly build a platform to spread awareness and speak to people who have also suffered the loss of a child.

“There is never a good day to die, there is never a good day to get divorced, and never a good day to lose your job.  It took me a long time to get to this spot, but that’s how I help them,” he said.

Ron is also the author of, “The Zing: The self-discovery guide to help you go from living life to loving the life you live,” a book which he said was already in his head before the loss of his son, but after Michael’s passing the book took on a whole new meaning and in 2006 the book was published.  Alongside Ron’s trademarked motto “Embrace the Power of Change,” the book is broken down into seven specific topics of mental health each with its own analogies to help readers easily remember and learn.

In the book and throughout Ron’s practices, “The Tunnel” is a concept Ron said he uses with patients to learn how to take something negative and get through “The Tunnel” to get to where the light is.  He said most people when going through a darkest moment run back to the more comfortable and less scary place at least a few times before breaking through to the other side.

“You want to go through that light tunnel, because you want something new, something different; you’ve had enough,” he said.

Ron works to share his insight and compassion any chance he gets and in addition to counseling, writing, and motivationally speaking, he said he is also the top psych contributor for WCBS (880 AM) Newsradio nationally.  You can also find expertise from Ron in 26 newspapers across the country with his column, “Ask Ron Villano,” which he describes as a “Dear Abby” type of help for readers. 

Going above and beyond to help anyone who knocks on Ron’s door seeking help is the foundation of his work, but he said he doesn’t do it on his own.  Ron said his life is led spiritually to not only celebrate his son’s life, but by the calling to continue to serve others.  Helping others doesn’t just go for his patients, but Ron takes great pride in his staff and said he works to make sure everyone makes a decent living.  For Ron, he said it just feels good to help others, and he wants to keep doing more by being as relatable as possible to every person he counsels.

Ron goes to therapy every week himself, and said it is important for him to let people know as much as he helps others with their own mental health. He is just like everyone else and continues to work on his own life’s struggles in the most positive ways possible.

“I will always tell the patient, ‘The only difference between you and me today is you’re on that side of the couch,’” he said.

When it comes to public speaking about the loss of his son, Ron said he only goes according to his spirit.  If he doesn’t feel that connection with his son for a particular event, he said he simply won’t do it no matter what the venue.  He said he always makes sure to tell the people he is speaking to he is there to honor them and what they have gone through by his signature opener of asking people the names of their children who passed on and making that connection. 

“No big talk, no big speech.  Just asking them names for the first fifteen minutes.  They all tell me it makes them feel so terrific,” he said.

What Ron experienced with the loss of his son is what he calls, “forced change,” and he said that can also be applied to life changes such as divorce.  He said any change is difficult, but when we are forced is when we are truly challenged to get through it.  Ron said human nature leads us to believe these things can happen, but “not to me.”

“Divorce is another forced change; a death where you were living with someone and now you are not,” he said.

Whether it is dealing with grief, divorce or any other issue in life that causes emotional struggles, Ron’s compassion and commitment to those he interacts with shines through in the stories of countless people he has helped over the years.  Most recently, Ron has also been utilizing social media to reach people near or far with regular posts offering simple steps for people to take on their own to help them with various topics of interest such as, “4 Ways to Recover from Disappointments,” “4 Ways to Get Closer to a Partner,” “3 Ways to Respond to Anxious Thoughts,” and “Dealing with Mistakes.”

Ron said he tries to bring everything down to a “6th-grade-level” when working with people to make it as simple as possible for them to grasp the help he is trying to provide.  For himself included, he said breaking things down is the best way to learn new ways of thinking and that is why his book has no repetition.  Instead of telling people how they should think, Ron said the book is a tool to provoke people to think for themselves.

“This book was made to give you zing, give you life, give you passion, and embrace change; start enjoying every moment you have” he said.

To purchase a copy of “The Zing: The self-discovery guide to help you go from living life to loving the life you live,” you can order through www.thezing.com and the book can also be found on Amazon.  If you are interested in learning more about the services Ron and Family and Personal Counseling provide, additional information can be found at www.familyandpersonalcounseling.com, or by calling 631-758-8290.

Photos courtesy Ron Villano

The Evolution of Performing Chameleon Billy Mira

By Amy Nicole Tangel

Many people start out in life with big dreams, but to see those dreams through takes great courage and the will never to give up. For one lifelong performer who has dedicated his life to entertaining others, the true test came when the world shutdown and the lights went dark, but perseverance has given him the strength to rise.

Growing up on Long Island, nationally known singer/comedian/impressionist Billy Mira, said he always knew he wanted to spend his life making music.  His school years started with the theater, and over time Billy said he just felt more drawn to singing; realizing early on this was his destiny.  While attending East Meadow High School, Billy said he was lucky to have a drama curriculum in school during a time when not all schools offered such programs.  His drama teacher was influential and always told him he was gifted and encouraged him to continue to pursue acting, but Billy said at the time he was all about rock-n-roll and strictly had his sights set on rock stardom. 

“It really is amazing that I never went into acting, because that is how I started doing impressions and impersonating things, and that’s really what acting is,” he said.

Right after high school, Billy hit the road and moved to Florida for a period of time, but he said he wasn’t happy with the scene there then, so he moved back to New York in 1987 and took the lead in the rock band, Whisky Road.  With long hair and tight skinny jeans, Billy said his days with the band allowed him to make memories of a lifetime and while the band recorded and released tracks under signed management, the alternative-grunge scene had come along and hair bands became a thing of the past.

“We creatively had this other influence that was more of a jazz influence, oddly enough that had horns in it, which was a foreshadowing what I would eventually do,” he said.

At one point along the way, Billy said he started getting into broadcasting and that is really where he got into comedy, but all the while he continued pursuing music and playing at local clubs.  Most notably, Billy said his first real break came with comedy when he landed a spot on The Howard Stern Show in 2002 as a comedian and impressionist.  From that point on, he said his career took off while traveling across the country with the show as a Stern-Personality over the years that followed; building a foundation that would eventually cross paths with his music career and the creation of his self-described, “Vegas meets Broadway” style show, Billy Mira & The Hitmen.

Reflecting on how he got to be where he is today, Billy recalls everything he did professionally as “an experience” until the moment came along when he landed his spot with The Howard Stern Show. Winding up on the show in the first place was a fluke thing, he admitted.  He said one day he just decided to take a chance and call in when Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne were on the show to do his Ozzy impression.  Billy said Howard told him he didn’t think he was that funny and hung up on him; leaving him feeling knocked down. Hours later fate stepped in and turned everything around.

Billy said he believes there are no coincidences in life, and that evening while out to dinner he was overheard talking about calling into the show by someone at the next table, and that someone just happened to be Sal Governale, writer and producer, of The Howard Stern Show.  Billy said Governale asked him to do the impression for him right then, and the rest was history.  Years later, they are still good friends and have continued to work together on various projects.

“I started doing the impression and he (Sal) said, ‘Everybody wanted to know who that guy was and why Howard hung up on him,’ and that’s how it started,” he said.

Years later, Billy took the culmination of everything he experienced musically along with his comedy act and brought it all together when he wrote and developed his show, Billy Mira & The Hitmen.  He said the inspiration came to him during his time living in Las Vegas from 2011 to 2013 as he continued his  broadcasting career covering mixed martial arts for Fox Sports and working alongside UFC – a time when he said the sport began to explode in popularity. 

As much as Billy said he enjoyed his time broadcasting and is a huge fan of the sport, every day he said he looked at the billboards of Vegas shows and knew that was what he was really meant to be doing.  Billy said he began writing his show with the vision for it to one day become a headlining Vegas attraction and was heavily influenced by Brian Setzer; combining orchestra and Broadway into one.

“It’s a music show that enables me to be funny, do impressions, do comedic stuff; everything within one show.  The great thing about it is that I can change it at the drop of a dime,” he said.

Upon his return from Las Vegas, Billy went all-in with development of his show and performed Billy Mira & The Hitmen for the first-time ever in 2015 at Foxwoods Resort and Casino in Connecticut.  He has traveled across Long Island with stops at theaters such as Gateway Playhouse and long-standing residencies at clubs such as The Polo Lounge at Westbury Manor. That was until the pandemic shut everything down and Billy no longer had a stage to call home. But just like every other unexpected turn in the road he has faced over the years, Billy stayed true to himself and kept looking toward the future.

While many solo-artists took to live streams and virtual tip jars during the shutdown, Billy said as great as that is for other entertainers, it was not right for him.  For Billy, he said the concept of virtual performances would not work for him and his act because his acts are so interactive and draw so much energy from a live audience that something would be greatly lost.

In the meantime, Billy turned the downtime into a positive when he released a new cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s, “If You Could Read My Mind” and recently teamed up with longtime friends, Rob Rush of 94.3 The Shark and Mark “The Animal” Mendoza of Twisted Sister as co-host to a new weekly internet show, “Rollin’ With.”  The live streamed show is produced with Area 22 Productions and for Billy it has not only been an opportunity to interview interesting people, it has been an outlet for him to stay connected and share his gift of comedy with countless people in a time when people need laughs more than ever.

During the past couple of months, Billy has been branching out once again as stages in New York continued to be dark and set his sights on Florida once again for opportunities to get back to business until everything opens back up in the northern part of the country.  Billy said he is determined to take any good opportunity that comes his way to get back on stage, but ultimately his number one goal to return to Las Vegas remains the same.

“My road is going back to Vegas.  When I left, I remember saying, ‘I am coming back here and I am going to come back with this show,’” he said.

Things have rapidly been looking up in New York and venues are beginning to announce plans for reopening.  This Friday, April 30, Billy will finally be heading out for his first residency since Covid hit, when he makes his solo return singing live at Krish’s in Massapequa each Friday night.  Billy said he is thrilled to be getting back out there and performing at one of his favorite local places.  He is presently working on another local residency and said he will be releasing that information to the public as soon as it is confirmed.

To keep up-to-date with Billy’s most recent projects and upcoming events visit www.billymiraandthehitmen.com for all happenings.

Radio Personality and Author dedicates life to spreading joy to others across Long Island

By Amy Nicole Tangel

In a time when life has been more than challenging for most, keeping connected and having something to look forward to is of utmost importance. For one man who has based his radio and marketing career on bringing joy to others in-person, being thrust into reinventing promotions to remain engaged with communities and keep listeners’ spirits up has not slowed him down.

“Big Mike” Sangiamo began his career in radio in the fall of 2015 when he was hired as a member of the promotional street team with Connoisseur Media Long Island, home to stations such as 94.3 The Shark, 103.1 MAX, and WALK 97.5.  With years of determination and hard work behind him, Mike brings experience to the table after having worked field events years prior, and he said slowly, but surely, he stepped up the ladder to become the current Director of Local Marketing and Promotions for all five stations belonging to Connoisseur Media Long Island.

“Part of that is also being an on-air personality, being out there in the field, and really just trying to engage listeners out in the community as much as possible,” he said.

Of course, the world of in-person events was pre-pandemic, but Mike said step-by-step the pause is lifting and he is looking forward to once again entertaining and connecting with people across the island in whatever way he can through the radio.  The best part of field events for Mike is always meeting new people, and he said the sense of no two events ever being the same is what makes his job so fun. For Mike, he said the best part of all is when people win prizes; to share that joy with them and to make them smile is one of the greatest aspects of the job.

Radio during Covid has been especially challenging for Mike, and for the work he has done to try to reinvent the way local marketing and promotions have been executed during the pandemic, but he said he is grateful to still be working when many others in roles like his have lost their jobs.  During the recent holiday season, Mike said promotions did begin to finally pick-up with giveaways and some appearances at locations. 

Stop & Shop, T-Mobile, and Tropical Smoothie Café are businesses he has worked on major promotions with for vacation and gift card giveaways, and said the biggest difference now is the crew he used to have is temporarily gone; leaving most appearances up to himself and what he calls his “Number One,” Liana Neidig. In spite of the times, Mike said he takes pride in all of the recent innovative work done alongside a great team and strong leaders in the industry, such as Director of Operations, Patrick Shea and General Manager David Bevins. For Mike, he said he is grateful for the faith the company has placed in his approach, and everything he has done has been more personalized because of it.

“The fact that I was able to keep WALK 97.5 and our other stations active during the pandemic was quite a challenge. I had to go back and rely on everything I ever learned during my time at Disney, Subway and yes, even the funeral industry to figure out a new approach to a routine element of radio during an economic crisis caused by a global health catastrophe,” he said.

Mike’s career in public relations unknowingly began when his passion for Subway sandwiches took over, and he created the unofficial fan club of Subway restaurants with his fellow Subway-loving friends at the age of only 15 years old.  He said he and his friends simply really loved the food, and back then growing up in Queens there weren’t many locations, so he and his friends had to travel by bus for 45 minutes to get to their nearest Subway.

“It just became this thing my friends and I started to identify with,” he said.

In a twist of paths and an unconventional combination, Mike’s time before Connoisseur Media and his Subway career involved attending school to be a funeral director and a taking a college internship with Walt Disney World.  After graduation, Mike said he was at a crossroads between becoming a funeral director or a having career with Subway.   

He applied for Subway corporate jobs across the country, and in 2005 he was hired in the Nassau County development office as Promotions Coordinator and Field Evaluator; visiting restaurants for quality checks throughout the county and doing voiceovers for their commercials.  Eventually, Mike said this turned into a promotions and marketing role when he saw the need for local marketing.  It was through his local marketing with Subway, which led to the position he holds today. It happened when Mike said he attended a local event and was struck when he saw a guy at a table from the radio set-up with music and a prize wheel; instantly knowing that was what he wanted to do.

“I was like, ‘I could do that; I could do that,’ so I started selling my services to Subway Restaurants to do grand openings and anniversaries,” he said.

From there, Mike created a street team for Subway’s in-person events and even developed two Subway sandwiches including “The Feast,” also known as “The Feast of Sangiamo,” an Italian-American sandwich that was sold nationally.  Mike said this experience led him in a round-about way into broadcasting and the radio industry.  While Mike still consults occasionally with Subway today, he said his full-time dedication is with Connoisseur Media.

“To have the type of involvement and impact on a brand like that for some kid from Queens…it was all because I loved the product,” he said.

Although Mike said he is not a full-time jock, the on-air portion of his position compliments his first love of appearances and endorsements.  Presently, Mike hosts “Midnight Snacks” at midnight on 103.1 MAX FM weeknights and occasional Fridays with 94.3 The Shark from 7 to 10 p.m., live from The Studio at The Paramount in Huntington, along with various character spots for the Anna & Raven Show on WALK 97.5.

In addition to wanting to reach people through the airwaves and in-person as much as possible, Mike has also reached countless people as an author of his book, “The Fattest Guy in the Room-10 reasons why being fat sucks! (and 3 reasons why it’s not so bad),” which is available for purchase through breakthescale.com and depicts what life has been like for him living as an overweight person from childhood through adult life with a humorous twist.

“It will make you laugh; it will make you cry, and then it will make you laugh again,” he said.

Mike said he always had a desire to write and publish a book from the perspective of the beginning of his career and relied on memories of being the “funny fat guy in high school.”  When he realized he could be funny, he said he put everything together to become his character of, “Big Mike.”  As life went on, he grew into an adult, and Mike said he felt like he had something to say about his life experience and wanted to share with others in the hopes of helping just one person.

“I don’t like the idea for anyone to feel bad, or ashamed about being overweight and the way that they look,” he said.

As part of his ever-evolving promotions persona, Mike has combined his writing work with his character performance and said he loves to dress in character when he goes out for the radio stations.  He celebrates with characters for almost every major holiday and memorable names he created to go along, such as “Frosting the Snowman,” “Jingle Bell the Elf,” as well as four different leprechaun characters; all who have been created to lend happiness to each radio station and its following. Mike said he just wants to bring joy to others.  During the holiday season, he incorporates, “Santa’s Lonely Helper,” a self-described “Dr. Seuss style” poem/story he is author to, which he reads at various events across the island such as, Brookhaven’s Holiday Lighting Spectacular in Suffolk County. 

What radio stations will be able to do in future will be limited, according to Mike, but he said there are still safe and socially distant events happening. They are just few and far between.  In the meantime, Mike has also been working with Adventureland in Farmingdale throughout the pandemic, hosting almost all of their movie nights, and he said he has even called bingo before the start of the films from time to time.  No matter what Mike is doing anywhere on Long Island, he said his number one goal is to always take the radio stations with him.

“Thankfully, we jumped into action, participating in thank you parades for health care heroes, birthday parades, graduation parades; then drive-in movies and drive-in concerts all the way through to socially distant holiday attractions. Wherever I go, I am going out as the radio station, so if I go the radio station comes along,” he said.

To follow Big Mike on social media you can find him on Instagram @thefeastman, and you can catch his podcast, The Big Mike Radio Program on Apple Podcasts.  For local appearances, be sure to check your favorite Connoisseur Media Long Island radio’s website for the most up-to-date information.

Photos courtesy Big Mike Sangiamo

Artist Opens Gallery with Premiere of Pandemic-Inspired Paintings

By Amy Nicole Tangel

Long Island Artist and Live Event Producer Steven Calapai faced the same reality as many others in the industry when the entertainment world essentially shutdown in early 2020 due to the world-wide Pandemic, but with determination to be resilient and with a lifelong passion for art, he said he has taken his creativity to levels he never dreamed of with the recent opening of his new gallery.

Park South Gallery opened its doors this past March in Amity Harbor, N.Y., filled wall-to-wall with Steven’s paintings that are now being recognized across the country for not only their artistry, but for the inspiration behind the color.  Steven said he always loved to paint, sculpt, and design, but it wasn’t until the pandemic hit, when he was looking for an outlet to deal with the sudden halt to life, that he began painting every day.  A little more than a year later, Steven has painted approximately four hundred paintings to date and has no plans to stop.

“Life’s hard, life’s tough, and if I could make every minute of life worth living even more moving forward, I am going to do it,” he said.

Steven said he releases all his emotions in his paintings and whether it is sadness, anger, loss, new beginnings or happiness, his art is the window to his soul.  He said looking at the walls of the gallery people will see the paintings are filled with expressions of everything he is, and he said his diversity and how it has been touching other people is what he takes most pride in.

With a self-proclaimed philosophy to “keep moving forward” along with having a career in film and television spanning over 20 years working for companies like Paramount Pictures and Atlantic Records, Steven said those experiences gave him great drive and memories to hold on to, so when everything shut down, he simply woke-up one morning and decided he was not going down with it.  When Covid hit, Steven said his live event and commercial real estate business instantly became non-existent.

“As soon as Covid hit, it was over and it was over in like 24 hours, so I woke up and I had to reinvent myself,” he said.

Born and raised on Long Island, Steven said his life was saved at the age of 10 when he turned to music and art to deal with his parent’s difficult divorce.  He became an actor and print model as a teenager, and in between it all he became an avid drummer.  Times were tough financially, and as a young and eager musician, Steven said his first drum kit was an old Ludwig he found when someone else’s trash became his treasure; recalling it as ‘a moment of never giving up.’

“I found an old Ludwig set in the trash. It was champagne pearl, not an extremely popular color with teenagers. I remember finding sandpaper and black and white house paint in our garage. I worked so hard sanding all the pearl paint off and painted the set black and white stripes,” he said.

From that moment on, Steven began playing in garage bands and creating flyers for bands.  Not realizing it while it was happening, he tapped into not only his artistry, but his future in public relations.  Following his acting and modeling career Steven dove into the music industry as a producer, session drummer, Grammy member and studio owner.  During his time working with musicians, he most notably managed the late R&B singer, Freddie Scott, and worked with artists such as Bette Midler, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, and Van Morrison.

As Steven’s recognition grew, he turned his focus to managing actors and worked in press and public relations with executive producers such as Mark Lipsky. Working alongside Lipsky, who is well-known for producing films such as, The Nutty Professor and Coming to America, Steven has provided management services for celebrities and even worked closely with Greg Martin, son of Beatles Producer George Martin.

All the while, he said his passion for art grew rapidly having had the privilege of personally knowing and learning from iconic artists such as Andy Warhol and David Bowie, and spending influential nights with them in conversations at Studio 54.  Steven said his artwork has also been heavily influenced by his time exploring different neighborhoods and cultures, but early on some of his greatest inspirations came from other artists such as Blondie and Iggy Pop as he witnessed the beginning of the pop art movement.

“The imagery of Hollywood is forever tattooed in my memory and can be seen throughout my work,” he said.

In his 30’s, Steven suffered the tragic loss of a child, and just as he has recently worked to turn the pandemic into a positive through his artwork, he carried the same mindset to help carry him through his grief some years ago when he began contributing to charities and sharing support to others in need.

While Steven is humble in his philanthropy, he said he has made it one of his life’s missions to always donate his art and his time.  The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, American Cancer Society and Mandate for Humanity are organizations that Steve said he holds most near to his heart.

“All the charities I work with are all good people and I want to help,” he said.

This past November, Steven was diagnosed with Covid and thankfully experienced no symptoms, but it was his time in quarantine when he said he “went nuts” and painted almost around the clock.  He said he would go to sleep at eight o’clock and wake-up at 3 a.m. and start all over again.

When he started painting during the pandemic, Steven said he just wanted to create and share some things with people to make them feel more positive about Covid.  Some of his favorite expressions are painting trees with blossoms and seascapes, and for Steven, he said his new paintings have just simply been so much fun and so positive.

“They are peaceful, so I put a little different twist (on each one), and I add new colors to them,” he said.

Park South Gallery is considered home to Steven, but he said he is currently working on opening a gallery in Boca Raton, FL, and Las Vegas.  Word has been rapidly spreading of Steven’s work, and this past January his art was featured in Livein-Style Magazine as well as Modern Luxury Magazine/Vegas-The Art Issue.  Steven is currently working on getting his art in hotels in major cities across the country and he said there is no stopping him as he shoots for the stars with the dream of seeing his paintings in the world’s first space hotel on the moon. 

At the end or the root of it all, depending on a person’s outlook, Steven said he just wants to share his experiences, his emotions, and his imagination through his paintings with other people to inspire people to never give up.

“This is all based on failure; all of it.  If you don’t fail, then you never learn how to succeed,” he said.

Steven will be premiering his spring collection Saturday, April 10 at Park South Gallery in his true fashion with a private VIP event and is using his space to additionally support other artists such as an upcoming exhibition show with tv personality and Ink Master Artist “Gentle Jay” Blondel on May 8.

To learn more about Steven and his paintings, you can visit www.stevencalapai.net and www.parksouthgallery.net.

Feature Photo Credit: Kate Fox

Photo Gallery: Amy Nicole Tangel