A Total Eye Experience

By Amy Nicole Tangel

Hair Salons across Long Island were finally able to open their doors this week after months on pause, signifying a step forward for all other salons waiting in the wings, but when one Make-Up Artist opens her doors, it’s temporarily going to be all about the eyes.

Christine Daino, owner of Total Glam NY, decided to take a leap-of-faith in 2016, when she took her passion for make-up and skin care to the next level and opened her first space in Patchogue, N.Y.  In only four years, the 35-year-old entrepreneur has built a business that exploded from the ground-up, with clients across the island and beyond, providing services in Makeup Artistry (Bridal and Special Occasion), Lash Services and Esthetic Treatments on-location and at her current Bellport, N.Y., salon.

With over two decades of experience in the beauty industry to her credit and her knowledge and skills as a certified esthetician, Christine offers all of her clients the highest-level of facial treatments she can provide.  Her love for makeup is an extension of what started out as a passion for painting when she was a child and evolved into experimenting with makeup later on in life.  She made her dreams become a reality with licenses in makeup art 16 years ago followed by earning one in aesthetics two years later.  In spite of everything she has built, when Christine reopens the doors to her salon in Phase 4, she faces challenges different than many other businesses reopening their doors, because of the specific nature of her work.  Working in an industry where her career is based upon touching faces, for now, she said she will only be able to do what she can with a mask on.

“I can do anything where they can still wear a face mask, like facials, but make-up, that aspect I can’t do as of right now,” she said.

Until restrictions are lifted, Christine will be booking clients for services such as facials, lash lifts and lash extensions only and said as far as booking brides, she feels bad for the brides who are getting married this year who want to keep their weddings and is hoping things will get better this summer.  With so much uncertainty and not enough answers, she said it is hard to give answers to brides and to book properly, but she is grateful for how all of her fellow artists and stylists in the business have come together and supported each other along.

“Most of my brides have postponed until 2021.  The brides that are keeping for this year are keeping it very, very small, but there are very few of them,” she said.

In preparation for the new normal, Christine has Total Glam NY face masks available to her clients and has received BARBICIDE COVID-19 Certification for the Professional Beauty Industry training.  A benefit that sets Total Glam NY’s salon apart from others is its pre-existing design to treat one client at a time. Christine has guidelines in place on her Facebook page and website indicating specific social distancing practices for appointments.

While she said she is grateful for being able to spend her recent time home enjoying the slower pace with her children and family, she has also been busy planning her social distancing guidelines to open her salon and working hard to ensure when the day comes, her clients are protected and safe.  For Christine, she said she has not stopped working since the day she decided to start her business, putting her heart and soul into every aspect, from her website to her salon to each client she serves.  Christine is excited for the future, and she feels like the bridal industry is going to boom in 2021, but she said the time home has been a good reminder of balance in life.

“I’m like an all or nothing kind of girl. I learned how to do a website myself, I learned about SEO, I learned about the keywords.  I truly did my homework and I haven’t stopped,” she said.

To learn more about the services Total Glam NY offers, or to book an appointment, visit www.totalglamny.com. You can also follow Total Glam NY on Facebook and Instagram to keep up with the most up-to-date information and happenings. 

What Would Mister Rogers Say?

Special Edition: Documentary Review

By Amy Nicole Tangel

With the recent Pandemic and nationwide protests at hand, I have often been thinking about the children all around us and asking myself how can we protect them, teach them and keep showing them love when we are all trying to make sense for ourselves?  I thought back about big moments in history when I was a child and I put myself in those shoes to wonder, how kids are taking this all in.  It was in that moment where I asked myself, ‘What would Mister Rogers say?’

I turned to Mister Rogers and thought about the time while I was growing up, and how he taught me about being kind to everyone, and demonstrated love and unity while tackling the most difficult conversations with children.  He was not just an actor on a show, but a man who lived what he taught.  Fred Rogers made a mission of his life teaching kindness and acceptance. 

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood aired from 1968 to 2001, spanning more than three decades, and in 2018 a documentary of Rogers’ life and show, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? was released.  The film begins with footage of Rogers speaking about his feelings on what love means and leads you into the depth of his heart and soul from his childhood, throughout his entire life, sharing how he used those experiences to teach children through his work.

“Love is at the root of everything.  All learning, all parenting, all relationships; Love or the lack of it,” he said.

Although it has been almost twenty years since the show ended, the positive lessons Rogers taught are of lasting effect and live on through the documentary.  The simple way discussions were held between Mr. Rogers and the children he spoke to are an example families could benefit from today.  The documentary is something for those of us who grew up watching the show to reminisce about in the scenes of zipping sweaters, changing shoes, feeding the fish and the childlike wonderment of answering the door to see who was there each week.  You can go on your own little trip down memory lane, but you can also be enlightened or be reminded as a parent, of new ways to help teach young children about life.

At first sight, people may feel taken back by the endless kindness Rogers exuded and his intense passion for what he believed in, but when you really listen to his words and look at how he opened doors, crossed barriers and communicated with so many, it is an example for us all.  I originally watched the documentary last year, but in light of this past week, I went back and watched it again. 

As I began to dive into the film, I was quickly reminded how children are miraculously resilient and was heart-warmed by Rogers’ mission to focus on the importance of simply listening to them.  The documentary is filled with nostalgic clips of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe and its beloved puppets; a reflection of how Rogers used his imagination in the creation of the show as a way to talk to children about their feelings.  Throughout the film, you are given flashes of episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood showing how the show was defined by the transition from reality to fantasy when “Trolley” rang it’s bell and headed around the track, bringing children to an imaginative and emotionally-safe place to talk about what was going on in the world through their eyes.

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was beloved to many for its way of tackling difficult topics of conversation with children and for Rogers’ quiet, calm and meaningful ability to communicate in happy and troubled times.  He spoke with children about tragic events, such as 9/11, the Challenger Disaster and the assassination of Robert Kennedy; Rogers said he felt he had to talk to the families in our country about grief.  When a child jumped out of a window thinking he could fly like Superman, Rogers created an episode to focus on superheroes to help teach children what pretending means.  Conversations on the show spanned from death to divorce to when pets die and war, but don’t be mistaken to think he was gloom and doom.  Children and adults loved Mister Rogers, and he spread joy to them.  He visited Washington, D.C., and spoke regularly on behalf of causes he believed in and seemingly brought people together everywhere he went.

One of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood longtime characters, “Officer Clemmons,” became a regular part of the show according to the documentary, initially as a statement by Rogers to stand against segregation in public swimming pools.  Actor and musician François Clemmons came onto the show during a time in 1968 when he faced not only racism as an African American, but he was oppressed by keeping his sexuality as a gay man a secret.  Last month, Clemmons released his own memoir of his life and time on the show, Officer Clemmons.  In the documentary, Clemmons speaks of his relationship with Rogers and exemplifies how their friendship broke barriers.  Clemmons was the first African American actor to have a recurring role on a children’s program.  In a poignant moment, François shared how Rogers always said on the show, “I love you just the way you are,” and one day he asked Fred if he was talking to him.

“He looked at me and he said, ‘Yes, I have been talking to you for two years, and you finally heard me today,’ and I just collapsed into his arms.  I started crying.  That’s when I knew I loved him,” said Clemmons.

Family and former colleagues share stories throughout the hour and a half documentary about Rogers and his love for all people.  His wife said she believed, because Fred had a difficult time making friends as a child and was bullied it created the man he became who dedicated his life to protecting children.  Rogers said he thought those who would make you feel less than you are was the greatest evil.

In the end, Rogers’ legacy is captured through the eyes of all who loved him.  Through the children he worked with, to his fellow actors, to hearing from his wife and children, watching the documentary will leave you remembering how Mister Rogers taught us all about love.

Wont’ You Be My Neighbor? is available on Prime Video for $9.99 and DVD.  Officer Clemmons can be purchased through Amazon.

A Simple Syrup Passion takes Flight

By Amy Nicole Tangel

When times get tough it is what people make of the road ahead that determines the outcome; revealing their spirit within.  For one woman, whose career as a bartender has been put on hold, her life took an unexpected turn when she recently took her passion for mixing cocktails behind the bar, to her kitchen, as a way to pass the time, creating an emerging new line of homemade simple syrups.

Christine Eifert, is a Long Island bartender who has been crafting her knowledge of mixing drinks for 27 years.  She has worked at bars and restaurants throughout the island and venues such as The Paramount, in Huntington, N.Y., and is currently on staff at Gunther’s Tap Room in Northport, N.Y., but for now she is spending her time at home with her family and waiting for the day she can return to work by making a dream become a reality with the creation of her simple syrups for cocktails, sauces and marinades, fittingly named Blondie’s Not So Simple Syrup.

Her inspiration for the syrups originally came to her last summer when she said she took a trip upstate with her boyfriend and tried a honey lemon syrup sample at a whiskey wagon type establishment, and instantly thought of all the different drinks she could make at work with the flavor.  In the time following this, she said she kept saying to herself she wanted to do this, she knew she could do this and would think about it all the time; however, the 47-year-old mom of two teenage boys said working 6-7 days a week left her no time to fulfill her passion for creating her own syrups until now.

When everything shut down, she said she had to do something to help keep her spirits up.  Christine said she went from living a life where her career was dependent upon being social and talking to people constantly to nothing.  She said it left her feeling worried and not knowing what to do like everyone else who is home during this time and out of work, so she just started making the syrups, and leaving samples for people she knew on their doorsteps in mason jars and people just kept asking and asking.

“People just keep asking for them, and I was not expecting this at all,” she said.

Blondie’s Not So Simple Syrup is made up of flavors such as strawberry-lemon and orange peel-vanilla for those who like sweets and three different jalapeno flavors for those who are all about spicy, but the list doesn’t stop there, and it continues to grow.  Christine said she is constantly experimenting with new flavors, like her most recent, a blackberry mint syrup and is making them available as soon as she has perfected them.  She said people are now marinating their meat for barbeques or making sauces with syrups, which is something she didn’t even think of when she started making them, but she is so excited to see what everyone is doing and for things to come.

“All you need is like two ounces of the syrup.  You can get a couple or a few drinks out of each jar for whatever you are using, of course.  Mojitos is a big one.  All of my bourbon drinkers are using the orange vanilla; just a tiny bit in their bourbon,” she said.

An entrepreneur at heart, Christine said it was on a whim when she asked a friend to create a logo for her that reflected her “Blondie” nickname and who she was.  Within just a week, a seemingly identical cartoon character of her was created with blonde pig tails, tattoos and a beaming smile.  She keeps stock in the mason jars she uses between ordering online and a local hardware store, and she buys all of her ingredients at her local Meat Farms.  A website is in the works, but through social media the word has spread like fire.  With years of working in the restaurant and bar industry, she has been putting those resources to work delivering samples to restaurants and taking orders locally.  She has even mailed orders as far away as Florida, and in only two months, Blondie’s Not So Simple Syrup has become a sign of new beginnings.

In the kitchen, Christine said she was spending hours in the beginning, because she was working with little pots, but with all the different flavors and the amounts of the large quantities she has been making, she now has graduated to larger pots and has been able to create a more efficient system.  From making to jarring, sealing, labeling and storing, the process she joked, has left her walking in circles some days in the kitchen when she first started out, but she has been excited and surprised every step of the way of the response to her syrups.

“I am so excited.  I think I just don’t believe it right now.  Little by little I am inching away at this,” she said.

Christine is currently exploring Farmer’s Markets to sell for this upcoming season and is taking orders online.  People who live locally can pick-up, or delivery options are available.  If you live outside of the local area or prefer mail delivery, the syrups can be shipped to you.

To place an order, you can find a list of syrups available along with direct contact information in the image below and you can visit, Blondie’s Not So Simple Syrup Page on Facebook.

A Hero Remembered

By Amy Nicole Tangel

With Memorial Day ahead of us, we remember those who fought for our country and have gone before us as we honor their service. I recently revisited my own ancestry in hopes of learning more about my great grandfather who served and died in World War II.

Ever since I was old enough to know the story of my great grandfather, I have always been drawn to it.  From my perspective as a child, and until more recently, learning about what happened to him from the time he left home until after his death was somewhat of a mystery to me.  His death was a tragedy that turned the course of my grandmother’s life at a very young age.  It left her with scars she rarely spoke of, and I never had the courage to dig deep with her to find answers to my family history.  I didn’t want to upset her, and I always thought, ‘one day’.  One day never came, and she passed away in 2016 before I ever had the chance, but her passing was the last of a generation and it fueled my fire even more.   I have slowly been able to put some pieces together over the years, but a recent trip down memory lane with my aunt brought me new understanding and revealed a heart-stopping tale I had never been told.

His name was Pvt Roland Douglas and he served in the U.S. Army.  He was born in 1911 in Owls Head, N.Y., and graduated from Lake Placid High School and barber school before marrying my great grandmother, Elizabeth Cline, in Saranac Lake, N.Y., on May 23, 1934.  When he was called to service in 1943, he left behind a wife and three daughters, Helen (my grandmother), Betty and Alice in Lake Placid, N.Y., where he once ran a local barbershop, worked as a chauffeur and was a volunteer firefighter.

In a genealogy document written by his daughter, my late, great aunt Betty Douglas Coats, she tells how her father was a barber by trade, but when the depression hit in the 1930’s he had to go to work as a chauffeur.  In December of 1943, he was drafted into the Army, completed basic training in Camp Wolter, TX, and was shipped off to France in 1944.  Records have indicated he fought numerous battles for approximately four months until his death on, September 23, 1944.

Under the leadership of General George S. Patton Jr., Great Grandfather Douglas was serving in Company I, 137th Infantry Regiment of the 35th Infantry Division at the time of his death and was killed in action in the Foret de Gremacy area of France.  I have often imagined the past and wondered what it was like for my great grandmother to have the worry of her husband fighting a war and suddenly becoming the only parent raising three daughters in such economically troubled times. 

It is said through family lore he told his family he knew he wasn’t coming home, and I often wondered, given the times, if he was ever able to write letters home or if there were any specific moments left behind.  So, I asked my aunt, Teresa Wells of Barre, VT, great grandfather’s granddaughter, if she knew of any letters and if she could share with me any stories she knew.

“I do know that Grandpa was in France and was shot out of a tree by a sniper.  His watch stopped at his time of death when he hit the ground,” she said.

I had never heard the story of his watch before and hearing of it for the first time made my heart skip a beat.  She said as far as she knew, the watch had never been reset, but that my uncle had the watch and he had the exact time.  It was like the watch was connected to the heartbeat of my great-grandfather’s life, and when his heart stopped, so did the tick of his watch; forever symbolizing the moment during battle when he took his last breath.  I reached out to my uncle, Bob Macey of Stillwater, N.Y., great grandfather’s grandson, and owner of the watch to see if he could share with me what he knew about its history.  While we spoke on the phone, he held the watch in his hands and checked the time for me.  9:34 is the time, and although it is not known from the watch whether it is morning or evening, it remains as it was received. 

During WWII many soldiers were buried in Europe and later flown home.  It was a double-edged sword for families who lost their loved ones in this war.  Not only did they have to grieve, but many times they had to grieve without a body and try to carry on, only to reopen the wounds years later and grieve all over again when the bodies returned home.

In the notes written by his daughter Betty, she tells about the location where my great grandfather’s remains were interred in Andilly, Lorraine, France in a what was then a U.S. Military Cemetery, and describes the timeline of his return home to Lake Placid years later. 

“Pvt Douglas’ remains were shipped home, arriving at 6:30 p.m. on November 29, 1948 at the train station in Lake Placid, N.Y.  A funeral was held November 30at 2:30 p.m.,” she wrote. 

He was buried in North Elba Cemetery in Lake Placid following his funeral and on December 14, 1948, Great grandfather, Pvt Roland Douglas, was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart. 

My grandmother, Helen, was the oldest of her siblings, but she was only a 7-year-old when her father passed away, so memories were hard to come by, but collectively through stories passed down, his legacy remains alive.  The time may have stopped the day Pvt Douglas died, but for his family, the honor of his service will always be remembered.

Carrying on a Family Legacy

Amy Nicole Tangel

In March of 1946, The Colony Shop opened its doors under the ownership of businesswoman Eloise Staudinger and 74 years later, the children’s store continues to be a fixture in the Village of Patchogue, N.Y., but now, like countless other small businesses across Long Island, the doors are temporarily closed and her granddaughter, Lori Belmonte is holding tight to her family legacy and making plans for a new future.

Lori has been co-owner of The Colony Shop alongside her aunt for the past 10 years since her grandmother passed away in 2010, but she has spent her lifetime learning from and following in her grandmother’s footsteps.  At 63 years old, she has spent much of her life dedicated to serving her customers and being an active member of the community serving as Committee Chair with the Business Promotion Committee for the Greater Patchogue Chamber of Commerce and as First Vice President of the Business Improvement District.  Now, Lori has been working diligently from home to prepare for the day to re-open and carefully going over all the necessary changes to come for her customers to safely social distance in the shop. 

Like many other small locally-owned businesses who have been around for a long time, The Colony Shop runs a simple business serving their customers, and the only way to get what you need is to go to the store.  Lori, her aunt and dedicated staff are known locally for the personal and high-end experience they provide to their customers.  One of their specialties is providing a one-stop-shop for children’s First Communion needs, with fitting rooms on premise, and along with that comes Lori’s expertise in helping children find the perfect dress, suit or accessories.

The week before the NY Pause, The Colony Shop was in the midst of their prime shopping season for the occasion and now First Communions have been canceled with re-schedule dates yet to be announced, and Lori is hoping for an opportunity to bounce back.

“I have lost my communion business.  I lost my Easter business, and now I am starting to lose my spring-summer business.  My store is full of merchandise, and it’s just sitting there,” she said.

The past couple of weeks Lori has been receiving calls for items and has been trying to accommodate through local delivery or pick-up.  Calls from the shop are being forwarded to her cell phone and Lori said requests have been primarily for birthdays and births.

The shutdown of business has been the biggest hit The Colony Shop has ever taken, but Lori has drawn strength from a story her grandmother Eloise used to tell her when she was a child about her experience living through the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic.  Growing up and until recently, Lori said she always thought, like most kids would, that her grandmother was exaggerating the story, but she was not.  Her grandmother was a survivor of unimaginable circumstances.

“When my grandmother was 10 years old, she lost her father and her step-mother.  Her mother died when she was three.  She lost her father and her stepmother in 1918.  She would tell me, ‘You don’t know, people were dying left and right,’ and who would have thought 100 years later here we go,” she said.

Moving forward, some fittings are going to have to be by appointment only and only one of the two fitting rooms will be used at a time.  After every fitting, the rooms will be thoroughly sanitized and whatever customers have tried on will be steamed out and sanitized before it goes back on the rack.  Lori said even though it is going to be extra work for them, they have to keep going.  She said, their first priority is to put their customers’ safety first while they shop, and The Colony Shop will do whatever is needed to carry on. 

“It’s going to be hard in my store.  Sometimes when they shop, for say, a baby’s christening outfit, it’s the baby in the stroller, and it’s mommy and the godmother and two grandmas.  I am going to have to limit that,” she said.

The Colony Shop is in Phase 2 of the reopening plan for NY State, and Lori said she is hoping she can re-open in the coming weeks.

“I am available.  If somebody needs something, all they have to do is call me,” she said.

For more information on how you can shop through social distancing at The Colony Shop you can visit, www.thecolonyshop.net or call 631-605-7278.

Healer offers free virtual Reiki meditations

Amy Nicole Tangel

Life as we know it right now can seem filled with unknowns and worries, leaving us feeling overwhelmed, out of balance, and seeking ways to deal with our emotions. Sharing her passion and gift of healing through meditation one woman is helping those in need by offering free weekly virtual sessions of Reiki meditation.

Reiki and Feng Shui Master Laura Cerrano, owner of Feng Shui Manhattan, grew up with Feng Shui as a way of life.  The former Farmingdale, NY, resident learned early from her mother who was a Feng Shui Master and, organically, the seeds were planted in Laura through living what her mother taught her as she grew up.  While in college studying to be an art teacher at SUNY New Paltz, Laura said Feng Shui was ever present in her life as she traveled back and forth on breaks to study the practice and help with her mother’s Feng Shui client consultations. 

When her mother became ill and Laura began struggling to find teaching jobs after she returned home from graduation, she realized this was her destiny.  After her mother passed away in 2010, Laura said she then knew in her heart, she wanted to make it her life to help others and take all she had learned from her mother to continue to serve others.

“I was seeing what was happening with people’s lives and even my life. I said this is really important.  This not something to ignore, and I didn’t want to,” she said.

Although 36-year-old Laura grew up on Long Island, she was born in an orphanage in Bogotá, Colombia, in 1984 during a time when the country was suffering from economic despair and surrounded by violence as a result of the reign of terror by drug lord, Pablo Emilio “Escobar” Gaviria.  Her birth mother gave her up for adoption when she was born, because she could not afford to keep her, and to Laura’s saving grace, when she was about six months old, she was adopted and flown to her new family in the U.S.  It was not safe for her adoptive parents to travel to Colombia due to the ongoing violence, so Laura was flown to JFK from Bogotá essentially alone, but the future ahead of her was paved with hope.

Laura’s adoptive mother, Feng Shui Master Carole Provenzale, studied Feng Shui at the Metropolitan Institute of Interior Design, originally in Plainview, N.Y., and based today in Syosset, N.Y.  She was among the first accredited graduate school class in country to be recognized as a certified Feng Shui consultant, and her mother who graduated in 1997, was blessed by His Holiness Grandmaster Professor Lin Yun.

“She just started feeding me information growing up from 1997 and onward, so my training essentially started there even though it wasn’t in the traditional sense of here’s a booklet. You just lived it and honestly, that is how Feng Shui is traditionally passed down,” she said.

Following her mother’s passing, Laura said she decided to extend her practices from Feng Shui and began studying Reiki with the intention of finding an outlet to help with her grief.  She said before her mother had passed, she had told Laura to start thinking about Reiki and to trust it would come to her in her own way, so Laura sought out, Reiki Master from the Center for Inner Wisdom, Lily Rubinstein.  Under Rubinstein’s mentorship and teachings, Laura was certified in Reiki with the foundational levels in 2014 became a Master in 2018.  From these teachings, Laura has created her own practice and lifestyle to help others heal.

“It is a necessity at this point, and I know it will be a necessity once things are settled, because I am seeing and I am getting the reading of people who are going to have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); They are already having it, especially the essential workers in the hospitals,” she said.

Throughout the pandemic, living in New York during a time when there is so much fear, Laura said she has been taking her years of practice to focus on the blessings to help herself and others stay strong through her new virtual weekly Reiki classes. She said she started thinking about what people needed right now, and she said she felt free remote Reiki healing circles offer a method that could be an immediate benefit.

“The idea is to basically give people, even though we are pausing, an opportunity to just pause from the anxiety and depression, and I have been trying to reach out to medical and other essential workers to just listen to the meditation or receive the Reiki,” she said.

Feng Shui Manhattan has offices in New York, Long Island and Los Angeles, CA, and Laura is currently under quarantine in Long Island while her husband is holding things down in California until they can safely travel again.  Laura travels the country offering clients a list of holistic and practical approaches to Feng Shui, Master Reiki Treatments, and sound healing, just to name a few of the services to help people with physical, mental, emotional and spiritual growth. 

Laura said she is working hard to focus on the anatomy of the body even more than ever, and is studying different chakras in the body to nail down what people are going through.  She practices what she teaches and takes her own meditation classes to keep herself in the right place for her own peace and to continue to help others.  For Laura, who has been combining her own practice of meditation along with various exercise regimes like riding her bike and lifting heavy items, the practice is essential.  Art is her personal outlet, and she often explores different mediums as part of her key to balance.

“When I look at this pandemic, I know a lot has made an exchange on the surface level, but when you really start to peel back the layers, depending on your perspective, this pandemic has blessed me with a lot,” she said.

Throughout the month of May and possibly June, depending on how long the pandemic continues, Laura’s virtual Reiki sessions will be held through Zoom, Thursdays at 7 p.m. Eastern time.  People who want to take the class can go directly to the link on her website to register, www.fengshuimanhattan.com or they can visit The Feng Shui Manhattan School on Facebook.

Caregiver Movement Gains Support

Amy Nicole Tangel

A new initiative called, Let the Family Help, is gaining support for its plan to create an exception for caregivers during a state of emergency. The proposal would allow patients to have one caregiver per family with them while being treated in nursing homes and hospitals.

Making it her goal to take the lead is long-time philanthropist and founder of Stepping Stone Support, an all-volunteer non-profit organization helping men and women affected by cancer. Renee Lynn Scott, 49, of Eastport, NY, has taken on a personal crusade to help erase the word “alone” for patients and to ease the burden of medical professionals in nursing homes and hospitals.

 Renee says safety is of the utmost importance, and she said she believes it is necessary and possible for caregivers to not only help their loved ones recover, but to free dedicated doctors and nurses in beneficial ways. The plan for patients to be allowed one caregiver with them in medical facilities is a movement, Renee said, for all patients who need medical care whatever the disease and not to be focused solely on COVID19.

“There are so many thousands of other illnesses out there that people are being treated for, but they (bureaucratic decisionmakers) seem to be only focused on the virus,” she said.

Recently, Renee and fellow supporters have petitioned legislators and county executives for their voices to be heard.  In a letter written to politicians, Renee is asking the government to allow caregivers to help their family members.  She suggests exceptions be made to allow a single family member, or designated person to help care for their sick one in facilities as they have always done before, after they have been properly screened.  In addition to screening for COVID19, she proposes caregivers who are cleared be required to wear acceptable protective gear and to sign a waiver releasing any facility from liability.

“Once a person has been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, they don’t just fight physically; they fight it emotionally and mentally.  I personally know the struggles families face dealing with cancer from diagnosis to treatment,” she wrote.

At the age of 28, Renee was diagnosed with Stage 1B Cervical Cancer. She said the news of her cancer left her feeling devastated and shocked, and in 2005 she made it her life’s mission to help other survivors and their families make their way through life with cancer by creating Stepping Stone Support. 

Not only has Renee spent the past 15 years creating programs such as, Survivor’s Little Helper, an annual event which provides gifts for the holidays and necessary winter items to cancer patients in treatment, but she is a patient advocate, survivor sister and was helplessly watching her 93-year-old aunt go through COVID19 alone recently while being emotionally traumatized.  Her aunt was admitted to the hospital for treatment and has since recovered and returned to her nursing home, but Renee said the emotional damage from being alone left the family feeling devastated.

“I think if you ask every single family out there who has somebody who is dealing with it (COVID19) in a hospital setting, they would tell you they want a change,” she said.

Stacy Sbaschnik, 48, of Manorville, N.Y., and long-time supporter of Stepping Stone Support is on board with the Let the Family Help initiative, and her current situation is a reflection of what many families are facing with a loved one. Her 73-year-old father is fighting for his life in ICU with COVID19.  Her father, who has pre-existing medical conditions from a 4- year battle with lung cancer, is now free of cancer but facing another disease alone. 

Stacy’s mother is presently his primary caregiver, but she said when her father was receiving treatment for cancer, she was by his bedside every day.  While her father is on a ventilator and unable to communicate, Stacy said she has tried to stay positive and strong while waiting for updates from the hospital, and her family is very grateful for the care he is receiving. But she worries at times that he will give up because nobody is there.

“I try to look at it like, I don’t know what they are going through there either.  I don’t know how many patients they have.  I am sure it is hard for everyone who is going through this,” she said.

Over the years, Renee said she has developed meaningful relationships with fellow charitable volunteer organizations. She has partnered with those in her community who are now offering their support for Let the Family Help. 

Cassy Caputo, 65, of Center Moriches, N.Y., is Chairperson of Helping Makes U Happy, a non-profit organization that supports those in need in her local community along with her son and Founder, Keith Caputo.  Her recent petition to Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s office not only included Renee’s letter, but Cassy’s own personal plea.

Keith,39, lives with a developmental disability.  He has a passion for helping others and has helped countless people throughout the years, but he depends completely on Cassy. Keith is the boss, Cassy said and the thought of Keith ever having to be alone in the hospital makes her so emotional it brings her to tears.  Cassy said she personally knows other developmentally disabled individuals who have had to be hospitalized and passed from the virus and how terrifying and confusing it was for them to be alone.

“It’s a horrible experience for anyone to be alone while fighting the virus, but for a developmentally disabled person for whom you have been their advocate their whole life, even more so. Plain and simple-Keith would die.  If not of the virus, of a broken heart because he would feel I had deserted him,” she said.

Renee said it’s imperative for those who want to protect their loved ones and support the proposed Let the Family Help Initiative to contact their state Senators and Governor Cuomo’s office.  For additional information, emails can be sent to RSCOTT@steppingstonesupport.org To keep up to date on the latest information, you can follow, Let the Family Help-COVID19 on Facebook. To sign the petition visit, http://chng.it/SVdWQthTQn

Rockin Through Adversity

Amy Nicole Tangel

Battling cancer, raising a family and sharing a passion for music is all a-day-in-the-life for one woman who is using her voice to entertain and unite people.

A 43-year-old front woman has led Long Island’s Bon Jovi tribute band for the past five years.  Living in Lindenhurst, NY, with her husband and three children, Michele Miller is in remission from a recent battle with breast cancer and she’s ready to get back onstage and pay forward.

Although the pandemic of COVID19 has been an unwelcomed additional concern for Michele’s health, she has not let it touch her spirit. She said staying home with her family and staying safe is her utmost priority because she is living with a compromised immune system while she continues to undergo immunotherapy treatment. But, for Michele, the music never stops.

“If you ask anyone that lives with me, when am I not singing?  It’s very comical around here,” she said.

After a hiatus from social gatherings and performing with her band Lay Your Hands on Me while she underwent treatment, she hit the stage for the first time in recent months with their comeback show at Napper Tandy’s Irish Pub in Smithtown, NY, on February 29, 2020.  Days later, the quarantine went into place and everything was halted for Michele’s comeback, but she said she is grateful she has that night to look back on and draw strength from to carry her through.

“There was so much support that night from the local town itself.  There were hundreds of people.  That place was packed,” she said.

Michele has not taken the delay in getting back onstage lying down and has started going live on Facebook every Saturday night for an interactive session with family, friends and fans.  She said she wanted to create something that was organic and provide a fun way to interact with people.  An average Saturday night at home has turned into a following of hundreds of comments, shares and views of Michele singing songs she loves from Bon Jovi to Halestorm to Bret Michaels.  She has created her own virtual stage from her phone and a way to continue moving forward.

“It’s an outlet for me and an outlet for maybe somebody else that is home and going through a little something, and this affected them a little more,” she said.

Paying forward to those who helped Michele along the way during her battle with breast cancer has become an especially important part of her road to recovery.  Days after Michele received her diagnosis in December 2018, her husband came home and told her he had been laid off from his job.  It was more than anyone should have to go through, and Michele’s family and friends along with the local music community immediately came together.  Last May, a benefit was held at Revolution in Amityville, NY, for Michele thanks to the generosity and support of countless people.  The event was named, “Big Benefit for Little Michele,” which raised more than $10,000 to help Michele and her family the day before she went into surgery for a double mastectomy.  Michele said she was blown away by the fact that 17 bands came together, in one venue, from across the island to support her.  The love and energy of that day from everyone is something she said she will never forget.

“It was like a festival.  I was so overwhelmed with everything that was going on.  I couldn’t believe that they had a fundraiser that big,” she said.

This past November, Michele and her family were featured on, Family Kitchen Revival, a new cooking show on Prime Video starring Chef Jonathan Scinto, where she was given an opportunity to say thank you to those who have helped carry her through difficult times.  Throughout the series, Scinto helps eight families across Long Island prepare a special meal to say thank you to those who have helped them through a rough time in life.  Michele said when she was approached to come on the show she was still going through treatment and feeling really sick, so the show waited until she finished her chemotherapy and she was ready to share her story.  With her family and her band gathered in her home, she gave thanks to them.

A poignant moment in the episode comes when Michele stands in the bathroom mirror and removes her wig; a reflection of her journey.  Known as “Little Michele” to some, she is recognizable today to many in the local music scene as the pint-sized rocker with the bandana and the cool wig, but losing her hair was a very sad reality for Michele to accept.

“That part was hard.  It really was.  Besides not feeling well, to feel like you don’t even look like yourself, it really messes with you.  I just kept trying to push forward and do these bandana things and wig things to help make me feel like me,” she said.

Michele has continued to give back through music by performing for various charitable events for cancer along with her band, and she said she is passionate about continuing to help others.  Ronald McDonald House, Contractors for Kids and Jacob’s Hope are just a few of the charities Michele has donated her time and talents to support throughout the years.  The band has performed for events such as Rocking the Road for a Cure’s (RTRFAC) 10th annual motorcycle run to benefit breast cancer and recently entered themselves in a silent auction held by Pink Aid Long Island, an organization to support those battling breast cancer, and will be performing an upcoming show for the winning bidder.  Performing at fundraisers as a band and individually throughout her career before her diagnosis has always been a part of her life, and now she is just continuing with new meaning. 

“Giving back has always been part of my life as a musician,” she said.

To check out Michele’s live sessions and to stay up to date with the band, you can follow them on Facebook at Lay Your Hands on Me.

*Photos Courtesy Michele Miller, James Dima, Oscar Castaneda & Sean Holifield

Seashells of Hope Created for Nurses

Amy Nicole Tangel

Random acts of kindness are happening all around us, and one woman who has made it one of her life’s missions to help others is now helping raise up Stony Brook University Hospital filling windows and hearts with inspirational gifts of hope.

A Medford, NY, woman has recently helped to lift those working to save lives during the pandemic.  Hundreds of items from posters, to heart and hand cutouts, and now painted seashells with words of encouragement for ICU nurses have been created and distributed.

Susan Lauber, 48, is no stranger to volunteering. She has been a volunteer for Stepping-Stone Support through Survivors Helper for 14 years and a four-year veteran of Cycle for Survival, both organizations helping those affected by cancer

Her volunteer work all started with countless cutouts of hearts and hands she had left over from another project. Sitting at home wondering what she could do to help people at the hospitals, Susan thought maybe she could decorate them, make some signs and ask her friend who worked at Stony Brook University Hospital how she could make this happen.

“I used to work at Stony Brook Hospital, so when I made all of the signs, I included all of the dietary workers I worked with, Starbucks workers, the truckers, delivery and line workers; There’s a sign for everybody,” she said.

Kristin Steele, a social worker in the Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program (CPEP) with eight years of experience working at Stony Brook Medicine has been a friend of Susan’s for the past 25 years and said what she is doing is “absolutely amazing.”  Steele said Susan reached out to her and asked to help, just as a request was made for such items.  Soon, Susan had delivered approximately 200 hearts, hands and posters safely to Steele who in turn brought them to work with her to be displayed in the glass windows of the Starbucks in the main hospital entrance for all to see.

“The response I received when I submitted the posters and hands was first shock which quickly turned to pure joy.  Susie’s posters and hands were one of the first things to fill up the display wall here at Stony Brook,” Steele said.

Inspiration and the call to action came again with a walk on the beach after Susan and Steele had a conversation about how the ICU nurses’ mental struggles with what was going on and how the little things were lifting them up.  While walking along the beach, Susan began collecting seashells with her daughters and when she got home and cleaned them up, she said they were just so beautiful and she had to do something with them.  The answer came when she was watching T.V. and she kept hearing the saying, ‘We will get through this,’ and she thought to herself, ‘We shall get through this…We shell get through this!’.

With one thought, Susan created a whole process of painting, drying, and writing to decorate shells of all shapes and sizes that are wrapped individually in tissue paper, and placed in hand-decorated bags with inspirational nurse sayings.  To take the project one step further, she created hashtag, #operationweshell and launched an Instagram page for pictures from nurses who received shells that use the hashtag to continue to spread the chain of hope.

“I attached a little nurse’s prayer to the shell, so when they open the shell, they get to read a little prayer to themselves,” she said.

Fifty-five bags of seashells have been delivered to ICU nurses already, and Susan is currently working on 45 more to distribute, but she is looking for more shells.  She is having a hard time finding good ones now that are not broken and has been searching for ways to acquire more.

“I wrote a message on the inside of all of them.  ‘Thank you for keeping us safe.  We appreciate you’,” she said.

While Steele said she has not yet received any response from the seashells as they were delivered directly to the floor where nurses are treating the COVID19 patients, she said it was such a surprise for them to see the beautiful posters and hand cutouts submitted so quickly.  Not long after Susan’s items were displayed, Steele said she overheard staff talking about ‘the amazing posters made’ and had to stop and proudly share with them they were made by her friend.

“She plain and simple helped someone smile during a really rough day. That’s awesome in my book,” Steele said.

If anyone has seashells in good condition who would like to donate to #operationweshell, you can email Susan at ilovemygirls2820@gmail.com and arrangements for delivery while staying safely socially distanced will be made.

12-Year-Old Girl Sews Masks for those in Need

Amy Nicole Tangel

In a new era of coming together while social distancing, a 12-year-old Long Island girl is taking action to help others by using her talent of sewing to make masks for those in need for her community, and the response has been an outpouring of gratitude.

Madison Eddington, who lives in Medford, NY, with her parents, Brian and Annette and older brother Colin, has made more than 100 masks, and her list is growing. She said she was simply inspired to start making masks when she saw on the news there was a need. She had everything she needed at home to get going, so she said, ‘why not?’

“In my basement I found a whole three yards (of material), and I am already done,” she said.

Within just a few weeks, what started out as a hobby has become a contribution to her local community. With her father at the helm of the social media front and Madison behind the sewing machine, they made helping others a family mission.

Each mask is sewn, wrapped and delivered through no contact, with the help of her mom and dad, to mailboxes of those in need. People throughout the Patchogue and Medford communities, and beyond have been requesting masks from Eddington through social media, as she daily creates an ever-growing list of people.

The seed to sew was planted when Madison received a sewing machine as a Christmas gift from her aunt several years ago. The sixth-grader said she began sewing when she was 6 years old and took her first class. Her father describes her passion for sewing like a love at first sight moment. He said she was the one who came to them and asked to continue.

“She would actually call me and ask to stay (at the class) for another hour,” he said.

Patricia Fiebe, of Patchogue, a manager for FedEx and on the frontlines of the Covid19 fight every day with other employees, recently received masks from Eddington. Fiebe, a mother of one who lives with her elderly and immune-compromised parents, saw Mr. Eddington’s post on a Facebook community page so she put in a request. Within a few days she had a special delivery. Not only did Fiebe receive a mask to protect herself at work, but one for her daughter, mother and her sister who also works for FedEx.

“Thank you, Madison. You have no idea the impact this has made on me and my family. (The mask is) just making me feel a little more comfortable going to work, and my daughter feeling not so scared if I need her to run out with me,” she said.

Prior to the pandemic, Madison had a wide variety of things she would sew on a regular basis. When many other kids her age wouldn’t even dream of sewing, she was making pencil holders and pillowcases along with headbands and beach bags, just to name a few items in her inventory.

“I even made a quilt,” she said proudly.

When she is not sewing, Madison emphatically said she is all about sports. As a 6th grade student at Oregon Middle School, in Medford, she plays soccer and lacrosse. She is a soccer goalie and travels with her teams. With sports on hold for now, she has taken her competitive edge to a different area and is working on goals to make more masks per day.

“I make about 25 per day and they take about 15 minutes each to make,” she said.

Madison’s Math teacher, Beth Warnken has been teaching at Oregon Middle School for 31 years and said she was not surprised that Madison rose to the occasion to help out her community in time of need.

“I saw a post on social media that shared what she was doing, and she inspired me to sew some masks as well!,” she said.

Warnken said Madison was a “Student of the Quarter” award winner this past fall, earning an award given to students who exemplify excellence in academic qualities. The award is given to students who are always prepared for class, have good grades and who set a positive example for their peers by always going above and beyond with everything they do.

“All of Madison’s teachers agreed she fit the criteria, and we were proud to recognize her,” she said.

Masks made by Madison have been donated to essential workers with Long Island Community Hospital, Stony Brook University Hospital and CityMD, as well as nursing homes and nurses who have requested masks directly through social media.

Christine Cancel, a private nurse from Medford who serves as an essential worker in her community said she received two masks in her mailbox the same afternoon of her request. Cancel shared her appreciation not only for the work Madison is doing, but for what it is doing for her patients in particular.

“She did such a wonderful job as a lot of my patients are pediatrics, so walking in with your typical mask can scare them, and these were a little more friendly,” she said.

Medford resident, Sandi Morrissey who received masks for her family, which includes her 79-year-old mother, said Madison has been so generous in making and donating the masks for her local community.

Randie Vargin, of Farmingville received a mask to wear at her job at a cardiologist’s office where she said she has to be every day. “The quality is outstanding. You would have never known it was made by her. The fact that she is doing this for those who are ‘essential’ is so gratefully appreciated,” Vargin said.

While people she has helped are busy sharing their gratitude and trying to stay safe, Madison is busy sewing masks, doing schoolwork, and waiting for her delivery of more material to come in.

“It makes me feel happy. I want to do more to help people,” she said.

*Photos courtesy of Brian Eddington and Sandi Morrissey