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Remembering Brooklyn poet Wynne Henry

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Wynne Henry always had dreams of moving back to Brooklyn.

The Flatbush-bred poet and writer would often talk about it on the phone with her friend Helene Ruiz, founder of the Urban Individualists Collective. They would daydream about moving into adjacent apartment buildings so that they could send food over to each other over the clothewsire and laugh at all the chicken heads below them.

Unfortunately, Henry, who friends often called “poetry dancer,” never got to live that dream. She died in December of last year in California, after a battle with cancer. But her friends ended up giving her the next best thing with a proper memorial in her hometown.

Photos of the late Wynne Henry displayed at her memorial service.

On Friday, several of Henry’s friends gathered in the backyard of an AirBnb in Little Haiti to give the Brooklyn girl a deserving send-off. Throughout her life, Henry worked as a creative writing teacher both in New York City and on the west coast, where she moved several years ago to take care of her mother. Several small plastic fold up tables were set up in the back, each decorated with old photos of Henry and copies of her poetry collection “7 Blocks… and TWO Stories up” that friends would read from.

“She was quiet, simple, practical, and made every effort to do what was good for herself and those around her. She was a woman of her word, and I felt she deserved so much more than life gave her in return,” Kimberly Allen, 54, said. They had been friends for 12 years, originally meeting in the Los Angeles poetry scene.

In everyday life, Wynne was a quiet and introspective person. She wasn’t necessarily shy, but was reserved and often didn’t want to worry friends with her own problems. But in her writing, her voice soared.

“She seemed to really see people. When she brought her poetry and some of the things that she expressed, it let you know that she paid attention to everyday life and the people that she would run across,” Allen continued.

Henry’s poems delved into an array of topics: the scourge of racism, the simple pleasure and disappointments of love and meditations on daily life. One poem, which started as a writing prompt asking poets to define why they write, demonstrates some of her artistic drive.

“I want my poetry to help you find your voice/one word at a time/and when you finally run out of things to say/I want my poetry to speak for you,” a poem entitled ‘I want my poetry to’ reads, from her collection “7 Blocks… and TWO Stories up.

Wynne Henry’s poetry collection “7 Blocks… and TWO stories up”

And on Friday afternoon, Henry’s words spoke for the friend who months later still struggled to find the words to properly mourn her.

Karen Abercrombie remembers many things about her friend of over 20 years, but one of the first that came to mind was her love of cats. After all, Henry is the reason why Abercrombie has two herself.

One Thanksgiving in North Carolina, Abercrombie took Henry to the local animal shelter. They came back each day just to look at one specific cat to adopt. He ended up getting adopted by another family. So, naturally, Abercrombie ended up adopting two other cats instead: one name Langston, after Langston Hughes (one of Henry’s favorite writers); and the other Finn.

Henry didn’t own a cat herself, Abercrombie explained, and speculated that it was because of the disappearance of her childhood cat. But that didn’t stop her from showering her friends’ pets with homemade crochets or picking up their favorite food when she saw it in a supermarket.

“Everytime I look at my cats – or things we shared together, like our love for African fabrics – I think of her,” Abercrombie said tearfully.

William Washington, a fellow poet, said that Henry had shaped him in many ways.

“So what I remember most about her is that besides great poetry, was the love affair we had that was never a love affair,” Washington said explaining their complicated relationship. Washington explained that while they had deep feelings for each other, Henry often kept him at arms length after her first battle with breast cancer.

“I loved her. And I like to think she loved me,” Washington said, to audible agreements from other memorial attendees.

Washington described his poetry before meeting Henry as mad and angry, which often contained harsh language. But Henry taught him that he could use his words to talk about more than just what enraged him.

“You wasn’t born angry like this. So don’t be afraid to write about love. And even if I was writing about my broken heart, she said write about this therapy. She taught me how to use soothing calming words instead of the words I was using,” Washington said.

While most of the attendants knew Henry in different ways, either in passing through art and poetry shows or decades long friendships, Luis Hidalgo, who never met Henry and attended the memorial with his wife,was equally moved by the ceremony.

“You know, as I get older, I think about my legacy. And to see what a legacy this woman left, the way she touched you. And the way she touched me through the words that you spoke here. What a wonderful thing,” Hidalgo said. “You know, words that were written down 2,000, 3,000 years ago, hundreds of years ago, that still echo today. Words that have taken men into battle. Words, putting men and women in love. And we still read it all these years later. And somehow this lady fits that mold.

Hidalgo continued to say that in reality Henry isn’t gone.

“Because in the Bible, it says if more than two to speak my word, I am present. Well, she’s present then.”

New Brooklyn Heights Library opens

By Matthew Fischetti

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The second largest library in Brooklyn opened its doors to the general public this past Wednesday.

The new Brooklyn Heights library, located at 286 Cadman Plaza West—the same as its former facility—now features over 26,000 square feet of space, floor-to-ceiling windows, a teen’s library, a children’s area, a sunlit reading room, and plenty of books to put your nose into.

“Now, as the second-largest library after the Brooklyn Public Library’s central branch, the opening of the Brooklyn Heights Library will serve as a cultural hub for all of Brooklyn and an invaluable local resource to thousands of nearby residents,” Councilwoman Crystal Hudson said. “We must continue to expand the resources available to our libraries and cultural institutions and make access to a quality library the norm, not the exception. Libraries are true indicators of the health and safety of our communities and a critical component to the social fabric of our City.”

In 2015, the City Council approved the plan to replace the previous library with a new building, made by private developer Hudson Companies Inc. The library sits at the base of the new 38-story building that houses 134 condominiums.

The original library was built in 1962 and had $9 million worth of unfunded needs prior to the renovation, according to the Brooklyn Public Library’s website. The Brooklyn Public Library also states that the original building was poorly designed to the point that more than 50 percent of its space was unavailable for public use.

The redevelopment project was largely funded by selling off the city-owned property for $52 million. Of the funding, $40 million was spent on repairs and improvements at branches across the system, while $12 million was allocated toward the interior of the Brooklyn Heights Library.

The developer also paid for the core and shell of the new library, a 9,000 square-foot STEAM lab to be operated by the NYC Department of Education, and rent for an interim library throughout the construction period. In addition, the development included 114 affordable apartments located at 909 Atlantic Avenue and 1043 Fulton Street.

“I’m so thrilled to celebrate the reopening of the new Brooklyn Heights Library! This was my childhood library and the stunning, state-of-the-art facility is going to be an essential community hub for the Brooklyn Heights community for generations to come,” Councilman Lincoln Restler said.

“Libraries are one of our greatest democratic institutions, and so I’m thrilled to celebrate the opening of the new Brooklyn Heights Library. This 21st century library will be a welcome asset and inspiration to the community for generations to come,” Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon said. “Here, children, teens, and adults can explore free programs, build community, read and learn. The Brooklyn Public Library has long been a critical cultural and educational anchor for the borough’s residents.”

The new branch will feature bas-reliefs, a kind of carving where the illustration is raised from the base, by Clemente Spampino – whose artwork originally adorned the exterior of the 1962 building. Starting this summer, the branch will also have a new installation “Something Borrowed, Something New,” by Brooklyn-based artist Jean Shin, to mark the 125th anniversary of Brooklyn Public Library. The installation honors the library’s roots with an upside-down tree to represent the shared history with the library and generations of Brooklynites.

Mike Corbett enters 59th Senate District Race

By Matthew Fischetti

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Mike Corbett, the vice-chair of the New York State Democratic Party, announced his candidacy for Senate District 59 on Friday, June 10.
Corbett, a lifelong resident of Murray Hill, is the first Manhattan-based candidate to enter the race for the newly created district that covers part of Manhattan, Greenpoint, and Williamsburg in Brooklyn, and parts of western Queens.

The current candidates are Elizabeth Crowley, a former city councilwoman and cousin of former U.S. congressman Joseph Crowley, Kristen Gonzalez, a young Democratic Socialist and Working Families Party-backed challenger from Long Island City, and Nomiki Konst, an Astoria resident and long-time left media commentator and political activist.

Two days after his announcement, Corbett held a press conference to announce a high-profile endorsement from Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney.

“Mike Corbett is unquestionably the best choice to represent the new Senate District 59,” Maloney said. “As a lifelong East Side resident who worked across the river for more than five years, there is no one who better understands the needs of the diverse communities in this district. I am thrilled to support Mike and look forward to working with him when he is in the State Senate.”

Corbett has a long history of working in New York State politics. For over five years he worked as director of special events for former New York City Councilman Costa Constantinides—-who previously represented parts of Astoria and western Queens—-leading the district’s participatory budgeting program. He has also served as an aide to Councilman Eric Dinowitz and Councilwoman Marjorie Velazquez.

Corbett is also a third-generation Teamster who got some of his earliest experience in politics as a union mover. At 24, he was elected to the board of Local 814, making him the youngest elected member in that union’s history, according to his campaign.

“The response we’ve seen over the last 10 days shows that residents from Stuy Town to the Astoria Houses and from Murray Hill to Greenpoint want a candidate who understands their needs,” Corbett said on Sunday, announcing the endorsement outside of P.S. 40, where he attended elementary school. “I’ve dedicated my life to serving the wonderful, diverse communities of this district. Together, we will fight for environmental justice, create true affordable housing, build resilient infrastructure that prioritizes a holistic transit network, and protect workers’ rights.”

Brooklyn debate league raises $1.3M after viral post

“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”

This quote is how coach K.M. DiColandrea would begin almost every debate team practice at Frederick Douglass Academy. He would urge his students to figure out their ‘why’.

At 15, Jonathan Conyers couldn’t answer the question.

Conyers, now 27, has figured out the answer. When he was selected to tell his life story with Humans of New York, he opted to talk about his teacher, nicknamed DiCo, instead. And that’s when over $1.2 million started rolling in to support the Brooklyn Debate League.

Through 12 different posts on the account, Conyers shared his life story, overcoming ‘hows’ like drug-addicted parents, getting evicted numerous times, and seeing his friend locked up at 14.

Conyers enrolled in Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem after avoiding charges for breaking into a home in middle school. The principal made him enroll in an extracurricular program. After sitting silently in the back of the debate room, Conyers finally participated when the topic of drug addiction was brought up.

“But one day they were discussing drug addiction, which is a topic I know a lot about,” Conyers said in the Humans of New York post. “So I stood up and shared my story. Afterwards Ms. DiCo asked me to stay behind. Mainly she just wanted to make sure I was OK. She was like: ‘Do you need anything?’ But after that, she was like: ‘You should join debate.’”

In hindsight, Conyers wishes he paid more attention to DiColandrea.

“She was white, from Manhattan. She’d gone to Yale. I just assumed she didn’t have any problems,” Dico said in the Humans of New York post.

But that wasn’t the case. DiColandrea revealed to his students that he was in the process of transitioning.

“They waited until I was ready to tell them,” DiColandrea said in an interview, explaining that some students had suspicions when Dico would bring his “friend” to school events. “And then it was just unconditional love.”

“DiCo could have told me he was a dinosaur, and I’d be like: ‘That’s cool. Just stay DiCo,’” Conyers said in the Humans of New York Post.

DiColandrea and Conyers knew the biggest tournament of the year was a real shot when the topic was announced: “Should juvenile offenders be tried as adults?”

While Conyers recalled feeling out of place at the tournament, he found his home on the dais. Conyers recalled in the post that there was nothing special about his opening speeches, but on cross-examination he destroyed his opponents asking his predominantly white and affluent opponents whether they should be the person making this argument if they don’t know anyone.

“Jonathan needs to stick to the facts. His life story gives him an unfair advantage,” Conyers recalled a judge saying, in the Humans of New York post.

DiCo taught all his students to be calm and collected. But that’s when DiColandrea snapped.

“You will not do this to him. These rich kids have access to every resource. But you’re penalizing Jonathan because his life is f***ed up?” Conyers recalled Dico saying, in the Humans of New York Post.

Ever since that tournament, DiColandrea has been working hard to break down those barriers in debate. A few years later, DiColandrea founded the Brooklyn Debate League – a group that seeks to eliminate the gatekeeping in debate by expanding programs and teams to urban areas.

“But it’s not always just about personal anecdotes, it’s like, it’s a more fundamental, personal confidence,” DiColandrea said about teaching students a more personal and unconventional debate style. “It’s helping students understand at a really visceral and deep level, that regardless of what neighborhood they live in, or how much money their parents make, or what school they go to, or what color their skin is, or who they’re attracted to, or how they identify. Regardless of any of those identity markers, they belong in a space where the only weapon is words because their words matter”

“And that’s priceless. Knowing your voice matters,” Conyers said. “Especially as a young Black man, presentation and how you articulate yourself are important.”

And although it’s priceless, it still costs.

DiColandrea started the GoFundMe to cover the $6,000 he personally invested to cover payroll for the small mostly volunteer staff. It was covered in 10 minutes. After two days, it already hit a million. Now over a week later, it has raised over $1.3 million.

“It feels like a mix of the day I got married, all of my birthdays combined, and the day that my student won Harvard,” DiColandrea said about the newfound attention and funds. “It feels like everybody in the world is just reaching out with this abundant outpouring of love and kindness.”

The Brooklyn Debate league operated on a small and scrappy budget, reaching around 250 people on their mailing list and about 100 students coming to tournaments.

“That’s chump change now. We can change our whole mission now,” DiColandrea said with excitement in his voice. DiCo said that he’s looking to reach every person, school and program he can throughout Brooklyn and other urban areas.

“You don’t need to look any further than the New York State Championship that was held two weekends ago, right? There were over 60 schools there. And there were five of them that were public schools in New York City. And three of those were specialized schools. And we are the biggest school district In the country, we have, what, 1.1 million students? They weren’t in those spaces. And they’re not in the speech and debate circuit,” DiColandrea said, explaining the still urgent need for something like Brooklyn Debate League.

While Conyers credits a lot of how he got by in life due to his coach’s help, DiColandrea disagrees.

“I don’t know how to express it. You know, that kind of selflessness is what’s always made him so special; he’s a very humble person,” DiCo said. “And he wanted me to have this moment. And man, am I having it?”

Conyers now says he has figured out his why.

“I learned that giving back and being selfless can change lives. And what he [DiColandrea] did to me has allowed me to help so many people,” Conyers said. He has been on the front lines of COVID working as a respiratory therapist at NYU. He also started a home for children who had been orphaned during the pandemic and owns juvenile rehabilitation centers in Virginia to give kids like him the resources and opportunities he didn’t.

For DiColandrea, it’s a wish come true.

DiColandrea originally gravitated to the quote when he was 16. His high school was only a few blocks from the World Trade Center on September 11. IN the weeks after, she asked for book recommendations for helping to understand and process her trauma. The teacher recommended Frankel’s Man’s Search for Meaning.

“As someone who experienced this firsthand, we then had an obligation to speak up about it, to make sure that it wasn’t forgotten to make sure that people understood what happened.”

And that became DiColandrea’s reason. Helping his own students to process their trauma and make sure they know that their voice matters.

“We’re talking about racism. We’re talking about,people who are undocumented. We’re talking about people who come from low income communities. There are traumas that kids are carrying from those communities as well. I want them to feel empowered to speak up about what is meaningful to them, what is their lived experience. To teach them about what matters and for them to feel empowered to share that on whatever level they want. That might be just in front of a friend or a classmate or it might be on a national stage at the Speech and Debate championship,” DiColandrea said.

“But that voice belongs to them. And that power belongs to them to use it, to speak up about what they think matters.”

Even though Coyners said he never had a good answer to what his “why” was – he always knew a bit of the answer.

“All I knew was that I wanted to be like Ms. DiCo,” Conyers said in the Humans of New York post.

“I just want the world to know that there is so much more to Jonathon Coyners, there’s so much more to DiCo,” Conyers said. “We pray that we can continue to share our story and continue to share the things we have been through in much more detail, and we hope the world is supportive.”

City votes to raise rents for thousands

The Rent Guidelines Board, the city regulatory agency that decides the prices of rent-stabilized units, preliminarily voted to increase rents in their largest single-year jump in nearly 10 years. The final vote will be held on June 21.

The RGB voted to increase rents by 2-4 percent for one-year leases and 4-6 percent for two-year leases in a 5-4 vote on Thursday. The last time the RGB raised rents by over 3 percent was in 2014; that year one-year leases increased by 4 percent while two-year leases increased by 7.75 percent.

A 2017 report from the Housing and Preservation Department found that Brooklyn comprises nearly 30 percent of the city’s rent-stabilized units; meaning that up to nearly 275,000 units in Kings County could be facing increases.

The jump in rents marks a shift from the freezes and modest increases the RGB pursued under previous Mayor DeBlasio’s more tenant-friendly board. Mayor Adams appointed a landlord lawyer and a self-proclaimed rent control skeptic to the board last month, as City Limits reported.

The RGB is comprised of nine different members who are all appointed by the mayor. Two seats are designated for tenant interests, two others to represent owners, while the other five are supposed to represent the general public.

“Inflation is hurting property owners as the cost of providing safe, clean, affordable housing continues to rise. Our analysis of the data is that an increase of rents it keeps up with inflation and rising property taxes is necessary to protect the housing stock,” said Robert Ehlrich, one of the owner representatives. Ehrlich continued to cite RGB research that found that 1/3 of rent-stabilized buildings are spending 70 percent of operating income on costs.

Sheila Garcia, one of the tenant representatives called for rent freezes and rent rollbacks on apartments.

“This is what the language of the statute reads. action is necessary to prevent exactions of unjust, unreasonable, and oppressive rents and rental agreements. And to forestall profiteering speculation and other disruptive practices tending to produce threats to the public health, safety, and general welfare. It goes on to say that this is because many, many owners, and I quote, ‘were demanding exorbitant and unconscionable rent increases.’ These are the underpinnings of why the RGB exists,” said Adán Soltren, the other tenant member of the board.

The New York City Council Progressive Caucus, which represents the majority of the council, denounced the rent hikes in a statement.

“We are at a loss as to why the recommended increases only have the landlord in mind, devised so as to maintain landlords’ net operating income at constant levels. Why should the maintenance of landlord income be privileged over the tenants’ ability to keep up with cost of living increases? Tenants have not experienced wage or salary increases of 9%, are paying more for everything due to inflation, and unemployment in the City remains nearly double the national average,” the statement reads.

The caucus also called for an immediate rent rollback to stave off evictions and that the board hold at least five public hearings, one in each borough. There are only two scheduled public hearings before the final vote in June, currently scheduled on the RGB website.

Mayor Adams, who is a landlord himself, refused to take a stance on the floated hike in order to maintain the independence on the board. Adams emphasized the responsibility of his appointed positions to strike the balance between landlords and what Mayor Adams described as small time renters.

The progressive caucus dismissed the notion of ‘mom-and-pop’ landlords being the primary provider of rent-regulated apartments. Their statement cited a 2017 analysis of Housing Preservation and Development data released by Justfix.nyc, a non profit organization that releases online tools for the housing movement. The report found that 91 percent of “mom-and-pop” landlords, defined as only owning one building by the Progressive Caucasus, do not own buildings with rent-regulated units and that 70 percent of landlords who own rent-regulated units own six or more buildings.

New York, New York: Put Up Or Shut Up For Rollercoaster Nets

Did anybody place a wager on the Brooklyn Nets to be participating in the NBA Play In Round at the beginning of the season?

If you did, you’re a genius and you would’ve been on an island all by yourself.

The Brooklyn Nets entered the season as one of the title favorites according to Vegas and NBA pundits.

After all, the only thing that derailed the team a season ago was injuries to Kyrie Irving and James Harden, right?

Well, the 2021-22 team has had plenty of adversity to deal with, not just injuries.

Drama has been the MO of this franchise over the last three seasons. It’s always something for this Brooklyn crew.

This year, the black cloud hovering over the franchise from game 1 was the vaccination status of Kyrie Irving.

As we know, Kyrie didn’t get the COVID vaccine, missed a good chunk of the season and only recently started playing in home games at the Barclays Center.

Irving’s vaccination status put the Nets in a very tough predicament.

It’s tough to win in the NBA without your best players and the Nets played plenty of games without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.

In addition, they were forced to trade James Harden in late January because he was tired of being a Net. Why exactly? Who knows, but the big 3 from a season ago was down to 2.

To Durant and Irving’s credit, when they have been on the floor together, they’ve been spectacular to watch.

Durant is the best player in the league and Kyrie is probably in the top 15.

With those two on your roster, you are going to have a chance in any playoff series that you play.

After all, there’s a reason why the odds makers have the Nets listed as the third favorite to win the NBA title. That’s pretty remarkable considering they’re a part of the Play In Tournament.

The odds makers believe a team with Durant and Irving is dangerous and can beat anyone.

That is true, what’s also true is that the Nets roster as a team hasn’t come close to forming the same sort of chemistry and unison that you will see from some of the other contenders within the Eastern Conference.

After all, the Nets are discussing the idea of Ben Simmons playing a role in the postseason! The same Ben Simmons who has yet to appear in a game so far this year.

Despite their talent, I am skeptical that a team that developed very little chemistry throughout the regular season is just going to be able to turn it on to go and win an NBA title.

Go prove it.

It’s all in front of the Brooklyn Nets. Will this rollercoaster season end with a trip to the finals that was predicted by many at the start of the season?

Or will it be a script of a talented cast that just is not meant to be champions together…

This is a plot too Hollywood for Brooklyn.

You can listen to my podcast New York, New York every Sunday, Tuesday & Thursday on the Ringer Podcast Network on Spotify & Apple Podcasts. You can also watch me nightly Sun/Thurs on Geico Sportsnight at 11 PM on SNY.

New bishop installed for Diocese of Brooklyn

Clergy, community leaders, and parishioners gathered at the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph in Prospect Heights to watch as Robert J. Brennan was officially installed as the new bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn.
The installation, which was overseen by Archbishop Timothy Cardinal Dolan, officially brought a close to Nicholas DiMarzio’s time as bishop. Dimarzio, age 75, originally submitted his letter of resignation on June 16, 2019.
“I can’t wait to get started, this is just incredibly exciting,” Bishop Brennan said ahead of the installation mass. “New York is a wonderful place to live. I’m going to be so happy serving the church here in Brooklyn and in Queens.
“From the day that my appointment was announced at the end of September, I just experienced such an incredible welcome,” Brennan continued. “Back in September my heartstrings were tugging as I was leaving Columbus [Ohio], but now that I’ve been here a couple days, I can’t wait to get started.”
During a question-and-answer session, Brennan explained that he is not committed to pursuing a concrete plan, but rather listening to the needs of the community and responding accordingly.
“I don’t have an actual program that says we are going to do X, Y, or Z. It would be, quite honestly, a little foolish on my part to come in and say, ‘okay, now it’s the Brennan way of doing things,’” the new bishop said. “There’s a rich history here and I want to learn from that.”
Bishop Robert J. Brennan was born and raised on Long Island, where he attended Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic School in Lindenhurst and St. John the Baptist Diocesan High School in West Islip.

New bishop installed for Diocese of Brooklyn

Clergy, community leaders, and parishioners gathered at the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph in Prospect Heights to watch as Robert J. Brennan was officially installed as the new bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn.
The installation, which was overseen by Archbishop Timothy Cardinal Dolan, officially brought a close to Nicholas DiMarzio’s time as bishop. Dimarzio, age 75, originally submitted his letter of resignation on June 16, 2019.
“I can’t wait to get started, this is just incredibly exciting,” Bishop Brennan said ahead of the installation mass. “New York is a wonderful place to live. I’m going to be so happy serving the church here in Brooklyn and in Queens.
“From the day that my appointment was announced at the end of September, I just experienced such an incredible welcome,” Brennan continued. “Back in September my heartstrings were tugging as I was leaving Columbus [Ohio], but now that I’ve been here a couple days, I can’t wait to get started.”
During a question-and-answer session, Brennan explained that he is not committed to pursuing a concrete plan, but rather listening to the needs of the community and responding accordingly.
“I don’t have an actual program that says we are going to do X, Y, or Z. It would be, quite honestly, a little foolish on my part to come in and say, ‘okay, now it’s the Brennan way of doing things,’” the new bishop said. “There’s a rich history here and I want to learn from that.”
Bishop Robert J. Brennan was born and raised on Long Island, where he attended Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic School in Lindenhurst and St. John the Baptist Diocesan High School in West Islip.

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