In unfamiliar surroundings, millennials have a common bond

Originally published in The Journal News as part of my monthly “How We Live” Column.

June 19, 2015

I’ve heard many things about my generation — about us “millennials,” as we’re so often called: We don’t know how to settle down; our necks will be forever crooked; we’ll never be able to pay off our student loans; and our ability to communicate through genuine conversation is quickly fading, as is our ability to handwrite.

I agree. Most of that is probably true.

But there is one other thing that trumps all of that and defines Generation Y so much more than a selfie-stick: We travel; we explore the world; we learn new languages; we meet new people; we try new foods; and we practice new faiths.

We are lucky that technology has grown with us, and that better, faster and more reliable means of both communication and transportation have evolved so rapidly to enable us opportunities that have not always existed.

I remember my family’s first computer when I was about six-years-old, which was a Gateway desktop computer. That computer sat unopened in our living room in its large, cow-patterned box for a few days until the technician came to set it up. Back then, the Internet was dial-up, so if my mom needed to make a phone call, I needed to stop playing Neopets.

But that was more than 15 years ago.

Now, as young adults, we can pick up our smartphones or tablets to see our parents’ and friends’ faces and hear their voices from halfway around the world.

I recently returned from a trip to South America, and I am not sure I would have had the courage to go so far from home, albeit for about two weeks, if there had been no way to tell my family that I was safe.

In an unfamiliar place where the language wasn’t my own, it was comforting to know my phone could bring me back home for just a few moments.

We are quick to criticize technology and list all of the ways it hurts society, especially for millennials, but it is incredible to realize how far it can take us. It took a friend of mine and me to Peru this summer.

Just by chance, we happened to be in the city of Cusco during Corpus Christi, which is a major global holiday that celebrates the tradition of the Eucharist. Just as my friend and I were looking for someone to take our photo in front of the church, three young girls, who were around our age, came up to us smiling and with one of their arms extended.

We didn’t speak the same language, but we didn’t have to. We are millennials and we just know what makes a good picture.

‘I Did the Grid’ run to honor fallen U.S. soldiers for eighth year

Originally from Times of Huntington

By Julianne Cuba

May 11, 2015

This Memorial Day weekend, for the eighth year in a row, the streets of East Northport will be filled with joggers and walkers honoring the lives of fallen soldiers.

On May 23, the Cpl. Christopher G. Scherer memorial “I Did the Grid” four-mile competitive run, one-mile fun run and four-mile recreational run/walk honors the life of Chris Scherer and all men and women who gave their lives to serve the U.S. The run will begin at Pulaski Road Elementary in East Northport.

Scherer, who was a corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps, was born and raised in East Northport. He lost his life while serving in the province of Al Anbar in Iraq on July 21, 2007.

In his memory, the Scherer family started the Cpl. Christopher G. Scherer Semper Fi Fund, and on Memorial Day in 2008, held the first annual run to honor their son and all fallen warriors.

“Put your personal achievements away for the day and come to honor them [fallen soldiers] because it is Memorial Day weekend and that’s what we should be doing … take a little time to think about the men and women who have died serving our country and the families they left behind,” Scherer’s father Tim Scherer said.

Scherer said that his son was a great kid who loved life and wanted to help his fellow Marines. In their final phone call before his death, Scherer said his son asked him to send lighter boot socks that wouldn’t make him sweat as much. Just before he hung up, his son asked if he would be able to send socks for other Marines, too, because many didn’t have families.

Read the full story here.

Spoken Word: A Platform for the Oppressed

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Spoken Word: A Platform for the Oppressed

Three individuals stood at the bar bouncing ideas off one another before the poetry slam began. Race. Sexuality. Religion. Love. Loss. Among them was the emcee for the night— a tall, young black man, over six feet tall, with a long, full beard and a yellow sweater. He talked jokingly with one of the poets—also a young man, though much shorter, with glasses, and a black, velvet yarmulke. And next to them stood another performer—a young female, Chauvet Bishop, with thick, curly hair, who later identified herself as a multi-racial lesbian.

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Chauvet Bishop (center) and Jive Poetic (right)

Just like any other night at the Nuyorican Poets Café in the East Village, on this particular open-mic night in late April, difference was apparent; but all judgments, all reservations were left at the door. The night’s emcee, Jive Poetic, took the stage and introduced the evening’s poets.

Just an hour before that, the café also hosted All Out Arts’ Fresh Fruits Festival—New York’s Celebration of the LGBTQ Arts & Culture. Slam poetry, or spoken word, is a type of poetry through which a poet can express a personal story or struggle. The poems are emotional, powerful and moving; they incorporate not just voice, but movement as well.

With emotion at its core, slam poetry has become a platform for those who feel otherwise voiceless. “Art is for the oppressed,” Bishop said. “We have so much that we feel we can’t say, that we can’t get out; and the more oppressed you are, the more artistic you are. Because it’s either you make art, you laugh, you love or you die…that’s it. So this is just the way that we live, this is the only way that we can live happily; how many places can we be free, can we be ourselves, can we be applauded for being that?”

In 1987, the first slam poetry venue sprouted in Chicago; the Green Mill Tavern was founded by Marc Smith. Prior to the Tavern, Smith had started an open-mic night at the Get Me High lounge in Chicago in 1984. Dubbed founding father of the slam poetry movement, Smith’s nickname is “Slam Papi.” In an article from The Huffington Post from Dec. 2013, slam poetry is “considered an outlet for the socially and economically ‘oppressed’ – people of color, poor people, youth, etc. – spoken word poetry is a mixture of performance and activism and poets bring to light the socio-determinants that often affect the health of a people.” The origination of slam poetry, or spoken word, was greatly influenced by the Harlem Renaissance, blues music, and The Last Poets—a groups of poets and musicians who arose during the civil rights’ movement in the late 1960’s.

Today, spoken word continues to grow, connect people from all over the world, and shed light on many controversial topics, including race and sexuality; matters surrounding the LGBTQ community are especially prevalent in slam poetry. Daniel Gallant, executive director of the Nuyorican Poets Café, said that within the last five years, the café, and slam poetry in general, has seen an increase in the number of LGBTQ poets.

“Poetry slam at the café has always been a forum, a stage, and an arena that celebrates diversity of opinion, of lifestyle, of ethnicity, of interest,” he said. “I think we’ve seen a significant increase in the number of poets who feel comfortable, and in some cases feel driven to, bring to the stage work that addresses LGBTQ themes and LGBTQ subject matter. And audiences always, here at the café at least, seem responsive to that material.”

Bishop, who said she moved from North Carolina to New York City to escape the oppression of being a multi-racial, gay woman in the South, performed on stage first. She performed a powerful poem about her struggle with eating disorders.

“I’m a rape survivor; I’m somebody who dealt with an eating disorder; I’m somebody who deals with body issues; I’m somebody who’s oppressed as a woman, who’s oppressed as a lesbian, and so just me speaking, is people hearing my voice,” she said in an interview.

Oscar Melendez, 19, from Brooklyn, came to the Nuyorican Poets Café to watch and listen with his friend. Melendez, who is gay, said he has always loved poetry, and that spoken word is just another way of expressing ones true self.

“I like this type of scenery because in here it’s not judgmental, it’s just about the spoken word; it’s not about who is here, how you dress or anything like that,” he said. “There’s no judgment…. Here there are no boundaries, outside there are boundaries.”

All Out Arts’ Fresh Fruits Festival’s Artistic Director, Liz Thaler, said that visibility is the key to fighting homophobia. “The arts is one of the best ways to show people other experiences…your life would be so much less rich,” she said. “And because LGBT people are themselves so diverse, we have so much to learn from each other. So showing these stories, giving people a platform, where there’s no fear, that’s a really important step to bringing acceptance and actual harmony to the arts and beyond.”

Shira Erlichman, an Israeli born songwriter, producer, visual artist, and poet, who now lives in Brooklyn and identifies as queer, said that the LGBTQ community is helping society to become more compassionate and honest. “It is a human need to connect and be seen; slam provides an immediate platform for personal narrative and political opinion,” she said. “If slam is truly reflective of the people, it would have to show the hearts and minds of the LGBTQ community. Slam, at its best, is a space where people can brave themselves open, share their ‘truthiest’ truths, and invent wildernesses for us to walk through.”

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Old meets new at Miller Place’s reLove

Originally from Village Beacon Record, TBR News media

By Julianne Cuba

May 11, 2015

Miller Place is getting some extra love this spring with the opening of Long Island native Amanda Stein’s reLove shop and paint boutique.

The store, located at 87 North Country Road in Miller Place, held its grand opening on April 11 and features Stein’s own refurbished and painted furniture, along with home décor and homemade jewelry from other local artists, as well as CeCe Caldwell’s Paints, an eco-friendly line of natural chalk and clay paints.

Miller Place residents may recognize Stein’s work from Facebook, as the wife and mother, started posting pictures of her original furniture and custom-painted signs on the social media site about a year ago.

Stein, who has lived in Miller Place for about a year and a half, said her love of interior design stems from her grandmother, who collected antiques, and that she began painting furniture after she moved out of her parents’ house.

After leaving her career in real estate to look after her two children — Ella, 5, and Adam Jr., 4 — Stein said she wanted to take her passion and turn it into a business.

“It was one year ago that I started reLove from my house as a stay at home mom,” she said. “I always painted furniture for years and years, and all my friends kept telling me I should sell it. So I started with a Facebook page. It was literally overnight [that] it took off.”

Stein said she started the page with just seven pieces of furniture, but that number quickly grew as she began marketing all over social media.

Read the full story here.

Catching her stride, Selden native returns for marathon

Originally from Times of Middle Country, TBR News Media

By Julianne Cuba

May 8, 2015

Each morning before caring for her 12 children, Long Island native Erin Henderson sets out for her daily run, which can cover anywhere from 10 to 20-plus miles. These days, part of Henderson’s training includes preparing for Suffolk County’s inaugural marathon on Sept. 13, 2015.

“Every marathon means a lot to me because they all represent weeks and months of hard training, commitment and dedication,” she said. “Getting to race through my home town and having friends and family there will make it that much more special.”

Henderson, who grew up in Selden, moved to Afton, Wyoming, with her husband, Josh, and their three biological sons in 2000.

Two years after settling in Afton, the Henderson clan began growing. Since 2002, Henderson and her husband have adopted nine children —  five girls and four boys. Three of the kids were “older child adoptions” and five were “special needs adoptions.”

Today, the Hendersons’ perfect dozen includes Mercades, 19; Nathan, 18; Ryan, 17; Destinee, 17; Shane, 15; Benjamin, 14; Maggie, 13; Amanda, 13; Marcus, 11; Belane, 11; Solomon, 9; and Noah, 6.

A horseback riding accident left Henderson unable to have any more kids. But with three boys the couple decided to adopt because they wanted a girl.

“Our motivation was all pretty much what we wanted, and then when we got over [to Vietnam] we saw so many kids who didn’t have families, and it kind of flip-flopped,” she said. “And it’s cliché to say it’s life changing, but it just was, to see all these kids without parents. We never set out to have 12 kids; it was all one at a time. We just saw a kid that was waiting and they were meant to be with us.”

The Hendersons’ youngest child, Noah, is from Ethiopia and has cerebral palsy. When Noah first joined the family at nine months old, the Hendersons were told he would never sit up on his own.

“He’s a miracle … now he climbs, and goes to school and doing really well,” she said. “He gets into everything. He knows some words and he does some science.”

When she’s not spending time with family, Henderson is either training for marathons herself or training others as a Road Runners Club of America certified running coach and a USA Track & Field certified coach.

Read the full story here.

The Power of Nursing: Diana’s Story

For an audio project in one of my journalism classes, I created a podcast. It had to go along with the theme of “power.” Listen below.

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Diana Siegel (Photo credit: Diana Siegel)

Diana Siegel, a 2014 graduate of Binghamton University, began her career as a nurse just eight months ago. Diana works the night shift, 7 p.m to 7 a.m., at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset. The difficulties that nurses face everyday, and the strengths that they possess to care for the sickest of the sick, are overwhelmingly under acknowledged and under appreciated. Diana shares her story as a new nurse in one of the most difficult rooms of a hospital, the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

Long Island performer goes viral in France and U.S.

Originally from Times of Huntington, TBR News Media

April 10, 2015

By Julianne Cuba

Peaches Rodriguez, a break dancing pioneer, stand-up comedian and East Northport resident who broke into stardom after her role in the 1984 film, “Beat Street,” is the unlikely doppelgänger of a well-known French politician.

Comedian and dancer Peaches Rodriguez, above, is enjoying a new level of intercontinental fame, thanks to her resemblance to French politician Marine Le Pen. Photo from Peaches Rodriguez
Comic and dancer Peaches Rodriguez, above, is enjoying a new level of fame, thanks to her resemblance to French politician Marine Le Pen. Photo from Rodriguez

After a break dancing competition in Queens last month, Abdel Karim, who is a hip-hop choreographer and a friend of a friend of Rodriguez on Facebook, created a video meme of Rodriguez break dancing with the suggestion that it was actually Marine Le Pen, the popular nationalistic politician, dancing just after local elections in France.

Because of its extreme absurdity, the video went viral in France, with nearly 300,000 views on Facebook. That video, along with a second video of Rodriguez and a few other break-dancers, also went viral in the United States, with more than 100,000 hits.

“It’s always good to get exposure no matter how you get it,” Rodriguez said in a phone interview this week. “You can’t control something that goes viral. And you have to take it as it comes. It’s almost so random you just have to roll with it and enjoy it as it happens … the views are continuing to go up.”

It’s as if there was a video of a Hillary Clinton look-alike break dancing after an election, Rodriguez suggested for comparison — because that’s exactly what happened, she said.

Read the full article here. 

Brookhaven highway gets extra state funds

Originally from Village Beacon Record, TBR News Media

April 8, 2015

By Julianne Cuba

Following another devastating winter on Long Island, Brookhaven Town is receiving a little boost from the New York State Department of Transportation’s Extreme Winter Recovery fund for the year 2015-16, Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro (R) has announced.

The Highway Department will receive more than $501,000, while last year it received more than $400,000 in recovery funds in order to improve Brookhaven’s infrastructure. Prior to 2014, the town had not received any additional funding  for road damage.

“I want to thank the Long Island delegation for working with me on securing this desperately-needed funding for Brookhaven,” Losquadro said in a press release. “The past two winters have been historically harsh and wreaked havoc on town roadways. The more funding we receive, the more roads we can pave.”

Part of Pleasant Drive in East Setauket needs to be repaired as of Tuesday. Photo by Elana Glowatz
Part of Pleasant Drive in East Setauket needs to be repaired as of Tuesday. Photo by Elana Glowatz

In a phone interview, Losquadro said he is continuing to look for other sources of revenue from all levels of government in order to offset the cost to local taxpayers, whether in grants or funding from the federal government.

Read the full article here.

Bellone focuses on Connect Long Island, water quality

Originally from Village Beacon Record, TBR News Media

March 30, 2015

By Julianne Cuba

At his fourth State of the County address, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone began by ensuring the county government and public that he has never been more optimistic about the current state of the region and its future.

At the William H. Rogers Legislative Building in Hauppauge on March 26, Bellone (D) also took time commending the county legislature for successfully and efficiently reducing government by more than 10 percent — an initiative that will save Suffolk County taxpayers more than $100 million a year. The county executive announced that when he took office three years ago, the unemployment rate for Suffolk County stood at 8.2 percent. As of the end of 2014, it stands at 4.2 percent.

However, Bellone continued, “I’m not here to talk about where we are today. I am much more interested in talking about where we are going and what the future could look like.” In order to combat what Bellone said he considers the fundamental issue of our time — a two-decade trend of losing young, qualified and educated people to other regions of the county — he pointed to the county’s economic development plan, Connect Long Island.

Read the full article here.

Long Island high school freshman educates others about Tourette’s

Originally from Times of Huntington, TBR News Media

March 19, 2015 |

By Julianne Cuba

A Northport teen will be standing on the steps of Capitol Hill, in Washington, D.C., this month to speak with lawmakers about Tourette’s syndrome.

Jack Muise, 14, is a ninth-grader at Northport High School. At the age of 10, Jack was diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome, a neurological disorder characterized by repetitive, stereotyped, involuntary movements and vocalizations called tics, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Sponsored through the national Tourette Syndrome Association, Jack was selected as a youth ambassador — a title that will give him the opportunity to attend a two-day training in Arlington, Va., with 39 other 13- to 17-year-olds, from March 23 to 25, to learn how to educate peers about the disorder.

Jack, who says he is very excited about the training, learned about the program through his Tourette’s syndrome support group, which generally meets once a month from September through June in Old Brookville in Nassau County.

The youth ambassador program originated from Jack’s own support group — the national group’s Long Island chapter. Jennifer Zwilling, now 24, who also has Tourette’s syndrome, started the training program in 2008.

“The goal of this exciting program is to educate children all over the country about TS, a widely misunderstood disorder,” Zwilling said in a press release. “We are following the motto ‘think globally, act locally.’ Understanding and tolerance are the program’s goals.”

Since 2008, the youth ambassador program has completed more than 1,000 activities, including presentations, interviews and training sessions and, through its combined efforts, has reached over 5.5 million people.

Following the training, all of the youth ambassadors, Jack included, will meet with their respective local representatives on the steps of Capitol Hill on March 25.

Jack will be meeting with U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington), New York’s 3rd Congressional District representative, to advocate for support for the neurological disorder, he said.

“I think people don’t understand, for me personally, it’s when I say inappropriate things that I can’t control and people think I’m weird,” Jack said. “I just want to be able to explain what it is and make them aware and hopefully make them better people in general.”

After returning to Long Island, Jack, along with the three other Long Island youth ambassadors, will visit schools throughout Nassau and Suffolk County to educate children about the disorder.

Jack, who joined his support group three years ago, said that prior to joining, he never really knew or understood what the disorder was.

“Jack’s been through a lot,” Jack’s mom, Stephanie Muise said. “He’s had a lot of challenges, even just today. He’s really focused on training and how to talk to people about Tourette’s and hoping to raise awareness. He really wants people to understand him.”

Jack said that in his free time he likes to solve Rubix’s Cube and do card tricks. He also sings and is learning to play the piano.

“Over the years I’ve heard great stories about the training in D.C. and presentations the other kids have made,” Jack said in a press release. “I’m really excited that it’s my turn. It will be great to be able to share my story and educate others about a very misunderstood disorder.”