Category Archives: Westchester Wanderer

Lisa Jardine

Column: Decking the halls, the malls and more

The Christmas tree atop Radio City Music Hall.

The Christmas tree atop Radio City Music Hall.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. Santa’s workshop isn’t at the North Pole. It’s actually located on a small, non-descript side street in Mt. Vernon.

There you will find a 110,000-square-foot warehouse overflowing with ornaments, wreaths, toy soldiers and sleighs, where 160 elves work tirelessly seven days a week for three months of the year making the magic of Christmas come to life. The only difference is that Fred Schwam, an Armonk resident and CEO of American Christmas, calls the shots. As far as he knows, Santa has yet to make an appearance.

American Christmas, in its 45th year, has been lighting and wrapping, ornamenting and decorating, creating the oohs and ahhs of Christmas décor across the country and around the world. They are responsible for some of the most iconic sights in New York City during the holiday season, including the 72-foot Christmas tree that sits atop Radio City Music Hall, the heralding angels and cadets surrounding the Rockefeller Center ice skating rink and the 13-foot nutcrackers lined up in front of the UBS building on
6th Avenue.

The largest Christmas bow in the world in Commerce, Calif.

The largest Christmas bow in the world in Commerce, Calif.

You would be hard pressed to walk down a street in New York City that hasn’t been lit up by American Christmas. Their custom designed holiday installations are in commercial office buildings, five-star hotels, international retailers, flagship stores, hospitals and even on NBC’s “The Today Show.”

The countdown to show time begins each May, when the 120 seasonal employees return to work to join the 40 full-time, year-round employees and  preparations for the upcoming holiday season. This year, the season’s first installation was on Oct. 15 and the last Dec. 10.

Chanukah coming so early this year definitely gave the company a new challenge as it usually delivers menorahs along with Christmas decorations to each jobsite. This year, there were two deliveries per installation instead of one.

Rockefeller Center cadets. Photo/Lisa Jardine

Rockefeller Center cadets. Photo/Lisa Jardine

American Christmas employees are a diverse group with varying backgrounds and experience, but the number-one thing they all have in common is that they are nice.

“It matters less to me about previous work experience or education,” Schwam said. “I just want to work with people who are truly nice. I know that will reflect positively on the work we do. If you are nice, we can figure it out. It’s not rocket science.”

Walking around the facility, the nice factor was tangible. Everyone stopped what they were working on and said good morning or hello. I have to admit to feeling like I really was in Santa’s workshop.

By the time Christmas arrives, they will have installed holiday decorations at more than 525 locations around the world, ranging from $1,000 to $1 million. Then, on Dec. 26, all the decorations have to come back down again.

In January, the company makes all the necessary repairs to the displays and makes sure they are clean and in good condition before they put them to bed. American Christmas takes a bit of a breather in February and then it starts back up again, refurbishing last year’s installations or creating new designs for clients.

This year’s biggest challenge came from Citadel Outlets in Commerce, Calif. Working collaboratively with the client, American Christmas came up with the idea to wrap the building in the world’s largest bow measuring 36 feet wide by 21 feet tall with 75-foot tails hanging off the side of the building. It was a huge success.

Two American Christmas elves inside a wreath. Photos courtesy American Christmas

Two American Christmas elves inside a wreath. Photos courtesy American Christmas

The niceness doesn’t just apply to the employees, it’s also part of the company’s philosophy. Each year, when the decorations come down, they are sorted and checked by the production staff, who look for materials that can no longer be used in clients’ holiday displays and an area in the warehouse set aside for charity is created.

During the first week of December, American Christmas invites 12 to 15 local charities to go holiday decoration shopping for free. For the first time this year, the company filled a 26-foot truck with wreaths, trees and ornaments and drove it up to The Pleasantville Cottage School, a coed residential treatment center that cares for emotionally troubled youngsters.

Schwam became associated with the school after his 12-year-old son started volunteering there.

I asked Fred what the new trend was in grand-scale holiday décor.

“Christmas isn’t trendy, that term applies more to the retail end of Christmas. However, almost all of our lighting is now LED, which allows for more sophisticated technology in our displays. Incandescent lighting is virtually obsolete,” he said.

This past July, American Christmas launched its new website, www.americanxmas.com, and included an employee blog. Each month, a different employee is given a theme to write about and, so far, it’s been a big success. The employees really enjoy being a part of it. This month, Kristen Henriksen, the creative director at American Christmas, answered the question, “Do you ever get tired of Christmas?”

“The truth is, no. Christmas is even more exciting and magical when the project I’ve been scheming for the past year becomes a reality and, quite literally, an overnight success,” Henriksen wrote. “It’s unbelievable that everyone in this organization came together to create something that initially existed as an artistic rendering, a mere figment of the imagination. Ultimately, millions of people see our product that was born out of passion, creativity and countless hours of time and energy.”

I would imagine job satisfaction is not an issue at American Christmas.

So what’s the installation that every employee vies to work on?

That would be the holiday decoration for the set of “Saturday Night Live.” The musical guest for that week is almost always doing its rehearsal at the same time the employees of American Christmas are setting up, providing the nice elves with their own well-deserved private Christmas concert.

“I’m always on the lookout for a great story, an amazing restaurant,
an unusual day trip or a must-see cultural event in Westchester County.”

 To contact Lisa, email
lisa@hometwn.com.
And you can follow her on Twitter, @westchesterwand

Lisa Jardine

Column: Indie holiday shopping for the whole family

For Her:Lisa-Jardine

Outerluxe

Siren’s beautiful gift-wrapping

Siren’s beautiful gift-wrapping

1951 Palmer Ave., Larchmont

• Sapphire blue velvet boots by Penelope Chilvers
from Great Britain, $425

Wendy Gee! 

Angela’s strapless dress with tulle

Angela’s strapless dress with tulle

1949 Palmer Ave., Larchmont

• Slippers, $19

• Ladies scarves, $29

• Ladies handbags, $68-$165

Siren

224 Mamaroneck Ave., Mamaroneck

Royal Jewelers hand-cut monogram necklaces

Royal Jewelers hand-cut monogram necklaces

• Cashmere dress toppers in all colors, $138

• Holiday wear by Karina Grimaldi, $198 and up

• Koola burra boots, $298 and up

• Stretch dresses from Tees by Tina, one size fits all in multiple colors, $98

• Evening bags, $48 and up

• Gorgeous jewelry, $18 and up

• All-natural stone pendant necklaces, $25 and up

Angela’s

24 Purchase St., Rye

• Strapless black dress with tulle from Malene Birger, $695

• Burgundy Velvet smoking jacket from Rag and Bone, $550

Weezie D

22 Purchase St., Rye and 15 Park Pl., Bronxville

Miller’s slot car racing

Miller’s slot car racing

• Sequined party dresses, $74 and up

• Sequined body suit, $84

• Peplum belt, $78

• Handbags, $54 and up

• Scarves, $18 and up

• Headbands, $16 and up

• Wallets, $22 and up

For Him:

Outerluxe

Siren’s J’s men’s shoes

Siren’s J’s men’s shoes

• Relwen snowboard fleece and down coat in orange,
navy or charcoal, $288

• Duvetica leather trimmed down coat, $895

• Psycho Bunny socks, scarves, sweaters, hats and gloves, $30 to $295

Siren

• J’s shoes for men, $185 and up

Royal Jewelers 

56 Purchase St., Rye

• Money clips and cufflinks, $75 to $150

Wendy Gee!

Royal Jewelers school logo necklaces

Royal Jewelers school logo necklaces

• Cashmink scarves, $29

For Kids:

Wendy Gee!

• Kids placemats with markers, $29

Miller’s Toys 

335 Mamaroneck Ave.

• Multi-rotor helicopters for kids 10 and up, $90

Wendy Gee! skier serving tray

Wendy Gee! skier serving tray

• Slot car racing, $400 and up

• Magna Tiles for kids 3 and up, $55 to $130

• Scooters, all sizes for all ages over three, $89.99 and up

• For older kids, spin cast collectibles from the world wars, $50 and up

 

For teens and tweens:

Wendy Gee!

Yogi’s Paw fuzzy pjs and sugar lip tanks

Yogi’s Paw fuzzy pjs and sugar lip tanks

• Solar powered globes, $165 and up

• Touchscreen gloves, $34

Yogi’s Paw

325 Mamaroneck Ave., Mamaroneck
and 141 Main St., Mt. Kisco

• Infinity scarves, $14.99

• Skater skirts, $31.99

• Sterling silver jewelry, $15 and up

• Fuzzy pajama pants and shorts, $28.99 and $21.99

• Sugar lips tanks, $14.99, come in every color

• Sleepover accessories $25 to $35

• Handbags, $35.99 and up

Outerluxe sapphire velvet boots

Outerluxe sapphire velvet boots

• Sterling silver jewelry $15 and up

Royal Jewelers 

• Hand-cut monogram necklaces in various sizes, either gold or silver, $100 and up

• Custom-made school logo charms; the Rye Garnets charm is a G surrounded by garnet stones, $150 including the chain

• 14k earrings, $25 and up

Splurge:

Outerluxe

• Plein Sud chincilla’d Rex wrap, $1,095, in denim or aubergene or in black sheared mink, $2,500.

Miller’s Toys

• Custom-made indoor synthetic ice-skating rink installed in your basement or backyard, $12,000 and up

• Backyard trampoline, $1,400 and up

Angela’s

• Black feather dress from Joanna Mastroianni, $4,295

Outlerluxe psycho bunny line

Outlerluxe psycho bunny line

• Pucci dress, $2,485

Royal Jewelers 

• Diamond snowflake necklace in 14k white gold, $1,500

• Hand-crafted 1 carat oval yellow diamond set in 18k white gold surrounded by another 1.14 carats, $20,000

For The Hostess:

Wendy Gee!

• Serving tray with skis, $54

• Felt snowmen, $34 and up

Siren

• Candles in recycled wine bottles, $26

• Marrakesh market totes, $78

Yogi’s Paw

• Musical instrument tree ornaments, $12.99

Books:

The Voracious Reader

1997 Palmer Ave., Larchmont

• For young readers

“Spike the Ugliest Dog,” the new Eric Carle book

“Friendship, Santa!” by Rufus Butler Seder

“The Dwarf in the Drawer” by L. van King

Emma Thompson’s “The Christmas Tale of Peter Rabbit.”

• For middle grade

“The Rooftoppers,” “Pinkalicious” and “Electric Ben.”

• For young adult

“The Book Thief,” “Divergent” and “Clockwork Scarab.”

• For adults

“The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt

Last-minute, one-stop shopping:

Rye Beach Pharmacy

464 Forest Ave., Rye

• They have everything

For The Shopper:

Lilly’s Foot Spa 

118 Mamaroneck Ave., Mamaroneck

• A gift certificate for 90 minutes for $50

Best Gift Wrapping:

Siren

Lisa Jardine

Column: Blank canvas to masterpiece, aided by alcohol

jardineI don’t have an artistic bone in my body, but that didn’t stop me from signing up for a recent Paint Nite event at Sofrito’s in White Plains. What I learned that night was that I didn’t need one. The combination of a good teacher and several margaritas seemed to do the trick.

Daniel Hermann and Sean McGrail, two friends from Boston, created the concept of nomadic social painting after attending a party at which they painted pictures while drinking wine.

After sketching out a business plan on the back of a napkin in March 2012, they launched their first Paint Nite at Clery’s Bar and Restaurant in Boston’s Back Bay. They are now in 40 cities across the United States and Canada and are branching out to London this month. The idea is simple; a creative twist on a night out at the bar.

Creating your palate of colors. Photos/Lisa Jardine

Creating your palate of colors. Photos/Lisa Jardine

Would-be Picasso’s pay for the two-hour session online—price ranges from $30 to $50 depending on coupons you can buy on sites like Groupon—which includes paint, smocks, brushes, a 16” by 20” canvas, an easel and carefully explained, step-by-step instructions from a professional artist.

The drinks and food you order are separate and purchased directly from the event’s host restaurant. Each session is taught by a local artist who has personally selected the painting that will be taught that evening, although the event is completely flexible and all about fun so, if you arrive and decide you want to go off-book and paint something else, that is fine too.

The events are held at various locations in Westchester County. Some of the places you can choose from in December are Elements Food and Spirits in White Plains, Rudy’s Sports and Entertainment in Hartsdale and Sofrito’s Puerto Rican Cuisine in White Plains. This month, in our area, there are two different artists who offer the classes and eight different paintings on nine different nights.

Nick Pappalardo, a young artist who studied fine arts at SUNY Purchase and computer animation at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, was the local artist the night I attended the event. He teaches a new painting every month and his genre of choice is landscapes.

“I love the beach, so I tend to choose beach scenes and I also like to incorporate seasonality into the paintings. But I make sure I choose something that someone would want to hang on their walls or in their bathroom,” Pappalardo said.

Artist Nick Pappalardo begins the lesson.

Artist Nick Pappalardo begins the lesson.

He explained the teaching that goes on at these events is not serious or heavy on critique.

“These nights are about fun. They are very social with great music and drinking and eating. It’s the perfect stress reliever after work, but I definitely still give helpful tips along with the lesson,” Pappalardo said.

Erica Vargas, the manager at Sofrito’s, was enthusiastic about hosting Paint Nite at the restaurant.

“It’s a great way to mix and mingle and meet new people. And bringing Paint Nite into our restaurant makes the restaurant lively,” she said. “We just started doing these events last week and we’ll definitely continue to do them. The people in the community have been very responsive. We just launched a new menu after seven years and it’s a great way to bring customers in to experience the food while having fun.”

Tabletop easels were set up on long tables facing the front of the room, where the painting that we would work on was displayed alongside a blank canvas. Everyone gets an apron and creates their palate of colors on paper plates. Nick explained the piece and how we would paint it in several steps. As he explained, he painted, showing us the technique we would need to duplicate. First, we painted the top third of the canvas to look like a sky. Then came the drink and dry time.

This is when you re-order your drink and mull over your first attempt at painting.

Next we painted the grey mountains.

Again, we drank and dried.

Then came the green mountains in the foreground. Each time, layering another aspect of the painting, letting it dry, drinking, eating, talking, and laughing.

After the brief explanations by Nick, he would turn up the music and let us create. It was quite magical to see everyone’s artistic interpretations emerge. He walked around making sure anyone who had questions was helped, but he doesn’t fix your paintings. What you create is yours alone.

Sofrito’s in White Plains is one of three locations in Westchester holding social paint nights. Photo courtesy Sofrito’s

Sofrito’s in White Plains is one of three locations in Westchester holding social paint nights. Photo courtesy Sofrito’s

The two hours seemed to melt away and with it, our inhibitions, or maybe that was just the alcohol kicking in. Regardless, it was definitely a new take on two very old pastimes.

Ryan Dunn, 33, attended with her friend Lauren Eschewsky, 27.

“It’s something new and different…so we came,” Dunn said.

Dawn Staslak, 42, was there for her second time.

“The first time, I had so much fun; painted a great picture and found the event very relaxing. So this time, I brought my co-workers from Danbury Hospital. We are all here to celebrate the end of a big project,” she said.

Pappalardo has taught more than 100 classes for Paint Nite in the past 13 months and really enjoys the experience.

“Some people come alone, some in groups. We get lots of couples and co-workers, people celebrating a birthday. For me, teaching these classes doesn’t feel like work. I have a day job, but doing these events at night is just about having a good time. I even have a following with repeat customers.”

To sign up online: www.paintnite.com
Dec. 1, 5 p.m.: Elements Food & Spirits
Dec. 2, 7 p.m.: Sofrito
Dec. 4, 7 p.m.: Rudy’s Sports and Entertainment
Dec. 8, 5 p.m.: Elements Food & Spirits
Dec. 9, 7 p.m.: Sofrito
Dec. 11, 7 p.m.: Rudy’s Sports and Entertainment
Dec. 15, 5 p.m.: Elements Food & Spirits
Dec. 16, 4 p.m.: Sofrito
Dec. 18, 7 p.m.: Rudy’s Sports and Entertainment

“I’m always on the lookout for a great story, an amazing
restaurant, an unusual day trip or a must-see cultural
event in Westchester County.”

To contact Lisa, email
lisa@hometwn.com.
And you can follow her on Twitter, @westchesterwand

Lisa Jardine

Column: Hungry for change

Jardine-Turkey2

The Bourbon Red Turkeys during their final days on the Stone Barns farm. Photos/Lisa Jardine

Happy Thanksgiving. In honor of my favorite holiday, I spent the week looking for a feel-good story that centered around food and, if possible, had a turkey as a photo op.

I found exactly what I had in mind at the Stone Barns Center in Pocantico Hills. Many people have heard of, and maybe even had the opportunity to dine at, the Michelin-starred restaurant Blue Hill at Stone Barns, but I wanted this week’s article to focus on how the food actually gets to the table.

I went for a visit to the Stone Barns Center on a Tuesday, when it is officially closed to the public, and, upon arrival, I was graced with the most magnificent site a writer with a photo requirement could ask for. A late fall landscape dotted with strutting Bourbon Red Turkeys, the heritage breed best associated with the Thanksgiving holiday.

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Insider’s farm tour of the Stone Barns Center in Pocantico Hills.
Photo courtesy Stone Barns Center

If you were thinking you might drop by and pick up a last-minute fresh turkey for the holidays, I was told that every last one of them have been spoken for.

Mara Flanagan, the associate director of philanthropy, met me and gave me an incredibly in-depth tour of the facility. We discussed all the important work they are doing there.

The center is actually an 80-acre working farm only 25 miles north of New York City on the former grounds of John D. Rockefeller, Jr.’s dairy farm. They raise livestock, grow vegetables and experiment with seeds and soil, which they describe as the most important part of the eco-system on a farm.
Their soil is managed intensely, with a seven-year crop rotation and multispecies rotational grazing, which leads to healthier grass and soil. They spend more than 1,000 man hours a year just moving animals around the farm.

“At the Stone Barns Center, we go beyond organic. Our farmers are all about innovation, marrying old techniques with the new,” Flanagan said.
They’ve been experimenting for nine years with delicious results.

Jardine-Turkey3

The sheep after mating at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture.

They grow all four seasons at the farm, selecting cold-tolerant plants in the winter and heat-tolerant plants in the summer to save on heating and cooling costs. Right now, there are fields of cabbage, kale and broccoli—all vegetables that love the cold, crisp days.

Inside the greenhouse, they are experimenting with ginger and turmeric—two plants that don’t ordinarily grow anywhere near the northeastern United States—which, if viable, help remove food dependency on foreign regions.

They not only grow food, they grow farmers too.

“There is a human capital problem in the United States in farming. The average age of farmers is 57,” Flanagan said. “We lost generations to industrialization when farming wasn’t valued, but it’s coming back. Here at the center, we make it possible for new farmers to gain experience and knowledge from our seasoned farmers by offering paid, full-time apprenticeships to young people because, if you don’t have farmers, you don’t have food.”

The Stone Barns Center believes in sharing its wealth of knowledge with the farming community at large. Through their Growing Farmers Initia­tive, they equip young farmers with the knowledge and hands-on experience to grow better-tasting, healthier food and to become responsible stewards of the land. They seek to remove the barriers that stand in the way of their success, whether those comprise access to land, prohibitive capital costs or marketing and distribution challenges. On Dec. 4 to 6, they will hold their sixth-annual National Young Farmers conference in which 300 young farmers from all over the country representing 25 to 30 states will come to the Stone Barns Center to talk about farm finance, food safety standards, food law, swine and much more.

They are extremely excited about their keynote speaker, Wendell Berry, the novelist, poet, environmental activist and farmer.

Programs Director Jennifer Rothman is excited about the event.

“The National Young Farmers conference that we hold each year are some of the most inspiring days I’ve ever had professionally,” she said.

And this article wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention all the amazing things the center does for children’s education. Since 2004, the Stone Barns Center has reached more than 36,000 children with their unique, hands-on educational programs. Whether its summer farm camp, scout programs, animal care, vegetable gardening or collecting eggs, the Stone Barns Center believes that children are a critical audience for the work they do. They think it’s vital to connect at an early age to establish patterns of healthy eating in order to create the next generation of thoughtful food consumers. They do this by reintroducing them to where their food comes from—and it’s not their local Stop and Shop.

Through the various programs, the children learn that farming is a respected profession and that there is more to the food we eat than just pulling items off of grocery shelves and throwing them in the cart.

“We offer very authentic experiences to the public—the things that we do on the farm every day, like learning about the life of a hen by collecting her eggs. And then [visitors] get to take a six-pack home with them,” Rothman said.

After an absolutely perfect afternoon walking around the farm, I had to agree with Rothman’s final comment as I was on my way out.

“It’s a delicious place to work.”

Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture
630 Bedford Road, Pocantico Hills, 10591
(if you are using a navigation system use Tarrytown for the town)
Stonebarnscenter.org
National Young Farmers Conference
Dec. 4 to 6
Grow Your Own: Bread
Tuesday, Dec. 10
6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Insider’s Farm Tour
Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays
Family Farm Tour
Saturdays and Sundays, 11 a.m. to 11:45 a.m.
Story Time on the Farm
Saturdays and Sundays, 1 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Winter Farmers Market
10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Dec. 15, Jan. 12, Feb. 9, March 9, April 13
Blue Hill Café open Wednesday through Sunday
from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Download the iPhone app prior to your visit
Open Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
May to November, $5 parking contribution
Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Years Day

___________________________
“I’m always on the lookout for a great story, an amazing restaurant, an unusual day trip or a must-see cultural event in Westchester County.”
To contact Lisa, email
lisa@hometwn.com.
And you can follow her on Twitter, @westchesterwand

Lisa Jardine

Column: Forging a new social movement by staying put

Jardine-Seniors1

Eileen Marx, 80, with Joyce Xu, 16, learning how to shop online. Photos/Lisa Jardine

Here’s the good news: thanks to vaccinations and antibiotics, health and safety laws in the workplace and a powerful anti-smoking campaign, we are living significantly longer lives.

Every day in the United States alone, 10,000 people turn 60. In the past 100 years, the percentage of the U.S. population that was older than 65 tripled from 4.3 percent to 13 percent. In New York, according to the 2000 census, 13 percent of our state’s population was over 65. It is estimated that, by 2030, it will be 20 percent.
So the big question becomes, where are all of our seniors going to live?

According to the New York State Department of Heath, there are currently 42 nursing homes in Westchester with a total of 6,565 beds. Math isn’t my strong suit, but I have a feeling this just isn’t going to cut it. After doing research for this article, though, the situation isn’t at all as dire as the numbers make it seem.

Jardine-Seniors3

Eleanor Holman and Zaid Khan, 16, learning about how to use the Amazon Kindle.

There is a grass roots effort that started in the Beacon Hill area of Boston in 1999 by a small group of friends who gathered together to talk about the future. They wanted to stay put in their own neighborhoods, yet they realized they would need support in the future to be able to do so. They wanted to empower themselves, and each other, instead of being managed by others. The result was a self-governing, non-profit 501(c)(3) supported and funded by membership fees, donations and volunteers. They called themselves The Village and they were determined to age in place, gracefully and on their own terms.
Almost 15 years later, the Beacon Hill Village is just one of many in the Village To Village Network, a national, peer-to-peer organization that helps establish villages just like Beacon Hill, whether they are in large metropolitan cities, rural towns or suburban settings.

These villages are custom tailored to the needs of the community and do everything and anything that their individual members want and need, from transportation to social and cultural programs, help with grocery shopping and pet care, referrals of vetted service providers, home safety checks, reduced rates on various services and healthcare providers as well as home care at a reduced rate.

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Bob Hiden, 80, Kai Kinsmen, 17, left, and Gabe Tugendstein, 15, work on Bob’s cell phone.

At Home on The Sound is one such village in Westchester County, located at 545 Tomp­kins Ave. in Mamaroneck. Established in 2010, At Home is a non-profit, aging-in-place organization that offers programs, transportation and support to residents 60 years and older in the Larchmont, Mamaroneck and Rye Neck communities so that they can remain in their own homes as they age, and continue to enjoy active and independent lives.

Jilana Van Meter is the communications and administration manager for At Home On The Sound.

“At Home on the Sound has been in existence for just over three years and already has close to 140 members. Our members are a vibrant, active and fascinating group of people; 24 of them are over 90 years old,” she said. “Our community volunteers, who provide the transportation to doctor’s appointments and errands as well as other types of assistance, are so dedicated and generous. They range from retirees to mothers of young children.”

Beyond the services they offer, At Home’s calendar of events is quite extensive and touches on all aspects of a full and healthy life, including Gentle Chair Yoga, Scrabble groups, Mahjong, current events discussions over breakfast and, just recently, a trip to the Neue Galerie in Manhattan, which was a huge success.

I caught up with a few members on a recent Saturday morning at the Post Road office of At Home On The Sound. They were hosting a technology workshop in which they match-up the needs of seniors with the expertise of teenagers. The technology experts were students from Mamaroneck High School, who worked with the seniors to help them with their cell phones, iPads, Kindles and any other piece of technology they brought with them.

Elaine Weingarten, executive director of At Home On The Sound, was a big proponent of the program.

“We think intergenerational programs are key to the aging-in-place, community-based pl­an. The seniors are also a resource for our youth. Our members are past college professors, ambassadors and well-known artists. The exchange of information is vital and goes both ways,” she said.

Robert Melnick, 86, and his wife Hyla, 82, attended the event.

“We love At Home On the Sound. We went to the museum tour and met some very nice people and we enjoy going to the speaker events. We joined two years ago,” Robert Melnick said.

Bob Hiden, 80, had questions about cell phones. He was working with Kai Kinsmen, 17, and Gabe Tugendstein, 15.

“Kai is my neighbor and he was organizing the event,” Tugendstein said. “It sounded like a good thing to do. I spend a lot of time with technology, so I knew I could help out with any questions they would have.”

Eleanor Holman, a resident of Larchmont for 53 years, brought in her Kindle, a gift from her family. Zaid Khan, 16, helped her learn how to use her new e-book reader.

“My fingers don’t move as well as they used to, but Zaid has been very good and patient with me,” Holman said.

Arthur Weisberg, 69, is a frequent At Home volunteer.

“I think At Home does good things for everyone. I constantly think of my mother and mother-in-law, both in their 90s, who will some day need assistance with simple things in life,” he said. “The answer as to why I do this is incredibly simple: I do it because I can do it and I enjoy doing it. Working with seniors keeps things in perspective for me.”
At Home On The Sound
545 Tompkins Ave., Mamaroneck
914-899-3150
www.athomeonthesound.org
www.facebook.com/AtHomeontheSound
Other villages that serve the Westchester Community:
Gramatan Village
Serving Bronxville:
914-337-1338
SPRYE
(“Staying Put in Rye and Environs”)
Serving Rye and Harrison:
914-481-5706

“I’m always on the lookout for a great story, an amazing
restaurant, an unusual day trip or a must-see cultural event in Westchester County.”

To contact Lisa, email
lisa@hometwn.com.
And you can follow her on Twitter, @westchesterwand

Lisa Jardine

Column: Creative collaborators in Port Chester

Jardine-Creative-2

Patricia Miranda, the owner of Miranda Arts Project Space

Creating art can be a solitary affair. Of course there have been some very famous artistic collaborations like Picasso and Braque, Dali and Bunuel and Warhol and Basquiat, but creating art collaboratively is a relatively new trend that’s grown only in the last 10 years.
Patricia Miranda owned a traditional gallery, Miranda Fine Arts, for more than a decade in Port Chester, where she sold paintings and prints by solo artists. But then, after a four-year stint as a gallery director and curator at Concordia College, she decided to return to her gallery and do something completely different with the unique, loft-like space in the heart of Port Chester.

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Micro grant dinner inside the loft; Marcy B. Freedman giving her pitch.

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Micro grant dinner inside the loft; Katherine Jackson giving her pitch.

“I wanted to combine art with an educational experience in an interactive way while engaging the community,” Miranda, 50, said.

She decided the way to hit all her requirements was to create a collaborative residency program in her artists’ space.

“I put out a request for proposal for artists working in pairs to submit an idea for new work—created on location in Port Chester—that had a community component and could be completed in one month,” Miranda said. “I received dozens of proposals.”

Last fall, after careful consideration, Miranda’s first choice for this new venture was called “Interplay” and the artists, Beth Dary and Sarah Lutz, decided to create the evolution of the Byram River and the rising water levels in the past 100 years inside the 800-square-foot artist loft on North Pearl Street in Port Chester. They researched and mapped the river and scaled the maps to fit the walls of the room. The loft became the Byram River with three lines representing the water level at the turn of the 20th century, the current level of the river, and  the river’s expected water level in 100 years.

Dary and Lutz created handmade barnacles from clay and paper pulp that protruded in 3-D from the wall, as well as anemone-like creatures scattered throughout.

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From left, artists Brynn Trusewicz and Kelsey Harrison, a drag queen from “A Girls’ Night Out” and Patricia Miranda. Photos courtesy Miranda Arts Project Space

What they didn’t plan on was Hurricane Sandy, which arrived on their doorstop in the midst of their residency.

When the exhibit finally opened on Nov. 17, 2012 it attracted so much attention, there was standing room only in the small gallery as well as an article in The New York Times.

“The visitors to the exhibit felt the collaboration deeply as many of them had been through hell during the week [following Sandy] with no power or running water. They came together to talk about their concerns for the environment and their experiences with the storm,” Miranda said.

The most recent month-long residency was entitled C.U.T.E., an acronym for Cultivate Uncomfortable Temporary Encounters.

The artists were Kelsey Harrison and Brynn Trusewicz from SUNY Purchase. Their residency was focused on relational aesthetics, which is when art is actually an activity that brings people together. The artist becomes the catalyst for art, rather than being at the center.

The two young artists created several different social environments such as “Build-a-Bench,” which took place at the Carver Center in Port Chester, where members of the community got together to make benches for public spaces in the neighborhood. There was a ceramic cup-building activity done in conjunction with the Clay Art Center in Port Chester, a “Girls Night Out,” in which a drag queen taught women to dance burlesque, and the event that capped off the month-long residency was a micro-grant dinner in the loft, during which proposals were pitched and diners voted on who should get the grant to go forward with their work.

The residency created various social environments in which people came together to participate in a shared activity rather than the artwork being an encounter between a viewer and a piece of art.

“Artists are always thinking about whatever is going on in the world at that time, posing questions, imagining solutions in a way that is different from science or data,” Miranda said. “Those are the artists I am interested in. Artists who see art not as a separate thing, but as something that impacts the culture.”

Up next is the fourth residency for Miranda Arts Project Space, or M.A.P.S., and the two young artists are Master of Fine Arts graduates from Queens: Karen Cintron and Matt Greco. The name of their residency is “Also of Hope and Aspiration Do We Live-De Illusion Tambien Se Vive.” The name loosely translates to the fact that life is not only about “getting there” but also about dreaming of getting there. This residency explores and celebrates the entrepreneurial spirit of the immigrant-owned businesses in Port Chester, especially, although not exclusively, the Latin American community. The two artists will spend their time during the residency interviewing and photographing the people in the immigrant businesses in Port Chester, creating a visual and audio archive of the faces and spaces of this diverse, thriving village.

So how does Miranda come into the picture besides opening up her space and handing over a set of keys?

“I help each pair of residents work on their original ideas; we see if they work in the space and within the community. I guide the project and, of course, things change as we progress, but that’s what’s so great,” she said. “There are no rules and everything is flexible. It morphs and changes in the time they are here. When I designed the residency, I thought I would just throw it out there and see what happens and I am thrilled with the results.”

Lisa Jardine

Column: The next generation of storytellers

In 2005, the first homemade video was uploaded to YouTube and the face of filmmaking was forever changed. Anyone interested in making movies could easily connect with other likeminded auteurs and, through this online collaboration, tell their stories in a way that never existed before.jardine

In 2005, Gabrielle Giacomo was nine years old and most likely didn’t even own a laptop. But, flash forward seven years and she’s a 16-year-old award-winning filmmaker from Larchmont. She even has her own imdb.com page—http://www.imdb.com/name/nm5573920/. Her film credits include a documentary, 10 short films and one animated film.

Giacomo’s prolificacy is even more impressive given she only started making films three years ago. During a two-week summer camp she attended at the age of 13 at the New York Film

Gabrielle Giacomo winning Best Documentary at the Cine Youth Awards.

Gabrielle Giacomo winning Best Documentary at the Cine Youth Awards.

Academy in New York City, she quickly realized that her childhood aspiration to become an actress paled in comparison to her newly found desire to get behind the camera.

“Filmmaking is just another way to tell stories. I like to take current problems and put them in a new setting. With filmmaking, you can step outside of reality,” Giacomo said.

Gabrielle does it all—writer, director, producer, cinematographer and editor—because, at 16, you have to be resourceful.

“I like everything about filmmaking, but my favorite piece would have to be screenwriting. I’ve always liked writing short stories and being a screenwriter is just another way to express my ideas. It’s the birth of the film—everything begins with the story,” Giacomo said.

When asked her most challenging role, she didn’t hesitate.

“Directing. I know what I want to happen in a scene, but it’s harder to communicate that to others, especially when they are your peers. It’s hard to get people to listen and understand,” she said.

Giacomo’s documentary, “Farm To Table” showcases her school, Convent of The Sacred Heart in Greenwich, Conn., and its commitment to integrating stewardship of the earth’s resources into the curriculum. The school grows its own food, buys from local farmers and works to cure poverty by becoming self-sustaining.

Gabby and her friend, fellow filmmaker Morgan “Mo” Herbert work on a film together. Photos courtesy Gabrielle Giacomo

Gabby and her friend, fellow filmmaker Morgan “Mo” Herbert work on a film together. Photos courtesy Gabrielle Giacomo

The film won many awards, including “First Place Junior Division Documentary” at the CineYouth Film Festival, Chicago, Ill.; “Best of the Fest” at the Chicago International Film Festival, Chicago, Ill.; and “Official Jury Selected Finalist” COMMFFEST Global Film Festival, Toronto, Canada.

Unlike in her shorts, in the documentary, Gabby had to work with adults.

“When you are a young filmmaker working with adults, you have to prepare a lot. I took myself seriously and therefore they took me seriously.”

Her initial interest in filmmaking occurred during the two-week summer camp, but she credits the YouTube panel—www.youtube.com/thoseawesomemovies—as one of her main resources for learning and improving her craft.

Giacomo’s animated stop-motion short, “After Hours,” is her first animated short film and she learned the technique by watching other young filmmakers on the YouTube panel. She also taught herself many techniques online just by googling them.

This past summer, she attended VidCon in Anaheim, Calif., the largest gathering of online video viewers, creators and industry representatives worldwide, which draws thousands of attendees representing billions of online video views.

“I attended various panels at Vidcon, including one held by Phillip DeFranco, an online video blogger, also known as a vlogger. These panels helped give me a different perspective on sharing my creative vision. In the world today, pieces can be broadcast with the simple click of a mouse,” Giacomo said. “This is great because it makes it possible for your work to be spread throughout the world without cost, however, as this form of media sharing becomes more popular, competition for viewership also increases.”

These YouTube videos aren’t all big-budget productions. With the technology and software available today, a budding young filmmaker doesn’t need to invest a lot of money in equipment.

“I didn’t have a lot of equipment when I started. I used a camcorder and took it with me wherever I went. As I improved, so did my equipment, but I still standby the earlier work I did—it’s all about the story, the equipment is less important,” she said.

On Nov. 23, from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Larchmont Public Library, Gabrielle will host a Teen Creative Movie Theater where five of her films will be showcased, each award-winning and each from a different genre. She will discuss all aspects of the filmmaking industry, including how to get started and ways to submit your films to competitions worldwide. There will be a Q&A session as well.

The event is free and open to the public.

“I hope I can inspire kids in my community to make films, too. It’s a great outlet for expressing emotions besides writing. It’s a really fun hobby and I think it will get more and more popular as the years go on. I have made a lot of friends at filmmaking camps and we bond over our love of films,” Giacomo said. “I met one of my best friends, Morgan “Mo” Herbert from Armonk, at a film camp when I was 13. We work on films and go to film festivals together. She’s been very supportive of me. I would like to build a community of filmmakers right here
in Westchester.”

You can spot Gabby in some of her films. I asked her if it’s more of a challenge to direct yourself.

“It’s both easier and harder. Harder because you can’t see what you are doing as much. It’s harder to see your face and your expressions. But, it’s easier because I know exactly what I’m looking for in a scene. With an actor, that sometimes gets lost. They might not get what it is I want,” Giacomo said.

For more information on the filmmaking event:

http://www.larchmontlibrary.org/teen-creative-movie-theater-with-gabrielle-giacomo/

For more information on Gabrielle and her films:

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm5573920/

 _________________________________________________________________________

 

“I’m always on the lookout for a great story, an amazing restaurant, an unusual day trip or a must-see cultural event in Westchester County.”

To contact Lisa, emaillisa@hometwn.com. And you can follow her on Twitter, @westchesterwand

 
Lisa Jardine

Column: A slice of Italy, 4,000 miles away

Lisa-JardineThe renowned Italian composer, Giuseppe Verdi once said, “You may have the universe if I may have Italy,” and I’m inclined to agree with him.

However, the long distance and expensive airfare from here to Verdi’s paradise forced me to find something a little bit closer to home in order to get my Italian fix. What I discovered was a truly magical place tucked away in Tuckahoe, The Westchester Italian Cultural Center—where Italy comes alive for everyone.

When I arrived at the center, I was pleasantly surprised by the beautiful building in which it resides. It looked like a distinguished private club. The 1913 building was the original Tuckahoe Village Hall, housing the library, mayor’s office, police headquarters, the bank and even the jail. Most of these can still be seen inside if you look closely. The Generoso Pope Foundation purchased the building in 2006 and then underwent a multi-million dollar renovation.

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The wine cellar representing wine from all 52 regions in Italy.

The philanthropic organization was founded in 1947 by Generoso Pope, an Italian immigrant who came to America in 1906 at the age of 15 with $10 in his pocket. He went on to own one of the largest sand and gravel companies in the world, responsible for building much of New York City’s skyline.
The Tuckahoe building houses both the foundation and the Italian Cultural Center, a non-profit mostly funded by the foundation.

 
I spent the morning with Patrizia Calce, the program director for the center. She was born and raised in Milano and started with the center when it opened back in 2007.
“I like to think the West­chester Italian Cultural Center is Westchester’s best kept secret. Our mission is to preserve, promote and celebrate the rich heritage of classic and contemporary Italian culture. We want you to feel like you are in Italy when you walk in the doors,” Calce said.

It’s obvious that Calce is very proud of the center and all it has to offer. The building lends itself beautifully to the many diverse cultural activities the center provides. Italians are known for their food and wine. So, of course, the center offers cooking classes for adults and children in their professional teaching kitchen and wine tastings out of their extensive wine cellar representing all 52 regions in Italy. There are musical programs in the theater, lectures in the boardroom, art exhibits in the gallery as well as research and study in the expansive library.

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Director of Programs Patrizia Calce in the Westchester Italian Cultural Center’s library. The library features more than 3,000 volumes in Italian covering all genres. Photos/Lisa Jardine

The place is simply amazing, and the membership fees are extremely affordable. A yearly family membership is only $150.

They open their doors to the community at large—not just their members—hosting culinary and cultural experiences to schools and seniors as well.

“We’ve had schools come and make masks for Carnevale, and, in our culinary workshops we make pasta from scratch and pizza too. The kids love making fresh fettuccine to eat here and then bring home,” Calce said.

The center is open every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and stays open later when there is an evening program. Looking over their bi-annual printed brochure, I can see how one might spend a lot of time here. There are book presentations on Wednesdays, genealogy classes on Saturday mornings, afternoon films on Tuesdays and Mommy and Me Italian lessons during the week. And those are just the regularly scheduled gatherings.

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The multi-room holiday presepio display. Photo courtesyWestchester Italian Cultural Center

This fall, the center has an art exhibit by Joseph Genova entitled “Visions of Italy,” which runs through Nov. 16. On Nov. 8, there is an evening Verdi concert and reception and, on Nov. 23, they will host a presentation entitled “The Beauty of Raphael.”

All events are open to both members and non-members. Their annual Presepio Napoletano, the event the center is renowned for, begins on Dec. 6 and runs through Jan. 11. This multi-room nativity scene is a reproduction of an 18th century Neapolitan presepio, the Italian word for crèche. The lively exhibit portrays a bustling village located at the base of Mount Vesuvius and is so substantial, it takes many volunteers to set it up over the course of two full days.

The way in which the center acquired the figurines is a true Christmas miracle and was the subject of a New York Times story in December 2011.

“Our center is not just for Italians, as our motto says, ‘we are here for everyone.’ In fact, almost 40 percent of our members aren’t Italian and they are the most active members. People attend our programs and they start out as strangers, but they always find a common ground and they end up as friends,” Calce said.

Next July, the center is doing something they’ve never done before. They are going on an off-site excursion and a pretty fantastic one at that. Professor Joseph N. Spedaliere of Concordia College will personally escort a custom-tailored trip to Italy for 10 days, staying in Bologna, Siena and Rome.

“Professor Spedaliere has a deep knowledge of the culture and people of Italy. You can feel his passion—he’s a walking encyclopedia of Italy,” Calce says.

The trip is open to member and non-member adults and includes hotel, meals and day trips.

Sounds like Verdi would thoroughly approve.

To get more information about the Italian Cultural Center, visit the website at www.wiccny.org, where you can sign up for email notifications.
Upcoming special events:
Visions of Italy Art Exhibit
Now–Nov. 15
Professor Spedaliere’s Lecture on Etymology Nov. 7
An Evening With Verdi Nov. 8
Chef’s Night Holiday Feast Nov. 22
Presepio Napoletano
Dec. 6 through Jan. 11, 2014
Otello Dec.13
________________________
“I’m always on the lookout for a great story, an amazing restaurant,
an unusual day trip or a must-see cultural event in Westchester County.”
To contact Lisa, email
lisa@hometwn.com.
And you can follow her on Twitter, @westchesterwand

Lisa Jardine

Column: 200,000 reasons to run

Drew Swiss, an Armonk resident and father of four, will celebrate his 56th birthday by running in the ING New York City Marathon on Nov. 3. It will be his 27thmarathon. That alone is pretty incredible. The fact that, this year, he’s raised more than $57,000 for Team for Kids, a New York Road Runner charitable organization, makes it an even bigger story.Lisa-Jardine

I asked Drew why he ran for Team for Kids.

“In 2001, when I started running marathons again after a nine-year break when we had our children, I wanted to run for a cause. I did some research and found Team for Kids and knew this was the charity I wanted to help. Growing up in Brooklyn, I was one of those kids the charity supports. My mom fed me the worst kind of garbage—she even reused Crisco. I immediately embraced the charity and gave them my heart and soul. I felt it was my responsibility to help these kids. The obesity rate in the Bronx is 62 percent. It’s insane,” Swiss said.

Michael Rodgers, NYRR vice president of development and philanthropy, also endorsed Team for Kids.

The Swiss Family: Drew, his wife Amy and his children; Robby, Zoe, Jade and Shane. Photo courtesy Drew Swiss

The Swiss Family: Drew, his wife Amy and his children; Robby, Zoe, Jade and Shane. Photo courtesy Drew Swiss

“Team for Kids is a committed group of adult runners who raise funds for New York Road Runner’s Youth and Community Services programs while training for major endurance events. These funds provide free or low-cost health and fitness programs to kids who would otherwise have little or no access to regular physical activity. NYRR’s programs serve more than 200,000 children each year in more than 800 schools and community centers in New York City, across the nation and around the world,” Rodgers said.

This year, more than 1,300 Team for Kids runners will be participating in the ING New York City Marathon and they are on target to raise more than $2 million.

Helping kids lead a healthier life isn’t just a hobby for Swiss, he actually works in the healthcare profession at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx.

Team for Kids members cheer on their runners at the New York City Marathon. Photos courtesy New York Road Runners

Team for Kids members cheer on their runners at the New York City Marathon. Photos courtesy New York Road Runners

“Our mission is keeping the people population healthy. Prevention is the key to solving our society’s healthcare problems. My personal mantra is get it right the first time,” Swiss said.

This year, Drew’s personal goal is to raise $65,000, which will bring his total amount raised over the past 7 years to $300,000.

“I am very close to reaching my target. It would be great to start the race knowing I already won,” he said.

According to Team for Kids, $300,000 provides running programs for 12,000 Mighty Milers from 50 New York City public schools.

Running is an important part of all the Swiss family members.

“My wife is training for a 5K, and my kids ran a race in our town a few weeks ago to raise money for our library. The seven year old smoked everyone and ran a nine-minute mile. He would have had an even faster time, but he was distracted by a puddle near the finish line,” Swiss said.

Since this will be his 27th marathon, I asked Swiss if there were a few that were standouts. He told me he ran in the Boston Marathon and was only a quarter-mile from the finish line when the bombs went off. If not for an untied shoelace earlier in the race, he would have been much, much closer.

Was he worried about running in New York City?

Kids at the December 2012 Jingle Bell Jog in Central Park.

Kids at the December 2012 Jingle Bell Jog in Central Park.

“Not at all,” he said. “The security at the New York Marathon is much tighter than it was in Boston. I’m not concerned.”

Drew is pretty low-key when it comes to pre and post preparations for the race.

“The night before, I always have grilled chicken with pasta, olive oil and garlic from Amore’s in Armonk. I sleep at home and, in the morning, I drive in and eat a bagel and a banana. After the race, all of the runners from Team for Kids meet at Cherry Hill, N.J., where I stretch and change and find my family. And then we go for a very long walk. If the kids are hungry, we’ll stop and get something to eat. The day after the race I’ll go for a four-mile run to get the kinks out,” Swiss said.

Swiss has won the Jack and Lewis Rudin Award for the past six years. The award is presented to the top male and female fundraisers for NYRR Youth and Community Services in honor of longtime marathon supporters Jack Rudin and his brother Lewis Rudin, who died in 2001.

I would bet Drew is about to make it a lucky number seven.

“Drew’s leadership and tireless efforts fundraising for NYRR youth programs epitomize the giving spirit of Team for Kids. It’s thanks to him, and fundraisers like him, that we are able to reach thousands of kids every year with our life-changing programs,” Rodgers said.

As thousands of runners line up to begin their 26.2-mile journey through the greatest city in the world, Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” will fill the air as they cross the Verrazano Bridge and head into Brooklyn. If you are planning on going, keep an eye out for Drew. He’ll be wearing the Team for Kids lime green tank with his name on it in black Sharpie.

Cheer a little harder for him—he’s earned it.

Help Drew reach his goal, donate to Team for Kids

http://www.runwithtfk.org/Profile/PublicPage/442

Guarantee your entry in the 2014 NYC Half Marathon today through NYRR Team for Kids. Team for Kids runners will get a spot, training and fundraising support as they strive to make a difference in kids’ lives with NYRR youth running programs:

http://runwithtfk.org/Page/2014NYCHalf

____________________________________________________________________________

“I’m always on the lookout for a great story, an amazing restaurant, an unusual day trip or a must-see cultural event in Westchester County.” 

TO CONTACT LISA, email lisa@hometwn.com. And you can follow her on Twitter, @westchesterwand

Lisa Jardine

Column: Scared wordless

Lisa-JardineThis was, by far, the scariest story I have ever written.

In the interest of full disclosure, haunted houses are my worst nightmare. You won’t find me anywhere near one. But I didn’t let my lifelong fear get in the way of a good story. I received an email from a reader telling me about a Westchester haunting in which he thought I might be interested. Before agreeing to the scary visit, I did a little research about the haunted house industry. I wanted to make sure there was an allure for readers older than 15.
What I found was pretty shocking.

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The props are even scary in the daytime.

According to The Haunted Attraction Association—yes, there is actually such a thing—haunted houses are a $300 million industry with more than 2,500 haunted attractions worldwide, with a majority of them in the United States, and the ticket holders are predominantly in their 20’s and 30’s.

My interest was piqued.
Marc Mancini, one of the four partners behind The Weschester Haunt at Rocky Ledge in West Harrison explained that, as a teenager in West Harrison in the 1990s, he spent a lot of time spooking up his parents’ home so it would be the scariest on the block and attract the most visitors. Over the years, word spread and the yearly haunting became too big for the neighborhood.

“At first my parents hated it but, over time, my father’s opinion of the haunted hijinks changed,” Mancini said. “My dad said, ‘hey, I think we’ve got something good going over here.’”

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A few spare bodies.

Mancini decided it was time to look for a bigger space.

In 2008, after a search, the family came upon the Rocky Ledge Swimming Association; an eight-acre wooded site in North White Plains the Mancinis felt would be the perfect location to unleash their scariest fantasies. “The Haunt at Rocky Ledge” had officially begun.

Fifteen years after he first got his kicks scaring the neighborhood kids, Marc’s now a grown man, an electrician by trade, who, along with his brother and two friends, take pride in scaring large crowds of Westchester residents the old fashioned way. Every year since 2008, for the two weeks leading up to Halloween, they take over the multi-acre facility and transform it into the most terrifying haunt in Westchester.

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This sign is posted on the road at the entry to the West Harrison haunting.

I met Marc at the facility during the daytime and it still gave me the creeps. Even driving there was scary. Once you exit 287, you travel a winding, twisty road with barbed wire fencing on one side that borders the Kensico Dam and several miles of dense forest on the other.
At night, I’m sure it’s terrifying.
When I arrived for our interview, Marc and his father, Tony, were at the park making last-minute preparations. We walked the trail together and he explained the experience to me.

“It takes about 25 minutes from beginning to end. It’s a self-guided walk, which includes two different haunted houses, a haunted trail through the woods, a terrifying cornfield and multiple hair-raising walk-throughs.”

This is not an experience for the faint of heart—or this writer.

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Marc Mancini in the cornfield he grew this summer. Photos/Lisa Jardine

It was an unusually hot afternoon for October, yet I felt a real chill. The haunting was going to be one scary experience. Marc offered to take me inside both of the haunted houses.

I declined. It was scary enough from the outside.

A lot of time and effort go into making this event happen.

“I build all the props during the summer in the driveway of my home, which my wife doesn’t always appreciate. We also grow the cornfield in the summer as well,” Mancini said. “We hire lots of kids from SUNY Purchase and Craigslist to help with the fear factor. They are scattered throughout the park with spooky agendas.”

As scary as the live-action element can be, the Mancini’s have a strict no touch policy for their hired haunters, which is one less thing to worry about. I can’t imagine my heart rate if a hand came out of the tall corn stalks and tapped me on the shoulder.

Safety is a big concern and the Mancinis only allow groups of six or fewer to enter the park at one time.

“There are a few weeks after school starts and before the holidays begin. The weather gets a little colder and the leaves fall. It’s an eerie time of year and we take advantage of it. This year, our theme is the Abandoned Asylum,” Mancini said. “It’s an old-school terror experience. This isn’t Disney. We play on your fears and we try to jog your senses. But it’s not all scary. We always hear kids laughing as they walk through the park.”

You can tell he’s passionate about what he’s accomplished with this haunt.

“We used to do all this work for one night only. Now we open for two weeks leading up to Halloween. We just want to share it with as many people as we possibly can.”

If you love haunted houses and all things Halloween, I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

And this year, “Scared By the Sound,” which used to be held at Playland, has moved 30 minutes up north to Cortland but, unlike “The Haunt at Rocky Ledge,” the experience is completely indoors. In my uneducated opinion, it’s got to be scarier outside where the fear is only limited by your vivid imagination.

My advice? Wear running
shoes…you are going to need them.
______________________________________
The Haunt at Rocky Ledge
Oct. 11 to Oct. 27, 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.
If using GPS:
1446 Old Orchard Street,
West Harrison, N.Y. 10604
Tickets can be purchased
ahead of time for $17 online
at their website: www.hauntatrockyledge.com
or bought on site. Like them on Facebook
and get a discount coupon.
There is parking, bathrooms
and a snack bar. Arrive as early
as possible; lines form
30 minutes before the opening.

_____________________________________
“I’m always on the lookout
for a great story, an amazing
restaurant, an unusual day trip
or a must-see cultural event in
Westchester County.”

TO CONTACT LISA, email
lisa@hometwn.com.
And you can follow her on Twitter,
@westchesterwand