School-to-Community: An Overview

November 25, 2019

SWR welcomed 11 representatives from local businesses to a school-to-community event held in the high school library on October 17.  Ranging from an owner of a local sundae shop to an attorney-at-law, business owners and corporate representatives shared their experiences and knowledge with students. 

This event, held three times a year, provides an opportunity for students to explore possible career paths as well as expose students to post-high-school options other than the typical college path. 

Representatives were seated at tables, giving students the opportunity to learn from a business person whose career interested them. Each representative gave insight into daily responsibilities, career goals, the path taken and skills needed be successful in their position as well as the overall rewards of their field. 

School-to-Community: Mrs. Marianne Deszcz of Hounds Town


Mrs. Marianne Deszcz, the mother of senior Paul Reilly, is the owner of Hounds Town, a fully interactive doggy daycare facility in Port Jefferson where pet owners bring their animals for around-the-clock care. Hounds Town also takes in cats, birds, and the occasional reptiles.

“Our only goal and mission is to keep the dogs happy and healthy,” Mrs. Deszcz said. She said the best part of her career is enjoying the animals.

Mrs. Deszcz described Hounds Town as a hotel for dogs. During the day, the dogs are placed together in an interactive play room. When the dogs eat and sleep, they are separated into their own rooms. There are animal groomers there as well.

Mrs. Deszcz said she originally was an employee of Hounds Town and was presented with the opportunity six years ago to buy the business, so she did. “I got tired of making money for someone else,” Mrs. Deszcz said.  She said the best day of her life was when she bought the business. She then earned her master’s degree in animal behavior through online schooling at the University of Seattle.

Mrs. Deszcz said that managing her time is something that becomes complicated because of the unpredictability of animals and people. She said that she does feel more secure writing down her plans in a little book to keep everything organized as opposed to keeping it in her phone and relying on technology. “I try to follow a calendar,” she said.

Her least favorite part of her job is bookkeeping, paying bills, and taking care of taxes.

“The boring stuff is not a good time,” Mrs. Deszcz said.

What she values most about her job is the flexibility because she owns the business. She said that this works both ways though; Mrs. Deszcz said that because she is the boss, if she is needed, she has to go in to work–but employees who are asked to work extra hours can say no.

Looking back on all of her decisions leading up and into her career, she said she wouldn’t change anything because all of her mistakes have had a purpose in her life.

“Most successful people are building off of a tremendous number of failures,” Mrs. Deszcz said.

School-to-Community: Mrs. Denise Andrews from Andrews’ Family Farm


One of the most important aspects of choosing a career is research and having a passion for what you are going to do. For Mrs. Denise Andrews of Andrews Family Farm in Wading River, it has been seeing her family learn how the farm is run on a daily basis and making improvements to the farm to make it better for their customers.

Mrs. Andrews explained that she married into the farm business and never had fresh vegetables until her husband introduced her to them.

“The seven-day work week is long, but being able to teach people about what their food is, who they’re getting it from, and where their food is grown is important to me,” Mrs. Andrews said.

Andrews Family Farm is “a pure and simple farm-to-table experience,” according to its website, and they have no problem with anyone stopping by to visit and tour the farm.

“The community that our family is part of and being able to giving people a personal experience that will connect us,” is important to the family, Mrs. Andrews said.

The four Andrews children graduated from SWR and each has a career in a different aspect of modern-day farming.


School-to-Community: Mr. John Cassano and Mr. Orlando Molinares of PSEG


Manager John Cassano and Lead Analyst/ Sr. Business Support Specialist Orlando Molinares of PSEG (Public Service Enterprise Group) help the public with their electricity and power needs during extreme weather conditions. The company has more than 80 megawatts that can power thousands of homes across Long Island during power outages.

“No one is ever sitting around. This job is very hands-on; it’s hard work,” Mr. Cassano said. He was recruited full-ride to the University of Florida for baseball and majored in biology. Unfortunately, he said he got cancer in his throwing arm which ended his baseball career. He started working for Brooklyn Union Gas and went back to school to get his master’s degree at New York University. A friend of Mr. Cassano’s gave him a business card and he ended up as a manager at PSEG.

Mr. Molinares attended City College of New York and majored in engineering. He eventually became a sales person/ conservation consultant at Brooklyn Union Gas and after 15 years, the company split and he began working at PSEG.

“You can only learn so much in school,” Mr. Cassano said. “Students who come to intern and learn here get a really nice view into real-world projects that teach safe, economical, and efficient approaches.”  PSEG is different from other enterprise groups because it provides entry-level students with an opportunity to receive a college degree on-site while having a full-time job there.

“We can give you money to reimburse you for good grades,” Mr. Cassano said.

PSEG has many departments. Not only does the company provide jobs for engineers, it also employs people based in finance, customer service, and computer sciences.

“Our interns don’t just sit around and make copies; our employees ask you for suggestions to get your mind working,” Mr. Molinares said. Interested students can go to and click on “Corporate Citizenship.”


Correction: In an earlier version of this article, it stated that Mr. Molinares became an electrician at PSEG. He did not become an electrician.

School-to-Community: Jessica M. Smith, Esq.


Ms. Jessica M. Smith, Esq. is a general practice attorney with her own law firm. She specializes in helping people with financial situations such as buying a house or starting a business.

Ms. Smith said that students considering a career as an attorney should work hard as an undergraduate so that there is a possibility of being accepted into a recognized law school.

The process of becoming a lawyer is lengthy. Ms. Smith spent four years in Smith College, three years in law school, and passed bar exams in New York and Massachusetts. The bar exam consists of two, eight-hour parts over a span of two days.

Law school prepares attorneys for all aspects of a career in the field, including financial and criminal, but experience is needed to excel. “There is so much more in terms of continuing to learn,” Ms. Smith said. She said her main concern is making sure her clients are protected. People rely on attorneys to protect them from financial issues and guide them on the right path.

Every two years, all attorneys must take a follow-up class because laws can change. Ms. Smith’s career careful reading of the fine details in leases and contracts in order to benefit her clients financially. This allows her to help people to avoid future financial burdens. “[I help people] set up legal entity,” Ms. Smith said, meaning that she helps people with their financial issues.

Ms. Smith had words of wisdom for students: “be open to new things, start [preparing for the future] early, as an undergraduate” because it will make the journey easier.

School-to-Community: Mrs. Erin Torroro of Sundaes

For students wondering if later on in life it is possible to embark on a different path than they had originally intended, Mrs. Erin Torroro’s path shows that no matter where you are in your career, you can still dive into a new occupation.  She is the owner of Sundaes, a self-serve frozen yogurt, ice cream, and gelato shop in Port Jefferson Station.

“I was an ultrasound technician for 20 years, and then I started to look around for something else. I saw a sign in the window that this business could be mine. It was a franchise when I opened it, and then I took a chance and said, ‘I think I’m going to try and do this.’ It sounded more fun than the medical field.”

As a businesswoman, Mrs. Torroro had advice for students thinking of going into the entrepreneurial world. She said to try to work in a similar business and to shadow someone in that business to gain insight and experience.

Mrs. Torroro found that taking public speaking and business courses in high school was helpful.

Although she owns the shop today, Mrs. Torroro had to deal with some challenges.

“Brookhaven town didn’t make it easy. Right before we opened the doors, they made us put a grease trap in. We are an ice cream shop, and we don’t do anything with grease, but Brookhaven town makes everybody with a restaurant put one in, so that was a lot of money that we didn’t count on.”

Despite this hiccup, Mrs. Torroro was able to open her shop, which at the time was part of a franchise. She has since left the franchise, and is now able to have creative freedom to expand the variety of items she sells to include gelato, acai bowls, iced coffee, and edible cookie dough.

Mrs. Torroro has also included hosting children’s birthday parties.  “We do face painting, temporary tattoos, and musical chairs. If the kids are older, they’ll do dances like Cotton Eye Joe where the kids know all the dance moves, and it’s so cute. They have so much fun. That’s my favorite part.”

Mrs. Torroro advises high school students not to stress out. “Go to college and find something you love,” she said. She also has advice for students about to start volunteering or working at a part-time job.

“When you get a job, be the best employee. Strive to be better than everyone else. Strive to be the best one, and you’ll always have a job; you’ll always get more hours than everyone else. Walk in with the attitude, ‘I’m going to try to be the best one here, the best that I can be.’ That comes through. I always give those [employees] more hours, and I give them great recommendations when someone calls me.”

Mrs. Torroro revealed a skill she has noticed that teens are not familiar with. “It’s hard when kids are working in the area they live in because they’ll know a lot of people and sometimes people come in that they don’t get along with… and they will still have to be nice and serve them as customers whether they like them or not. It’s sometimes a challenge, but coworkers tend to help with that.”

School-to-Community: Ms. Grace Ann Waters from Maryhaven Center for Hope

For those interested in the healthcare field, Maryhaven Center for Hope provides opportunities to care for people, both children and adults, with special needs. Started by a group of nuns who wanted to help children impacted by polio, Maryhaven has now grown into a larger healthcare system with approximately 50 sites scattered across Long Island. In addition to caring for those with special needs, the Catholic Home Services-affiliated organization also cares for people dealing with substance abuse and mental illnesses.

Although Maryhaven does not offer volunteer opportunities, the organization is always eager for qualified help. For academic and experience-related requirements, Ms. Grace Anne Waters, the Talent Acquisition Specialist at Maryhaven, said degrees, although preferred, are not required for entry-level positions. She also noted the importance of having any kind of certification regarding the medical field, such as certifications in first aid, CPR, and AMAP (Approved Medication Administration Personnel). Prior experience caring for elders or children, as well as other volunteer experiences at hospitals or concerning the care of others, are also unofficial requirements. Bedside care is not the only care opportunity available to workers. Particularly interesting are the various community-based work programs aimed at giving vocational training and finding employment for those with special needs.

Mrs. Waters is looking for “[employees] who are passionate about this field and about this population because you have to have a good heart. You have to have patience.”

Employees are required to undergo two weeks of training and obtain certification. Mrs. Waters says this is because “they’re [the individuals living on various Maryhaven sites] behavioral; you have to know how to deal with their behaviors.”

This is where retaining staff members becomes a problem. “We do have a high turnover rate, so what a turnover rate means is that employees are resigning and leaving us pretty quickly, and that’s because it is a challenging job.”

Nevertheless, Maryhaven Center for Hope is a noble cause and many applicants are sure to find satisfaction in helping others.

School-to-Community: Mr. John Searing from ASRC Federal

You must like what you do and be passionate about it. Mr. John Searing is a man who loves his job at ASRC Federal. He has worked there for eight years as a mechanical engineer.

“I don’t do what I do for money,” Mr. Searing said.

This company drills oil in Alaska, works in federal government, and is involved in many  different lines of business, including engineering, mission solutions, infrastructure support, information technology, and professional and technical services. ASRC Federal companies “focus on providing reliable, cost efficient services that help government customers achieve mission success,” according to its website.

The company also works with NASA at its Armstrong facility and the air force rocketland, where new rockets are tested.

There are many types of occupations at ASRC, including system engineering, space operators, computer hardware and software, and technical services.

In his junior year of college Mr. Searing was looking for a career. A family friend suggested that he go into engineering, so he researched it and liked it.

After college he found a job as an engineer at the Shoreham power plant and worked there for some time before he switched to Brookhaven National Lab. He was employed there for 20 years but then left to switch careers, and he was the commissioner of a fire department. Mr. Searing did this for four years until he would not pick a side in an upcoming election. He then ran into a friend who offered him a job at ASRC, and he has been working there ever since.

Mr. Searing said that sometimes half of his day is commuting to places like Maryland, California, and Alabama because 37 states have ASRC offices. In Alabama, he is involved in launch support and army helicopters.

Mr. Searing, whose children attend SWR, explained that ASRC has to constantly compete for work against other corporations, and one of the most difficult aspects of working at a company like ASRC is getting everyone on the same page. He said there are more than 7,000 ASRC employees, so it is a challenge to get everyone to agree on something because people have different opinions and beliefs.

Mr. Searing’s path would have been different if he had chosen another career he was interested in: medicine. He said he wanted to be an emergency room doctor because he loves to help people. However, he is proud of the work that he does and said that he would not have done anything different.

School-to-Community: Nicole Valenti from Marine Rescue Center

Ms. Nicole Valenti, Education and Volunteer Coordinator for the New York Marine Rescue Center, dedicates her life to educating the public about the preservation of sea turtles and other marine mammals.

Although Marine Rescue Center is attached to the Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead, it is a separate organization. Marine Rescue Center is the only organization in all of New York that is allowed to rescue and rehabilitate sea turtles and seals. This means that workers respond to hotline calls 24/7 all throughout New York.

“The job requires long hours, and it’s a lot of hard work. You really have to love what you do,” Ms. Valenti said.

Ms. Valenti studied Marine Vertebrate Biology at Stony Brook University. Even as a college student, she knew exactly what she wanted to do.

”Picking a very specific major helped me to get a job in the field as quickly as I did because I knew I wanted to work with mammals and sea turtles,” Ms. Valenti said.

She added that volunteering is vital when applying for jobs, especially in her particular field.

“Volunteering is part of the progression. I wish I started in college, but I didn’t start until I had already graduated,” Ms. Valenti said. “I volunteered for three years at the organization before getting a job at the organization.”

Like every career, most days are enjoyable, but it can also be a little tedious.

“Dealing with sick animals; you’re not always able to help every animal,” Ms. Valenti said. “Getting yelled at by people through the phone” is another reason her position is sometimes stressful.

However, this is not always the case at the Marine Rescue Center. For Ms. Valenti, the most rewarding part of her career is when she gets to help animals and provide them with medical attention. Ms. Valenti said she loves all aspects of the job, so at the end of the day, everything she does is all worth it.

School-to-Community: Mrs. Kristen D’Andrea, Public Relations for the Town of Brookhaven Highway Department

Covering 3600 miles of roads and making sure they are up to date can be a difficult task. For the Town of Brookhaven Highway Department (TBHD), 365 days of the year are dedicated to making sure highway travel is safe. For Mrs. Kristen D’ Andrea, TBHD public relations assistant, most of her year is dedicated to putting her company in a good spotlight and increasing public knowledge of ongoing projects.

“It’s a different story every day, and you really get to know what’s going on,” Mrs. D’ Andrea said in regards to why she loves her job. Mrs. D’ Andrea said that the highway department has had around 38 projects completed this paving season, and she has covered most of them by addressing the public on Facebook and talking to the press.

“Public speaking and the ability to think on the fly,” Mrs. D’ Andrea said, are some of the most important qualities needed to work in the field of public relations. These qualities were definitely important when she had to rush to the scene of one of the craziest situations she has ever encountered. “Somebody actually stole a wolf, and I had to address the press on the issue,” the former editor-in-chief of The Wildcat Pause said.

As crazy as the wolf situation was for Mrs. D’ Andrea, the true highlight of her career was the ability to work from home when she had her three children. “Still being able to spend time with my kids and do what I love was awesome.”

For teens focusing to their futures, just like she did when she was younger, Mrs. D’ Andrea made it clear that the best thing they can do is to “get involved as much as possible [join clubs, partake in community service, and take more classes].” Mrs. D’ Andrea also stated that it is very important to find internships as they will help immensely with future goals.

School-to-Community: Mr. Thomas Sheridan of Visa, Inc.


Some of the most important qualities needed to be successful in the business industry are interpersonal skills, the critical ability to build and maintain positive relationships, and a relentless work ethic. For Mr. Thomas Sheridan, Senior Account Executive for Visa Inc., these qualities have brought great success and continue to help him advance through the industry.

“The second you stop learning, I believe you forfeit your ability to continue advancing in life,” Mr. Sheridan said. Starting off as a temporary employee at City Bank, Mr. Sheridan said he has held a position at almost every level of the business world. From being a sales support person for Visa to running a Wachovia bank in North Carolina, he said he “has never lost sight of the important, intangible qualities that drive a business to success.”

Freshly graduated from college in 1990 and eager to take on the business world, Mr. Sheridan, whose children attend SWR schools, learned the most efficient way to advance in the industry was persistence and personability.

“A piece of advice for somebody looking to find similar success in the industry would be to never forget the value of keeping positive business connections,” he said.

School-to-Community: Mrs. Ebony Smallwood from Amneal Pharmaceuticals, Inc.


“Love yourself first, love what you do second,” Mrs. Ebony Smallwood, a Senior Scientific Managing Recruiter for Amneal Pharmaceuticals. Inc. said.

Mrs. Smallwood, who has held this position for six years, recruits, hires, and fires doctors, nurses, scientists, and others working for Amneal Pharmaceuticals, a multinational corporation that produces, manufactures, and tests various antibiotics and medicine. The medicine is then distributed to pharmacies and hospitals across the United States as well as other countries like India and Ireland.

“I love making the offer, I love closing the deal,” Mrs. Smallwood said. As a recruiter, she deals with people from all different cultures, some of whom speak little English. “It’s sometimes hard to manage, but we get it done.”

Mrs.Smallwood went to Johnston & Wales University when she was just 16. Later, she attended the University of California at Berkeley for four years, and then received her Master’s degree from the University of Phoenix.

Mrs. Smallwood looks at resumes, does background checks, and interviews applicants at Amneal. Before working at Amneal, she had jobs and careers at IBM, Northwell Health, and Little Sun People, to name a few.

“Don’t spread yourself too thin,” advises Mrs. Smallwood. “Balance yourself, have a plan, and stay focused on that plan.”

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