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Success! First-ever Sunset Gala shines light on community, compassion and action

People by: Chrissy Ruggeri and Joanne Kountourakis, May 25, 2023

Full house: The Northport Native Garden Initiative accepts its award at the Northport Journal's inaugural Sunset Gala this past Friday, May 19. Photo by Katheryn Laible.

On Friday, May 19, the Northport Journal held its inaugural Sunset Gala. The three-hour event celebrated people who make a positive impact on our Northport-East Northport community, “the doers and the changers, the visionaries and the voices who have stepped forward to make a difference.” And what a night it was.

Over 110 people attended the gala, held at The View at Crab Meadow Golf Course. A cocktail hour and light dinner led to presentations of six honorees, special shout outs to attendees of recognition, raffles, dancing, and an energy and enthusiasm for community that lasted long into the weekend.

For our first Sunset Gala, the Journal chose to honor individuals we’ve written about this past year, Northport and East Northport residents who have inspired us with their presence, their commitment, their persistence and determination.

The honorees and their award titles were as follows:
Northport Native Garden Initiative: The Groundbreakers
Meghan Dolan Saporita: The Game Changer
Dave Weber: The Village Anchor
Joe Schramm: The Community Voice
Valerie Goldstein: The Dreamer and Achiever
Karen Paquet: The Light and Love

“Tonight, we are here to celebrate the progress we’ve made together and the people who make our community what it is – supportive, grounded, and giving,” said Journal co-owner Joanne Kountourakis.

“It’s true. We have in this room over 100 kind, caring, compassionate people working hard to make our community an even better place,” added co-owner Chrissy Ruggeri.

Honoree Meghan Dolan, an attorney, Northport mom and newly elected Village trustee, used her time on the microphone to acknowledge her fellow honorees and community members in the audience.

“Thank you to the Northport Journal for bringing us together with the good news, always, and here in person tonight. It still feels very special to be able to do this together after the last few years but we are doing it. We are doing all of the things…,” she said. “We are doing it together because that is the only way to do it. Each and every one of you in here, the groups and the individuals, are contributing to making our community so much more beautiful in a variety of ways.”

The Northport Historical Society showed up at the gala in large numbers; pictured here are officials and board members of the society and museum. Photo by Katheryn Laible.

Dolan quoted Coretta Scott King, who said that the greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members. “I will just say that by that standard, this community is great,” Dolan emphasized. “I truly believe that the ripples of the things that we’re doing here are going to be felt and heard and seen well beyond Northport.

Dolan was among five other honorees who have had an impact on our community in various ways since the revitalization of the Journal in 2021. The Northport Native Garden Initiative (NNGI) has supported projects throughout Northport-East Northport, including at Village Hall, various school districts and places of business. The nonprofit’s mission is to educate and activate residents to reconsider their landscaping for the betterment of our local ecosystem, and since their inception only three years ago, NNGI has made incredible strides.

NNGI founders Sara Abbass, Nicole Tamaro and Matt Gorman each received the Groundbreakers award; they thanked their board members, Barbara Bolen, Eileen Gorman and Jen Makaw, for their support, as well as former Village Trustee Mercy Smith, Trustee Dave Weber and Trustee Meghan Dolan.

Trustee Meghan Dolan was named the Game Changer for her efforts during her Northport Village Trustee campaign, which garnered her more votes than any other candidate on the ballot. Since the election, Dolan, a mom of three young children, has proven time and again that she is an incredible asset to our community. She is the voice of calm persistence and new ideas, and always stands for what’s right. While rarely the loudest voice in the boardroom, the impact of Dolan’s wise words and presence is undeniable. Just one year in office, she has already tackled projects such as the basketball court revitalization, Steers Park upgrades, and the first-ever Northport Pridefest.

“Each and every one of you are contributing to making our community more beautiful in a variety of ways…We are spreading the good news, the good seeds and the good vibes in Northport,” Dolan said when receiving her honor.

Dave Weber was honored with the Village Anchor award for his involvement in many beneficial and meaningful community initiatives. “When something purposeful happens in Northport Village, there’s one person who often has something to do with it – either through his support, ideas or advocacy. We want to take this moment to honor someone who has always been supportive of our mission, and those of our first two honorees,” said Ruggeri.

Over the last three years, Weber has been involved in NNGI’s Village Hall project and beach clean up, and has supported the Village basketball court revitalization project, in which he secured a $75,000 grant from Senator James Gaughran’s office. Weber is also a volunteer firefighter, advocate for small businesses, and supporter of veteran programs, including Paws of War. The owner and operator of the 100-year-old Seymour’s Boatyard, he works hard to maintain the quality of our harbor, too. Weber said, upon receiving his honor, that he may be the anchor on one side of the Northport Village board, but Trustee Dolan is the other side, and he noted his gratitude for Dolan’s decision to step forward to serve.

Joe Schramm was given the Community Voice Award for his commitment to speaking up for local business owners as vice president for the Northport Chamber of Commerce. As the owner of Schramm Marketing Group, he has also been recognized for his work in Hispanic television, a multicultural TV summit, and Pride TV.

Schramm’s most recent role is as director of the newly established Office of Film and Television for the Town of Huntington, where he is bringing Hollywood to Huntington by attracting film productions within our community, which drives business to local shop owners, eateries, service providers and commercial tenants. And, along with Trustee Meghan Dolan, he is spearheading the first-ever Northport Pridefest this June with the mission to educate the community about LGBTQ+ issues, foster mutual understanding, empower people to stand up for equal rights, and inspire love and respect for one another.

“I’m actually a little speechless,” Schramm said while receiving his award. “I am really incredibly touched, moved and inspired by this group. It’s not something I’m often exposed to – you folks are amazing,” Schramm expressed.

The Dreamer and Achiever Award went to Valerie Goldstein, a mother of three and author of Violet’s Victory, a children’s book that tells the story of a lavender-haired girl who, like Goldstein, uses forearm crutches. The story teaches perseverance and kindness, while broadening awareness of different abilities for people of all ages, a lesson that Goldstein has been teaching children every day with her presence, patience and strength.

“It would take me too long to list all the things Valerie has been doing since writing her book,” Kountourakis said, adding, “but she’s still visiting schools and talking to kids about disabilities, this time as a published author – and she’s working on a second book. For now, I’ll list just some of her titles: mom, friend, disability advocate, children's book author and total inspiration.”

“The Northport Journal is such an important asset to our community,” Goldstein said upon receiving her honor. “Not only does it tell the stories that take place within our close knit community, but it also lets the voices be heard from the people in our town – voices that sometimes may not necessarily have the opportunity to be listened to, or voices that need help to take a stand,” she said.

East Northport resident Karen Paquet was honored with the Light and Love Award for her dedication to community, including different fundraising and cancer awareness efforts at the high school such as the St. Baldrick’s Foundation and the Relay for Life movement, an annual district-wide fundraiser coming up again this June 10. Paquet has always made sure to acknowledge that her story isn’t hers alone, but of an inner sphere of people who helped her after her eldest son, Caleb, was diagnosed with cancer. Her story is about family, the spirit and power of community, of giving and receiving in a time of incredible challenge and loss.

“One of the many beautiful things about Karen Paquet is that she doesn’t think she’s doing anything special; she’ll tell you she’s just living the opportunity that came to her, and I don’t disagree… but I am inspired. And maybe that’s the point,” Kountourakis said.

Paquet noted a phrase she learned from her friend Darryl St. George, “Ubuntu,” which means I am because you are. “Tonight's honor is really less about me and more about our beautiful community,” Paquet said. “I want to thank you for recognizing the work in our community that is vital to my being.”

“Tonight we not only honor Karen, but all of the hands that held her up in her time of need, and the many hands she is inspiring to help others today,” Kountourakis said. “We’d like to share her message with all of you tonight, that it really takes a Village, so be part of that Village, reciprocate kindness, be present and help others.”

The Northport Journal’s inaugural gala included standing ovations, laughs and tears. It gave us, Chrissy and Joanne, enough steam to forge ahead for another year of witnessing and writing, appreciating and admiring. Thank you, thank you, thank you, for your love and support as we tell the stories that make this community an incredibly special place to call home.

Special thanks to the following businesses who contributed to the success of the Sunset Gala:
DL Barn
Endo Ethos
Eyewear by Patrice
Ink’d Art Studio
Jenny’s Kitchen
Keep Dancing Entertainment Professional Disc Jockeys
Lauren Kearon of Harbor Greeting Cards
Nolan Funeral Home
Northport Historical Society
Northport Native Garden Initiative
Northport Shipwreck Diner
Sand City Brewery
Sound Body & Mind
The Hana Co.

Chrissy Ruggeri (left) and Joanne Kountourakis of the Northport Journal at the first-ever Sunset Gala.

Northport Native Garden Initiative founders and gala honorees, from left, Matt Gorman, Eileen Gorman (board member), Sara Abbass and Nicole Tamaro. Photo by Katheryn Laible.

Northport Village Trustee Dave Weber (third from left) was one of six honorees at the gala. Photo by Katheryn Laible.

The gala showcased a tropical theme, thanks to flowers from The Hana Co. in Huntington.

The Community Voice award winner Joe Schramm with the Journal’s Chrissy Ruggeri.

Light and Love honoree Karen Paquet with her husband Michael. Photo by Katheryn Laible.

The Dreamer and Achiever award went to Valerie Goldstein (left), pictured here with Molly Wood. Photo by Katheryn Laible.

Meghan Dolan Saporita, Northport Village trustee, was honored with The Game Changer award.