Rain doesn’t dampen PortFest spirits

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A girl plays with a hula hoop at PortFest, held inside Paul D. Schreiber High School on Saturday, May 13, 2017. (Photo by Sasha Turrentine)

By David Pollard

Although organizers would have preferred their event outside as usual, the rain did not dampen the success of this year’s PortFest in Port Washington.

The annual music, arts and community festival, which is in its fifth year, drew about 1,000 people to Paul D. Schreiber High School in Port Washington on Saturday. The activities were inside due to the rainy weather.

PortFest is one of two major fundraising events put together by HEARTS, a local nonprofit organization dedicated to enhancing and maintaining the arts in Port Washington school district and the broader community.

The five-hour event was free to the public and the proceeds from tickets for activities, silent auctions, vendors and other donations go to the school to fund grants for arts-related activities.

Paintings, photography and other artistic creations were highlighted throughout the school, along with professional art vendors.

But the organization’s musical successes were the main attraction that day, with parents, teachers and residents congregating to see performances by students.

Chris Shields, principal of Carrie Palmer Weber Middle School, was one of several emcees introducing performers that day. When he was recruited to do the job, he said he couldn’t say no.

“I wanted to do it,” he said. “They [HEARTS] are so supportive to all of the students so when I’m asked to volunteer I do it.”

Damon Gersh, chairman and co-founder of HEARTS, was in constant motion at the Saturday event with walkie-talkie in hand and full of enthusiasm.

He said initially he saw a need for arts-related activities in the school, but didn’t know how to address it. So while relaxing on a beach in Montauk one day, he came up with the idea of getting artists to help bring artistic expression back to Port Washington schools.

When financial decisions have to be made within a school district in terms of saving money, Gersh said, arts programs are often the first to be cut.

HEART has been able to change, he said, raising more than $300,000 since its inception.

“We’ve changed the conversation that the arts are important to the lifeblood of the community,” he said.

Charles Tam, 40, of Port Washington and his two children Chase, 5, and Portia, 3, were busy at South Salem Elementary School’s painting board working on a painting.

Tam said once finished it would make a nice Mother’s Day gift for his wife from the children. He said he’s come to PortFest in the past and enjoys the activities.

“It’s always a nice event for the kids,” he said.

Ron Restivo, 44, brought his two sons to the PortFest. His two sons enjoy playing sports but one of his sons, Adrien, 8, enjoys exploring his artistic side as well so that’s why they came out.

Restivo said enjoyed the day’s activities, but would have preferred that the weather was more accommodating so it could be held outside.

“This is great, but outside it is really nice,” he said. “You can see everyone from the community here. We have a great community here and it’s very close-knit.”

Michele Posner, president of HEARTS board of directors, said the organization has changed hundreds of students over the past few years through the arts programs the organization funds.

She’s noticed students with introverted personalities become more outgoing after getting involved in the activities they fund, she said.

“I see the artistic talent flourishing through the activities they participate in,” Posner said.

She said that’s one reason why the board members and others continue to volunteer.

“We all, collectively, feel proud to bring this to the community, the community that we love,” she said.

Giovanna Fitzpatrick, a Pre-K teacher at John J. Daly Elementary School in Port Washington, was a recipient of financial support from HEARTS recently, receiving money to incorporate dance into her reading curriculum for eight weeks.

Fitzpatrick said a lot of her students’ parents couldn’t afford to enroll their child in a dance class and that’s why she sought funding from HEARTS. The eight-week program ended in March, much to the dismay of the students, she said.

“I know some of the family’s income is so small they couldn’t afford this class and I wanted to help enrich their (students) lives,” she said.

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