05/25/19 6:00am
05/25/2019 6:00 AM

As she reflected on her journey, Rosario Rodriguez praises the many people who helped her along the way. There were the teachers at Greenport High School, her mentors and friends at SUNY/Oneonta and all those involved in two college programs dedicated to assisting migrant students. (more…)

10/12/18 6:00am
10/12/2018 6:00 AM

Fifty-seven elementary and high school students stand in messy lines, each tightly gripping an instrument or flag. The Guatemalan heat beats down on their blue and white uniforms, and a group of judges stares at the students. The students’ eyes are glued on German Rossberth Divas, their music teacher of four years, waiting for his signal.

“Uno, dos, tres —” READ

07/17/14 12:00pm
07/17/2014 12:00 PM
Sister Margaret Smyth of the North Fork Spanish Apostolate (center) with Estabon, 16, and Pedro, 14, and their mother Marta Tuesday afternoon. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

Sister Margaret Smyth of the North Fork Spanish Apostolate (center) with Estabon, 16, and Pedro, 14, and their mother Marta Tuesday afternoon. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

A misty Independence Day morning rekindled hope for a Riverhead family that was reunited for the first time in 11 years.

“I’m so happy,” said Marta, a Guatemalan immigrant who did not give her last name, in describing that morning. “Everything is different now.”  (more…)

11/23/13 3:51pm
11/23/2013 3:51 PM

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Jazmin Carrillo, a Riverhead High School graduate whose family moved to the U.S. 10 years ago from Guatemala, is hoping to raise $7,000 for impoverished students from that country.

Love Lane Kitchen manager Jazmin Carrillo has found a way to share her Guatemalan heritage with the community while raising funds to help needy children in her native country.

Those multicolored bracelets you see tied to glass bottles on the counter at the Mattituck restaurant are handmade by local Guatemalan immigrants and are for sale to benefit poor students living in a rural area about an hour from Guatemala City.

Ms. Carrillo, 24, is a 2007 Riverhead High School graduate whose family moved to the United States 10 years ago from San Antonio el Angel in Guatemala. She said she’s worn the bracelets for years and came up with the fundraising idea after recently establishing a nonprofit group called Programa Suenos.

Ms. Carrillo is trying to raise $7,000 through bracelet sales to purchase backpacks, shoes, uniforms and school supplies for 150 students. While her suggested donation is between $2 and $5 per bracelet, she said some customers have been extremely generous, making donations of $10 and $20.

“A dollar goes a long way in Guatemala,” Ms. Carrillo said. “A ton of stress will be taken off their shoulders if they don’t have to worry about going to work to have money to buy shoes and simple things like that.”

Ms. Carrillo first went back to Guatemala to visit family after receiving her green card last November. During her trip, she said, she became emotional after finding many of the children there were unable to attend school because they couldn’t afford shoes and books.

She then traveled to Europe and said she felt very grateful for everything she had and for all the opportunities she’d received, describing the experience as “overwhelming, in a good way.” Ms. Carrillo is studying business at Suffolk County Community College in Riverhead in hopes of opening her own restaurant.

“I decided I wanted to do something to help others with their dreams,” Ms. Carrillo said, adding that she came up with the name Programa Suenos, which means Dreams Program, during her trip.

After asking her family for ideas on how to help needy Guatemalan students, Ms. Carrillo created a scholarship program. In January, she gave $200 scholarships to 10 students in Guatemala, using her own money.

As for future projects, Ms. Carrillo said she wants to raise $75,000 to renovate and expand the school.

Love Lane Kitchen owner Carolyn Iannone said she’s proud of Ms. Carrillo’s charity effort and happy to see the community rally behind her.

“I think people at first weren’t sure, but once they realized Jazmin was behind it they got excited,” Ms. Iannone said. “It’s nice to know that, over a cup of coffee, we can make a difference.”

For more information about Ms. Carrillo’s organization, visit programasuenos.org.

09/27/13 6:59am
09/27/2013 6:59 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Bedell Cellars’ assistant winemaker, Seferino Cotzojay, crouches on top of the grape crusher as Raven Blake of Greenport stomps down the grapes to make room for more.

While many immigrants to the U.S. look at agricultural work as a stepping stone into other industries, 28-year-old Seferino Cotzojay of Mattituck has achieved big things by staying put in farming.

“I’m sure you’ve heard this,” Mr. Cotzojay said on a recent afternoon, while harvesting grapes at Bedell Cellars in Cutchogue. “Opportunities are here in America.”

Opportunities certainly presented themselves to Mr. Cotzojay, who worked his way up to become assistant winemaker at Bedell.

“This is my passion, wine making is my passion,” he said.

Special Report: Immigration and agriculture on the North Fork

He began working in the fields of his native Guatemala at 6 years old, after being forced to quit school, which had become too expensive for his family, he said.

He traveled to the U.S. at age 15 in hopes of getting an education. And his first learning experience in this country came in the form of culture shock.

“When I first came to the U.S., I was struck by the language barrier, learning English, the culture differences,” Mr. Cotzojay recalled. “It was hard to get used to.”

He began attending school in Phoenix, Ariz., where he focused on learning English. His next move was to the fields of Long Island, where he began working alongside winemakers at Bedell.

Between harvesting and cleaning tanks and equipment, he said, he paid close attention to how the winemakers described different wines.

“Not a single vintage is exactly the same, but somehow I became familiar,” he said. “I was able to understand and to communicate on a daily basis, and that helped me a lot to be able to learn and read books about winemaking.”

Over time, his knowledge base grew, as did his fluency in English. By 2011 he had earned his current position as assistant winemaker.

When asked if America is a place where dreams can come true, he replied, “It’s a matter of pursuing and making the dream become a reality – it could be anywhere in the world.”

Mr. Cotzojay currently has a green card and is working on gaining citizenship, he said, so he can continue working at the very farm where his passion was grown.

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