On Saturday and Sunday thousands of families and their friends from deaf and hearing communities joined together for the annual Apple Festival at the Mill Neck Manor School for the Deaf. Gathering from all parts of the tri-state area, children and adults spoke and signed as they strolled by booths filled with apples, pumpkins and festival snacks from fudge to frankfurters. There were also crafts, jewelry to purchase and lots of activities for children. But it didn’t end there.
Stands sold everything from sweatshirts to mugs and hats, each with the words “I love you” painted in sign language across the front. Middle and high school honor society students from East Meadow High School, who study sign language as part of their school curriculum, designed and sold original shirts and plaques with words that combined sign language and the written English alphabet.
Children petted trained comfort dogs in yet another booth. These dogs, along with supervisors represented by the LLC K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry, visit the hearing impaired in hospitals, schools and homes to help them feel calm and happy. And sometimes these dogs spend time with the students at the Mill Neck Manor for the Deaf too.
Nearby, students, teachers, residents and school alumni mingled, as Fran Bogdanoff, the superintendent at Mill Neck Family of Organizations, shared her thoughts on the deeper meaning behind the Apple Festival.
“The community gives so much to the school,” Bogdanoff said. “The Apple Festival is an opportunity for the students to give back to the community.”
A great deal of funding for the Mill Neck Manor for the Deaf is provided by the state. In addition, private donations are made on a smaller scale based on the needs of the children. For example, if a student who is hard of hearing needs new hearing aids and the parents can’t afford them immediately, funds are available.
Bogdanoff pointed out that the Apple Festival is the school’s biggest fundraiser. “This is for the students, for the entire agency,” she explained. “The profits that come in go back to the kids.”
The profits from the festival supplement programs that aren’t covered by the government. The funds might give older students an opportunity to travel by train to Manhattan to learn how to navigate the trip or help to spread the word about the school, since any deaf child in New York state can go there.
Mill Neck’s students help to plan the festival each year. Before it begins, younger students prepare paper cut outs for the apple arts and crafts booth. Then during the event, middle and high school students run the soda booth and help at the pumpkin patch.
It’s so popular that the school’s alumni return to the festival to catch up with old friends and lend a hand too. One of the first three students to graduate from the high school in 1968, Catherine Barlick, who now lives in Florida, was at this year’s festival. President of the Mill Neck Alumni Association and former Mill Neck Manor student Laura Rosenberg, of Melville, was also at the fair. She sold the hamburgers. Rosenberg began attending the school when she was two, graduating from the high school in 1992.
She signed that she can remember running booths when she was in high school. After graduation, Rosenberg studied graphic design at the Rochester Institute of Technology/National Technical Institute for the Deaf. She has been a graphic artist at Newsday for 22 years.
Yet, support for Mill Neck Manor at the Apple Festival was far from limited to the hard of hearing. Locust Valley neighbors, Cynthia and Eric Heyman, attended the festival for the first time with their two young children. “It’s for a good cause in our neighborhood,” Eric said, “and we like to support local businesses and the community.”
Margaret Smith has been coming to the apple festival with her extended family for 50 years. She smiled as she watched her granddaughter Leah Citarella, who is 6, and another granddaughter Veda Smith, 2, as they petted the comfort dogs.
It was a beautiful day with much to enjoy but it may be that 17-year-old Mill Neck Manor high school student Mario Zambrano Viveros summed up best what was most special. “My favorite part of the apple festival?” he signed. “The apples.”