CHARITY ROBEY PHOTO Francesca Frasco at home on Shelter Island. Published in the Shelter Island Reporter on June 1, 2018 When Shelter Island High School senior Francesca Frasco and I sat down to talk at her family’s home on Wade Road, it was Friday ...


Island Profile- Francesca Frasco a student and scientist who never stops running.

 CHARITY ROBEY PHOTO Francesca Frasco at home on Shelter Island.

CHARITY ROBEY PHOTO Francesca Frasco at home on Shelter Island.

Published in the Shelter Island Reporter on June 1, 2018

When Shelter Island High School senior Francesca Frasco and I sat down to talk at her family’s home on Wade Road, it was Friday afternoon of Memorial Day weekend. She had just returned from a tea party. A real one with brewed tea in china cups, sweet snacks and conversation.

High school seniors typically attend awards banquets, proms and after-parties, but this is Shelter Island, where years ago Marilynn Pysher began to invite all the young women from the previous year’s high school graduating class to have tea with the young women on the verge of graduating.

It was an event so eagerly anticipated that Jacki Dunning, the school district’s clerk and irreplaceable person, stepped in two years ago when Marilynn was ready to hang up the tea towel.

Francesca grew up in Mastic Beach with her sisters Melissa and Nicolette, twins born one minute apart, and only 18 months before Francesca.

Her mother Jasmine, who worked at the Center Moriches School and her father Frank, who commuted to the New York Stock Exchange, had their hands full, to say the least.

The girls attended a Catholic school in Center Moriches, and in 2006 when Francesca was about five, the family found a small ranch house on Shelter Island and started spending weekends here.

They became close with their Island neighbors, the Dunnings and the Hallmans. In the company of Elizabeth Dunning and Breanna and Madison Hallman, the three Frasco girls rode their bikes up and down Wade Road endlessly.

Frank Frasco had been telling his family for years that they would someday live on the Island full time, and in 2011 he began renovating the little ranch house that became a new home on the old foundation. At the start of the 2012 school year, Francesca entered 7th grade on Shelter Island.

Although she liked her neighborhood in Mastic Beach, living full-time on Shelter Island was a welcome difference. “We could go outside and do whatever we wanted. We had freedom,” Francesca said. “Where I used to live, my school friends were 30 minutes away and we talked by computer. It’s more of a community here.”

She started running in the 5th grade. At first she just enjoyed running around outside, but after she moved to the Island, friends Joshua Green and Lindsey Gallagher convinced her to join the newly-formed running club. Francesca was in 9th grade when an official cross country team started and by then she knew she wanted to stick with it.

A bout of tendinitis, complicated by trying to get back into running too soon, led to a setback for Francesca in the 10th grade. “I got better, jumped back in and clearly did not learn,” she said, “I ended up not running for six months.”

In her junior and senior years, Francesca was back in good form and the team’s results tell a story of excellence. Both the boys and girls teams were cross country, county and league champions and both teams made it to the state competition. This year was the highest the boys and girls have ever placed as a team.

Francesca’s ability to visualize success, to see the goal she is working toward, is part of what put her in the first group of biology teacher Dan Williams’ students to get publishable results while working under his guidance in the Intel research class.

She began working with Mr. Williams in her junior year to determine the structure of Methylenetetrahydrofolate Reductase, known as MTHFR, a human protein associated with nutrition problems. Mr. Williams suggested they try to get to the bottom of the real structure of the protein, something scientists had previously guessed at.

Francesca loved the challenge. “Mr. Williams had never had one of his students take a project and go from concept to reality,” she said. “In my head I said, ‘Watch me, I will be your first.’”

She spent most of a year researching the problem, trying to build a solid base of concepts to work from. In her senior year, Lauren Gurney and Emma Gallagher began to work with her. Mr. Williams suggested they use a technique called protein crystallography to determine the structure of MTHFR. But first, they needed a sample of the protein to work with.

A flurry of email inquiries led the students to Dr. Elizabeth Trimmer of Grinnell College in Iowa, who is also studying MTHFR and agreed to share her supply with the Shelter Island scientists. Success started to look possible. “I said, we’re going to do this and we’re going to do it before I graduate,” Francesca recalled. “I don’t like to give up. I like to push, I like to accomplish things.”

Francesca, Lauren and Emma spent long days at Brookhaven National Lab, returning four or five times as they worked to grow crystals of MTHFR that could be analyzed.

Despite some setbacks, Francesca awoke one morning to an exciting text message from Mr. Williams, who had stayed even later than his students at Brookhaven, and had made a positive identification, “Congratulations! Folic acid! 2.6 angstrom.”

Their structure will likely be published later this month in the Protein Data Bank that is open to all and used by scientists and researchers.

This fall, Francesca plans to attend SUNY Cortland where she’ll run winter track, spring track and cross country. She’s not sure about a major, but her experience with science in high school is something she’d like to build on and combine with her love of running, possibly in exercise science.

President of her class for three years now, Francesca is an enthusiastic event planner.

Last year’s prom at the Pridwin is the result of her inclusive style of leadership, as is this year’s senior trip to Orlando that includes stops at Universal Studios, The Kennedy Space Center, Cocoa Beach and an aquatic park.

She gets joy doing community service and has participated in three mission trips accompanying Bryan and Kerri Knipfing, one to Boston, one to Shirley, Long Island and last year to Greenport. She worked as a camp counselor with kids, restored property damaged by a storm and last year cleared space in one person’s yard to accommodate a ramp for handicapped access.

In six years of living full-time on the Island, Francesca hasn’t seen it change much, although she said, “I’ve changed. Now I’m 17 and more involved. I know who’s on Town Council. I know the people at the Reporter.”

For her last weeks as a full-time Islander, Francesca is behind the counter at the Tuck Shop, where the Frasco sisters have scooped the mint chip and the rocky road for years, side-by-side.

Lightning Round — Francesca Frasco

What do you always have with you? I have a safety pin with pearls pinned to my running shoes, reminding me that I have to sacrifice things for running.

Favorite place not on Shelter Island? A tiny town called Omisalj. My grandma grew up there, the Shelter Island of Croatia.

When was the last time you were elated?  When I found out we had crystals for the MTHFR protein.

What exasperates you? When people judge each other and they say it out loud.

What is the best day of the year on Shelter Island? The day of the 10K. It’s my favorite holiday.

Favorite movie? I love ‘Jersey Boys.’  I’ve seen it six times.

Favorite food? All vegetables except radishes, which taste like spicy dirt.

Favorite person, living or dead, who is not a member of the family?  My coaches Bryan Gallagher and Toby Green — in life and in running.


One summer salad, hold the mayo

CHARITY ROBEY PHOTO The best of the early summer vegetables, in a smooth tahini and yogurt dressing.

CHARITY ROBEY PHOTOThe best of the early summer vegetables, in a smooth tahini and yogurt dressing.

Published on July 18, 2018 in the Shelter Island Reporter

Some people do not like mayonnaise. For the mayo-sensitive, a glimpse of creamy white on a sandwich or in a salad is enough to make them look for something else to eat.

 It’s easy to avoid using mayonnaise in the winter, but for some reason a lot of the foods we associate with summertime involve a hefty dollop of the stuff. Potato salad, egg salad and shrimp salad spring to mind.  Leave it to the Middle East to develop a substance that has the creamy texture of mayonnaise without the raw eggs, mysterious vegetable oils and preservatives that put so many off.

This recipe uses the best of the vegetables coming from East End farms right now; and if you wander around the Havens Farmer’s Market on Saturday morning, you can get most of what you need; including the tomatoes, beets, kirbys, corn, garlic, eggs and yogurt. I turn the stove on long enough to steam the corn and boil the egg, then chop, blend and serve.

“Hold the Mayo” chopped salad

Serves 3-4 as a side dish or first course

1/4 cup tahini

Juice of two lemons

One pod of garlic

1/4 cup plain yogurt

¼ cup olive oil

2 large tomatoes, unpeeled, cored and very coarsely chopped

1 large kirby, coarsely chopped

6-10 green olives (Castelvetrano or Picholine) pitted and coarsely chopped

1 large carrot, peeled and diced

1 raw beet peeled and diced

6 scallions, with root tips and most of the dark green ends removed, coarsely chopped

The kernels cut from 2 ears of steamed corn

1 hard-boiled egg, cut in half, each half sliced

Ground cumin

Celery seed

1. Combine the tahini, lemon juice, garlic and yogurt in a blender, or blend in a narrow container with a hand-held immersion blender until the mixture is smooth and creamy.  Add the olive oil and blend until the dressing is thick and completely combined.  Scrape into a large steel bowl.

2. Add the tomatoes, kirby, olives, carrot, beet, scallions and corn.  Toss with the dressing until the vegetables are completely coated.

3. Put the salad into a serving bowl, place the chopped egg around the edges, and sprinkle ground cumin and celery seed over the salad.

4. Serve at once.


Life lived and lost in the waves of opioid use, remembering Kirstin Zabel

Photo caption: Friends for life: Kirstin Zabel (left) with Stephanie McNicol in 2007. (Courtesy photo)

Published in the Suffolk-Times on July 26, 2018.  Also published in the Riverhead Review, Shelter Island Reporter, Sag Harbor Express and The Southampton Press.


When Kirstin Elizabeth Zabel was born in December 1986, her parents, Donald and Claudia, brought her home to Cartwright Road on Shelter Island. Thirty-one years later she was buried in the cemetery at Shelter Island Presbyterian Church. 

When friends and family describe how Kirstin lived, they speak of how she protected the people she loved, of her artistic flair and her enjoyment of classical music. She loved horses, dogs and cats, cooking, travel and Shelter Island. But Kirstin had only three decades to live a whole life, because in her teens she learned to love drugs as well. 

People die from drug use everywhere, even in idyllic, close-knit communities like Shelter Island. Suffolk County had 342 opioid deaths in 2016. The total for 2017, which is not yet finalized, is expected to be more than 400 — the highest opioid overdose death rate of any county in New York, according to data from the state Department of Health. 

From 2013 to 2017 there were 26 overdoses on Shelter Island, and seven Narcan saves, according to Police Chief Jim Read. When Chief Read and Det. Sgt. Jack Thilberg talk about Shelter Island’s opioid problem, it’s clear that this kind of policing in a place with a year-round population of 2,300 is intimate and personal. 

Chief Read confirmed that the deaths of two Shelter Islanders in the first part of 2018 have had a terrible impact on the community, especially coming after years in which there was one or none. 

Kirstin died in Falmouth, Mass., but her struggle with opioid use also played out on Shelter Island where she, like the other islanders who battle the disease, was well-known to local first responders.


The federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention identifies three waves of opioid deaths in the United States, and Kirstin’s life was lived and lost in the pull of those waves. The first came in the 1990s, as a sharp increase in legal prescriptions for pain killers put highly addictive drugs in the medicine cabinets of many Americans. Kirstin was one of the teenagers who got her hands on somebody else’s prescription. 

The second wave, in 2010, saw deaths from heroin use spike among middle-class white Americans, and Kirstin was among those who developed an opioid use disorder during this period. 

The third wave began in 2013, with synthetic opioids like fentanyl, a deadly substance often combined with heroin to make it more potent and addictive. When Kirstin died in April 2018, numerous attempts to revive her with Narcan failed, an indication that it was likely fentanyl that ended her life. 


When Kirstin was 3, the family moved from Shelter Island to Massachusetts, where her brothers, Blaize and Elliott, were born. The Zabels and the other kids on Carriage Shop Road in East Falmouth ran in a pack that called itself the Carriage Shop Kids. Their friendships became lifelong bonds. 

Leanne Amorim met Kirstin in fifth grade. “We’d sit around and talk and color on this special bench and call it ‘color fun time.’ She moved back and forth from New York and Falmouth, but we remained connected,” Leanne said. “It was a friendship meant to be.” 

When Stephanie McNicol moved to Carriage Shop Road before ninth grade, she and Kirstin became friends immediately. “The first night we met I ended up sleeping over,” she said. “We stayed up, and Claudia said she could hear us laughing all night, which was good because she said she hadn’t heard Kirstin laugh for a while.”

After Kirstin’s parents split up — her parents divorced when she was 10 — she began to spend summers on Shelter Island with her father and was in and out of the Shelter Island School. She had been diagnosed with depression and was struggling in school despite her intelligence and artistic gifts. By 16, she stopped going to school and got her GED. Kirstin’s first waitress job was at Pat and Steve’s, a popular Shelter Island diner owned by Pat and Steve Lenox. Pat remembers Kirstin as a talented artist as well as a good waitress. 

“She drew on everything, the checks, the back of the menus, and she had real talent,” Ms. Lenox said.

When Kirstin called Ms. Lenox to ask for the weekend off so she and her brother Elliott could audition for “American Idol,” Ms. Lenox couldn’t grant the request, since she was already short-handed. Kirstin and Elliott went anyway. “She believed in it so much,” Elliott said. “We were all ready to win, and everyone knew why we were there.” 

But Kirstin lost her nerve at the last minute — and lost her waitress job as well, although Ms. Lenox later rehired her.

Kirstin at age 11. (Courtesy photo)


Over the years, Kirstin worked at many Shelter Island restaurants, including 18 Bay, the Pridwin and Gardiners Bay Country Club. Her ability to make and save money gave her independence and the freedom to travel to Florida, California, Australia and Fiji. At the time she died, she was planning her next trip, to Europe.

Kirstin was godmother to Leanne’s 4-year-old son, Desmond, who called her Auntie Gaga because Kirstin loved Lady Gaga. Kirstin doted on Desmond. “I think if she had found the right person she would have loved having her own child,” Leanne said. “She’d tell me that she met someone and hung out, but she was very nervous about being with someone.”

Kirstin’s increasingly chaotic life made health insurance and consistent medical attention impossible. In the last few years of her life, she was in the grip of a serious addiction, having lost the ability to support herself, to work and to travel. Her life was unraveling and she was afraid of dying from an overdose, since she had come close many times.

According to Kirstin’s mother, Claudia Hendricks, two stints in a state-run rehab center in Massachusetts — one involuntary and one voluntary — didn’t help Kirstin get better. 

“They didn’t do anything with her other than not give her drugs,” Ms. Hendricks said. “They were focused on her illness and not on her mental state, and bipolar disorder runs in my family.”

Kirstin had been close to her father, and when a heart attack left him brain damaged and living in a nursing home, she felt she’d lost him, another blow she had to endure. Donald Zabel died in April 2017.


For much of the summer of 2017, Kirstin was jailed in Sag Harbor on drug-related charges and could not post the $4,000 bail and was held in the Suffolk County jail until October. Ms. Hendricks said this period was a kind of relief, since at least she knew that while her daughter was behind bars, she was less likely to die from an overdose. 

In what turned out to be her last days, Kirstin lived with her mother in Falmouth. They had a chance to talk. “With daughters, you go through a lot,” Ms. Hendricks said. “In the end I did get to hear her tell me she loved me.” 

On the day she died, Kirstin, who used to make hot dog roll-ups for Leanne when they were kids, texted her friend that she had made steak au poivre for dinner. A little while later, Ms. Hendricks found her daughter dying from an overdose in the home they shared. Kirstin died after paramedics tried repeatedly to save her with Narcan. 

Two weeks ago, on the three-month anniversary of her death, a group of Kirstin’s family and friends got together on Shelter Island to visit her grave and remember her. As they drove past Camp Quinipet, someone spotted a large Slip ’n Slide stretched out on the hilly front lawn of the day camp. 

“We all laughed because we knew if Kirstin were with us, she would have been on that Slip ’n Slide in a second,” Leanne said. 

Ms. Hendricks agreed. “She could make anything into an adventure.” 

Shelter Island Police Chief Jim Read and Det. Sgt. Jack Thilberg spoke with Times Review recently about opioid addiction on Shelter Island and how the police department is responding.

“I’m not saying this is a massive problem for Shelter Island, but for those families, it is a massive problem,” Chief Read said. “It tears up the lives of everybody around them.”

“It becomes all of our problem,” said Det. Sgt. Thilberg. “There is an impact across the community.”

Shelter Island police and emergency medical services volunteers carry Narcan, a drug that, when administered promptly, can block the effects of an opioid overdose. Since 2013, there have been seven Narcan “saves” on the Island. Using inhalers to administer the life-saving drug, rather than injections, has made it easier and more efficient to bring people back from death’s door. Shelter Island EMS, as part of a pilot program run by New York State, became one of the groundbreaking EMS units in the state to employ the inhalers.

When people struggle with addiction, they may go through periods of sobriety only to relapse. “It becomes cyclical,” Chief Read said. “We make arrests to try to break the cycle. Often the family is hoping that we can arrest the person because, in custody, at least they can be monitored. We will make every effort to make an arrest, to try to get the person going in a better direction.”

The police department now administers a prescription drug dropoff program, initiated by the Shelter Island Pharmacy, as a way of removing leftover prescription opioids from homes where they could get into the wrong hands, or find their way into the aquifer if disposed of improperly.

Det. Thilberg said the police department took in 160 pounds of drugs this year, or about 10 banker’s boxes full of prescription medication over the course of a year. The program has been in place for two years and the volume of drugs turned over has increased year to year.



South African, Olympian and coach of the Shelter Island Bucks

CHARITY ROBEY PHOTO Janet Hanley with Coach Darryn Smith. Janet and her husband D.J. are hosting Darryn for the season at their home on Smith Street.

Janet Hanley with Coach Darryn Smith. Janet and her husband D.J. are hosting Darryn for the season at their home on Smith Street.

Published in the Shelter Island Reporter on June 26, 2018

The first thing Hamptons Collegiate League Coach Darryn Smith did when he met with his new Shelter Island Bucks team was give every player a beaded key ring from his native South Africa.

The gift evokes a tradition Darryn’s parents started when he was eight, before his first baseball tournament. For every tournament he played, they gave him something small and lucky. Darryn is 42 now, but he still believes in the power of the key ring to unlock good things.

Darryn was born and raised in Durban, South Africa. Three years ago, he sold his hardware business and moved his family to Cape Town, where he works in marketing. His wife Michele grew up in Pretoria and moved to Durban where the two became high school sweethearts. They have three children, Tyler, Brandon and Jordyn.

Baseball is a big deal in the Smith household. Darryn has played for the South Africa National Team since he was a boy and has been both a player and the coaching commissioner for his region of South Africa for almost 12 years. Tyler, 21, attends Grand View University in Iowa and is a sophomore infielder, playing shortstop for the Bucks this summer. Brandon will also attend Grand View this year. He’s a pitcher, like his dad. Jordyn, 11, is a pitcher. She’s spending the summer in Cape Town with her mother. Even Michele played softball in college.

“She holds us all together,” said Darryn of his wife. “She knows the game and she’ll let me know if we do something wrong.” Leaving home for the summer was “happy and sad. This is one of the longest times I’ve ever been away from Michele, but I was very excited to come.”

Asked by the Reporter not long after he was tapped to be Bucks head coach how a South African kid became a baseball player and coach, Darryn said he caught baseball fever at age six. “My family went down to watch my cousins play at a field next to the shopping mall in our home town,” he said. “From the first, I knew I had an aptitude for the game and was instantly hooked. At school we played a number of ball games, including soccer, but baseball has always been my passion.”

Darryn is currently the pitching coach of the South African senior national team, and an international scout, having just stepped off the mound himself as a pitcher and mainstay of the South Africa National Team. He competed in the first two World Baseball Classics in 2006 and 2009, an international tournament.

He became an Olympian when he pitched for South Africa at the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney. “I get goosebumps again,” he said. “I couldn’t believe I’d put myself amongst these athletes in the best shape of their lives. At the opening ceremony, I was mingling with the best of the best.”

He pitched against the U.S. and struck out Pat Borders who went on to become one of just four players in baseball history to win a World Series — with the Toronto Blue Jays — and a gold medal in the Olympics.

“That’s a good memory,” Darryn said.

When he was invited to spring training by the Phillies, it was his first real exposure to Major League Baseball. The Phillies offered him a scouting contract and since then he has served as an international scout and coach, doing some work for the Dodgers and now with the Red Sox.

Although his full-time marketing job supports his family, Darryn is on a baseball field, coaching and scouting six or seven days a week. He hopes eventually to coach full-time in a high school or college.

His approach to coaching is grounded in educational practice. “Always teach the why,” he said. “If a kid knows the why, they’ll never forget it.” As a pitcher, Smith says he got his edge by closely observing hitters and learning what they do. He lived by the words of Warren Spahn: “Hitting is timing. Pitching is upsetting timing.”

Darryn believes there is a place in baseball for sabermetrics, but as a coach, he describes himself as intuitive. “I don’t only look at the number of hits a hitter has. I’ll look at how productive he is, his place in the line-up and if he can be productive there. For a pitcher, over and above command and control, I’ll look at a strike-out to base-on-balls ratio. We want 2-1 on that. We’ll look at ground ball outs to flyball outs. If we can get a pitcher to get ground ball outs at 2 to 1 in that ratio, that’s good.”

He tells his players, “leave the game in a better way than you found it,” and he applies that philosophy to himself as well. “I believe if you do that, you never stop learning. You will get better. Your kids will get better.”

Lightning Round

What do you always have with you? As a young player before my first tournament my parents gave me a ‘Care Bear’ key ring with a four-leaf clover. I still have it.

Favorite place on Shelter Island? Wades Beach, which reminds me of a piece of land I bought on the West Coast of South Africa.

Favorite place not on Shelter Island? My 45-minute commute to work — within a 3K radius of my house are vineyards and a 15-minute view of Table Mountain, one of the seven wonders.

When was the last time you were elated? Coming here was a pretty good moment.

What exasperates you? If a player doesn’t hustle.

When was the last time you were afraid? I got apprehensive every time I got on the mound in an international game. Jitters, just before that first pitch.

Favorite movie or book? ‘The Rookie.’

Favorite food? A good steak.

Favorite person, living or dead, who is not a member of the family? Marc Moreau, my boss and president of the South African Baseball Union.  He’s driven, focused and his integrity is unsurpassed.


Herbal medicines foraged fresh from Sylvester Manor

Nick MacAskill gathers sage leaves during the foraging at Sylvester Manor Saturday. (Credit: Charity Robey)

Published on  northforker on June 19, 2018

On Saturday afternoon at Shelter Island’s Sylvester Manor Farm, herbalist Dawn Petter knelt before a fuzzy-leaved plant and asked permission to pull off a leaf.

Permission from the plant.

“Plants are our spiritual allies,” she said. “We should treat them with respect.” 

Petter was at Sylvester Manor to lead a workshop on medicinal herbs, which she began by offering everyone a taste of pesto made with stinging nettles.

Dawn Petter speaks during the session at Sylvester Manor. (Credit: Charity Robey)

“Herbal pestos are a really nice way for people to take their medicine,” she said. Apparently everyone agreed, as the pesto was quickly consumed.

Petter led the group along the edge of a farm field, and through a shady wooded area in search of weeds as she demonstrated they were actually useful plants. The going was slow because along the way there was so much to taste, smell and feel.

She warned the group that the foraging walk would be, “a really sensual experience.” She pointed out comfrey, sage, fennel, plantain, rose, mugwort, dandelion and clover, and explained how each plant was useful. The shady, wooded land on the edge of the Windmill Field was particularly fruitful ground for foraging, due in part to the fact that pigs, chickens and goats have all lived there, and contributed personally to its exceptional fecundity.

She pulled at the stem of a plant growing on some fencing, tossed a piece of it onto the shirt of a participant and everyone laughed when the stem stuck its landing.

“It’s a galium, also known as cleavers,” she said. The cleaver or stickyweed made the rounds of the group, from one sleeve to the next.”

A forager inspects a stem of galium, aka stickyweed. (Credit: Chariy Robey)

“There are plenty of teachers offering very serious classes,” she added. “I teach in a spirit of play. I want people to feel that they can expand their limitations.”

When the group returned to the shady picnic table where the walk began, a large mound of weeds took up one end of the table. They set about turning the pile of mugwort into medicine by means of a tincture, or extract which they made after much snipping, stuffing and a liberal application of grain alcohol.

Ms. Petter was a lively and passionate guide to the beautiful plants in yards and woods that can improve digestion, calm nerves and promote healing. Within an hour, the group had gathered a variety of medicinal herbs, and made teas, extracts and oils they would take home with them, perhaps saving themselves a stop at the drug store for the manufactured kind of medicine.