Originally published: January 8, 2012 9:17 PM
Updated: January 8, 2012 9:43 PM
By PATRICK WHITTLE firstname.lastname@example.org
At age 13, with pink earrings dangling near her shoulders and a glistening smile, Jennifer Melfi stood out from the overwhelmingly older male crowd at an amateur radio convention Sunday inBethpage.
But Jennifer's age isn't the only thing that separates her from most "hams," as amateur radio enthusiasts are sometimes called, said State Sen. Owen Johnson (R-West Babylon).
Johnson handed the Babylon resident a Senate citation for assisting Babylon Town's emergency operations efforts during Tropical Storm Irene. Jennifer, who earned her federal license to operate a ham radio at age 9, spent 26 hours working a radio at Babylon Town Hall during the storm, relaying information about shelters and highways to town officials.
She is better known to fellow hams by her call sign, KC2TMA, and parents, Michelle and John, like to say TMA stands for "too much attitude." But Sunday, after accepting the citation from Johnson, Jennifer was very humble.
"No matter where people are in the world, I like knowing that I can contact them, and that if they need help, I can help them somehow," she said.
She developed an interest in ham radio -- a hobby that allows amateur operators to use frequencies for recreational, noncommercial use -- by following her dad. He's president of the Great South BayAmateur Radio Club. John Melfi said Johnson's award won't change his strict monitoring of his daughter's radio use.
"She cannot touch my radios without me," he said with an eye on his daughter, whose eyes rolled as if on command. "She'll come down and operate my radios, and I'll monitor it."
Johnson, who took office more than a quarter-century before Jennifer was born, presented the citation in front of a room of about 150 longtime ham radio operators. He told the crowd that the teen "performed a valuable service," prompting cheers.
The citation states, "Age does not play a factor in one's ability to volunteer their time to serve one's community."
The convention, an annual event called Ham Radio University held at Briarcliffe College inBethpage, was organized by a patchwork of amateur radio clubs. The event serves as a convention for the American Radio Relay League's New York City-Long Island Section, which is one of 71 such sections in the country, said section manager Mike Lisenco, of Brooklyn.
Long Island and New York City are home to about 9,000 ham radio operators, Lisenco said.
Jennifer said she is proud to be one of them.
"I used to always see my dad in the basement playing with his radios," she said. "And I saw how much fun he was having."