In the age of COVID-19, more and more organizations are attempting to adapt to the influx of people needing mental health.
Last month, Steve Chassman, executive director of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, said in a press conference in September regarding potential Suffolk healthcare cuts that substance abuse has skyrocketed because of the coronavirus crisis. “We have propelled to where we were six months ago,” he said at the time.
And that’s why the Sunshine Prevention Center in Port Jefferson Station is here to help. Carol Carter, CEO/co-founder of the community youth and family agency that offers support and education in the areas of drug/alcohol prevention, socials skills, leadership and alternative education, said in the age of COVID, they had to adapt to help more people.
“When COVID-19 first hit, we really scrambled,” she said. “We worked really hard to build a reputation in the community for still providing services.”
The center quickly learned how to Zoom and create Facebook Live and YouTube videos for kids and families to watch at home.
“We had close to a thousand people watching them,” she said.
According to Carter, the group learned that the rate of anxiety and depression was getting higher at the start of the pandemic, and domestic violence increased to at least by 20%. She and her organization knew how important it was to help people during such a trying time.
“We would drop off [worksheets/exercises] to homes,” she said. “We tried not get so caught up in the fear, but we wanted to be there to help them.”
As the pandemic evolved, so did their online learning. Carter began writing daily, weekly and then monthly newsletters. “They would have resources and positive messages for the day,” she said. “We’d mention other programs that were running. … We tried to stay connected that way.”
The center began to Zoom meetings for kids, young adults and parents at night, but more recently in September, they began socially distanced in-person adult groups again.
“We started in-person because of the demand,” she said. “They need more of the social interaction. … We’ve been told ‘thank you.’ We tried to get back to some type of normalcy. Although people are still afraid, they’re grateful.”
But along with the substance abuse problem as described by Chassman, everyone is feeling more anxious than before. Further east at the North Shore Youth Council in Rocky Point, Dana Ellis, director of mental health and wellness programming, said she has seen a dramatic increase in anxiety among young adults.
“Anxiety is the biggest thing I’m seeing more so compared to last year,” she said. “The amount of kids and interests approaching doubled. … A lot more people are looking for help and support during this time.”
Before COVID-19, her group would work with Rocky Point school district to help students with their mentoring program. This year, however, they were unable to meet because clubs were canceled.
“My biggest thing is giving kids opportunities to socialize, meet people, talk with each other and recognize things will be OK,” she said. “Our goal is to increase mental health programing in general.” The youth council also decided recently to restart in-person group meetings, because they know how important it is for young adults to talk about how they’re feeling. Upon arrival, they give temperature checks, must wear masks and have the option to Zoom in, if they choose.
“I’ve definitely started off my groups with coping skills,” Ellis said. “I started treating them like stressless groups because more than ever kids are stressed, and I’m trying to make that the forefront of the groups that I run.”
In those groups, people talk about the worries they face in day-to-day life. ““I think that’s from a variety of things,” she said. “In general, it’s a very stressful time we’re living in.”
North Shore Youth Council had a unique way for young people to dress up in costume and get their trick-or-treating on this Halloween, and all without risks presented during a pandemic of knocking on strangers’ doors.
NSYC hosted what it called its Super Safe Halloween Drive-Thru trick-or-treating event Oct. 31. Volunteers handed out toys and candy and otherwise showcased some of that classic spooky spirit as community members drove around the Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School in Rocky Point.
Employees and volunteers with the youth council said the event started as a way to help kids enjoy the holiday despite the pandemic.
Nick Mitchko, Alexa Setaro and Tim Barone, who work with NSYC’s child care programs, were dressed up as the now-ubiquitous Marvel characters, Captain America, Captain Marvel and Thanos, respectively. Their plan, they said, was to “save Halloween.”
“During the mid-pandemic, birthday drive-bys became a normal thing, so we felt that doing it this way was the safest way to provide for kids who were missing out on Halloween,” Barone said.
The nonprofit sold over 500 tickets for the event, but they weren’t turning away any families either. Families and their kids dressed the part, and as they rolled down the bus loop at the intermediate school they were greeted with volunteers who either put toys or candy in children’s outstretched bags or shared some spooky spirit. Two young volunteers and Rocky Point students danced their hearts out to some Halloween-themed music.
Mitchko said they were excited by the donations, as they’ve received everything from baby food to meals for Thanksgiving. Setaro said the theme of superheroes really made the point to the local community, with NSYC coming to the rescue for the floundering October holiday.
“Us giving back to them, we’re giving them the feeling of going back to trick-or-treating again,” Setaro said.
Robert Woods, NSYC executive director, said that for several months it was unclear whether there would be anything like a usual Halloween. He was ecstatic to see the level of support from both volunteers and the community.
“We felt it was necessary, a necessary part of the community to do this,” Woods said. “The outpour was unbelievable.”
Admission was effectively free, but folks were asked that they bring some nonperishable food for NSYC to donate to the Island Heart Food Pantry, which operates out of the Mount Sinai Congregational Church, and the food pantry at the Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Rocky Point. By the end of the day, the nonprofit, which supports local youth, saw over 500 families come through with almost twice that amount in donations for those local pantries.
The executive director said they had 70 volunteers, mostly youth workers, come out to support the nonprofit. Local parents and members of the board also donated much of the candy that was handed out to the beaming children. Members of the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps helped direct traffic in and out of the school.
NSYC wanted to thank Anthony’s Star Wars Barber Shop in Rocky Point as well as Stony Brook University Hospital Post Anesthesia Care Unit for their help in putting on the event.
Suffolk Federal Supports North Shore Youth Council by Suffolk Federal, Community News & Events - September 16, 2020 In an effort to support the charitable work of local organizations that serve the areas of Suffolk Federal branch locations, the credit union has identified nonprofit organizations to provide financial support to. In Miller Place, Branch Manager Lillian Iorio presents a $1,000 contribution to North Shore Youth Council.
“Supporting North Shore Youth Council is more important now than ever,” said Iorio. “They have kept the doors open throughout this pandemic and continue to be a place where the community can go for support and guidance. At Suffolk Federal, it is an honor to support and assist them during these uncertain times.”
“On behalf of North Shore Youth Council Board of Directors, staff and most important the youth that we serve, we are so thankful to Suffolk Federal for this donation,” said Patrick Policastro, Executive Director of North Shore Youth Council. These funds will be used towards upgrades to our programs by purchasing recreational and educational supplies & equipment.”
The North Shore Youth Council, located in Rocky Point, recently finished their Summer Buddies five-week-long summer camp, which started July 13 and ended Aug. 14.
And as students reenter schools for the first time since March, it could be small but pertinent example of how to host young people in a single place while halting the spread of COVID-19.
At the camp, kids participated in gym activities, movies, outdoor activities, games, arts and crafts, and playground activities. Despite having activities that required close contact, the camp was able to keep its doors open, even during the pandemic. The camp ran for three hours Monday through Friday for children ranging from kindergarten to seventh grade. During these difficult times, NSYC officials said they successfully executed the camp program, hosting over 100 kids with a total of zero COVID cases.
“It was a tremendous success,” said Stephanie Ruales, the Director of Communications and Public Relations of the NSYC. “At first we had some parents that were hesitant and only signed their kids up for one week at a time. But then they signed up for more weeks, saying that their kids really enjoyed the camp.”
The camp made sure everything was according to New York State guidelines. Although the kids didn’t wear masks, they remained socially distant. All camp counselors and staff wore masks.
All the participating children had to complete a daily COVID-19 health screening before entering along with daily temperature checks. To reduce contact between the kids, the campers would travel to different activities in smaller groups. Time indoors was also limited.
Camp counselors were also in charge of cleaning everything the kids touched.
“There were lots of hand sanitizers going around,” Ruales said. “It was important to us that everyone felt safe and important. We wanted parents to know exactly what was going on in the camp and that they could trust us with their kids for 3 hours.” NSYC officials also wanted to thank camp directors Nick Mitchko and Alexa Setaro for organizing everything and displaying that recreational activities, with regulations, can still potentially be enjoyed even during the pandemic.
North Shore Youth Council Welcomes New Team by NSYC - October 30, 2019
It is with great pleasure and excitement that the current Board of Directors of the North Shore Youth Council (NSYC) present to our North Shore communities our new administrative team: Patrick Policastro as Executive Director, Robert Woods as Director of Operations, and Stephanie Ruales as Director of Communications and Public Relations. These three people, along with our wonderful specialized and caring staff, will continue to carry on the good work that Janene Gentile, our Executive Director for the past 25 years, has created and developed during her time here.
“As an active community member, I have watched the North Shore Youth Council continue to grow and develop with our ever changing times over the years. What may have started as a “grass roots” organization 30+ years ago, has blossomed into a life altering (and more times than not), a “lifesaving” organization. The North Shore Youth Council has been at the forefront of addressing the many problems and concerns that have plagued our communities, especially our youth, throughout the years.“ (Laurel Sutton, Miller Place Resident & President of the Board of the NSYC)
The future of our country really does lie in the hands of our youth…and it is up to all of us to help them to flourish, to achieve and to become the leaders of tomorrow. For more information, please be sure to check out our website at: www.nsyc.com…and be sure to get on our mailing list so that you will receive our monthly newsletter and special notices!
The North Shore Youth Council has dedicated its attention to children across the local hamlets, but last week the organization thanked one group which looks to stop sexual violence against minors.
More than 150 students, their families and elected officials packed the ballroom of Majestic Gardens in Rocky Point, as the NSYC hosted its Big Buddy-Little Buddy and Volunteer Celebration May 20 and honored Laura Ahearn, an attorney and the founder and executive director of the Parents for Megan’s Law and the Crime Victims Center for her dedication to helping youth in the community.
“Between our programs and Laura’s organization, I think this will heighten this topic.” — Janene Gentile
The council presented Ahearn, who recently donated $5,000 to NSYC to develop the Laura Ahearn Resilience Scholarship, with an award and plaque.
The scholarship will be given to high school students who have overcome sexual abuse to pursue a post-secondary education, and will be distributed in $1,000 increments during the next five years as students pursue higher education. Janene Gentile, executive director of NSYC, said the council is very grateful to be receiving the grant funds.
“We are very excited to be giving this scholarship to a student, hopefully in September,” she said. “Between our programs and Laura’s organization, I think this will heighten this topic.”
Ahearn said it meant a lot to receive an award from such an active organization “I want to thank them for all the great things they do in the community,” she said.
The attorney said the council does a lot to protect kids from becoming sexual abuse victims.
“For me, I’m really grateful that there are so many volunteers and people who want to dedicate their lives to help kids,” she said. “When kids don’t have the support they need, they become very vulnerable.”
Ahearn said it is very meaningful for her to be able to give out these scholarships, along with the support of the many people that made it possible for her to help people in the community.
The attorney said the project has come full circle for her.
“I wanted to give back to an organization that took the time to listen to me when someone wouldn’t 20 years,” she said. During her acceptance speech, Ahearn spoke about her 25-year journey, her experiences with her organization and the importance of sexual abuse prevention.
“The only way to stop this epidemic is to educate folks in the communities, educate your children and yourself,” she said. “Sexual predators are not strangers, they look like you and me, they act just like you and me — you would never know.” The NSYC’s Big Buddy-Little Buddy program, which began in 1993, gets high school students paired up with younger children to become mentors for them. They engage in a variety of group activities that demonstrate, encourage and reinforce social competency skills.
“This is a celebration of our peer mentorship programs,” Robert Woods, the director of youth development at NYSC said. “Whether it’s helping them with homework, or talking about their day, it gives them a safe space to open up.” This summer Brookhaven National Laboratory will collaborate with the Rocky Point nonprofit to offer a free STEM program. In addition, they will be working with the Staller Center at Stony Brook University to bring in young musicians to work with the children in the program.
On Thursday, March 28th, North Shore Youth Council hosted its 16th Annual Consortium Meeting, which brought together school district administrations, elected town and county officials, and nonprofit and community organizations to network and share information for local youth and families.
Facilitated by NSYC Executive Director, Janene Gentile, the meeting gave those in attendance the opportunity to speak about the programs and services they provide so that the public knows what resources are available and how to access them. The event highlighted two guest speakers, Jenny Andersson, of the Long Island Early Childhood Direction Center, and Melissa Del Giudice, founder of Yoga for Health Long Island.
The collective information focused on mental health wellness and awareness, suicide prevention, drug and alcohol prevention and treatment, LGBT services, and special education advocacy. It has become a signature initiative of NSYC to bring in the diverse coalition, which helps create new partnerships and cooperation among each other while bridging the gaps in services for people in need.
Among those in attendance this year were Brookhaven Town Supervisor Edward P. Romaine, Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker, representatives of Councilwoman Jane Bonner, the Town of Brookhaven Youth Bureau, the Suffolk County Police Department, LGBT Network, Families in Support of Treatment (F.I.S.T.), Alateen, Response Crisis Center, Suffolk County Fatherhood Initiative, Crossover Christian Church, the Sound Beach Civic Association, administrators from the north shore school districts, plus NSYC staff and school-based student behavior and support counselors.
Shoreham-Wading River Welcomes New Mental Health Counselor by Kate Nalepinski, Riverhead News-Review - February 23, 2019 This academic year, the Shoreham-Wading River School District welcomed Nancy Kloska to the counseling staff at Prodell Middle School and Shoreham-Wading River High School.
Ms. Kloska, a state-certified school counselor with a master’s degree in school counseling from Hofstra University, is the district’s new student support counselor. In that capacity, she will cater to the needs of middle and high school students while connecting them with outside resources.
The Riverhead News Review spoke with Nancy Kloska about her prior counseling experience, cooperating with students and parents, and prioritizing student mental health.
Riverhead News Review: Where are you from? How long have you worked within the district? Nancy Kloska: I live in Sayville. I’ve worked as the student support counselor at Prodell Middle School and Shoreham-Wading River High School since October 2018.
NR: Why was the student support counselor role created this year? NK: It was created, in large part, as a proactive counseling position, providing after-school counseling and advocacy for students at both the middle and high school levels while connecting parents with outside referrals to mental health resources within the community.
NR: What do you do as a student support counselor? NK: As the student support counselor, I am that additional support person there to meet with students toward the end of the school day and after school, when issues can sometimes come to a head. My objectives in this role are to listen, support and guide my students, thereby promoting their positive social-emotional well-being and development.
NR: I understand you work for the district through the North Shore Youth Council. Can you speak to how you are using your experience in that role for this new position? NK: I’m currently North Shore Youth Council’s before and after care director for the district. Through NSYC, I am connected to the community, its needs and resources. I have come to know the elementary students in our program, the needs of their parents and the issues that they may be facing. Awareness of the concerns of parents and students here has been helpful in easing transitions and decreasing anxiety for our students.
NR: Why is it necessary for schools to have mental health support counselors? NK: When the social, emotional, academic and behavioral needs of students are met, students achieve and thrive, but far too often, students do not get all that they need. Some students need a little more support to help them meet with success. Counselors are able to identify issues and address areas of difficulty for their students, while assisting them in navigating and overcoming circumstances, in order to help them work toward their goals. We want our students to know someone truly cares about and understands them. It is a whole-child approach that goes beyond academic performance, addressing the issues involved in promoting positive development, success and happiness. NR: How can a counselor benefit a student’s mental health? NK: A counselor is there to listen, help and guide. An experienced counselor can help provide the extra support that a student may be in need of. Through counseling, a counselor can increase motivation and promote effective coping mechanisms. By listening and building rapport with a student, that student can feel that much more connected to the school and it becomes a more welcoming place. It is not only about grades and college choices. It’s about how the student feels and processes the changes and unique challenges in their social/emotional development. Many things can impact a student’s success in school and beyond. Listening to and being sensitive to the issues impacting our youth and counseling them through these challenging and formative years can make all of the difference in the life of a child.
Middle Schoolers Learn Safe Sitter Skills in NSYC's First Ever Babysitting Workshop by NSYC - January 19, 2019 On Friday, January 11th, 2019, North Shore Youth Council hosted its first ever Babysitting Safety Skills workshop for youth in its Rocky Point Middle School Drop-In program after school. 19 youth participated in the hour-long seminar, which was facilitated by Miriam Viaud, NSYC trustee and Registered Nurse with over two decades of experience. The purpose of the special workshop was to teach the young adults essential skills in becoming capable babysitters and learning how to be responsible for themselves and others.
The participants learned many important emergency and safety measures, such as: interviewing with a potential family, becoming oriented with a babysitting location and being proactive to potential dangers and distractions in and around a household, making sure an emergency plan is in place with their parents and having key numbers and contact information written down by a phone, knowing in advance any special conditions like allergies, and having familiarity with first-aid/and or CPR procedures.
At the end of the seminar, the youth participated in a lively group discussion with Viaud and NSYC’s Rocky Point Middle School Program Supervisor, Geri Morgenstern, in which they shared their own babysitting experiences and imparted common sense tips and advice to their peers. Each participant received a Certificate of Completion to confirm their partaking in the workshop.
About NSYC’s Middle School Drop-In program: NSYC’s Middle School Drop-In program is an after school recreation program available in the Mt. Sinai and Rocky Point School Districts from dismissal until 6:00pm. The program provides a safe, positive, and stimulating environment where students can engage in homework, informal intramural sports, arts and crafts, and video game play, as well as participate in other age-appropriate activities and special events.
Sound Beach resident Todd Leighley’s mustache is freckled with gray and his face shows lines of age, but he doesn’t mind. Though his left leg was amputated below the knee after a motorcycle crash in 2009, and now he wears a thick carbon fiber prosthetic, all that matters to him is that he continue the sports he played as a kid, namely skating. He has embarked on a mission to try to get a skate park built in his community.
“I’m fat, middle aged and one legged, and I’m having the time of my life,” Leighley said.
For the past four years Leighley, the 47-year-old emergency services specialist for public electric company Public Service Enterprise Group, has been advocating for the construction of a skate park in the Sound Beach area, which he hopes to call Hawks Nest All Wheel Park. What he has in mind is something to help those kids in the area who aren’t keen to participate in the usual team sports.
“Skateboarding is looked down upon — it’s not embraced and supported like football and lacrosse,” the skateboarder said. “The parks are coming, and they can’t keep fighting it forever.”
When he was 6 years old Leighley said he learned to love skating. He became mired in a culture that conveys freedom: freedom of expression, freedom from problems, freedom to go where you want. His appreciation for the culture deepened when he moved to Hawaii in his 20s and became involved in the surfing scene. It was a continuous part of his life until 2009 when he was involved in a motorcycle crash, suffering compound fractures in his femur, tibia and fibula. The leg had to be removed, and he did not know if he could continue with all his favorite sports from his childhood.
It was around the time shortly after the accident he said he learned, in the Brooklyn Bike Park, which was a different type of skate park, of something called a “pump track,” where riders build momentum through the up and down motion of wheels on a track with several ups and downs, either with a bike or skateboard.
“It’s like a roller coaster, but instead of a roller coaster that would use machinery to pull carts up hill, here you’re using your muscles,” Leighley said. “You’re pumping and using it to get speed. It tricks you into using your muscles.”
He said that type of skate park revitalized his lifelong passion for skating. The transcendent experience of boarding around the block is something he said he wants his community to feel.
While the skater exudes passion from every pore, Leighley has had trouble generating the right type of interest for the project from the community. While there are multiple mountain bike trails in the area and the Shoreham BMX track right behind the Robert S. Reid Community Center, there are very few options for a skateboarder other than sidewalks and roadways, not unless they want to travel many miles to either Riverhead, Amityville or Huntington.
Joseph Mannix, a Copiague social studies teacher, is also a community leader when it comes to the Huntington skateboarding community and has walked the steps Leighley is trying to follow. As a veteran skater who has been boarding since “the clay wheel days” of the 1970s, he is the one chiefly responsible for the East Northport Veterans Park Skate Park. It was built after years of working with his community, starting with skating lessons that eventually built up into clubs and a driving interest of local children, adults and eventually support from the town.
“At [the Greenlawn Skate Park] I started a lessons program and summer camp which became so successful that the town got interested, and they saw how much revenue they were making and how healthy it was,” Mannix said. “I was pushing for those kids who are not so into organized sports, or kids into organized sports who want the personal experience of skateboarding.”
While those parks remain popular, Leighley said he believes a park filled with transitions, pools and quarter pipes can only apply to 20 percent of adrenaline sports enthusiasts because of how daunting they seem to a newcomer. He said a pump track can apply to people of any skill level since riders can take any path at their own pace.
Port Jefferson resident Rachel Whalen, 30, a friend of Leighley’s, said she just got back into skating about seven months ago, and as a single mother raising two children, she wants to have a place near her home where she can exercise along with her kids.
“I would use it, I would want my kids to use it to,” Whalen said.
Despite the setbacks in trying to get the project off the ground, the Sound Beach resident said he has become closer to his community through his skate park campaign. Leighley became involved with the North Shore Youth Council, where executive director of the organization Janene Gentile said he teaches local kids basics in martial arts. While Gentile sees him as a caring man, she said others in the community have been unnerved by his classic skater-rebellion style personality. “[Leighley] has the personality of a very radical dude, and while he’s trying to temper it, some people get taken aback,” Gentile said. “He’s a radical dude, but he’s caring, compassionate and passionate about his vision.”
Skateboarders agree that tenacity is the foundation of the sport. As long as one keeps at learning a trick, despite its difficulty, eventually any technique can be learned. It’s why Leighley said he will not be giving up on his vision any time soon. “Kids need hope,” he said. “They need these things, they need these lifelines to pull them up.”
A new Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department program is looking to keep kids safe this prom and graduation season, while creating a way for parents to more easily open a dialogue with kids about underage drinking and drugs.
“We just want everyone to be prepared,” Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. said. “It’s a celebratory moment for people graduating high school and moving on, and they feel a little empowered.”
On May 22 the sheriff’s office announced it is passing out free alcohol and drug testing kits.
“This is not supposed to be a punishment, and I don’t believe that was ever the purpose. It’s important to show kids that they can have fun without being high or drinking.” — Janene Gentile
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the leading cause of death for people in the United States between the ages of 15 and 24 is motor vehicle crashes. In Suffolk County, the leading causes of motor vehicle crashes are driving while ability impaired by alcohol or dugs and reckless or distracted driving.
The test kits include standard urine test that contains a single cup and stick that changes color depending on the presence of alcohol.
“We want parents to ask tough questions and [have] tough discussions early on so that they don’t get the knock on the door by a police officer telling them that their child is in the hospital or telling them that their child was driving while intoxicated,” Toulon said. “We would rather let them take care of their children so that law enforcement does not [have to] get involved.”
The North Shore Youth Council already offers these kits. Executive Director Janene Gentile said she doesn’t see the kits as a punitive measure, but as a way for parents to more easily talk about the topic with their children.
“Drinking is cultural in our society, but it’s an adult choice and not a young person’s choice,” she said. “This is not supposed to be a punishment, and I don’t believe that was ever the purpose. It’s important to show kids that they can have fun without being high or drinking.”
Local schools have long tried to curb drug and alcohol use at prom while still trying to ensure graduating classes celebrate the final days before graduation.
Frank Pugliese said in his first year as principal of Shoreham-Wading River High School, he hopes his students can enjoy prom while staying safe.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime moment, but please be responsible in your actions so you do not harm yourself or anyone else.” — Errol Toulon Jr.
“We strongly advise all students to always make appropriate decisions,” Pugliese said in an email. “With that being said, we have great students. The vast majority make smart choices regardless of the policies in place, and we trust that they will continue to do so on prom night.”
Smithtown High School West participates in the county District Attorney’s Office new Choices and Consequences program that shows the dangers of reckless and drunk driving. Members of the DA’s office will be in the high school June 18. In a letter to students, Smithtown West High School Principal John Coady said anyone caught drinking during prom will be suspended and kicked out. Prom tickets will not be refunded, and the student may be barred from the graduation ceremony.
Fifty alcohol and 25 drug testing kits were sent out to numerous schools to kick off the program. The kits are also available free at each Suffolk County legislator’s office and will remain offered through the North Shore Youth Council. Each alcohol testing kit costs .74 cents while drug testing kits are $1.50. The $5,000 program is being paid for with asset forfeiture funds. “I would like for all of them to enjoy the moment,” Toulon said of seniors attending prom and graduation. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime moment, but please be responsible in your actions so you do not harm yourself or anyone else.”
On Monday, May 14, 2018, Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker was honored at the North Shore Youth Council’s Big Buddy Little Buddy and Volunteer Celebration at Majestic Gardens in Rocky Point.
This celebration is held every year to honor and thank those who donate their time and skills to serve the North Shore Youth Council in a variety of ways. In attendance were members of the Big Buddy Little Buddy program, the Junior Counselor program, the Karate Club program, the NSYC Internship program and Youth Advisory Committee. The work of these groups and the NSYC as a whole ensure that children in the community have a safe and open space to learn, grow, gain experience, and make meaningful relationships.
“I would like to thank the North Shore Youth Council and all of its volunteers for providing such amazing services to the children in our community. It is an honor to be able to support and work with such an incredible organization,” said Legislator Anker.
North Shore Youth Council is a not-for-profit community-based agency servicing communities on the north shore of Long Island from Mt. Sinai to Shoreham-Wading River. North Shore Youth Council offers comprehensive youth and family services and community education at little or no cost. Its programs are designed to encourage young people to develop the life skills necessary to become responsible, successful adults. For more information, please visit www.nsyc.com.
The Sound Beach Civic Association brought together a number of health professionals at a health and wellness expo Oct. 21. At the health fair, professionals were on hand to provide blood pressure screenings, nutritionists discussed how to live a healthier life, representatives from the police department collected unused and unwanted medication and the Sound Beach Fire Department provided tips for calling 911 in case of an emergency.
Participants, screeners and presenters participating in the even included: The Chiropractic Joint, The Community Growth Center, Ear Works Audiology, Echo Pharmacy, Harbor View Medical Services, John T. Mather Memorial Hospital, the LI Chapter of NYC + PANDAS/PANS Awareness Group and NY PANS Awareness Group, North Shore Youth Council, Rite Aid, Santi Yoga Community, Senior Callers, Suffolk Center for Speech,Suffolk County Health Department, Suffolk County Police Department’s 7th Precinct., Wellness and Chiropractic Solutions and Young Living Essential Oils. Patty Pulick, a Sound Beach resident, said she absolutely loved the health fair.
“The various tables were very informative,” she said. “I got my sugar checked, learned about healthy alternatives and discussed hearing issues. It was great that the SCPD was there so I could dispose of my unused medications. I hope they have it again.”
Civic association president Bea Ruberto extended her gratitude to BPN Home Improvement Inc., Echo Pharmacy, Harbor View Medical Services, John T. Mather Memorial Hospital, Matt’s One Stop, Pern Editorial Services, Schwamb Plumbing and Heating and St. Charles Hospital, who sponsored the event. “I would also like to give a special thank you to all the volunteers who worked tirelessly to coordinate this event, as well as Bonnie Boeger, a Coldwell Banker residential broker who provided water,” Ruberto said. “As everything else we work on, it’s the generosity of the people in the Sound Beach community that made this event possible.”
Following another year of rising opioid use and overdoses, Suffolk County officials announced legislation that would create a new permanent advisory panel to try to address the issue.
“We have lost people from this [problem],” Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said during a July 25 press conference. “Children have died, adults have died and we’re here to do more.”
The panel would have 24 members, including representatives from health and science groups, members of law enforcement, hospital employees and individuals from the Legislature’s Committees on Health, Education and Human Services and would focus on prevention, education, law enforcement and drug rehabilitation across the county, Anker said. The panel is planned to be broken up into sub-committees, which would tackle a specific area.
“This is an issue that needs all hands on deck,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini said. “We are not going to arrest ourselves out of this — this is a public health issue [of historic proportion], but law enforcement plays a critical role.” Over 300 people from Suffolk County died from opioid-related overdosess in 2016, according to county medical examiner records. Sini said that in 2016, the police administered Narcan, a nasal spray used as emergency treatment to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, in Suffolk County over 700 times.
A 2010 bill saw the creation of a similar advisory panel with 13 members, many of whom are members of the new proposed panel. The original, impermanent panel ended five years ago, but had made 48 recommendations to the legislature focused mainly on prevention education, treatment and recovery. Two recommendations from this committee that were put in effect were the Ugly Truth videos shown in public schools, and countywide public Narcan training.
Though proud of the work they did on that panel, members agreed the situation has worsened since it was disbanded.
“[Seven] years ago we stood here and announced the initial panel — I had the privilege of co-chairing that group — a lot of the things we recommended actually happened, some things didn’t,” said Dr. Jeffrey Reynolds, chief executive officer of the Family and Children’s Association. “Regardless, the problem hasn’t gotten any better, and in fact, it’s gotten progressively worse. Some of the gaps in prevention, access to treatment, recovery and law enforcement haven’t yet been filled. For us to have an ongoing opportunity to have a dialogue together — to brainstorm some new solution to disrupt the patterns here — is very, very valuable.”
On the education side, Islip School District Superintendent of Schools Susan Schnebel said at the press conference that education has to begin at a very young age.
“It’s important that schools take hold of what happens in the beginning,” she said. “That includes educating students at a very early age, educating the parents to know what’s there, what are the repercussions, what is the law. That needs to happen with a 5 or 6-year-old.”
Executive director of the North Shore Youth Council Janene Gentile, and member of the proposed panel, feels that the advisory panel is an important step. She said she hopes that it will be able to do more in helping prevent people, especially young people, from using opioids in the first place, and hopefully help those exiting rehab. “Implementing a family component when they are in rehab is really crucial, while they are in rehab and when get out,” Gentile said. “There are other agencies like mine — 28 in Suffolk County. If we can reach out to them they can help with re-entry [into society]. They go on the outside and the triggers that started them on opioids are still there, and they need to have places where there are no drugs. We’ve gone through a lot, but we’ve got to do more — and prevention works.”
At a time on Long Island when more and more young people are falling victim to substance abuse and social isolation, the North Shore provides kids of all ages with a secure environment in the form of a not-for-profit, community-based agency geared toward youth and family services, community education and, of course, plenty of fun.
The North Shore Youth Council, based in Rocky Point and formed as a grassroots organization in 1982 by local volunteers working together with the Town of Brookhaven and local school districts, has a presence in each school within the Shoreham-Wading River, Rocky Point, Miller Place and Mount Sinai districts through counseling and programs held before and after school hours.
The agency encourages those entering kindergarten to those in college to stay out of trouble and develop the skills needed to be good, successful adults. “We provide that safe place for kids to go to,” executive director Janene Gentile said. “[For instance], the afternoon program we have is a place where kids can go instead of going to their empty houses. As we know, youth really get in trouble more during after-school hours. We also provide activities for parents who can’t take their kids to clubs. It’s a special place where people don’t feel intimidated … and kids feel comfortable here.”
She said the NSYC also serves as a full life cycle in that the younger kids in kindergarten who come through the programs often become mentors once they reach middle school and high school.
The agency provides plenty of mentoring and volunteer opportunities that prepare kids for their careers and get them involved in community service, and many of them work in the summer programs offered and continue being involved well into their college years.
Last year, the agency provided about 130 kids with job opportunities. Miller Place High School senior Treicy Wan, 17, has been involved in the organization since eighth grade and is currently a senior counselor. “This place really helps to bring you out of your shell, helps you to interact with your community and gives you a sense of being somewhere and being part of something,” Wan said. “I love making the other kids happy, knowing they go through hard times and that I was once there, and now I can be a mentor for them and help make a difference in their lives.”
Gentile, a drug and alcohol counselor by trade, is involved in many of the intervention and prevention programs offered through the organization, including Alateen for those who are coping with problems they didn’t cause and have no control over. “We’re going through times of hate and discrimination and violence and suicide and substance abuse and we’re going to be here to pick up the pieces and the damages,” Gentile said. “We need to break through that and educate them that this is a safe world. This is a safe place for everyone.”
Among the many other programs offered are Big Buddy Little Buddy, a cross-age mentoring initiative that matches up a high school student with a younger student in an effort to encourage social skill development and help children make friends; Homework Helpers, where high school students volunteer their time to help others who might need extra help with their schoolwork; and School Age Child Care, which provides peace of mind to parents looking for a safe place for their elementary school children.
Dana Ellis, one of the mental health counselors who works predominantly with students with special needs, said the program is good for the Rocky Point community. “We just want to help people,” she said. “With mental health, it’s tough to get programs started and I think there’s a lot of freedom here to start things, get community feedback and then watch them grow.”
All of the programs are made affordable for low-income families, and every dollar the agency makes goes back to the community through scholarships, which serve to help struggling families pay for things like clothes and books. NSYC. After school, the cafeteria at Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School becomes a giant playground for elementary-aged kids. There’s a crochet club where children can learn to make accessories like earmuffs, full access to tabletop games and Legos, snacks and drinks and an area where kids can do their homework together. As staff pointed out, everybody interacts, and there’s something for every kid.
“We get to play games together and have fun, we do dodgeball in the gym, we work together and learn to be good and honest,” said 10-year-old Christian.
Marcie Wilson, assistant director at NSYC, said one of her fondest memories at the organization was when she attended the once-a-month “open mic night” for middle and high school students, whose singing, dancing and instrument playing blew her away. She said that’s just the tip of the iceberg of what’s available. “We’re an underused resource in this community,” Wilson said. “We’re just trying to get the word out to let people know we’re there.”
Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco signs $10,000 check presented with Legislator Sarah Anker, on right, to the North Shore Youth Council for a new family counseling initiative to combat substance abuse. A strong support system is vital in a fight against drug abuse, and now North Shore families will have more options to help struggling loved ones manage their addiction.
Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) and Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco delivered a check for $10,000 to the North Shore Youth Council in Rocky Point this week, which will be designated for its new family counseling initiative to combat substance abuse. The grant, which is funded from the sheriff’s office asset forfeiture monies, will engage whole families in therapy designed to help them cope, understand the root causes of addiction and support their loved one’s recovery.
Anker proposed the pilot initiative following a conversation with Father Frank Pizzarelli from Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.
“Father Frank is on the frontlines in our battle against addiction in Suffolk County,” she said. “He impressed upon me the importance of the family unit in successfully treating addiction.”When Anker approached the sheriff about the possibility of using asset forfeiture funds dedicated for this purpose, DeMarco was all in favor of the project.
“Family therapy can lower relapse rates, help parents with addicted children find effective ways to support their loved one’s recovery and even help children with addicted parents deal with their struggles,” he said. “ I am hoping this initiative will serve as a model and get more families involved in recovery.”
The North Shore Youth Council serves communities across the North Shore, including Port Jefferson, Wading River, Middle Island, Ridge and Coram. The agency helps hundreds of families each day through their school-based prevention and before and after care programs. According to the youth council’s Executive Director Janene Gentile, many people within the community can’t afford family counseling, because money is tight due to lost wages and the cost of treatment. “Treatment is the first step, but ongoing family therapy is often essential to getting to the root of the problems that led someone to use drugs in the first place,” she said. “This grant will defer the cost of family counseling, which will eliminate the most common barrier to families engaging in therapy.
North Shore Youth Council’s Board President Laurel Sutton joined with Gentile in thanking the County sheriff and legislator for their support. “I want to thank Sheriff DeMarco and Legislator Anker for giving us this opportunity to enhance our counseling services to struggling families impacted by the opioid [problem],” she said. For more information about the family counseling initiative, or to schedule an appointment with a counselor, call the North Shore Youth Council at 631-744-0207.
Big buddies and little buddies from the North Shore Youth Council danced and socialized during their annual reception at Majestic Gardens in Rocky Point. In a day and age when negative influences for kids are easy to find, positive influences are growing in importance.
The North Shore Youth Council celebrated the kids who take part in their Big Buddy/Little Buddy program and the positive influence it has on everyone involved during their annual reception at Majestic Gardens in Rocky Point Tuesday. The cross-age mentoring program matches up high school students with elementary and middle school students to form a bond built on support and guidance. Big buddies volunteer at least one hour per week year round to spend time with their little buddy after undergoing training and taking a pledge to be a positive influence.
Every year, big buddies, little buddies, their families and the council’s board of directors and staff get together to celebrate the positive effect the program has.
“These big buddies are amazing,” said Samantha Netburn, who has a son and daughter in the program as little buddies. Her daughter is autistic and her son has a learning disability and anxiety, she said. “They make them happy. My daughter looks forward to every week going with her big buddy and my son, it makes him happy that he gets to see his friends and interact more with the kids when he’s with his buddy. Instead of sitting home by themselves, they’re with a nice person who is positive for them.”
‘You never know the huge impact that you’re going to have on these kids.’ — Joe Wilson
Janene Gentile has been the executive director of the North Shore Youth Council for almost the entirety of its 35-year existence. She credited the Youth Advisory Board with driving the program. The board is made up of six high school students who are responsible for coordinating events, setting up outings and arranging activities for big and little buddies to enjoy together.
“They’re probably more important than I am,” Gentile said about the youth advisory board. They were recognized, along with all of the big buddies, individually, with certificates during a ceremony at Tuesday’s reception. Joe Wilson, 16, is the Youth Advisory Board president.
“You never know the huge impact that you’re going to have on these kids,” Wilson said. “One of the kids in my first year when I was in ninth grade was in seventh grade at the time, so there’s not really too big of a difference there, but he now comes back and he does our open gym nights with us and he volunteers there, so that’s amazing to see — that you could have impacted their lives so much that they wanted to give back themselves.”
Sixteen-year-old Dylan Mulea was a little buddy, and is now on the Youth Advisory Board. He said being in both positions has been a positive experience for him. “I met so many new people,” Mulea said. “It broke me out of my shell too, so it was awesome.”
Little buddies gave the program rave reviews as well. “It shows that there is caring in the community,” 12-year-old Alexander Spallone said. “We do crafts and art, we create things and then we usually play games and sometimes we go outside when the weather is nice. We do all fun stuff.”
Councilwoman Jane Bonner, on right, attended the North Shore Youth Council reception at Majestic Gardens in celebration of the positive influence the program has on North Shore kids. The North Shore Youth Council is funded by Suffolk County and the Town of Brookhaven along with private donations, and serves the Miller Place, Shoreham-Wading River, Rocky Point and Mount Sinai areas, with programs set up within each school district.
Laurel Sutton is the president of the council’s board of directors, and her daughter served as a big buddy when she was in high school. “I think it just is a very, very positive thing more now than ever because so many kids are lost as to what they want to do and who they can talk to and have as a safe haven,” Sutton said.
Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) and Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) both attended the reception Tuesday and commended the efforts of everyone involved in the program.
For more information about the North Shore Youth Council or the Big Buddy/Little Buddy program, visit www.nsyc.com.
Residents wrote a message or the name of someone they lost to a drug overdose at the top of the white bags and placed them around the base of Gabriel Phillippe’s Belonging Tree during the candlelight ceremony.
Six years after 15-year-old Gabriel Phillippe died of a heroin overdose, his family, members of the North Shore Youth Council and surrounding community, showed that love never dies in the midst of tragedy.
Last Friday, the Phillippe family and town residents joined the youth council in remembering Gabe, who died on April 22, 2010, and others who lost their battle to an addiction. According to North Shore Youth Council Executive Director Janene Gentile, the ceremony, Light A Candle For Gabe and Those We Have Lost Due to the Battle of Addiction, focused on supporting one another and honoring the emotions that accompany the drug-related death of a loved one. Claudia Friszell, an advisory committee member for the Families in Support of Treatment organization, reminded those in attendance that remembering loved ones is a process.
“In order for you to heal, you no longer wear your grief as a badge,” Friszell said during the ceremony. “But you own it and hold onto it and let it go. That doesn’t mean you stop grieving or stop remembering. It just means you’ve let that grief evolve.”
According to social worker and attorney Millicent Garofalo, grief is a sign of how much one person or people loved another. Garofalo added that the community discusses a parent’s grief over losing a child, but forgets that this situation also affects siblings.
Residents wrote a message or the name of someone they lost to a drug overdose at the top of the white bags and placed them around the base of Gabriel Phillippe’s Belonging Tree, above, during the candlelight ceremony. Photo by Giselle Barkley“They’re losing someone they’ve known forever,” Garofalo said during the ceremony. “When you lose the sibling, you’re losing a part of yourself.”
Gabe’s father, Bryan Phillippe, was among the ceremony speakers at the youth council’s headquarters on the Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School grounds. While he said his family did what they could to help Gabe, he added that addicts must also be willing to accept help. Marcie Wilson, office manager at the youth council, said this wasn’t the first time Gabe’s family contacted the youth council about holding a candle lighting for the teen and others who died because of addiction. Each resident received a small white bag containing a flameless candle that attendees placed at the base of Gabe’s Belonging Tree outside the North Shore Youth Council. Attendees were asked to write down a positive and negative memory. Papers containing negative memories were burned after residents finished arranging the white bags and placing white flowers into Gabe’s tree.
“This disease has affected Long Island so badly, and the disease of addiction is a family disease,” said Huntington Station resident Emma Amoreisky, whose son battled alcohol addiction for several years. She added that while she understands the pain of those whose children are still suffering, she “can’t even imagine the pain of the ones who’ve already lost their child.”
According to Founder and Executive Director of FIST, Anthony Rizzuto, addiction doesn’t discriminate. Some families or individuals dealing with drug addiction aren’t always comfortable asking for help. Rizzuto said, “until we can stop the stigma and stop the shame associated with addiction, it’s going to be really hard to make a difference.”
Shop employee Alex Patel said he’s seen 10 parents purchase vaporizers or accessories from the Rocky Point Smoke & Vape shop. During last week’s Rocky Point Drug Forum, Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) announced her new step to combat drug use, with a ban regarding hookah lounges and smoke and vape shops in Brookhaven Town.
If the town approves and implements the councilwoman’s proposal, prospective shop owners cannot establish their businesses within 1,000 feet of family- or child-oriented institutions or various public places. These locations include educational and religious facilities; non-degree granting schools, like ballet and karate studios; and swimming pools. The ban won’t apply to existing lounges and shops that have proper permits and certificates of occupancy.
The idea isn’t simply to deter students from purchasing items from the store, but also to prevent them from using these devices, or similar items, to smoke drugs like marijuana. During last week’s forum, John Venza, vice president of Adolescent Services for Outreach, said some vaporizers can accommodate various forms of marijuana including dabs, a wax-like form of the drug that has higher levels of THC.
According to Venza, marketing has also changed over the years to appeal to a younger audience. Bonner not only agreed with Venza, but went a step further. “We all know that those attractive signs that lure the kids in are the very same reason the government banned Camel advertising,” Bonner said during last week’s forum. She added that parents need to keep a closer eye on their kids by observing their social media accounts, going through their phones and having family dinners.
For the Rocky Point school district and community alike, fighting substance abuse is a top priority. But according to Rocky Point Superintendent of Schools Michael Ring, the fight is an uphill battle with new devices on the market. “One of the things that works against us is the emerging technology that makes it easier for students to be brought in and grow that into abuse,” Ring said.
But Rocky Point Smoke & Vape Shop employee Alex Patel said the ban might be a good idea with little reward. According to the Rocky Point resident and father of two, parents have purchased vaporizers and accessories for their children. Patel said the shop isn’t legally allowed to sell to residents who are under 21 years old, but this isn’t the only way students are acquiring the devices.
“Online, I see people buying left and right,” Patel said about vaporizers and similar devices. “It’s much cheaper online because they’re buying in bulk. So what they’re paying in the store $50, online, they can get it for $20.”
He added that it’s also easier for students to purchase these items online because these sites don’t verify the buyer’s age. In light of this, Patel continued saying the proposed ban won’t stop these underage residents from finding what they’re looking for.
North Shore Youth Council Executive Director Janene Gentile said she hasn’t seen an increase in these shops near her organization, but said the youth council works “with the legislators around holding the pharmaceutical companies accountable” as well.
“I believe in this bill,” Gentile added.
Residents can voice their opinions regarding the ban at the May 12 public hearing at 6 p.m. in Brookhaven Town Hall.
North Shore Youth Council has been keeping kids from ending up on the streets for more than two decades. The council’s programs “give them more stuff to do beyond the school day and keeps them active and doing positive things,” office manager Marcie Wilson said.
Offering a myriad of programs, the not-for-profit hosts after school recreation, math tutoring on Tuesdays, social skills groups, child care, open mic nights, youth and family counseling, a Big Buddy/Little Buddy service and even helps teenagers get jobs.
“A lot of the time, young kids learn from other young people, so we try to get the high schoolers involved with the middle school kids,” Laurel Sutton, president of the North Shore Youth Council board of directors, said about the Big Buddy/Little Buddy program. “Any time they’re making good choices, it helps teach the younger kids to make good choices.”
The Youth Council also partners with local businesses and organizations to give children fun and interesting things to do or give them an outlet to help others. Shaolin Kung Fu & Fitness in Rocky Point, Studio E in Miller Place, Creative Zone Inc. in Rocky Point and national organization JumpBunch are just a few of those entities. Zumba instructors also host events for kids who are enrolled in the program.
Last December, six students partnered with Habitat for Humanity to help rebuild a home in Rocky Point. Months later, they were brought back to the dedication ceremony to see the final product.
“What was so great was that the kids were amazed,” Wilson said. “They worked on it and they went into what they called ‘their room’ that they worked on. They were so proud of themselves.”
A summer program is also available. Kids begin as campers and can become junior and senior counselors by the time they turn 16.
“They stick around with us for a really long time,” Wilson said. “Then they go off to college and we see them back in the summer time.”
North Shore Youth Council also partners with the Miller Place, Mount Sinai, Rocky Point and Shoreham-Wading River school districts, offering counseling and educating the schools on issues that concern today’s youth.
“We’re at each of the schools at 6:45 in the morning and we’re there until 6 p.m.,” said Janene Gentile, executive director of the youth council. “Everybody contributes to this organization. The kids on our Youth Advisory Board are in the schools and understand the issues and tell me the direction we should be heading in.”
According to Rocky Point Superintendent Michael Ring, six student assistance counselors work out of the Frank J. Carasiti Elementary and Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate schools. While primary focus is on middle school and high school counselors, there is a partnership at the elementary level. Emphasis is put on direct counseling, intervention and support services related to substance abuse.
“These counselors run numerous programs to support the social and emotional needs of our students and families, including anti-bullying, mentoring and character education,” Ring said. “Their expertise and support has provided critical resources to our district for more than two decades.”
Gentile, a drug and alcohol counselor with a master’s degree in art education, has been with the Youth Council for 23 years, working alongside Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson and the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office to host expressive art classes at the Little Portion Friary in Mount Sinai and working with incarcerated women and youth at the correctional facility in Riverhead.
“We’re trying to help people make good choices,” Sutton said. “North Shore is helping young people have activities to do after school rather than be home and get in trouble. There are enrichment programs, fun stuff and educational things.” Gentile said she is thankful for all the help she’s received, but those she works with say they’re more thankful to have her around for all that she’s been able to do for the program.
“She’s such a loving, giving person, she’s very involved, she’s extremely creative and she knows her stuff,” Sutton said. “She’s a very in-tune person to what is going on. She basically built this whole program from the very beginning. She’s constantly doing things to improve it, and I couldn’t see anyone else heading North Shore.”
Gentile is more thankful for the connections made with so many other organizations, children, families, schools and businesses across the Island. “I’m just really grateful that people have the same vision,” she said. “I get up every day and I enjoy being here and helping the young people; they’re an asset in every which way to the community. … I’ll continue to hold the young kids up, because I believe in them.”
North Shore Youth Council is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit community-based organization, funded in part by the Town of Brookhaven, the County of Suffolk, the State of New York, the North Shore Consortium, and public and private donations.
P.O. Box 1286, Rocky Point, NY 11778
Office Hours: Mon-Fri, 9am to 5pm Visit us in the portables on the grounds of the Joseph A. Edgar School in Rocky Point.