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North Shore Youth Council

A free alcohol testing kit comes with one urination cup and test strip. Photo from Suffolk County Sheriff's Office

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.”

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker speaks during a press conference July 25 about creating a permanent panel to address the ever-growing opioid crisis. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

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.”

Shoreham-Wading River high school students and Long Island business owners connect during the school’s first School-to-Community meeting in April. Photo from Shoreham-Wading River school district

High school students within Shoreham-Wading River are getting a head start on real-world job opportunities, thanks to a new community networking initiative rolled out by the district.

The School-to-Community Program, which held its first meeting April 3 and a second May 16 at the high school, helps students of all grade levels and interests prepare for postschool jobs by providing access to business leaders from local community organizations who discuss job tours and shadowing opportunities.

Participating students include those in the school’s science research program; AP Capstone program; science, technology, engineering and math program; and special education population, all of whom are in search of mentorships and internships.

They’ve connected with business leaders representing a wide range of companies like ASRC Federal, a service provider that resolves challenges within federal civilian, intelligence and defense agencies; the Tesla Science Center, a not-for-profit working to develop a regional science and technology center in Wardenclyffe; and Island Harvest, a hunger-relief organization that serves both counties. Representatives from Brookhaven National Lab and the North Shore Youth Council have also been involved.

The two meetings held so far will be the first of many in a continued development between the school and community, according to Amy Meyer, director of STEM for grades K-12 at the district.

“We want all of our students to have access so they have a little bit more real-world experience that will go on to help them choose what they’re going to do.”

— Amy Meyer

“We’re preparing students for jobs in industries and areas where it’s changing so much because of technology and everything else … it’s really important to stay current with what’s happening in those industries in order for students to know what they should expect and what areas they should target,” Meyer said. “We want all of our students to have access so they have a little bit more real-world experience that will go on to help them choose what they’re going to do.”

During the April meeting, 26 business representatives, 17 educators and nine students met to brainstorm programs and events that would accomplish the district’s goal for authentic learning experiences, according to the school.

The May event was an annual STEM symposium — a fair-style gathering that brought awareness to 21st century careers. Students showed off their STEM-related projects, which included robotics, while community leaders spoke from exhibit booths about how their industries are involved with STEM and what educational measures students can take to break into specific industries.

John Searing, an ASRC Federal employee and engineer by degree and trade, got involved in the program through a presentation he made in his daughter’s AP Science class at the school. The teacher of the class recommended he get involved as someone adept at dealing with the students in regards to career and STEM opportunities.

“I think it’s an absolute opportunity to work with the kids as they head into college or some other field, especially technical, and teach them some of the soft skills and nuances about the workplace that can help them along,” Searing said. “I’ve suggested working with them an hour or two every week in a classroom setting to bring some real-world problems we find in the workplace and let them try and solve them.”

A career plan is already in place for next year, Meyer said, which will focus on specific growth industries on Long Island.

“One of the thoughts is that if students know what is available here on Long Island, they may be more apt to stay on Long Island and focus their career on those things,” she said.

The School-to-Community initiative, which has the full support of the school board, curriculum and instruction team, was first proposed in March of this year, and approved right away to lay the groundwork for it to be firmly established next year.

“The school and district want to work together to provide learning and growth opportunities for our students,” Shoreham-Wading River High School Principal Dan Holtzman said in an email. “It is an important step in bridging the community and district together to educate students on career paths and exploration.”

Members of the North Shore Youth Council. Photo from North Shore Youth Council

By Kevin Redding

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.

Children play games after school. Photo from North Shore Youth Council

“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.”

Members of the knitting club make garments. Photo from North Shore Youth Council

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.

NSYCAfter 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. Photo from sheriff's office

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.

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker and Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco with members of the North Shore Youth Council after presenting the check for it's new substance abuse program. Photo from sheriff's office
Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker and Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco with members of the North Shore Youth Council after presenting the check for it’s new substance abuse program. Photo from sheriff’s office“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.

Kylar Intravaia at a press conference with Girl Scouts of America CEO Anna Chavez and Sen. Chuck Schumer. Photo from Jenn Intravaia

Skylar Intravaia was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome at age 9, but never let her high-functioning form of autism hold her back.

“A lot of that has to do with how we dealt with her diagnosis,” her mother Jenn Intravaia said. “We immediately brought her to the library to learn about her diagnosis. We told her she’s not broken — she’s just different. We told her she may have to learn things differently, or learn to do things differently, but that she can do anything she wants to do. That’s how we’ve approached everything. And she’s done fabulous.”

Skylar Intravaia at her Gold Award ceremony. Photo from Jenn Intravaia
Skylar Intravaia at her Gold Award ceremony. Photo from Jenn Intravaia

So fabulously that she graduated from Rocky Point High School this past weekend, and also earned her Girl Scout Gold Award after completing 80 hours of volunteer service on a self-made project that makes a difference in the community.

Skylar Intravaia’s project was fitting for the senior. She realized that there were more students at various points on the autism spectrum in her community than she first thought, and wanted to help kids the way she was helped, in learning to adjust to and deal with her diagnosis.

“I know I had trouble socializing with other kids and making friends when I was younger, and as I got older, I was able to understand that better and I had many more friends,” she said. “Now I’m much more social, but a lot of kids on the autism spectrum don’t get that. I knew I wanted to do something.”

What resulted was the creation of a recreation night. Letters were handed out to nearly 60 kids in the area, and those who wished to attend got together to hang out outside of school, whether it were playing games and just socializing or going out to play laser tag or make plaster paintings.

“I just wanted to figure out something that would help everyone get through what I was facing, because I knew it was so hard for me to get those social skills,” Intravaia said. “I knew it would make things easier while also being really fun.”

The project became so successful that kids would come up to her in the hallway asking when the next meeting was, or she’d receive emails from parents saying how much fun their children had or how much the program was helping.

Skylar Intravaia, on right, and her young Girl Scout friends. Photo from Jenn Intravaia
Skylar Intravaia, on right, and her young Girl Scout friends. Photo from Jenn Intravaia

Although running into some difficulties, as the North Shore Youth Council stopped letting her hold meetings there, she received help from the girls at CreativeZone in Rocky Point, who let her move the meetings there for free.

“Despite some of the challenges along her journey, she was able to come up with some ways around those, and I’m very proud of her,” said Donna McCauley, one of Intravaia’s troop leaders and the service unit team registrar and Gold Award coordinator for Rocky Point. “I was really impressed with her ability to advocate for herself and problem solve along the way. I knew she was going to incorporate that into her project, because it needed to be something they’re passionate about. She’s very mature, reached out and asked for help, and I was really proud to see her accomplishments.”

Following receiving her award, Intravaia said she had many unique opportunities, such as meeting Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point), Suffolk County Legislature Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) and U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and opening NASDAQ.

Anker said she was honored to have met someone so motivated.

Jenn and Skylar Intravaia after Rocky Point graduation last week. Photo from Jenn Intravaia
Jenn and Skylar Intravaia after Rocky Point graduation last week. Photo from Jenn Intravaia

“I would like to extend my sincere congratulations to Skylar for receiving her Gold Award, the highest honor in Girl Scouts,” she said. “She’s amazing. Through her hard work and dedication, she has overcome challenges in her life to help others and is a source of inspiration for her community.”

Intravaia has benefited immensely from Girl Scouts. She’s been known to always help others, whether it be offering to fold laundry for the elderly, stopping to pick up items dropped by a passerby, or beautifying her community.

“She’s been able to do anything she’s set her mind to,” Jenn Intravaia said.

Her daughter will be attending St. Francis College, where she will live this fall, and continue to help those around her.

“She’s learned about community service, how to accept people, it’s been a wonderful experience,” Intravaia said. “She was able to speak to her classmates about what it’s like to have autism, and explained how her brain just operated differently. She started speaking at assemblies and started to become an advocate. I think part of that is because of Girl Scouts. She learned not to hide. She’s a very strong-willed girl. It’s allowed her to be successful.”

Big buddies and little buddies from the North Shore Youth Council danced and socialized during their annual reception at Majestic Gardens in Rocky Point. Photo by Alex Petroski

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. Photo by Alex Petroski
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. Photo by Alex Petroski

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.

North Shore Youth Council members make blankets with kids during a family service night. Photo from North Shore Youth Council

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.

Local students help in the construction of a Habitat for Humanity build in Rocky Point. Photo from North Shore Youth Council
Local students help in the construction of a Habitat for Humanity build in Rocky Point. Photo from North Shore Youth Council

“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.”

Tracey Budd poses for a photo with her son Kevin Norris, who died of a heroin overdose in 2012. Photo from Tracey Budd

Tracey Budd’s son died of a heroin overdose in September 2012.

One year later, Budd, of Rocky Point, was asked to speak at the North Shore Youth Council. Since then, she’s ended up on a public service announcement, “Not My Child,” that’s shown in high schools and middle schools along the North Shore, aiding her in becoming an advocate for drug abuse prevention and rehabilitation. She also teamed up with another mother, Debbie Longo, of Miller Place, and the two have become advocates for prevention and rehabilitation along the North Shore.

It is because of their hard work and dedication to this issue on Long Island that they are 2015 Times Beacon Record Newspapers People of the Year.

“I made the decision not to be ashamed of how he passed away,” Budd said about her son. “Just from speaking that one time at North Shore Youth Council, it was so very healing for me, and so many things have come from that and taken me in a direction that I never thought I’d be in, but it seems like it’s my calling.”

Janene Gentile, a drug and alcohol counselor and executive director of the North Shore Youth Council, helped work on that PSA.

“It was very powerful,” she said. “It was walking her through her grief. She has a lot of courage.”

Budd, who is also a member of Families in Support of Treatment, pulled together as much information as she could, and this past October created a Facebook page — North Shore Drug Awareness Advocates — pooling together families from Rocky Point, Miller Place, Mount Sinai and Shoreham-Wading River to spread the word about the rising concern over dangerous drugs, like heroin, growing in popularity across the Island.

“It just seemed that so many people were inboxing me and asking me for help,” she said. “I created the page so we could have a centralized area where we share information, and organize meetings where the group could all meet up. I also organized meetings once a month so we could to teach people about advocacy.”

Having a 12-year-old daughter, Cristina Dimou attended the meetings to begin to gather information on the issue. About one week ago, someone Dimou knows suffered an unexpected overdose, she said. She immediately reached out to Budd asking for guidance.

Debbie Longo speaks at a Dan’s Foundation for Recovery event. Photo from Facebook
Debbie Longo speaks at a Dan’s Foundation for Recovery event. Photo from Facebook

“She gave me three phone numbers telling me who to call for what and even gave me websites of rehabilitation centers,” Dimou said about Budd. “She checks up on me every day, asking me if I’m okay and what’s going on. I don’t know her personally, but she had a sense of urgency and a willingness to help. I think that speaks volumes.”

Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said with Budd’s outspokenness and Longo’s long-standing knowledge of the issue, they’ll be successful in their efforts.

“These women put their energy, their anger, their frustration, their sorrow into something that is helpful to the community,” she said. “I think they’re going to do amazing work.”

Longo has been involved in advocacy across the Island for the last five years, after her son suffered an overdose 10 years ago. Since then, her son has recovered, and currently lives in Del Ray, Florida as a director of marketing for a rehabilitation center called Insight to Recovery.

She said she found sending her son out of state helped him recover, because once he was done with his treatment, he wasn’t going back to seeing the same people he knew when he was using.

But she too has been involved in outreach and drug abuse prevention, aside from being to co-administrator of Budd’s Facebook page.

“I get a call just about every day from a parent saying they have a kid that’s addicted and they don’t know what to do,” she said. “We’re losing kids left and right. We’re losing a generation, is what we’re losing.”

Longo is a part of a 501(c)3 not-for-profit program, Steered Straight, which spreads prevention in schools. Recovered addict Michael DeLeon leads the program.

“You can hear a pin drop in the auditorium, that’s how dynamic of a speaker he is,” she said. “I can’t tell you how many kids come up to us at the end of the program and say, ‘I have a problem.’”

Longo was the chapter coordinator for New York State for a website called The Addict’s Mom, and is currently the head of Before the Petals Fall, Magnolia Addiction Support’s New York chapter. She is a 12-step yoga teacher to recovering addicts, and does post-traumatic stress disorder programs to help those dealing with grief.

After leaving nursing to go into medical marketing for hospitals, Longo said she thought she’d know where to turn when she found out her son was an addict, but said she really didn’t know what to do.

“There was such a bad stigma about addiction that you didn’t want to talk about it — you kind of suffered in silence,” she said. “If I was a nurse and had these contacts and didn’t know what to do, the average mother may have no idea. I’m trying to open the community up to what we have here on the North Shore.”

Tracey Budd holds a picture of her son, Kevin Norris, at a Walk for Hope event. Photo from Tracey Budd
Tracey Budd holds a picture of her son, Kevin Norris, at a Walk for Hope event. Photo from Tracey Budd

Longo has helped mothers like Sheila “Terry” Littler, of Rocky Point, whose son is a second-time recovering heroin addict. Currently, he is three months sober.

Knowing about treatment and where to get help, because it was something that started for her 13 years ago, Littler reached out to Longo for mental support.

“It was nice to have somebody else that’s gone through it to talk to, to know you’re not alone,” Littler said. “But at the same time, it’s sad that I’m not alone.”

When her son relapsed after being four and a half years sober, she reached out to Budd.

“It takes a lot of guts to come out in the open and do this and help people,” she said. “There are a lot of hurting people out there.”

She recently reached out to Longo about a friend of her son, who is a drug user, and the two were calling each other back and forth to find ways to overcome addiction.

“She cared to take the time to help me,” she said. “She spent a whole day doing that with me — that’s dedication right there.”

With the contacts Longo’s made with support centers and prevention agencies and Budd’s relationship with the county after creating the PSA, the two are teaming up to use their resources to form a coalition based on the Facebook page. It was also have the same name.

It’s in its early stages, but the hope is to help spread awareness about prevention through schools. As part of a coalition, Budd said, you can also apply for grants, which she hopes will help fund the spread of their advocacy.

“I felt Tracey was on the same path that I was on,” Longo said. “She is as tenacious as I am in what we’re trying to do.”

Longo said that she and Budd are trying to be vigilantes and have started Narcan training classes, like ones they’ve previously hosted in Miller Place and East Setauket, to continue to help fight the Island’s drug addiction problem. Narcan is a medication that stops opioid overdoses.

“I think together we’re a good team,” Budd said. “To me, you have a choice. You can either dig your head in the sand and be embarrassed that your child is an addict, or you can be proactive and say, ‘Enough of this, let’s help each other.’ When you speak to another parent that’s going through it, there’s a bond that you automatically create. In a way, I feel like my son is right there with me, helping these families. It’s very important to me, and I’m never going to stop doing it.”

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