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.”
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.