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40th anniversary

A snapshot of North Shore Youth Council from back in the day. Photo from NSYC

April 13 was a special day for the North Shore Youth Council. The nonprofit, which provides programs and services to enrich the lives of local children, celebrated its 40th anniversary.

According to a press release from the organization, on that day in 1981, founding member Betty Hicks signed the certificate of incorporation. Their goal was to establish and implement educational, cultural, recreational and social programs for youth across the North Shore, encourage youth to participate in community activities, stimulate efforts to resolve issues and problems concerning youth, foster interaction and communication amongst other existing youth programs, and develop family life education programs to support the changing needs of families.

For four decades, NSYC has been at the forefront of youth services with a holistic prevention model that encourages children and teenagers of all ages to stay out of trouble and develop the life skills necessary to become responsible, successful adults. 

Based right next door to the Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School at 525 Route 25A in Rocky Point, NSYC services over 1,200 individuals annually, while offering programs in school-age childcare and middle school drop-in, enrichment, recreation, counseling, social skills and mentoring services that adapt to fit the changing times and needs of families. 

“We’ve been a unique agency from the start, but our ability to adapt and even expand our services during this pandemic made us even more of a critical resource,” Robert Woods, NSYC’s executive director, said in a press release. “Families, children especially, have been in desperate need of stability, socialization, and mental health support, so it was important that we found every way possible to continue to be that system in place.” 

Woods said the organization started off in someone’s home at a kitchen table. 

In spring 1980, a group of Rocky Point and Sound Beach parents met in Hicks’ kitchen to address the problems facing young people in the North Shore communities — and the lack of available services and substance abuse education necessary for their health and wellbeing.

With rising drug abuse and teenage runaways becoming a problem on Long Island, one thing in particular became obvious to parents in the Rocky Point School District — issues with substance abuse, mental health and juvenile delinquency did not discriminate. 

Problems happened in any town, in any neighborhood, to anyone. Those original six parents saw the need for community cooperation and recognized that prevention programs and strategies could help youth delinquency before it became more challenging.

And now, 40 years later, their mission statement stays true. Despite a global pandemic impacting nonprofits across the country, NSYC has been able to keep its head above the water and still provide assistance to whoever might need it. 

The organization has moved many of its programs online, offered free tele-therapy, started community support workshops and even provided virtual recreation before returning to in-person services.

NSYC’s team worked with local elected officials, school district administrations and the local Rotary Club early on in the COVID crisis to bridge the gaps by providing schoolwork printing services, laptop and earbud donations, food donations, and offering its main office and recreation room as a safe and supervised place for students without Internet to work. 

They successfully ran a summer camp free of COVID-19 cases, and at the start of the new school year, resumed before and after school childcare and drop-in services with numerous health and safety protocols. 

NSYC and its Youth Advisory Board continue to develop youth-based initiatives that benefit the whole community, including safe trick-or-treating Halloween events, holiday fundraisers, virtual talent shows, and open mic and game nights. Like other nonprofits facing funding cuts, NSYC and its diverse staff rely on community support. 

“We’re rolling out a new platform for fundraising and charitable giving,” Woods said. “We work hard to cultivate relationships with our communities and keep them engaged with us because many of these kids come back year after year and grow with us. The more we know what’s needed or wanted, the better we can prepare and provide for youth and families.”   

Woods, himself, began coming to NSYC when he was just five years old. Now, he’s trying to help kids with their programs the way it helped him 30 years ago.  

“I literally grew up and have just never left,” he laughed. “You know, it’s interesting to be the director of a program that helped you grow up, and I think that’s pretty unique amongst our organization.”

Right now, most of its students come to the Rocky Point location from Port Jefferson through Wading River. Woods said they’re hoping to expand. 

“There’s this amazing legacy of people that have come through us,” he said. “And we want to keep it going.”

Rocky Point Jewelers employees from left to right: Ken Driver, Ronald Watkins, Anthony Bongiovanni Jr., Ann-Maria Bongiovanni-LaBella, Barbara Michelle, Tara Jansen, Theresa Armone and Cassie Mundy. Photo by David Luces

By David Luces

Honesty and service — that’s what the owners of Rocky Point Jewelers say have been the mainstay of their shops for 40 years. 

Originally born from a coin collecting hobby between father and son, Anthony Bongiovanni Jr., the general manager of the store, said that after he graduated high school he and his dad hatched the idea of opening a small coin shop. The coin shop eventually turned into a full-fledged jewelry store. 

“I realized early on though that jewelry was the way to go for a daily business — so we went in that direction,” Bongiovanni said.

From there, Bongiovanni would pursue and receive a graduate gemologist diploma from the Gemological Institute of America, the highest degree awarded by the institute. He also holds the title of certified gemologist with the American Gem Society. 

“He meant everything to the store. He was here every day — he was a fixture — always there to lend encouragement to the staff.”

— Anthony Bongiovanni Jr.

Bongiovanni said he learned much from his father. 

“My father taught me honesty and hard work,” he said. “He meant everything to the store. He was here every day — he was a fixture — always there to lend encouragement to the staff.” 

Anthony Bongiovanni Sr. passed away in 2011, but his impact on the store and the community remains. 

“My father was a big influence — he was a great man,” Ann-Maria Bongiovanni-LaBella, who works with the family business, said. “I see a lot of my father in my brother.”

Bongiovanni-LaBella worked as a secretary for many years in the Hauppauge area until that company went under. With some convincing from her father she began working at the store in 1984. 

“Who would’ve thought it would’ve come to this,” she said. “[I remember] we started out with homemade displays my mother would make.”

Over the years, the store has seen an expansion in size, and the family opened a Rocky Point Jewelers branch in Stony Brook.  

The Bongiovanni siblings point to customer service as essential to running a success business. 

“Anyone that sells retail will tell you that it is a different environment now than it was years ago,” Bongiovanni said. “You’re competing these days with not only other retailers but big box stores and online [shopping].”

The main store’s general manager said local jewelers like himself still offer services that are hard to find elsewhere. 

“If you need a ring sized, a chain fixed, a watch fixed or something custom designed — that is something that can’t done on the computer — you have to see a professional for that,” he said.  

Bongiovanni-LaBellla said you learn how to read people and get a sense of what they want.

Many customers have become personal friends over the years. 

“Some of these customers I’ve been seeing for close to four decades,” Bongiovanni said. “You know them, you know their children, now we are meeting their grandchildren.” 

Bongiovanni’s sister said she sees her customers at the post office, at Stop&Shop and at the bank. 

“Generations of families have come here,” she said. “We try to keep people happy — your biggest advertisement is word of mouth, it really is.”

“We try to keep people happy — your biggest advertisement is word of mouth, it really is.”

— Ann-Maria Bongiovanni-LaBella

Theresa Armone, who has worked at the store for more than four years, said it’s the level and quality of service they provide that has kept customers coming back all these years. 

Those who work at Rocky Point Jewelers agree the store works hard to earn the customers’ trust. 

Bongiovanni said people entrust them with their valuables and sentimental objects and it means never compromising their standards. 

“Times change, but it doesn’t mean your level of quality or service has to change — we try to improve on services as much as we can,” he said. 

The general manager said with the work ethic instilled in him by his father, good employees and a little bit of luck, the store is still around 40 years later.  

“It’s a tough retail environment out there,” he said. “There’s no two ways around it, but you always have to strive for better.” 

Rocky Point Jewlers is located at 29 Rocky Point-Yaphank Road and 137 Main Street, Stony Brook.