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North Shore Youth Council

The Heritage Center at Heritage Park. Photo by Julianne Mosher

The Heritage Center in Mount Sinai will soon have new owners, but that doesn’t mean that things are going to completely change. 

As of Dec. 1, North Shore Youth Council took over the operations and activities of Heritage Trust.

Victoria Hazan, president of Heritage Trust, said that for the last two decades, the center and its grounds were run by a devoted set of board members and volunteers, but it was time for the center to have a new life. 

“We were looking for it to be transferred to another nonprofit,” she said. “We loved their mission — NSYC is awesome and are community oriented like we are.”

Based primarily out of Rocky Point, NSYC has been prominent within its community since the early 1980s. 

The organization was born out of concern for the high rates of substance abuse and teenage runaways on Long Island at the time. 

Driven by the desire to save as many youths as they could from drugs and alcohol, these individuals spawned an innovative model for youth prevention programming that continues to this day. Eventually NSYC began to expand and offer additional services along the North Shore including summer camps, after-school programs and mentorships.

Robert Woods, NSYC’s executive director, said that the organization always had a close connection to Heritage Trust. 

“This partnership will allow us to bring in more resources to the community and affords new and exciting opportunities for thousands of residents to enjoy and partake in,” he said. “With this expansion and increase of space for NSYC, we’ll be able to do more of what we love and serve youth and families in greater capacities.”

This doesn’t mean that NSYC will be closing or eliminating their Rocky Point presence, either. 

“We’re expanding our services to reach families in other communities,” he said. “We are thrilled for this next chapter of our organization to expand into the heart of the North Shore communities and build upon the center’s 20-year legacy.”

Lori Baldassare, founder and a board member with the trust, said NSYC was always affiliated with the group — her late husband Jaime was president of the NSYC board for a decade. 

“They share a mission that was similar to ours,” she said. “It just made sense.”

While the deal is not completely closed yet — Woods said it should be finalized within the next month — NSYC has begun hosting events and taking on the operations that Heritage is known for including the annual tree lighting and breakfast with Santa. 

“It’s great for NSYC to have a brick-and-mortar space for them to host events and use that they didn’t have before,” Baldassare said. 

Heritage Park, and the center inside it, began 25 years ago when the open land was slated for construction of a new Home Depot located at 633 Mount Sinai-Coram Road. Baldassare was a member of the Mount Sinai Hamlet Study for the Town of Brookhaven at the time. 

“People said they didn’t have a central meeting place in the area — not just for Mount Sinai, but the whole North Shore community,” she said. “The Heritage Center and park have been able to create a sense of place.”

Not only will the center host Heritage events in the near future, but Woods said they will be able to bring more activities for residents including LGBTQ youth programs and behavioral art classes. 

“It was bittersweet,” Hazan said. “But at the end of the day, it was the best thing we could’ve done for the park.”

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) recently visited North Shore Youth Council’s summer camp in Rocky Point to congratulate Kayla MacKay for being the Legislative District 6 recipient of the Suffolk County Youth Week Award during the inaugural Suffolk County Legislature’s “Youth Week.” 

This year’s Youth Week Award recipients were honored for going above and beyond in helping the community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is my honor to recognize Kayla MacKay as the recipient of this year’s Suffolk County Youth Week Award in District 6,” Anker said. “Kayla has had a positive impact on the children and teens in the community during the COVID-19 pandemic through volunteering with North Shore Youth Council, helping out with food drives and community cleanups, and so much more. 

She provided invaluable support to her peers and helped ensure that there were still opportunities for them to connect to each other virtually while they couldn’t meet in person. Thank you to Kayla for all that she has done and continues to do for our community.”

As an active community member, Kayla MacKay is the current President of North Shore Youth Council’s Youth Advisory Committee, a peer mentor in the Big Buddy-Little Buddy mentoring program and is a Senior Counselor in the Summer Buddies program at North Shore Youth Council. 

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, she assisted North Shore Youth Council in facilitating tutoring and recreational opportunities for teens across virtual platforms. She also regularly donated her time to local food drives and community cleanups, as well as two of North Shore Youth Council’s newest projects, the first annual safe Halloween drive-thru and the creation and distribution of holiday boxes for children in need.

“North Shore Youth Council is so pleased and honored to have one of our own, Kayla Mackay, receive the Suffolk County Youth Week Award,” said North Shore Youth Council Executive Director Robert Woods. “Kayla’s passion, uncanny intelligence, and positive spirit has been such a blessing to our organization, especially as we navigated the COVID-19 pandemic. Our entire staff agrees, working with her to help youth and families thrive has been an incredible privilege. We expect a very bright future for Kayla!”

Above: Leg. Sarah Anker with Bea Ruberto and volunteers at the Adopt-a-Spot in Sound Beach during Saturday’s cleanup. Photo from Sarah Anker

The Sound Beach Civic and North Shore Youth Council joined together to clean up a spot that will soon be home to a frontline hero dedication.

Bea Ruberto, president of the civic, said that the group was joined by local scouts and the NSYC to clean up parts along New York Avenue. With all groups combined, more than two dozen community members helped prepare for the tribute that is set to be installed at their Adopt-a-Spot this summer. 

From 9 a.m. until 12 on Saturday, May 8, Ruberto said it was a successful event.

“Everything was done by noon because pretty much everybody was there by nine, and everybody just jumped in and started working,” she said. “They were really great.”

Volunteers cleaning up from the North Shore Youth Council. Photo from NSYC

Stephanie Ruales, director of communications and public relations, and executive director Robert Woods said a handful of kids from NSYC joined in the cleanup, and stayed to make sure the spot was perfect. 

“We love working on community projects with our local organizations and are always looking for ways to get our young kids involved in community service,” they both wrote in an email. “It’s also a great way to raise awareness about initiatives that our civics are working on and the great things happening in our towns.”

While there, the volunteers from the youth council helped edge out one of the garden beds and weed and prepped the area for some new plantings and transplants. 

Ruberto said cleaning up the spot is paving the way for the tribute they began planning months ago. The idea is to have a large stone, adorned with a plaque honoring frontline workers who worked tirelessly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. A tree will be planted behind it. 

To raise funds for the project, the civic created a cookbook, “Signature Dishes of Sound Beach and Beyond,” earlier this year. Donations were made in exchange for the book, and the civic “sold out” of the first 100 copies almost immediately. 

“It was because people want to support this,” Ruberto said. “People really care about saying thank you to all the people who work to keep us safe.”

Ruales and Woods said not only was the cleanup helpful to the future tribute, but it also instills a sense of community in young people. 

“It helps them feel connected to where they live, especially as we continue to navigate the pandemic,” they wrote. “There’s that feeling of accomplishment that they contributed to something greater than themselves.”

Volunteers cleaning up from the North Shore Youth Council. Photo from NSYC

Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) stopped by to help, too.

“It is thanks to our committed community volunteers that our community’s green spaces stay beautiful and clean,” she said. “The Adopt-a-Spot will be the perfect place to honor and thank our frontline and essential workers who continue to keep us safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

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.”

Photo from Mount Sinai Fire Department photographer, Elliot Perry

Jaime Baldassare, an active Mount Sinai community advocate, passed away last week after a battle with COVID-19. 

A retired Suffolk County corrections officer, Baldassare dedicated his life to volunteering in the Mount Sinai and surrounding communities. He served on the Mount Sinai School Board, was a past president of the North Shore Youth Council for a full decade, held the title of former vice president of the North Shore Colts and was ex-chief of the Mount Sinai Fire Department. 

Photo from Mount Sinai Fire Department photographer, Elliot Perry

“It’s difficult to sum up someone like him in a few sentences,” said Andrew Samour, assistant chief at the Mount Sinai Fire Department. “He will be missed.”

Samour said Baldassare was with the department for 26 years.

“He was a dedicated firefighter for this department,” he said. “He was a fun guy to hang around with and had a great sense of humor.”

Baldassare was previously the assistant chief at the department from 2009-2015, and most recently served as chief from 2016-2017. 

In 2017, he told TBR News Media that he loved helping other people.

“There’s nothing quite like when you pull someone out of a fire or out of a wrecked car and you find out the next day that they made it,” he said. “It’s a feeling you can’t describe. I love to do this. We train to be the best we can be so anytime a call comes in, we’re ready to do whatever it takes to help the people of Mount Sinai.”

When Baldassare wasn’t putting out fires, he was helping his wife with the Heritage Trust. Lori Baldassare founded Heritage Park nearly two decades ago, and he was right by her side. 

Victoria Hazan, president of Heritage Trust, said that he could be found joking and chatting with people visiting the center. 

“He surely will be missed, that’s for sure,” she said. “He was a great contributor to Heritage and truly well-loved by many people in the community.”

Baldassare was brought to Stony Brook University Hospital in December where he was diagnosed with the virus. 

He was just 62 years old when he died on Feb. 4. 

“He’s done so much for the community,” Hazan said. “Even though he was in the background, he was an asset to Heritage.”

From left: Legislator Sarah Anker, Heritage Trust Vice President Brad Feldman, Jaime Baldassare, Heritage Trust Treasurer Lori Baldassare, and Heritage Trust President Victoria Hazan. Photo from Leg. Anker’s office

On Sept. 10, Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) joined the Heritage Trust Board of Directors to honor Baldassare for his dedication and service to the community. 

“I want to personally thank Jaime for all the years of service he has provided to our community,” Anker said. “Our community has been so positively impacted by Jaime. Among Jaime’s many contributions, he was instrumental to the creation and maintenance of our beloved Heritage Park in Mount Sinai.”

The North Shore Youth Council is mourning his loss, too. 

Robert Woods, executive director, said he will be greatly missed.

“Jaime Baldassare served diligently for many years on our board of directors. He always served with joy during his time as president and made great strides in helping youth and families cope in our communities,” he said. “His legacy helped shape our unique prevention model, which supports hundreds of youth today.

Baldassare is survived by his wife of almost 30 years Lori, and his three children, Katie, Jesse and Cody.

The Sunshine Prevention Center in Port Jefferson Station has worked to make sure its students had coursework during the pandemic, even driving materials home to students. Photo by Kyle Barr

When the first weeks of the pandemic hit, when everything from restaurants to gyms to playgrounds were being shut down, schools were forced closed as well.

As the many different districts across Long Island scrambled to implement distance learning, a new crisis loomed. For the many men and women who still worked, especially those on the frontlines in hospitals or elder care facilities, they could no longer depend on school districts to take care of their children for most of the day. 

George Duffy, the CEO of SCOPE Education Services, was instrumental in providing child care during the pandemic’s early months. Photo from SCOPE

And as parents scrambled to find ways to take care of their children, a few groups stepped up to the plate. Many parents owe a great deal to those organizations that took care of their children during the pandemic’s worst months, many of whom were trailblazers for what kids would come to expect when schools finally reopened in later months.

Organizations from all over kept their child care services going when they were needed most. The Huntington YMCA, while suspending many of its other youth and adult programs, kept running its child care services and food pickups for families. This was even amongst huge economic hardship caused by the loss of membership dues. 

Eileen Knauer, senior vice president of operations for YMCA of Long Island, said their child care programs ran for four months out of their Huntington facility as well as a school in the South Huntington school district, up until their summer camp programs started again. While it initially ran free of charge for parents, having been supported by stipends from the school district and Northwell Health, they did end up having to charge parents some cost for the program. For those parents who did not have enough to pay, they fundraised to help support their children.

“The ‘Y’ is here for our community — we respond to what the community tells us we need,” Knauer said. 

SCOPE Education Services, a Smithtown-based nonprofit chartered by the New York State Board of Regents, operates child care programs all over Long Island. Though SCOPE normally works with school districts from all over, in March, when districts were mandated to provide child care even while their buildings were closed to normal activity, they turned to SCOPE, according to George Duffy, executive director. 

The nonprofit operated 25 locations throughout Long Island to provide that child care, with more than 800 children in total enrolled. From March through August, SCOPE workers kept children in safe spaces, allowing them an opportunity to socialize when many were feeling the emotional constraints of isolation.

Though districts pay a weekly stipend to help run the program, for parents who desperately needed people to take care of their children while working, it was effectively free.

Lori Innella-Venne, a district manager for SCOPE operating in the Huntington area, said it was soon after the closures were coming into effect that she and her workers sat together to come up with a plan, creating something entirely new on the fly, even when restrictions and medical advice seemed to be changing on a daily basis. Despite all that, the program never saw a positive COVID-19 case amongst its children, she said.

“We took one breath when schools closed and we immediately got to work, reimagining how we did everything,” Innella-Venne said.

Over in Rocky Point, the North Shore Youth Council, a nonprofit that services districts from Mount Sinai to Shoreham-Wading River, was also caught up in that first COVID wave that crashed upon Suffolk County. Their summer camp, which featured 100 kids, was so effective in its procedures that it did not see a positive case in the several months the program ran.

NSYC Executive Director Robert Woods said they also had the benefit of good relationships with the Rocky Point school district, and that it was the district’s custodial staff who were “rock stars” in helping to prepare children for these activities. 

It was difficult, of course. Children could not even play board games together. Innella-Venne said they had to draw up an entirely new curriculum. Activities had to focus on being spaced apart. Equipment that was once shared now had to be restricted to individuals, and then sanitized after use.

“When we were still waiting for guidelines to come out, we already had a fully realized program, one that we found well within the guidelines and in some cases exceeded them,” she said. “There was fear in the beginning, but also incredible pride for what we were able to accomplish.”

The Huntington YMCA struggled during the pandemic but still offered childcare during the peak months. File photo by Victoria Espinoza

Once school started again, the demand for child care did not relax. The youth council’s afterschool program now follows in the footsteps of the local school districts’ cohort system, following those so that they don’t mix students who may have been kept separate for a significant time. They also developed a kind of study hall for those students in the hybrid model who are studying electronically, allowing parents to work even when their children are not allowed inside schools, according to Cyndi Donaldson, the youth council’s school-age child care program director.

Knauer said the YMCA has also started a program to allow children a place to do their remote work while their parents are at their jobs. Though that program had stalled once students were allowed back in school full time, it will likely start up again after December as the number of COVID cases climb and local districts expect to take a longer-than-normal Christmas break.

“If you’re a working parent, you don’t have the luxury of taking time off,” she said.

There are so many stressors with young people having to deal with so much, whether it was hearing the news and the number of people dying, or it was seeing the anxieties of their parents. It was especially hard on more at-risk kids, the kind of population serviced by The Sunshine Center in Port Jefferson Station. Carol Carter, CEO/co-founder of the organization, said they had to transfer much of their child care services online once the pandemic struck, whether it was live on Facebook or YouTube, or constant calls to catch up with parents and their children on what was happening. They took to driving out to children’s households with homework and activities or even food, trying to keep those participants engaged. The center created a blessing box where needy parents could pick up supplies and food that were donated by the wider community.

“We knew immediately how important support was through this time,” she said. “Our main focus was on positive social skills. People were feeling anxiety and other tough feelings, so developing coping skills, problem-solving skills and communication skills that kids could use during this time was important.”

All program directors agreed that their services provided a kind of stability for children during a tumultuous year.

“A parent said to me the other day that our programs are the only constant in their childs’ lives,” Woods said. “Their children look forward to coming to our programs, they are able to socialize in a different way. They are a thriving testament to what [our organization] does.”

Just like many businesses and other organizations during the pandemic, COVID has hurt their bottom line. Knauer said the YMCA is currently running at 50% below their normal revenue, as membership dues have dropped off significantly. She said anybody looking to start memberships or to donate can contact her through the YMCA at 631-421-4242.

Other programs also operated at a loss.

“SCOPE ended up losing money,” Duffy said. “We thought they were going to be running this for four-to-six weeks. We ended up running it for six months.”

But for the nonprofit service, the point was to provide that niche when it was needed.

NSYC camp councilors stood with 100 young people who participated in this year’s Summer Buddies camp, where there were no reported infections. Photo from NSYC

“We felt it was a valuable service that benefited families and the community,” Duffy said. “We were happy to do it — it kept people employed who would have been forced to do something drastic, like leave their job.”

The child care services were truly the first bulwark of dealing with children and students in a pandemic. Both SCOPE and NSYC officials said school districts reached out to them when coming up with their own procedures when reopening in September.

“A lot of school districts looked at what we did over the summer, asked for our input, and a lot of what they’re doing now is what we did in March,” Duffy said. 

The work of these and other groups has been recognized by both school districts and parents. SCOPE has received numerous positive comments from superintendents from Brentwood to Middle Country to Comsewogue. One of the districts SCOPE operated in was Miller Place, where Marianne Cartisano, the MP superintendent, said her district would not have been able to come out of the first-wave months still with their feet under them if it weren’t for Duffy and his program.

“Parents would come back and say, ‘I didn’t worry about my child today,’” Cartisano said.

Sunshine Prevention Center in Port Jefferson Station created a "Blessing Box" for people to take necessary items when they need it and drop it off as a donation. Photo from SPC Facebook

It’s been a stressful time. 

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.”

Board and team members of the North Shore Youth Council with Lillian Iorio, Suffolk Federal Miller Place Branch Manager (fifth from left) and Micah Schlendorf, AVP Retail Member Experience at Suffolk Federal (sixth from left). Photo from Suffolk Federal

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 recently presented a $1,000 contribution to the North Shore Youth Council.

“Supporting [the] 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.”

Pictured in photo: Board and team members of the North Shore Youth Council with Lillian Iorio, Suffolk Federal Miller Place Branch Manager (fifth from left) and Micah Schlendorf, AVP Retail Member Experience at Suffolk Federal (sixth from left).  Photo from Suffolk Federal

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Parents and their kids dressed up and came to the J. Edgar Intermediate School in Rocky Point for the NYSC's drive-thru trick or treating event. Photo by Kyle Barr

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.

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Camp councilors stood with 100 young people who participated in this year’s Summer Buddies camp, where NSYC officials said there were no recorded cases of COVID. Photo from NSYC

By Liam Cooper

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.