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North Shore Youth Council

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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.

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A stack of 100 Chromebook computers gifted to students in the Rocky Point school district. Photo from RPUFSD

As Rocky Point students continue with distance learning, donors both near and far have been eager to lend a helping hand so that all students have the tools they need to succeed.

Locally, the Rotary Club of Rocky Point and the North Shore Youth Council have lent Chromebooks to students, and the Organization of Latin America of Eastern Long Island donated 100 Acer Chromebooks to the Rocky Point School District to assist with online education during the COVID-19 crisis.

The donations were part of the OLA of Eastern Long Island’s initiative granting 2,500 laptops and wifi equipment to eastern school districts. The donations to 11 different school districts totaled around $500,000 in electronic equipment. 

“We are grateful for the generosity and kindness of these organizations for helping our students have this crucial access to succeed in their school work,” Superintendent Scott O’Brien said. “These partnerships help to not only advance our students’ ongoing education, it encourages and strengthens school-community connections.”

Students without devices in their homes were able to pick up the Chromebooks last Friday as they moved forward in their educational digital instruction.    

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The North Shore Youth Council recognized Parents of Megan’s Law founder Laura Ahearn, center. Photo from NSYC

The North Shore Youth Council has dedicated its attention to children across the local hamlets, but last week the organization thanked one group which looks to stop sexual violence against minors.

More than 150 students, their families and elected officials packed the ballroom of Majestic Gardens in Rocky Point, as the NSYC hosted its Big Buddy-Little Buddy and Volunteer Celebration May 20 and honored Laura Ahearn, an attorney and the founder and executive director of the Parents for Megan’s Law and the Crime Victims Center for her dedication to helping youth in the community. 

“Between our programs and Laura’s organization, I think this will heighten this topic.”

— Janene Gentile

The council presented Ahearn, who recently donated $5,000 to NSYC to develop the Laura Ahearn Resilience Scholarship, with an award and plaque. 

The scholarship will be given to high school students who have overcome sexual abuse to pursue a post-secondary education, and will be distributed in $1,000 increments during the next five years as students pursue higher education. 

Janene Gentile, executive director of NSYC, said the council is very grateful to be receiving the grant funds. 

“We are very excited to be giving this scholarship to a student, hopefully in September,” she said. “Between our programs and Laura’s organization, I think this will heighten this topic.”

Ahearn said it meant a lot to receive an award from such an active organization

“I want to thank them for all the great things they do in the community,” she said. 

The attorney said the council does a lot to protect kids from becoming sexual abuse victims. 

“For me, I’m really grateful that there are so many volunteers and people who want to dedicate their lives to help kids,” she said. “When kids don’t have the support they need, they become very vulnerable.”

Ahearn said it is very meaningful for her to be able to give out these scholarships, along with the support of the many people that made it possible for her to help people in the community. 

The attorney said the project has come full circle for her.

“I wanted to give back to an organization that took the time to listen to me when someone wouldn’t 20 years,” she said.  

During her acceptance speech, Ahearn spoke about her 25-year journey, her experiences with her organization and the importance of sexual abuse prevention. 

“The only way to stop this epidemic is to educate folks in the communities, educate your children and yourself,” she said. “Sexual predators are not strangers, they look like you and me, they act just like you and me — you would never know.”

The NSYC’s Big Buddy-Little Buddy program, which began in 1993, gets high school students paired up with younger children to become mentors for them. They engage in a variety of group activities that demonstrate, encourage and reinforce social competency skills.

“This is a celebration of our peer mentorship programs,” Robert Woods, the director of youth development at NYSC said. “Whether it’s helping them with homework, or talking about their day, it gives them a safe space to open up.”

This summer Brookhaven National Laboratory will collaborate with the Rocky Point nonprofit to offer a free STEM program. In addition, they will be working with the Staller Center at Stony Brook University to bring in young musicians to work with the children in the program.

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.