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Smithtown Youth Bureau

By Leah Chiappino 

[email protected]

Photo by Kelly DeVito

Horizons Counseling and Education Center, a nonprofit organization run through the Town of Smithtown that provides drug- and alcohol-related counseling and prevention services, is launching a new workshop series for LGBTQ+ youth. The curriculum comes from the nationwide Proud and Empowered program, which according to its website is an “intervention designed to help empower LGBTQ+ youth and improve school climate.”

Kelly DeVito, the Youth Services coordinator at Horizons, said the idea was born from a focus group through Smithtown’s Youth and Community Alliance in March 2022, with participants from Horizons along with​​ the Smithtown Youth Bureau. The consensus from the youth group was that the town was lacking a space for the LGBTQ+ community to gather for discussions.

The NYS Office of Addiction Services and Supports, one of Horizons funding agencies, provided the name of Proud and Empowered on a list of programs. DeVito saw it as a perfect fit to meet the needs of the local LGBTQ+ youth in the surrounding community.

“I had emailed the developers of Proud and Empowered, and they had sent it over to us and showed us how to work it and all that kind of stuff,” she said. “And so now we’re going to try and emulate it.”

The program is geared toward middle school and high school students. It consists primarily of open discussion, paired with small group activities and education, to help youth learn different coping skills and how to deal with social issues that may surround them.

Photo by Kelly DeVito

One of the goals of the program is to teach youth how to cope with stressors unique to the LGBTQ+ community, such as social marginalization, family rejection, internalized homonegativity, identity management, homonegative climates, intersectionality, negative disclosure experiences, negative expectancies and homonegative communication. These stressors, which can occur at school, home or within the youth’s community, are shown to increase the risk of behavioral health issues such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicide and substance abuse. The program aims to teach coping skills and avoidance strategies to help reduce these risks, the website said. 

“We just want it to be something that they can come to and feel safe, not stressed, and learn about these topics,” DeVito said. “There is open discussion, and then there’s some activity as well just to keep them moving along and there’s video clips and all that kind of stuff, but generally it’s for us, for them just to be able to talk to us.”

Some of the topics discussed are friendships, family, stress, health, spirituality, coping skills and social justice. Coming out, decision making and resilience are also mentioned.

“It’s all related to teens in general because these are all topics that any teen should have stronger skills on,” DeVito said. “But then it also focuses on their community as well.”

The program is designed to be held for 10 weeks and in approximately 45-minute sessions, but Horizons has chosen to conduct two sessions in one day, shortening the program to five weeks for an hour and a half, as it can be difficult for students to get transportation during the summer.

The Proud and Empowered curriculum was developed by “scholars, advocates, practitioners, methodologists and lifelong learners” at universities throughout the country, who are “dedicated to performing high quality research” relating to “behavioral health outcomes for LGBTQ+ youth.” The program also aims to gain an understanding of the stress LGBTQ+ youth face in schools and how to adequately address it from a research standpoint.

The program hasn’t had any teen sign-ups as at press time but Horizons would push the start date forward a week from July 17. Despite the negative turnout to date, DeVito still believes there is space and a need for the program in the community.

“Unfortunately we did not get any registrants,” she said. “We will extend the program though if we have some interested participants.”

The students at the focus group “said they did feel it was something that was lacking in this area, and that’s why we wanted to run it because we want to give them another alternative for people to go to,” DeVito said. “And this particular program has been shown to help young people with various different mental health struggles they may be having if they’re feeling depressed or anything like that. This program has been shown to help them.”

The sessions are free of charge and open to students 13 to 17. Up to 15 students can participate. To register, contact the center at 161 E. Main St., Smithtown, or call 631-360-7578. 

The Town of Smithtown Horizons Counseling and Education Center and Smithtown Youth Bureau, in conjunction with the National Guard Counterdrug Task Force, recently launched the 6th annual Pizza Box Top campaign at the Town of Smithtown Horizons Center. This youth-led initiative works to educate and change adult attitudes regarding providing or selling alcohol to minors. Seventeen youth volunteers devoted their time to adhering a total of 2,500 prevention stickers to carry-out bags at participating pizzerias.

“This is one of our favorite events because it gives families an opportunity to discuss the importance of preventing underage drinking with the young people in their lives. We hope the underage drinking prevention stickers help to open a dialogue within families to discuss this difficult topic.” – Kelly DeVito – Youth Services Coordinator, Horizons Counseling and Education Center

The seventeen students who participated in this year’s Pizza Box Top event adhered 2,500 prevention messaging stickers on carry-out bags from several local participating Pizzerias including; Mema’s in Commack, Branchinelli’s in Hauppauge, Mama’s Brick Oven in Hauppauge, Gino’s in Kings Park, Monte’s in Smithtown, and Buona Sera in Smithtown. The carry-out bags were branded with colorful prevention stickers which read; “Your Decisions Matter – Preventing underage drinking is everyone’s responsibility.”

Sergeant Carissa Siry from the National Guard Counterdrug Task Force spoke with the volunteers about the Social Host Law, underage drinking, and the dangers of the Internet, prior to this awareness activity. The New York Social Host Law can impose liability on a social host who provides alcohol to a minor, should that minor become intoxicated and cause injury to another person as a result of that intoxication.

The Town of Smithtown Youth and Community Alliance, Horizons Counseling & Education Center, and Youth Bureau are pleased to present a service workshop and focus group for all middle school students, high school students, and adults in the community. The purpose is to encourage local teens and adults to come together to find ways to strengthen and better our community. This free event will take place in the Smithtown Library Main Branch Meeting Room, located at 1 N. Country Road in Smithtown, on Thursday, March 24th, from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

“Over the last two years, our community has experienced many challenges. The goal of this event is to get young people involved in civil engagement opportunities regarding the environment and substance use, as well as to find out what they think our community needs to thrive.” Kelly DeVito – Horizons Counseling and Education Center Youth Services Coordinator

This interactive event will feature several hands-on activities. Participants will plant seedlings that will be later transplanted into community areas for beatification; take part in a National Drug and Alcohol Facts week game; and give valuable input about the main concerns our community is facing, and brainstorm ways to address these concerns.

Registration is required in order to attend. Anyone interested can register on the Town of Smithtown website on the HorizonsYouth Bureau, and Youth and Community Alliance pages. Space is limited. Community service certificates will be given to participants.

The Town of Smithtown Horizons Counseling and Education Center and Smithtown Youth Bureau, in conjunction with the 4th Precinct of the Suffolk County Police Department, launched the 5th Annual Pizza Box Top and Sticker Shock campaign on Friday, April 30th. This youth-led initiative works to educate and change adult attitudes regarding providing or selling alcohol to minors. Eight youth volunteers devoted their Friday afternoon to adhering a total of 1950 prevention stickers to carry-out bags at participating pizzerias and local Wine & Spirits shops.

“This is the fifth year we are holding this event. It is a great way to discuss the importance of preventing underage drinking to our community members. We hope the underage drinking prevention stickers help to open a dialogue in families that may not have happened without it. The young people, liquor stores and the pizzerias involved are wonderful to work with and very committed to our Township. Working in partnership with the Town’s Youth Bureau gives opportunity for some of their registered student volunteers to play an active, empowering role in educating peers and neighbors, and improving the health of their community.” – Kelly DeVito- Youth Services Coordinator, Horizons Counseling and Education Center

Four youth volunteers participated in the Pizza Box Top event, adhering 1,450 prevention messaging stickers on carry out bags at local Pizzerias;  Mema’s in Commack, Branchinellis in Hauppauge, Mama’s Brick Oven in Hauppauge, and Buona Sera in Smithtown. Four youth volunteers participated in this year’s Sticker Shock campaign, adhering 500 prevention stickers on carry out bags from Figari’s Liquor and Wine store and YM Liquor and Wine Store. A total of 1,950 carry-out bag were branded with prevention stickers which read; Your Decisions Matter- Preventing underage drinking is everyone’s responsibility,

Suffolk County Police Department 4th precinct Cope officers, LaVeglia and Dono gave a presentation to the volunteers about the social host law, underage drinking and the dangers of marijuana prior to the awareness activity. The New York social host law can impose liability on a social host who provides alcohol to an adult (21 years of age or older) should that person become intoxicated and cause injury to another person as a result of that intoxication.


Alcohol is the most widely abused drug by young people.

During these times when more people are spending time at home, alcohol use is increasing.

For more information on this and future youth empowerment programs, contact Kelly DeVito at Smithtown Horizons Counseling & Education Center at (631)360-7578 or Stacey Sanders at the Smithtown Youth Bureau at (631) 360-7595.

Photo courtesy of Horizons

Stock photo

The 4th Precinct of the Suffolk County Police Department has partnered with the Town of Smithtown Horizons Counseling and Education Center and the Smithtown Youth Bureau to host the “Operation Medicine Cabinet” medicine take back event. This drive thru event will take place on Monday, February 8, from 10 am. to 1 p.m. in the back parking lot of the Town of Smithtown Horizons Center, located at 161 E. Main Street in Smithtown. This event will give residents an additional location to dispose of medication safely.

Residents are encouraged to bring any expired or unused medication in a Ziploc type bag to the Horizons Center for proper disposal by the Suffolk County Police Department. No syringes, auto-injectors, or liquids will be accepted. Safe disposal of medications helps to prevent both potential abuse and the environmental damage caused by medications in water systems.

Residents can additionally dispose of medication at all times at the Department of Public Safety, located at 65 Maple Avenue in Smithtown. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, please call the Department of Public Safety at 631-360-7553 prior to arriving in order to ensure availability.

By Sara-Megan Walsh

More than 95 Smithtown-area teens rolled up their sleeves to help ready Hoyt Farm Nature Preserve for visitors.

The Town of Smithtown hosted a volunteer cleanup for high school and middle school students at the Commack park April 21 in honor of Global Youth Service Day, also a day ahead of Earth Day. The teens were put to work helping clean up the pollinator and butterfly garden, clearing fallen branches and debris from the apple orchard and sprucing up the animal pens.

Jeff Gurmin, director of Hoyt Farm Nature Preserve, and his staff provided educational lessons on the rescued animals while the students were performing the cleanup. One of these lessons involved learning the importance of Mason bees in the ecosystem and installing new nesting jars for the bees inside the pollinator gardens.

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Students of all ages were able to learn about local history and engage in hands-on projects through the Smithtown Historical Society’s summer programs. Photo from Marianne Howard

By Marianne Howard

The Smithtown Historical Society was fortunate to be able to provide children of all ages an opportunity this summer to step away from the screens, iPads and TVs to take an active role in volunteering and participating in its programs, camps, and daily activities this summer.

The historical society offers a Portals to the Past summer camp for children ages 6-to-12 for nine weeks throughout the summer. Cooking, sewing, drawing, painting and helping on the farm are all a part of the regular camp offerings. This year, Melissa Clemens,  director of education, created a junior educator program which bridges the gap between the camp years and the college years to create a well-informed core of teens to act as ambassadors in their schools and communities to promote an interest in history and education. The first training session in June had eight teens who spent the summer learning all about the historical society and their community. These 13- and 14-year-olds will continue to assist the society at various events throughout 2017.

Students of all ages were able to learn about local history and engage in hands-on projects through the Smithtown Historical Society’s summer programs. Photo from Marianne Howard

The society had two college-age interns volunteering with its education department this summer: Robert Rock, a Smithtown resident attending Williams College who has not declared a major; and Jacqueline Michels, a Hauppauge resident attending Providence College as a history and secondary education major. The two students tackled every task given to them and were able to make headway in some of the historical society’s newest projects. Rock assisted at all of the public programs this summer from goat yoga and movie night to the community barbecue. He also initiated a butterfly garden and helped to oversee its planting by volunteers from the Smithtown Youth Bureau at the end of August.

Michels worked diligently to draft a new field trip curriculum for the society’s Obadiah Smith building in Kings Park and reworked the “Long Island Kids: Then and Now” field trip program, which was offered for the first time last year.

“It’s great to see that the future of museums is in great hands,” Michels said. “Based on my time at Smithtown Historical Society this summer, I feel that SHS presents a community-building mission to the public. The organization works to bring together Smithtown residents over their shared local history through community events and programs. This summer, I’ve watched the Smithtown Historical Society make efforts to reach out to Smithtown residents of all ages to bring them to the historic buildings on their property and to bring local history out to the public.  All of their efforts build community by bringing together the residents of Smithtown to experience their shared history.” 

Rock also agreed that increasing involvement of younger members of community is essential. 

“I see the historical society as continuing to provide these programs for public involvement but increasing the involvement of younger members of the community,” he said. “As SHS has made a strong, and so far successful effort to further the involvement of this group through programs such as goat yoga, history happy hour, the movies on the lawn, and yoga on the lawn, I see this trend as continuing to mark the society’s path.”

Marianne Howard is the executive director of the Smithtown Historical Society. For more information on the society, its events or programs or on becoming a member, visit www.smithtownhistorical.org or call 631-265-6768.

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Members of the Smithtown Youth Bureau hard at work. Photo from Stacey Sanders.

Smithtown is well aware that a community can’t prosper without happy and healthy kids, which is why it continues to give its young people a voice in how things operate.

Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R) announced the appointment of four residents to the Youth Advisory Board, a group of 19 high school students and nine adults from across the town who work alongside the Smithtown Youth Bureau and advise the town board on ways to address and accommodate the needs of young people in the community, at a public meeting Jan. 3.

The newly appointed members, Esther Jung, Julie Delaney, Denise Massimo and Kathleen Knoll Ehrhard, were accepted through an application on the town board website. As part of the process, each candidate had to write a brief letter to Vecchio detailing what they would like to accomplish in terms of youth matters and why they believed they would be valuable assets to the town.

For Jung, a 16-year-old junior at Commack High School, an issue she’s passionate about is her generation’s overattachment to technology, which she said she hopes to find a solution to in her time on the Advisory Board.

“Everyday at school I see students on their phones in class and I think the community would benefit if we brainstormed on how to limit teens and adolescents from consuming their time with technology,” Jung said. “We could have a more face-to-face conversation with people and go back to where we were once before.”

Each of the new members’ terms commenced Jan. 1, 2017, and will run through Dec. 31, 2019.

According to town code, Smithtown recognizes its youth deserves special attention and assistance in dealing with their needs, and the Youth Board acts as the voice of Youth Bureau policy.

With a third of its members under the age of 21, the board is certainly a fitting representation of its target demographic.

“These are young people that know how to interact with other young people,” Councilwoman Lynne Nowick (R) said. “They go to schools to help out, are involved with various local activities, and serve as liaisons between the town board and young people. I see it as a great interaction and we’re very proud to have them.”

Members meet once a month to develop and coordinate activities that help make the lives of their families and other children better and encourage community participation.

Just in the past year, the Advisory Board worked together with the Youth Bureau to bring Global Youth Service Day to multiple school districts, celebrating and mobilizing those in Smithtown under 21 who have improved their communities through service, as well as a Safe Summer Nights Pool Night at the Smithtown Landing Country Club for grades 6 and up. The board has developed community education seminars and empowerment programs for students focusing on a range of important topics, like the dangers of underage drinking.

A fundraising campaign was held to provide school supplies to kids in need as well as a food drive for Smithtown Emergency Food Pantry. Working predominantly with schools, volunteers help the bureau provide enrichment programs, intervention programs for kids experiencing difficulties or exhibiting behavioral issues, substance abuse prevention programs and anger management programs.

Stacey Sanders, executive director of the Youth Bureau and secretary of the Advisory Board, said the board has a needs assessment committee, a youth empowerment committee, a social media committee and a board training committee.

“The board helps keep the supervisor and [town officials] aware of the needs and beliefs of what’s needed, what residents are actually feeling — adults and youth — and the problems faced in the community,” she said.

Alexis Davitashivili, a junior at Commack High School who joined the Advisory B`oard in September, said her favorite initiative so far was when she and other student volunteers went to a local grocery store and placed approximately 1,100 stickers on alcohol cases to try and put a stop to underage drinking. The stickers read “Your Actions Matter! Preventing underage drinking is everyone’s responsibility.”

“It’s important for young people to get involved in their community because they’re kind of the faces of the community,” she said. “Although older people are involved, not all younger children listen to adults. Hearing things from a teen or someone close to your age is going to have more of an affect on them and the community as a whole. It might even help the adults open their eyes, like ‘oh if a child can do it, so can I.’”

If you’re a high school student or adult interested in joining the Youth Advisory Board, call the Youth Bureau at 631-360-7595 for more information.