Youth group hosts programs to keep kids off streets

Youth group hosts programs to keep kids off streets

North Shore Youth Council members make blankets with kids during a family service night. Photo from North Shore Youth Council

North Shore Youth Council has been keeping kids from ending up on the streets for more than two decades.

The council’s programs “give them more stuff to do beyond the school day and keeps them active and doing positive things,” office manager Marcie Wilson said.

Offering a myriad of programs, the not-for-profit hosts after school recreation, math tutoring on Tuesdays, social skills groups, child care, open mic nights, youth and family counseling, a Big Buddy/Little Buddy service and even helps teenagers get jobs.

“A lot of the time, young kids learn from other young people, so we try to get the high schoolers involved with the middle school kids,” Laurel Sutton, president of the North Shore Youth Council board of directors, said about the Big Buddy/Little Buddy program. “Any time they’re making good choices, it helps teach the younger kids to make good choices.”

The Youth Council also partners with local businesses and organizations to give children fun and interesting things to do or give them an outlet to help others. Shaolin Kung Fu & Fitness in Rocky Point, Studio E in Miller Place, Creative Zone Inc. in Rocky Point and national organization JumpBunch are just a few of those entities. Zumba instructors also host events for kids who are enrolled in the program.

Last December, six students partnered with Habitat for Humanity to help rebuild a home in Rocky Point. Months later, they were brought back to the dedication ceremony to see the final product.

Local students help in the construction of a Habitat for Humanity build in Rocky Point. Photo from North Shore Youth Council
Local students help in the construction of a Habitat for Humanity build in Rocky Point. Photo from North Shore Youth Council

“What was so great was that the kids were amazed,” Wilson said. “They worked on it and they went into what they called ‘their room’ that they worked on. They were so proud of themselves.”

A summer program is also available. Kids begin as campers and can become junior and senior counselors by the time they turn 16.

“They stick around with us for a really long time,” Wilson said. “Then they go off to college and we see them back in the summer time.”

North Shore Youth Council also partners with the Miller Place, Mount Sinai, Rocky Point and Shoreham-Wading River school districts, offering counseling and educating the schools on issues that concern today’s youth.

“We’re at each of the schools at 6:45 in the morning and we’re there until 6 p.m.,” said Janene Gentile, executive director of the youth council. “Everybody contributes to this organization. The kids on our Youth Advisory Board are in the schools and understand the issues and tell me the direction we should be heading in.”

According to Rocky Point Superintendent Michael Ring, six student assistance counselors work out of the Frank J. Carasiti Elementary and Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate schools. While primary focus is on middle school and high school counselors, there is a partnership at the elementary level. Emphasis is put on direct counseling, intervention and support services related to substance abuse.

“These counselors run numerous programs to support the social and emotional needs of our students and families, including anti-bullying, mentoring and character education,” Ring said. “Their expertise and support has provided critical resources to our district for more than two decades.”

Gentile, a drug and alcohol counselor with a master’s degree in art education, has been with the Youth Council for 23 years, working alongside Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson and the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office to host expressive art classes at the Little Portion Friary in Mount Sinai and working with incarcerated women and youth at the correctional facility in Riverhead.

“We’re trying to help people make good choices,” Sutton said. “North Shore is helping young people have activities to do after school rather than be home and get in trouble. There are enrichment programs, fun stuff and educational things.”

Gentile said she is thankful for all the help she’s received, but those she works with say they’re more thankful to have her around for all that she’s been able to do for the program.

“She’s such a loving, giving person, she’s very involved, she’s extremely creative and she knows her stuff,” Sutton said. “She’s a very in-tune person to what is going on. She basically built this whole program from the very beginning. She’s constantly doing things to improve it, and I couldn’t see anyone else heading North Shore.”

Gentile is more thankful for the connections made with so many other organizations, children, families, schools and businesses across the Island.

“I’m just really grateful that people have the same vision,” she said. “I get up every day and I enjoy being here and helping the young people; they’re an asset in every which way to the community. … I’ll continue to hold the young kids up, because I believe in them.”