Citing alarming statistics on substance abuse and violence among local youth, YES Community Counseling Center last week launched a far-reaching campaign to gain community support for expansion efforts which include the purchase of a new building.
The non-profit social services organization, which currently operates out of rented office space on Broadway in Massapequa, appealed for help with fund raising, publicity and planning during a May 18 community meeting at Massapequa High School. A crowd of about 50 people turned out at the highly publicized event, which took place just before school district election results came in.
YES, which has served families in the Massapequa, Plainedge and Farmingdale school districts since 1977, has been fund raising with hopes of purchasing a building for several years now, and last Tuesday's meeting marked a major step forward in those plans.
"I'd like to believe that within a few years, we'll be in our new home," Jamie Bogenshutz, executive director of the agency said. "Now we work. Now we make it happen, because if we just sit and wait for it, it won't happen. We have to make it happen."
Bogenshutz noted that YES needs about $1.5 million to acquire a building, and that it has raised $250,000 of that so far, mostly through golf outings and dinners. Now, the campaign is under way to obtain even more help, especially from local businesses and corporate sponsors. The agency is looking to acquire an approximately 20,000 square-foot building near the border of Massapequa and Farmingdale, such as the Broadway/Boundary Avenue area.
The campaign's goals, as outlined at the meeting are the following: 1) Purchase building to expand services; 2) Provide facilities for parenting programs; 3) Provide resources for families in need through education/support and counseling; 4) Provide peer support groups; 5) Create and provide recreational and leisure-time activities for children and adolescents (evening, weekend and summer); 6) Continue to provide all currently funded programs, such as individual, family and group counseling, job placement for youth, information, referral and advocacy, and outpatient drug treatment services; 7) Coordinate community activities for new parents through senior citizens; providing for meeting rooms, group functions, and community liaisons; 8) Increase public awareness on social issues, including violence, drugs, alcohol abuse, child abuse, etc.; 9) Develop fund-raising programs to achieve these goals.
In addition to meeting social services needs, the center would provide recreational programs for children and adolescents, and at its peak, would respond to the needs of all community members - old and young - including civic and fraternal groups, according to organizers of the campaign.
Some have already stepped forward to support the efforts.
For example, Dr. James Brucia, superintendent of Massapequa Schools, attended the meeting to express his confidence in the agency, and belief in its cause. "From a school district point of view, I can tell you that this is a legitimate organization that has the best interest of our youngsters at heart," he told the audience.
Others who had been personally helped by YES shared stories of the agency's intervention at crucial times of need, such as after painful deaths.
Peter Panaro, president of the board of directors of YES, commended the staff of the agency and offered encouragement. "It is such a good, wonderful, loving agency that has so much to offer," he said. "There is so much more we can do."
Bob Thompson, of Massapequa-based Thompson Marketing, is a member of the board of directors and chairman of the building committee. Quoting disturbing statistics from recent local school district drug and alcohol surveys, he said that local community involvement is key to curbing substance abuse and violence among youth. For example, he noted that THE PRIDE Survey of Substance Abuse in Massapequa, 1997 revealed that 92 students reported bringing a gun to school during that year, and that 20 percent of 7th graders indicated that they have come to school drunk or stoned, and that 80 percent of seniors admitted the same. "It is a local problem," said Thompson. "It's our duty as citizens of this town and responsible human beings to go help out."
Concurrent with YES' efforts to acquire a center, a committee formed by the Farmingdale School District has been working for the past couple of years on acquiring a community center for Farmingdale. The Farmingdale community center would be named for Dr. Gary Karp, a former Farmingdale school board president whose sudden death at the age of 42, in October of 1996, devastated the community. According to Gerard W. Dempsey, Jr., superintendent of Farmingdale Schools, the two projects are not in competition, but rather, are parallel.
"YES has been trying to get a center for themselves for a number of years, even long before we started the efforts to get the Gary Karp Center. The YES people were represented at our meetings. They came to all of the meetings that the community center group held," Dempsey said last week. "We were focused at that point on a property at Allen Park. We have not had a meeting in more than six months. We do have a meeting now scheduled for June 17, and the Town of Oyster Bay is going to come and talk about what's happening with the Allen Park component. We're also going to talk that evening about the YES Community Center project."
He noted that representatives of the Farmingdale School District were invited to the May 18 meeting held by YES, but were unable to attend because the school budget vote and elections were being held at Farmingdale's Howitt School the same evening.
"YES is a counseling agency that has worked together with our district staff on a number of projects, and they've actually done some presentations for us, and they'll continue to do that," added Dempsey. "We've always considered them a community partner."
The community center for Farmingdale would consist of recreation, social services, and meeting facilities, according to Dempsey.