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Parenthood Plus: December 21, 2012

A Tribute to STRONG Youth Inc.

The Nassau County legislature made a misguided decision, born of partisan politics, on July 5, 2012, to cut $7.3 million from youth, chemical dependency and mental health services for tens of thousands of people.

The decision to defund human services in July led to months of protests by human-services providers, parents and youths. In an attempt to draw wider attention to the impact of the budget cuts, one of the affected agencies, STRONG Youth, Inc., a gang-prevention and intervention program that lost all of its funding, staged a symbolic funeral for youth services at the Hempstead Pentecostal Church, in Hempstead, on August 2, 2012.

The funeral was followed, a few weeks later, by street theater. Adults and young people from STRONG attended a legislative meeting in Mineola, dressed symbolically as hostages – bound, gagged and blindfolded. One of the legislators said, at the meeting which was attended by hundreds of people, that “Child Protective Services” should be called. A few weeks later, STRONG held a prayer and candle lighting vigil. The vigil drew 150 people. All of the demonstrations by STRONG were peaceful and planned, with adults and youths working together. How do I know this? I proudly stood alongside them in each one of the events.

Some critics accused STRONG of being too extreme. Others called the symbolic funeral “disrespectful of the dead” and the “parading of hostages” as a disgrace. Nothing could be further from the truth. These events were thoughtfully organized by STRONG social workers and volunteers, young and old, who galvanized a complex network of teenagers and parents (including parents of murdered children) crime victims, clergy, community leaders and local businesses.  

The skills used to organize this event were the same ones that were used to develop and implement exemplary gang prevention and intervention services that aim to help young people to become successful students and active participants in community affairs. Nassau County should not eliminate STRONG, or programs like it. Rather it should be celebrating and promoting them as national best practices in youth development.

One of the speakers at the funeral was a young woman, Amory Sepúlveda. She testified from her wheelchair. “When I was 19-years-old,” she said, “I was the innocent victim of a drive-by shooting that resulted in never being able to walk again. I was hurt physically and emotionally and thought my life was over. With the help of county youth services, I am now a college graduate in pursuit of a master’s degree. I’ve shared my story, changing the lives of thousands of youth in Nassau County.” Today, in her role as crisis counselor for North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center, Sepúlveda is providing aid to hundreds of victims of hurricane Sandy.

STRONG Youth Inc.’s approach to protesting Nassau County’s cuts to human services funding were not radical; they were rational. Its tactics were well-planned, intergenerational events that captured the imagination of the public and media.

STRONG took effective steps to motivate change. The public should embrace the group for its peaceful protests, which represent the best of our democracy. These events helped many young people to move from apathy to activism. In fact, many of the protesters that were derided by members of the Nassau County Legislature have become volunteers in the hurricane disaster relief, demonstrating their empathy, civic involvement and activism, all for the public good.

They have learned their lessons well and now fight not only for themselves, but for the next generation.

News

Driving rain and cold temperatures could not keep Long Islanders from coming out to support the first annual DogFest Walk ‘n Roll, a fundraiser for Canine Companions for Independence. Held for the first time at Marjorie Post Park in Massapequa, dogs of all breeds and sizes came with their humans with one goal in mind; to raise funds for CCI.

Massapequa resident and event organizer Yvonne Dagger, past president and now board member, discussed the importance of the event.

For as long as she could remember, Christina Amato-Smith has always wanted to open her own hair salon. The Floral Park native worked at a salon down the road from her home, but it wasn’t until 1994 when Amato-Smith made good on her promise to herself.

“I came to Bethpage to open my business because my clients were here,” said Amato-Smith, who now lives in Lindenhurst and has owned Top Cuts for 20 years.

While her business has been met with much success, in 2008, Amato-Smith’s personal life was met with a life altering challenge when she was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer. It was this event that prompted Top Cuts to organize a cut-a-thon to raise funds and awareness for breast cancer. This year’s event occurs on Saturday, Nov. 1.


Calendar

4th Annual Harvest Festival

Saturday, Oct. 25

Health and Wellness Senior Fair

Tuesday, Oct. 28

Haunted Halloween

Wednesday, Oct. 29



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