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Five Towns teens aim to tackle tough issues

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Citing a desire to improve their community and help others, a group of nearly 30 teenagers, all Lawrence High School students, are part of a teen advocacy group at the Five Towns Community Center in Lawrence.

Group members, all volunteers with the center’s Gammy’s Pantry, overseen by Inwood resident Sasha Young, is focused on a wide-ranging agenda that includes addressing educational inequities; preventing bullying, child trafficking, dating violence, gang recruitment and suicide; increasing employment opportunities for young people; establishing a Police Athletic League or Explorer program at the Community Center; mentoring local youth; improving relations between the local community and police; and LGBT issues.

Two group members, Alexis Acosta and Edwin Rodriguez, presented its initiatives to Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder during a July 30 meeting at police headquarters.

Rodriquez, 19, is the oldest volunteer and has a bit of perspective on what young people do and how possibly to steer them away from negative influences.

“I look at other teens around here, especially [at] my school [Lawrence High],” he said during a July 29 interview at the Community Center. “A lot of them try to go for cash a lot, get into drugs. I’ve seen many teens nowadays doing bad stuff. I feel like parents should communicate with their kids more these days … I feel most kids head out the wrong way because they don’t have the type of closure with their parents. They don’t have the type of trust in them.”

Being involved with the Community Center could help young people remain on the straight and narrow, while also assisting people in need, Rodriguez said he believes. “We have to help others,” he said, “and there a lot of opportunities here at the Community Center where we could provide for your children, and if you want your children not to be in a bad way or in a bad position, have them come here. We look out for each other. We are a very big, happy family. This is a group that is not going to take advantage of you. It’s a group that wants you to succeed in life. You don’t have to use drugs to be cool.”

Acosta and her twin sister, Alexandra — Young’s daughters — have volunteered at the center for a few years. Alexis thinks bringing together two distinct groups is how to accomplish things. “I feel that we should bring the seniors and the young people together,” the Lawrence High sophomore said, “because the seniors have more of the knowledge, and the kids have more of the strength, and if we come together, then maybe we could get something done.” She added that because of her mother’s influence, “Yes, I definitely feel like I could be one of the leaders in the community because I have so much knowledge that she passed on to me.”

Young noted that the group has built a community garden, delivered food and performed errands for homebound people, aided isolated seniors, helped out with a census popup station at the center and provided childcare. “We would like to expose our youth to the many possibilities that are out there while they are young and can plan classes and focus attention to their career goals at an early age,” she said.

Teens speak out

Group members, a majority of whom are Inwood residents, are taking their lessons seriously. Taesheyl Thomas said she wants to clean up her community. “Because our community isn’t the cleanest one, there is a lot of litter around here and the drains get clogged,” the Lawrence High senior said, adding that she is aiming to organize a cleanup day when the weather turns cooler. “It takes a team effort to do things like that, to keep it clean. We should get more garbage cans around here, and we should clean up more,” Thomas said.

Fellow Lawrence High senior Olivia Adonis was working at the census station on July 29. She wants people who are different to have the courage to begin conversations. “I want everyone to come together and just to experience different nationalities and how people are, and definitely get more job-like experiences from here,” Adonis said.

Stopping bullying, in cyberspace or in person, is Lawrence High senior Colleen Rivera’s focus. “I want to accomplish just having kids speak out against bullying,” she said, “because I really feel that’s a big issue. I just feel like a lot of people have someone to talk to about it. It’s really an issue that needs to be addressed in this community.”

Lawrence High senior Monet Williams said she became involved “because I wanted to give back, and it’s a good thing to do, helping with food, clothes, anything.”

Cedarhurst resident Jonathan Holtz said he learned about the center from his mother. “I want to help people, and they have to come out and get food,” said the Lawrence sophomore, who has involved friends at the center. “It’s a good thing to do instead of just playing video games. It makes you feel good just to be here to help.”

Siblings Natalie and Angel Bran got involved at the Community Center through their mother, Branca Bran, who also volunteers there. “My parents have immigrated from different countries, and I know it’s hard for some people to settle in for a new lifestyle,” said Angel, a Lawrence sophomore. “I could only assume that my parents need help when they first got here, so I really want to bring the help to people who really need it, because I know my parents have suffered through it and want to make a change for some people in their lives.” His father is from El Salvador, and his mother is from Honduras.Natalie said that information is the key to helping people. “It really impacts me that I know that I could make a change and just inform people,” the Lawrence High senior said.