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Local leaders gather to discuss State of Elmont

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The Elmont Chamber of Commerce held its third annual State of Elmont meeting at the American Legion Post 1033 on April 3. The State of Elmont, which used to be a staple in the community more than 25 years ago, brought together residents and their representatives from the town, county, state and congress to discuss their current and future work for the people of Elmont, and its current iteration seeks to revive the tradition.

While the local officials discussed the on-going issues regarding road safety on Dutch Broadway and their hopes and concerns over the Belmont arena project, much of the night’s focus was on school programs and dealing with the problems of the aging population.

Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder led the meeting’s discussion with an announcement that his department would be kicking off its “Too Good for Drugs” school program in September to educate students on the dangers of drugs, and to steer them towards more productive activities. The Police Department, led by the public affairs officers, will be traveling from school to school to speak with students about their program and handing out stickers for student athletes to place on their equipment as a sign of commitment to avoid drugs.

“We’ll also be starting drug prevention talks, even in kindergarten,” Ryder said. “We need to start this education as early as possible so they can know how to say no.”

Early education was also on the mind of New York State Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages, who spoke of trying to acquire universal pre-k at the state level for Long Island schools. While free pre-k is available in New York City schools, many local schools depend on state grants to help run their pre-k programs. These grants, however, are distributed on a need-based system.

“Superintendent Harper has applied to these grants in the past,” Solages said. “But Elmont has always been considered ‘too wealthy’ and gets rejected.”

Solages said that she was working to loosen some of the state’s requirements for the grants and helping to expand Nassau BOCES’s Long Island Pre-K Initiative program, which promotes the implementation of Pre-K programs and guides school district’s through the state’s grant application process. She added that she helped secure $140,000 in funds for school services.

New York State Senators Anna Kaplan and Todd Kaminsky also helped secure additional funds for Gateway Youth Outreach, an afterschool community group that provides educational and recreational programs to students in the Elmont School District. Patrick Boyle, GYO’s executive director and member of the Elmont Chamber of Commerce, said that if it wasn’t for Kaplan and Kaminsky, the organization would have to cut about 200 kids from its program.

“Thanks to them we were also able to keep our job development course…which prepares students to enter the work force,” Boyle said.

The job development program currently serves 22 students from Elmont Memorial and Sewanhaka High School. Boyle said that by keeping kids busy with GYO’s programs, students are able to stay out of trouble after school. According to the United States Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, juvenile crime rates peak between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m.

While Elmont resident approved of this emphasis on school programs, they also highlighted a continuing pattern in the community in the form of decreased youth engagement. Nassau County Veterans Service Agency Director and Elmont Board of Fire Commissioners Chairman Ralph Esposito warned again that the fire department was having trouble keeping young volunteers around. Esposito, 75, said that volunteers in Elmont were down to 167 members. He said the department basically runs on the older volunteers because younger members just don’t stick around.

“I can’t even keep them for 5 years,” Esposito added. “They don’t last.”

Esposito and other members of the community blame the rising cost of living to the drop in youth engagement. Because Nassau County is one of the most expensive counties in the nation — and the fire department runs on volunteers — Esposito said younger residents choose to leave Elmont for a more affordable location. Residents also said that students have to focus so much of their time on school and work that they are left with little too no time to volunteer or take part in local and civic meetings and events. The Fire Department will look into whether or not they can use social media platforms like Facebook to reach younger residents and promote the Elmont Fire Department.