OLA of Eastern Long Island’s Youth Connect prevention-focused crisis counseling program and the organization’s other mental health support services have been awarded $100,000 in funding from New York State.

“I am deeply honored to stand alongside OLA of Eastern Long Island as they tirelessly strive to create a more just and inclusive community for Latino immigrants on the East End,” said State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, who advocated for the inclusion of the funding, in a statement June 7, just as his final legislative session in office was ending for the year. “By advocating for equitable policies, offering vital legal representation and support, and empowering youth through education and arts programs, OLA is fostering a stronger, more vibrant, and united community that celebrates the rich diversity and contributions of its residents. I am thrilled to have allocated $100,000 to support OLA’s invaluable work, knowing that it will directly contribute to the positive impact they are making in the lives of individuals and families in our community.”

Half of the funding will go toward OLA’s Youth Connect program, a free, anonymous and confidential hotline that all middle and high school-aged youth — Latino or non-Latino — can call or text for help in a crisis. The hotline number is 631.810.9010, and members of the crisis counseling team will respond to callers in either Spanish or English from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., seven days a week.

El servicio es total y completamente confidencial. Simplemente envíe un mensaje de texto a este número en español o inglés: 631.810.9010. El equipo responderá lo mejor que pueda en dos minutos. El equipo, que se dedica a esto los siete días de la semana, es local, bilingüe y está formado por miembros latinos, blancos y afroamericanos.

Hotline crisis counselors have established relationships with mental health professionals in East End school districts, and Youth Connect counselors also provide in-school presentations throughout the region to help students manage their stress and communicate their needs, and to give them tools to help their friends who are struggling.

Mr. Thiele also allocated an additional $50,000 in discretionary funding to support OLA’s ongoing work to improve access to mental health services for youth and families

OLA has made youth mental health a priority for years, and in 2020, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, conducted a survey that showed many East End youth were experiencing pronounced mental health challenges, anxiety and hopelessness.

Mr. Thiele invited OLA Executive Director Minerva Perez to speak at a legislative hearing during the pandemic to share the group’s findings regarding youth mental health.

“Assembly member Thiele has been a true champion for mental health services for youth and their families and for immigrants in general,” said Ms. Perez. “His partnership and leadership were invaluable to ensuring that our work on this front was recognized by the state as critical to improving the lives of teens on the East End. His outreach, along with our own, highlighted for other legislators the depth of need in our often-neglected corner of Long Island. We’re proud that our relatively small organization is now known to elected officials statewide, who have said with their affirmative budget vote that OLA’s work is making a difference.”

Ms. Perez says she is now focusing on making state lawmakers aware of the “dire need for affordable, accessible bilingual mental health services on the East End.”

“Access is everything,” she said. “We have next to no affordable bilingual providers in our region. Even if we had several organizations on the East End providing free or affordable mental health services, if they — and our local schools — don’t have bilingual counselors and therapists, then a huge percentage of our community isn’t getting the help it needs. As a region we are making strides, though we still have a long way to go to ensure our kids and families are getting the support they need.” 

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Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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