Growing concerns about teenagers loitering, drinking and vandalizing property have prompted community officials to do something about it. The village has formed a Blue Ribbon Panel, led by the Rev. Brenda Overfield of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, to try to find new activities for teenagers to keep them off the streets.
Overfield, whose church is on Brooklyn Avenue, a few blocks off Sunrise Highway, said that in the last few years she has noticed large groups of youths roaming the village. These groups, which can number 20 kids or as many as 60, often wander between McDonalds, the Brooklyn Avenue School, 7-Eleven, Dunkin’ Donuts and some of the vacant buildings.
“We have a lot of youth who have nothing to do,” Overfield said, noting that these groups are often loud and sometimes cause destruction. “They just need a little bit of direction. They need to know there are people who care about what happens to them beyond their parents.”
After bringing up her concerns with fellow members of the clergy and the Nassau County Youth Bureau, Overfield took her idea to the village. Mayor Ed Fare green-lighted the committee after he was elected mayor in March.
Fare said he liked the idea, and wanted to put together a group of people close to the situation who can reach out to teens. He said the population of young people resembles bell curve — there is a small percentage of kids who will participate in everything and a small percentage who won’t take part in anything. “We have to reach those people in the middle,” he said. “We want them drawn to the good side.”
Fare added that he doesn’t want to tell the panel what to do. He wants to empower members to come up with viable suggestions. “No reasonable offer will be refused,” he said. “Let’s try.”
Overfield noted that this is beyond a police matter, as a call to the police simply gets the teens to move from one spot to another. Rather, she said, this is about finding meaningful activities that teens will take part in.
“We need to know what the kids want,” she said. “It doesn’t do any good for us to come up with programs the kids aren’t going to go to, so we need them to come talk to us.”
Dylan Ofri, 17, said Valley Stream should offer teens a place where they can go to just hang out. “Everybody’s just on the streets at night,” he said. “When people are on the streets, bad things happen.”
Ofri said there is generally no place for teens to be at night, noting that a lot of places close by 9 p.m. In trying to find public places to gather after that, teens are usually told to leave within a half-hour and have to find somewhere else to go, then are eventually told to leave there as well. “We all try to go out at night,” he said, “and we get kicked out of any place we go.”
Village Trustee Dermond Thomas, a member of the Blue Ribbon Panel, talked with a group of teens at McDonalds on a Friday night. He said they were very sincere, and some even said that they don’t like spending their nights walking the streets from place to place. “I don’t think that’s their choice,” Thomas said, “but you live with what you have.”
He said that many of the teens suggested more recreation programs, specifically those targeted to their age group. The village has a movie night program that is geared toward elementary-school kids. Thomas suggested teen movie nights on the Village Green. Let them choose the movie, he said, and provide them with a safe place to be with their friends.
It is important for the village to be a partner in this, Thomas said, because of its wealth of facilities and parkland. He added that the skate park, set to open next month, could make a big difference. And teen talent nights at the Village Green band shell, organized by Strong Side Studios owners Darryl Granum and Joanne Cuomo, have drawn large crowds of teens to both participate and support their friends.
Ken Heino, president of the Valley Stream Youth Council, said the village should consider lighting some its sports fields and providing night leagues for teens. As someone in regular contact with teenagers, Heino said this is something they would like to see.
He is also a member of the Blue Ribbon Committee. “I definitely want to bring their voice to the group,” Heino said.
He explained that while “certain kids are going to be kids,” most just want something fun to do, but without too much structure. “So many times the kids complain they they’re chased from one place to another,” he said. “They don’t want to be harassed by adults. The kids really have nothing to do, and that’s part of the problem. In the end, it all comes down to activities.”
Ofri added that he would like to see a recreation center for teens, but he also likes the idea of sports activities at night.
The 12-member Blue Ribbon Committee includes members of the clergy, village officials, business owners and a variety of other voices from the community, including a couple of teens. But Overfield said that input from Valley Stream’s youth is generally lacking.
“We don’t have any answers yet, but we’re not letting that dissuade us from continuing to try and do something for our youth,” she said. “We know there’s a problem. We need a solution. We just need people to tell us what they think it is.”
Overfield wants to hear suggestions from Valley Stream teenagers about what activities they would like to see. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org and put “Blue Ribbon Panel” in the subject line.