For almost seven years, Alison Eriksen has been making a difference in the lives of youth across Oceanside, and her work has caught the attention of the Town of Hempstead, which recently honored her with its aptly named Make a Difference award.
Eriksen is the project coordinator of the Oceanside SAFE Coalition, whose mission is to prevent and reduce alcohol and drug use among youth by engaging in environmental strategies, programs and activities that create a safe, healthy and drug-free community.
Additionally, she is a licensed social worker and holds a master’s in social work from Adelphi University. She has been working in the field of human services for over 10 years. Her work focuses primarily on serving people with severe and persistent mental illness, chronic homelessness and substance abuse disorders.
The town says the award honors neighbors who go “above and beyond” serving the community.
Additionally, Bob Barker, of Elmont, Lenny Moore, of Hempstead, Donald Patane, of Levittown, Nancy Rodriguez, of Valley Stream, Patricia Shea, of Wantagh, and Tim Goettelmann, of Garden City, were recipients of the 2022 award.
Of receiving the honor from the Town, Eriksen said, “It was a huge honor just standing up there. I loved listening to everybody else’s bios that night and hearing what the other honorees have done so selflessly for their towns. It was incredible to listen to that alone, so to know that even my name was associated with those individuals was a huge honor.”
Councilman Anthony D’Esposito, who has previously worked with the Coalition on Narcan trainings said, “Alison Eriksen and her team at the Oceanside SAFE Coalition are providing invaluable resources to America’s largest township at a time when the opioid epidemic is impacting families across our nation. As a former NYPD detective and someone who hosts Narcan training programs, I know how important Alison’s work is for people struggling with drug addiction and mental health issues. She is providing aid to people in their most difficult times and undoubtedly saving countless lives.”
Additionally, Supervisor Don Clavin said, “Alison Eriksen is a leader and role model in the Town of Hempstead community, providing support and guidance to people who need it most. We are proud to present the town’s Make a Difference Award to Alison in recognition of all her hard work and dedication with the Oceanside SAFE Coalition and to residents across Hempstead Town.”
Prior to becoming involved in Ocean-side SAFE, Eriksen was a co-founder of the Makeshift Movement, which she started in 2015 with several of her close friends from Oceanside High School. Its goal was to create a safe space for the community to talk about mental health, suicide and substance abuse.
“What prompted us to start that was primarily in response to the number of local deaths by suicide and overdoses we were seeing in 2015,” Eriksen said. “A lot of them were people we graduated high school with including my best friend Jessie DiRocco’s brother, Anthony, who took his own life. So, the makeshift movement is dedicated to him.”
The Makeshift Movement, which co-exists with Oceanside SAFE, hosts education panels, resource fairs, media campaigns and community art projects.
However, that same year, Sara Dowler, a health teacher at Oceanside High School was putting together her own anti-drug organization, Oceanside SAFE and thought Eriksen and her team would be a great addition.
“She felt that it would be something that would be the right avenue for me considering the work I do for the community,” Eriksen said. “She asked if it would be something I’d be interested in and I said ‘yes’”
Then, after working with the coalition for four years, Dowler passed the torch to her.
“I was asked by Sara to essentially take over operations as Project Coordinator and take over day to day of the SAFE Coalition,” Eriksen said.
This happened at the same time as when the Coalition received funding by Drug Free Communities in 2019.
She says that this funding was key to helping the Coalition further its reach.
“Since we have funding now, we’re able to do a lot more and make ourselves more well known in Oceanside as a trusted source of information and support when it comes to substance abuse prevention and keeping youth safe,” Eriksen said. “What we’ve done over course of the last three years is expand district prevention curriculum, hosted several education workshops on substance abuse prevention for youth and parents, provided community prevention events, hosted evidence-based prevention programs and awareness campaigns and created stronger bonds within the 12 sectors of the community to make sure all efforts are being spread and everyone is involved.”
She says the 12 sectors are local businesses, civic organizations, health care professionals, law enforcement, local media, parents, religious organizations, schools, state and local government, substance abuse organizations, youth and youth serving organizations.
She says that substance abuse is a problem everywhere and that the Coalition’s existence is one small piece of helping to fight the problem.
“The main reason you see so many coalitions popping up and why Drug Free Communities is funding hundreds is because when you talk to all these coalitions you see everybody is experiencing the same tribulations and issues,” Eriksen said. There’s nothing that separates us from other communities and what makes this coalition so special is that it’s really unifying and we want to spread that message to parents and let them know this is an issue and goes hand-in-hand with mental health and make that we’re having these conversations with our kids and realize that what we normalize in our communities is going to make all the difference.
Most recently, SAFE has hosted its 2022 Sticker Shock and Power of Parents events.
Sticker Shock is a campaign, held on June 9, where prevention messaging was posted on pizza boxes from Bonbino’s and D’cocco’s Pizzerias in order to give important facts about the risks of underage drinking to families.
The Power of Parents, held June 16 at the Oceanside Library, was a presentation that informed parents on how to be prepare their students about risky behavior ahead of prom, graduation and summer vacation.
Looking toward the future, Eriksen says the “sky’s the limit.”
“We’re just really excited especially going into year three of our funding to get more members of the community onboard,” she said. “We’ve gotten a lot of response in the last year alone and we’re still meeting with different organizations and stakeholders and becoming more and more involved. It’s exciting to think about the endless opportunities we can have.”