The Hispanic United Association of Westbury held an educational forum last week to inform community members on how they could help keep their kids from getting involved with gangs and violence.
The crowd of about 150 mostly Hispanic parents and community members filled into the Westbury Middle School auditorium to hear from keynote speakers Sergio Argueta, founder of S.T.R.O.N.G. Youth, a Long Island organization that specializes in youth, gang and gun violence prevention and intervention, as well as Detective Luis Salazar from the Nassau County Police Department.
Luis Romero, an outreach worker with the Roosevelt/Freeport Economic Opportunity Commission (EOC) of Nassau County, brought his son to the program, saying that in his line of work he often sees parents who don’t know how to deal with issues such as gang violence, suicide or depression.
“Sometimes it’s best for [teens] to hear from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, as opposed from parents,” Romero said, noting that ages 10-14 is when the issues of gang-related violence and depression begin to spring up. Children of undocumented parents who come to the states before their family are also more susceptible to joining a gang, as the gang offers a family environment. “Dialogue and communication is important. If there’s been a gap of years, you need to reconnect with your children. Sometimes there’s a lot of resentment and that’s why a lot of kids join gangs. We’ve been seeing that a lot.”
Superintendent Dr. Mary Lagnado noted that preventing gangs and violence was essential in making sure students received a proper education.
“It is something that is now at the top of our list as one of the topics we have to tell our parents on how it can be prevented,” Lagnado said in opening remarks to the crowd. “We have to make sure our students are safe and secure so they are ready to learn. Without that, there will be no learning.”
Social worker Lewis White helps lead a club at the middle school called Council for Unity, which gives students a safe environment where they can voice their feelings and be informed about the dangers of gangs. About 15 teens attend the voluntary meetings, which are held three times a week. He said the educational forum was a good resource for parents looking to know how to help their kids avoid gangs.
“It makes the community more aware of the potential problem of gangs in the community and the resources and alternatives of their kids getting involved in gang activity,” White said. “It helps them know how to keep their kids from getting involved with things like that.”