The Alliance for Safe Kids (ASK) aspires to cast as wide and tight a safety net for any young person who lives in Yorktown, but doing so relies on a less direct approach compared to other youth support initiatives.
“Our goal is to affect the environment and not individual choices,” said Lisa Tomeny, the Alliance’s coalition coordinator.
She compared ASK’s efforts to that of a “gatekeeper” in which the various sectors of the community can funnel and direct their initiatives through their outreach. If a church in town or the police department is giving a talk on dealing with peer pressure, ASK members said they can get the information out to the schools, parents and children.
At the same time, the information is much more than a two-way street, according to Tricy Cushner, president of the board of directors. Whether your child is a girl scout, plays soccer, or performs in a band, she said, if there’s something important happening in the community, people will get the information from four different directions.
Sometimes that’s what it takes to get it to sink in and a recent example of an important event was the Youth Leadership Conference in White Plains on Nov. 11th. It was a gathering of young people in which the overall message was that they don’t have to make risky choices – like taking drugs or using alcohol – to have fun, Tomeny said.
Yorktown High School sophomore Kara Biroldi just joined ASK and the youth conference was her initiation. She said she welcomed the opportunity to get together with other like-minded students who “take teen issues seriously.”
In turn, the conference gave her a stronger sense that she wasn’t alone and made it easier to speak up when classroom discussions turned to teen concerns.
“I can talk about making the right choices because I know there are people out there who feel the same way as I do,” she said.
Still, that might leave her and classmate Anna Carbone, a junior, in the minority when it really counts.
“I’ve learned to follow my instincts and not be afraid to stand out or stand up for others,” Carbine said.
That’s exactly what students who participate in the Alliance’s Youth Court do. They are trained in all aspects of the legal system by local law enforcement, school resource officers and the two town justices, Salvatore A. Lagonia and Ilan Gilbert. Once trained, they run a court in which peers have pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges in exchange for these proceedings.
The student prosecutors and defense hear and present the circumstances and render a decision. From the legal side, Tomeny said, it’s a great way to get the kids involved first hand at seeing what the whole process is.
On the other side, the offenders feel as though they aren’t being left out in the cold by the community and receive a decision that gives meaning to the mistake they’ve made.
“Never relegated to something like picking up trash, they do community service for one of the organizations we are affiliated with, and they come away feeling like they’ve given something back to the community,” Cushner said.
All in all, that type of concern is synonymous with the Alliance’s overall mission of doing what it can to ensure that young people make the right choices.
“When kids feel cared for and secure they make more thoughtful decisions,” Cushner said.
The Alliance for Safe Kids (ASK) is a Yorktown-based non-profit organization. It was founded in 2002, and incorporated in 2006. The Alliance includes parents, teens, teachers, social workers, health care professionals, business people, law enforcement, elected officials, media, faith community representatives, and members of civic organizations. They create programs focused on reducing issues that are damaging to kids: substance abuse, gang involvement, gambling, and other destructive behaviors.