New members welcomed into Riverhead anti-gang Unity group

The Riverhead Chapter of Council for Unity inducted 20 new members from the middle school, 48 new members from the high school and 12 adult members at its annual induction ceremony last Wednesday at Atlantis Marine World.

And its members said the council is going to be very visible in the coming weeks, helping out with a number of community projects.
The Council for Unity program aims to keep kids and adults out of gangs and other trouble by teaching conflict resolution and self-esteem. It was started by rival gang members in Brooklyn in 1975, has been in place in the Riverhead School District for eight years now, and has expanded to the county jail in Riverside and the town police department. It also has a parent and community branch in Riverhead.

“You’re going to be seeing a lot of the Council for Unity in the next few months,” said Liz Stokes, who heads the parent and community branch. “These kids are going to be out in the community doing community service projects.”

On June 9, council members will plant red, white and blue flowers at the Roots and Rivers Community Garden as part of “Operation Honor Our Heroes,” Ms. Stokes said. And in September, she said, they’ll participate in a program to send books to injured soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

Other projects are being developed, she said.

The group has undertaken community service projects before. A few years ago, the Riverhead Council for Unity students participated in a program to clean graffiti from several buildings in town.

Riverhead High School principal David Wicks said representatives from other schools throughout the state — including one from Buffalo — frequently come to see how Riverhead’s Council for Unity program works.

“And every single time, without fail, their reaction is the same,” Mr. Wicks said at Wednesday’s induction ceremony. “They are so impressed.”

Bob DeSena, who founded Council for Unity in 1975, had similar sentiments Wednesday.

“Riverhead for us has become the symbol of possibility,” he said. “What you have done here is a model for every town and city in the country. They come here to learn how to be like you. You are the benchmark.”

Mr. DeSena told the students Wednesday, “You have the capacity to bring change beyond your boundaries. Never doubt that you, as one person, can change the world.”

Riverhead High School senior Ronnie Strange, who is involved in Council for Unity, has become close friends with a Suffolk Police sergeant. The two met at an area hospital, where Ronnie was being interviewed about a disturbance in Brookhaven Town, during which he was injured.

Ms. Stokes said Sgt. John O’Sullivan later learned that Ronnie had been injured while intervening in an assault and “saving the lives of three people.”

When Sgt. O’Sullivan heard Ronnie was a Council for Unity member, “he began to learn what kind of kid he was and eventually became a mentor to him,” Ms. Stokes said.

Now, Ronnie is even considering  a career in law enforcement, she said.

At last Wednesday’s ceremony, Ronnie asked to present a special certificate to Sgt. O’Sullivan to show his appreciation.
“I want to thank you for believing in me,” Ronnie said to the sergeant.  “I really appreciate all the help and support you’ve given me.”

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