Eradicating Gangs

Central Islip expo’s aim: Empower youths to succeed, avoid gangs

A chalkboard with the words, "Join The Fight".
Join The Fight Concept

A youth expo in Central Islip on Saturday attracted its young attendees with live music and sports tournaments, but sent them home with information about college and possible careers.

The primary purpose of the expo at the Central Islip Recreation Center, which also featured a dance contest and other events, was for young people to get information on higher education, trades and local nonprofits, said Lisa Pinkard, executive director and CEO of the Youth Empowerment Project in Central Islip, the event’s sponsor.

The activities are “to draw them in,” she said. “Our vendors are to enlighten them.”

Cynthia Iglesias, 35, of Brentwood, was there with three of her children, ages 6 to 11.

“I want them to do what I never did, like go to college,” said Iglesias after stopping by a bank booth to get information on tax-free college funds, which she hadn’t realized existed. “It’s very important for their future.”

Francisca Arenas, 14, of Ronkonkoma, picked up information on free help in filling out college applications. Her mother, Elizabeth Arenas, 36, said not having gone to college means she’s not sure how to prepare Francisca for higher education.

“I have to work like a donkey,” said Arenas, a newspaper delivery woman. “I tell her that whatever she wants to do, she has to study a lot. Nobody was pushing me. That’s why I’m pushing her.”

Pinkard and Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy Sini, who mingled with the crowd, said if young people are exposed to educational opportunities and career options, they’re less vulnerable to gang recruitment.

Police suspect MS-13 gang members in the bludgeoning and hacking deaths of four young men in Central Islip in April — their bodies were found a few hundred feet from the expo site — and the murders of two teenage girls in Brentwood in September 2016, as well as 11 other killings in Suffolk County since January 2016.

“No one wakes up and says I want to be a gangbanger,” Pinkard said. “This is our way of showing them there are other options out there. If we can show them they can make money through positive channels . . . we are grooming them for success rather than watching them fail.”

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