S.T.R.O.N.G. Youth: Nurturing Hope Amidst Challenges

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If you ask Sergio Argueta, he’ll say that the most important thing we can do to save children from violence is not to declare war on gangs, but to declare peace on youth. That’s the premise that S.T.R.O.N.G. Youth, a nonprofit organization, was founded upon in 2000, and it continues to this day.

“I went to a candlelight vigil for a man who had been beaten to death by gang members,” Argueta told the Press. “The individuals that were there pretty much spoke about declaring a war on gangs and youth violence. They said things like, ‘We’re not going to be held hostage and we’re gonna get these animals.’ And I realized how the rhetoric didn’t capture that it was children who had committed this heinous act, and it was then that we said we were going to declare peace on our youth while they were declaring war on gangs.”

S.T.R.O.N.G. Youth has evolved into the leading youth and gang violence prevention and intervention organization on Long Island over the past 24 years.

Working with school districts, other nonprofit organizations, and local law enforcement agencies, S.T.R.O.N.G Youth seeks to educate first and foremost, conducting workshops in schools and working to identify the kinds of things that may lead a child into joining a gang. 

“We find that youth often feel disconnected from their communities, or from their family units,” said Argueta, the organization’s cofounder. “That can lead them down a dangerous path. We engage them in all types of programming and teach them how to reconnect to values we think are uplifting. Violence is a disease that we need to address. We do a lot of healing circles and curriculum that’s focused on allowing kids to express themselves and to look at the numerous issues that we don’t talk to anyone about. Letting them know that we’re here for them and will help them navigate these difficult times is the most important part.”

Argueta added that while they are not police informants, instead seeking to prevent youth from getting involved in gangs, they have worked with police numerous times through the years, including efforts to get guns off the street.

S.T.R.O.N.G. Youth has received tons of positive feedback through the years, with some parents even taking proactive steps to involve their children in the organization, said Argueta.

“We have kids whose parents were in our program, too, and they tell us, ‘I want my kid here because of what you’re doing for the community,’” Argueta added. 

In addition to the workshops, healing circles, and other kinds of education, S.T.R.O.N.G. Youth also offers movie nights, sleepovers, video projects, and more for at-risk youth to keep them on the right path.

“It’s our belief that when individuals look ‘under the hood,’ if you will, of S.T.R.O.N.G. and connect with some of the kids that we’re servicing, you’ll see how every kid on Long Island should be experiencing our program in some way, shape or form,” Argueta said.

To donate or get involved with S.T.R.O.N.G. Youth, visit their website at strongyouth.com.