Eastern Long Island, or the East End, is commonly associated with luxurious beachside properties, but this wealth masks the economic and racial disparities in this region.
Thousands of Latinos live in the area year-round working in essential industries like landscaping, farming, and hospitality. Many are immigrants, face food and housing insecurity, and have limited access to health and social services. In some school districts in the region, up to 40% of students are Latino and up to 60% live below the federal poverty level. Like their peers across the country, these teens are struggling with mental health challenges that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the East End, access challenges are compounded by a shortage of culturally and linguistically appropriate mental health providers, stigma about behavioral health disorders, and cost-prohibitive private treatment. As a result, Latino youth have historically had no one to turn to for help. In 2023, NYHealth awarded Organización Latino Americana (OLA) of Eastern Long Island a grant to expand access to bilingual crisis counseling and mental health services for middle and high school students in five towns on Eastern Long Island.
Under this grant, OLA will scale up its successful pilot, Youth Connect, at five East End school districts. The program uses clinical social workers to provide crisis counseling to middle and high school students and partners with Family Service League, the only nonprofit that provides mental health services on the East End. OLA will increase access to the Youth Connect helpline, a free and anonymous platform that allows teens to communicate with bilingual crisis counselors who, if needed, will refer teens for ongoing care at Family Services League. OLA will also work with school counselors and administrators to develop referral systems to connect students with ongoing mental health support. It will collaborate with youth-serving community organizations, houses of worship, and local government agencies to complement school-based services; deliver educational workshops at parent/teacher conferences; and train youth ambassadors to conduct peer outreach and to develop social media content. OLA will also advocate at the State and local levels for additional mental health services for Latino families.