Andrew Casazza, who pioneered youth programs in the Town of Huntington that were imitated across Long Island, died Nov. 14 in Huntington Hospital. He was 86.
The cause was sepsis, said his daughter, Suzanne Casazza, of Huntington.
The youth population in Huntington and across the region was surging in 1967 when Casazza started working for the town. Merchants in the town complained about teens congregating on the streets and low-level crime. Racial strife was on the rise. Young people complained of boredom. Most traditional youth programming centered on sports and recreation.
The system that Casazza envisioned was far more ambitious, one that “could make a referral to local mental health center, offer counseling,” while also providing “an objective, caring and nonjudgmental ear,” said Paul Arfin, a social worker who worked with Casazza in Huntington and who later founded the Ronkonkoma-based Community Programs Center of Long Island.
“Andy was a visionary. He was the father of youth services on Long Island,” said Arfin.
Casazza pushed for eight youth centers across the town, paid for by municipal and state matching funds. They served the African-American as well as white populations, both college-bound and those who were deemed at-risk. The activities offered at the centers ranged from boxing to volunteering to helping to find part-time jobs.
The decision to seek out a true cross-section of the town’s youth was as strategic as it was idealistic. Arfin said that Casazza wanted to build townwide support that would outlast the vagaries of local politics. Six of those centers still exist.
In 1976, Casazza, a resident of Huntington, ran for a state assembly seat out of a district that included Smithtown and a part of Huntington, as a Democrat. He lost narrowly to the heavily favored Republican incumbent, Robert C. Wertz, in a race former town Democratic chief Joseph Quinn said set the ground for Patrick Vecchio, who began his term as a Democrat when he was elected town supervisor the next year, and who later switched to the Republican party, and is still in office.
“Andy ran a great campaign on a shoestring,” Quinn said. “We showed we could run a campaign against an entrenched incumbent for very little money.”
Casazza was ousted as director of Huntington’s Department of Community Resources in 1988 under a newly installed Republican administration.
He started a new job just two weeks later as a deputy commissioner in the Suffolk County Department of Social Services, retiring in 1991.
Casazza was born April 5, 1929, in Brooklyn. His father, also named Andrew Casazza, owned a toy store; his mother, the former Matilda Petrauskus, was a homemaker.
His wife, the former Jean Rogers, died in 2000. In addition to his daughter, he is survived by sons Christopher, of Kansas City, Missouri, and Brian, of Melbourne, Florida; and a brother, Robert, of Miller Place.
A funeral mass and burial were at St. Patrick’s Church in Huntington, on Nov. 20. Interment followed at St. Patrick’s Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that memorial donations be made to the American Heart Association.