Lisa Spatafora-Lessa, from left, Barry Zaks and Natasha Vaughn of...

Lisa Spatafora-Lessa, from left, Barry Zaks and Natasha Vaughn of the Huntington Drug and Alcohol Prevention Services team with a garbage bin decorated with anti-drug and alcohol abuse messages by the Huntington Youth Bureau. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

A humble garbage can in a Halesite park is the new home for anti-drug and alcohol abuse messaging.

Thanks to the efforts of the Huntington Town Drug and Alcohol Prevention Services team and the artistic skills of some local youngsters and teenagers, a garbage can in Mill Dam Park is now a colorful and constant reminder to parkgoers to stop littering, especially "party residuals" such as beer bottles and drug paraphernalia.

"Each year we work on environmental strategies to produce change in the community," said Lisa Spatafora-Lessa, a prevention coordinator with the Huntington Drug and Alcohol Counseling Center nonprofit that's part of the team that works with the town on prevention programs. Last year, the program installed a mural painted by young campers in Northport's Fuch Pond Preserve to remind parkgoers not to litter. 

Mill Dam Park experienced an increase in litter this year, including drug and alcohol debris, and graffiti. "So that's kind of where we came in, to try to get the community involved, especially the youth to try to change that and raise awareness in the situation to protect and preserve this little town park," Spatafora-Lessa said.

The artwork was done this summer by campers aged 6 to 14 years old from the Huntington Town Youth Bureau’s programs, including Drug and Alcohol Prevention Services, Youth Court and Project Excel.

"The kids really love doing it and it's fun getting kids involved," said Barry Zaks, program director at the Huntington Drug and Alcohol Counseling Center. "And it was not created for them but created by them."

While simple in concept, the painted garbage can is a clear reminder to keep the park clean and drug- and alcohol-free for all residents, according to the nonprofit. 

"Studies show that increased access to safe, drug-free environments, increased opportunities for engagement in the community & clear expectations for behaviors function as protective factors against youth problem behaviors," according to a proposal for the project presented by the Huntington Town Drug and Alcohol Prevention Services team.

"If nothing else it sensitizes [the offenders] and it sensitizes the whole community to keep an eye on the area," Zaks said.

“The Town’s Security Division and Park Rangers have ramped up enforcement of the rules that ban these activities, leading to a significant decrease in residuals," Supervisor Chad Lupinacci said in a news release. "The Mill Dam Park signage will help increase knowledge of the park rules and will work in conjunction with law enforcement to address this issue and maintain the integrity of Mill Dam Park.”

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