Rise Life Services debuted its youth suicide prevention center in Riverhead on Thursday, to face an alarming increase in suicide. NewsdayTV's Steve Langford reports.  Credit: Newsday/James Carbone

 A youth suicide prevention center opened Thursday in Riverhead, bolstered by a million-dollar state grant, and officials hope the array of services it offers can turn around a young person who might be struggling with thoughts of ending their own life.

Noting that there were 216 suicides among youths and adults on Long Island last year, Charles Evdos, executive director of the nonprofit RISE Life Services, said the goal of the new center on East Main Street is reduce youth suicide rates by 30%.

“We’ve brought in a team of experts that are really going to make a difference,” Evdos said. “They’re going to be out in the community, in Long Island. We’re going to be servicing all of Long Island. We’re the only agency on Long Island that got the grant. Our hope is that we can expand this operation so that more lives can be saved.”

The center — which offers services free of charge — has youth educational and vocational assistance, recreational activities with therapists, family therapists for family support, and wellness and mindfulness activities and groups, among other services. Funding was provided through a New York State Department of Mental Health award to RISE Life Services, one of only five agencies in New York State that was awarded the funding.

The program will take “a holistic and personal-centered approach” to mental health care so they can offer several methods of helping youths struggling with suicidal thoughts, Winter Landmann-Herd, a social worker for RISE, said. Noting that it can be difficult for Long Island’s youth population to find mental health resources, he said the program looks to create easy access for them to get such care.

Allyson Swiatek, a program team leader at RISE, said the center’s approach is to help provide participants with “skills, resources and opportunities."

A shortage of clinical staff on Long Island equipped to handle issues surrounding suicide made it important to have such facilities available, Evdos said. RISE officials are also working with New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury and Stony Brook University to bring in additional staff and clinicians, Evdos added.

The youth suicide prevention center opened on Thursday, with Charles Evdos, executive...

The youth suicide prevention center opened on Thursday, with Charles Evdos, executive director of Rise Life Services, speaking, and Suffolk County Police Commissioner Rodney K. Harrison at right. Credit: James Carbone

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Rodney K. Harrison said the center was “long overdue” on Long Island and pledged to provide support for the initiative from the county police department.

“It brings hope — it really brings joy to a person that’s been in my position that unfortunately has seen one too many times people taking their lives,” Harrison said. “When you have organizations willing to help and get people the assistance so that they don’t think about going down that road … it’s very important.”

Dr. Tracy Anderson, the nonprofit’s director of clinical and behavioral health, said the center will be looking to schools, community organizations, parents and various agencies to identify young adults who are at risk of suicide so they can be screened and participate in their programs.

“If we lose one life, that’s one life too many. But if we can save that one life, we’ve had a good day at work,” Landmann-Herd said.

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