Members of the newly formed District 1 Youth Advisory Board...

Members of the newly formed District 1 Youth Advisory Board meet ahead of a planned rally in support of a forthcoming skatepark at Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood. Clockwise, from lower right, are board chairman Joshua Chan, Adriana Flores, vice chairman Destiny Eusebio, and Mateo Abdo. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Ahmad Perez remembers as a sophomore hearing the news about the deaths of two young girls, fellow Brentwood High School students, brutally killed by gang members. Almost a year later, Roberto Clemente Park reopened after illegal dumping forced its closure. 

Growing up in a community marred and stigmatized by gang violence and environmental injustice, the now 20-year-old rising senior at Boston University recently launched a youth advisory board for Islip Town's District 1, which includes Brentwood, North Bay Shore and part of Central Islip. He hopes the board, which formed in March and already has more than 50 high school and college members, will engage students in the civic process, inform them of events affecting their communities and work to overcome systemic issues.

The nonpartisan board operates independently of the town, but will share information with officials in hopes it will shape policies. Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter said feedback from residents is encouraged and welcomed. 

“There’s such a narrative that drives Brentwood, where some people view it as a war zone, which is ridiculous,” Perez said. “We’re a thriving community. And we refuse to let our voices be unheard.” 

Jessica Johnson, a Brentwood social studies teacher who advises the school’s government club, said she’s “a strong advocate for students getting involved politically.” She runs a schoolwide voter registration drive and encourages students like Perez and others to use their influence to create positive changes in Brentwood. 

Perez handles the board’s social media, and Joshua Chan, 20, was elected president of the organization. Chan, a lifelong Brentwood resident and rising junior at the University at Albany, said his experiences of being raised by a single mother and surviving on a tight budget highlighted the need for youth involvement in hamlet issues. 

Stony Brook University vice president for Student Affairs Rick Gatteau said during discussions at the school’s Center for Civic Justice, he often hears how personal experiences propel young adults to champion causes, such as the new youth advisory board. Gatteau credits social media as a driving factor for pulling high schoolers and youth into conversations about community issues.

The advisory board hopes to engage town leadership in creating community changes and initiatives as needs arise. On Saturday, addressing their first major issue, the board is holding a rally for the forthcoming skatepark at Roberto Clemente Park, which has been in the works since 2018. They hope the event will elicit a faster development of the skatepark, Chan said, which he called “a much needed investment.”

Carpenter dispelled any rumors that the skatepark wasn't a priority. She said since becoming supervisor in 2015, knowing she faced a community that felt disenfranchised, she prioritized park enhancements, including a revamped pool area and $2 million splash park as part of more than $7 million in renovations.

The town solicited bids for the skatepark design pre-pandemic and identified a designer, but hasn’t awarded the contract due to it being more costly than expected because of pandemic-induced supply chain issues, Carpenter said. 

New York Attorney General Letitia James pledged $627,000 last May to fund park enhancements from a joint lawsuit, which the town is awaiting approval to use from the attorney general’s office, Carpenter said. The town currently has over $617,000 in reserves for skatepark funding but is awaiting to award the contract until the town can overcome the funding shortfall; Carpenter said she is willing to hold a special meeting to authorize the contract when they receive funding approval. 

“I have been unwavering in my commitment to make Roberto Clemente Park a jewel in the town that all can be proud of,” she said. 

Islip's youth advisory board

The leadership of Islip's youth advisory board said encouraging younger residents to join community conversations opens the door for them to also keep their families informed. Almost 72% of Brentwood residents are Hispanic or Latino and nearly just as many speak a language other than English at home, census data shows. 

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