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Amityville social worker tackles drug, alcohol abuse

Ray Velez is an Amityville school district social

Ray Velez is an Amityville school district social worker and director of the COMPASS program, which works to prevent youth drug and alcohol abuse. (Dec. 10, 2012) Credit: Erin Geismar

Ray Velez, 35, of Wantagh, is a social worker for the Amityville School District and director of the COMPASS program.  

How long have you worked in Amityville?

It will be seven years in January.

What brought you here?
In grad school, I had an internship at a local mental health group home and after grad school I went full-time there. They've since closed, but through the connections I made there I found out about the opening at the school.

What do you like about working here?

I love working in Amityville. My first day at the group home was September 11 [2001], so that was memorable.

It's very diverse here. I work very closely with all the families and being bilingual I work with the Spanish population. I think it's a great community. People have pride in their community and they want to see things progress.

What challenges does Amityville face?

There is a poverty population; I think it's about 65 percent of the students receive free and reduced lunch. That's a large population.

There is a separation between North Amityville and the south, and a large majority of our students are from North Amityville. That divide I guess can be seen as a challenge.

Tell me about COMPASS and what the group has achieved.

The main focus is to build a coalition of different sectors of the community and work together to develop ways to prevent drug and alcohol use.

Our initiatives focus on everyone from elementary to high school. We do a literacy program in the elementary school because we know that’s one of the main reasons people drop out of high school.

We do community forums to make people aware of the issues and the signs.

Every year, we fund a college tour to historically black colleges. The college tour has had the most impact. It has helped engage students, and it gave us a lot of credibility in the community. We schedule it around a Saturday football game or another event so they can interact with students.

COMPASS has come a long way. When I first started, the tone of the meetings were very negative. There was a feeling that nothing was progressing. But now we have a very large group from all different sectors of the community and everyone contributes.

How would you characterize the Amityville community?

Hardworking. As a social worker, I have to be very accommodating to get in touch with parents because of their work schedules. Some of them go in at 7 and get home at 8 at night.

The kids are great. As a social worker you want to work at a place where you feel you serve a purpose, and I do.

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