At a Long Island Association forum for millennials, there's hope...

At a Long Island Association forum for millennials, there's hope that young people are emerging from under the radar to show some pride in Long Island and passion to make it better. Credit: iStock

I couldn't believe it.

I was in a restaurant bursting with millennials who were not there to watch a big game on TV, a cover band onstage, or to get a lifetime of free Chick-fil-A.

They were there to talk about . . . wait for it . . . why 20- and 30-somethings want to be on Long Island.

It was bewildering, as if I were in an alternate reality. A reality with no brain drain, chronic NIMBYism or opt-out movement -- a place where the focus was Long Island's potential, not its problems.

The young professionals convened by the Long Island Association in Melville did not waste time debating the undebatable: the statistically backed exodus of Long Island's young. Instead, panel participants focused on those of us under the radar who never left Nassau or Suffolk, or who successfully made our way back home.

"Yes, the LIRR actually goes in the other direction," panelist Kasia Sawicka joked.

Instead of a brain drain, Sawicka, 35, represents a brain filling. The scientist came from Poland to attend high school here and ended up developing a groundbreaking concept, needle-less vaccines, at Stony Brook University, where she now teaches. She has no plans of leaving, saying her invention was "born on Long Island, and I want it to grow up here."

On real estate, instead of the usual anti-rental, anti-development chants, participants discussed affordable housing, multifamily rentals and why homes here are worth the investment.

"We just don't have the diversity of housing stock we need," said Kelley Coughlan, 28. She came back to Long Island after two stints in New York City and Boston to work for her family's company, Tritec Real Estate Development Co., which is behind the much-awaited Ronkonkoma Hub -- a potential housing game-changer for the region.

With more than 350,000 millennials on Long Island, it's clear more rentals are needed. But local leaders reflexively wince or hesitate to admit that, because they fear voter backlash. Coughlan doesn't hesitate to say the extremely low vacancy rate on Long Island shows the demand. She's optimistic certain communities are ripe for other housing options.

On education, instead of berating Common Core and damning teacher evaluations, this group addressed what's often taken for granted -- that we have some of the best public schools in the nation.

"We like to be first," said Joseph Lemke, 33, director of social studies in the Bay Shore school district.

We invest more per pupil, experiment with new technology and teaching methods, and have higher graduation rates than much of the country. Lemke never left Long Island, and thinks we should do everything we can to retain the investment we make in young minds from kindergarten to 12th grade.

The night made clear to me that negativity sucks up too much Long Island oxygen (if only it could suck the nitrogen out of our water).

It gives me hope that young people are emerging from under the radar to show some pride in Long Island and passion to make it better. I hope the committee evolves into a support network for millennials and strong advocate for the young adult cohort. I hope its members seed the idea of staying or returning after college graduation to combat the brain drain. I hope they go to local board meetings to fight the destructive NIMBYism in some communities. And I hope they join the tense education debate to preserve Long Island's great schools for when we have kids.

Not to overhype my hopes, there was an open bar at the event to entice millennials to attend. But bars are good places to toast more Long Island positivity and progress to come.


Amanda Fiscina is a web producer for Newsday Opinion.


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