RISE Combats Teen Suicide with School Supply Drive

By Melissa Azofeifa, Riverhead News Review

RISE Life Services is transforming school supplies such as backpacks, binders and pens into tools to save lives through their new grant-funded Enrichment Experience Suicide Prevention Program.

The mission of RISE Life Services’ initiative, which was launched in January, is to actively engage in community outreach to identify vulnerable and at-risk youth and young adults, connect with them and save lives by providing culturally-informed and person-centered mental health services, recreational activities, family support services, educational and vocational support to prevent suicide.

They will be accepting donations of school supplies such as binders, looseleaf paper, crayons and pens at their headquarters at 901 East Main St. in Riverhead, outreach specialist Eric Van Deusen said. He also said the group can arrange pickups for locals who would like to contribute. This is just one part of the services RISE provides, which they call wraparound support.

“We have a specific demographic that we work with. We work with some youth that are LGBTQ+, ethnic, cultural minorities. So, we work with a lot of people that may not have support in a lot of different areas, a lot of different marginalized communities,” Mr. Van Deusen said.

“What that means is providing support from really every angle we can, so not just giving therapy, not just giving time with their social worker,” he said. “Our program helps kids with socialization, getting in the community, learning skills, and we do stuff like this, to help them with these other things that kind of pop up in your life, like not being able to afford school supplies.”

The program is currently run by a team of five staff members who are working collaboratively with the Elevations Clinic Treatment program and Rise in Spirit to provide multiple services including individual and group therapy, family counseling, academic support, risk assessment and substance use prevention.

RISE’s executive director, Charles Evdos, said the pandemic highlighted “various mental health issues” across Long Island.

“It is sad that in 2022, over 200 people committed suicide on Long Island. Especially teenagers. Our goal is to reduce this number by 30%. We have made great inroads in getting various schools, programs and the community to participate in this vital program,” Mr. Evdos said.

The program was made possible thanks to a grant from New York State’s Office of Mental Health. RISE Life Services was one of five agencies in the state to receive the grant. According to Mr. Evdos, the grant has been extended five more years.

There are currently about 45 participants, and the capacity for this program is 75, Mr. Van Deusen said.

Tracy Anderson, a family specialist at RISE, said the program has been very effective.

“We have, on a number of occasions, caught situations that were heading into crisis,” she said. “I’ve had families say to me, that if it wasn’t for you guys, I don’t know what would be happening right now.”

RISE Life Services, previously known as Aid to the Developmentally Disabled, was established in Riverhead in 1980 to provide a range of services to developmentally disabled, mentally ill and dual diagnosed adults.

For those looking to donate or arrange a pickup, contact Mr. Van Deusen at 631-508-2202 or Ms. Anderson at 631-508-1780.

“It’s everything, preventing suicide,” Ms. Anderson said. “It’s mind blowing how many people need our help that don’t even know we’re here, so it’s an extremely rewarding experience.”

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