July 23, 2008
Outreach efforts to expand to Five Towns
Benefit show raises awareness of teen substance abuse
by Yaffi Spodek
Horrified by a spate of recent deaths among local teens due to substance abuse, John and Luisa Dutra – owners of the first Kosher Dunkin’ Donuts in Lawrence and Valley Stream – sponsored Jackie Mason’s comedy show on Thursday in Manhattan, to increase awareness of the issue and raise funds for Our Place, an organization dedicated to helping Jewish youth at-risk.
Several teens from Our Place attended the event and were treated to a backstage meeting with Mason, who gave them words of encouragement, in addition to recording a short video message for the organization.
“Jackie and the teens have a certain connection,” observed Rabbi Avi Schwartz, a filmmaker who arranged the event and is now making a movie about substance abuse within the Orthodox community. “He can give them advice that nobody else can.”
Our Place, founded in 1998, functions as a safe haven for Jewish youth struggling with various issues, ranging from substance abuse to domestic difficulties and expulsion from school, by offering them therapy sessions, counseling and a physical place for them to relax and work through their problems.
Though its headquarters are in Brooklyn, “at least half of the kids who come are from the Five Towns,” said Menachem Poznanski, LMSW, who works as a therapist there.
Poznanski, a resident of Cedarhurst, is the director of The Living Room, a division of Our Place, which specifically targets young adults who were previously in drug rehab and are now in recovery, working to transition into mainstream society.
“It’s a co-ed program which functions almost as a Hillel house for the population we work with,” Poznanski explained. “A lot of it is kiruv [outreach], with a mental health aspect as well. We help them with the process of slowly transitioning back into the community.”
Over the past decade, Our Place has helped more than 800 kids deal with a wide range of problems.