Project HELP aims to spread awareness on alcoholism and drug addiction across Long Island

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Jeff Stone, lieutenant governor of the Long Island North Division of Kiwanis, said about two and a half years ago it occurred to him that he should do something to address the drug epidemic that has touched the lives of millions of families.

Over the past six months it all started coming together, he said, with the right people jumping aboard and “putting the puzzle together.”

And on Thursday, those efforts were made into a reality with Project HELP hosting its first of three speakers in a seminar series that focuses on providing people, particularly the parents and grandparents of teenagers, with knowledge of how addiction works and how to fight it or avoid it altogether.

Stone said speakers, who include mental health and suicide prevention specialists, will present for the first half of the seminar and for the second half, local nonprofit groups will share what they do to combat the drug epidemic on Long Island.

The first speaker was Dr. Stephen Dewey who presented at the Port Washington Library on the topic: “The Effects of Drugs and Abuse on the Teen Brain: Learn and Be Prepared for ‘the Conversation.’”

Stone, who is a member of the county’s Heroin Task Force, said in an interview before the event that he planned to ask the audience how many of them have been affected by the drug epidemic and how many have lost a loved one.

Unfortunately, he said, “I expect most hands to go up.”

Stone stressed the importance of breaking the silence on drug addiction.

“Don’t keep it to yourselves, put it out in the open,” he said.  “The sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

As part of the project, Stone has connected with local nonprofits such as Long Island Reach Inc., Port Counseling Center, Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence and Drug-Free Long Island.

The initiative is all about helping the “boots on the ground” people, the nonprofits “who go out there and help people,” Stone said. “We want to drive donations to them.”

Stone said the committee behind Project HELP started as a group with about seven people at the Port Counseling Center and has grown to over 25 people meeting in the Hagedorn Room at the Port Library.

“People are volunteering their time, service and talent,” Stone said. “There is so much creativity in this group, it blows me away.”

Stone said the plan is to expand Project HELP to an island-wide initiative. In August, he said he is going to discuss the project at the state Kiwanis convention and in June, he scheduled a sit-down with the president of Kiwanis International at the convention in Orlando, Florida.

In additional efforts to get the word out, a website and YouTube channel for Project HELP are in the works, Stone said.

The next seminar in the series will be held on July 9 and will feature Dr. Jeffrey Reynolds, who will discuss “Co-occurring Mental Health Disorders, Treatment and Recovery.”

August’s seminar will have multiple speakers presenting on a range of topics that include mental health, suicide prevention and the hazards of vaping.

Each seminar is scheduled for 7 p.m. in the Lapham Room at the Port Washington Public Library.

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