Tony Leteri knew Kings Park had a drug problem back in 2006 when two of his children had their new phones stolen in school by a student who was linked to drugs. It was when a school official asked him if he wanted to do something about it that the tide began to turn.
Leteri, a prominent businessman in the area, spoke to some of his peers in the community and gathered information on the drug scene. Before he knew it, he had the Suffolk County Fourth Precinct, Suffolk County Narcotics Unit, and DEA sharing information.
“We needed to get our community together and organize and let everyone know that this is our community, we don’t want people coming in here and stealing for drugs.” said Leteri.
It was from this idea that Kings Park in the kNOw, an anti-drugs task force, was born.
Maureen Rossi has been a journalist and local activist for years, and has been well aware of the drug problem. She jumped on board with Kings Park in the kNOw shortly after it’s formation.
Rossi said, “I’m very grateful that my kids are on the right track and are making the right decisions, but unfortunately not every kid is. Every kid is worth fighting for.”
Soon after, Rossi was elected president of the task force and along with others named Leteri as its chairman. Once organized, they turned their attention to action.
Kings Park in the kNOw uses communication and education as their primary weapons against drugs. A drug hotline was established, disseminating information to the DEA and other drug enforcement agencies.
Leteri says of getting help for the affected, “Treatment is different, it’s rehabilitation, and jail is a punishment. Rehabiliation is what these kids need.”
The group has launched an informative website, KPInTheKnow.org., which has advice for parents on how to help raise their kids to make the right decisions and even a Facebook page and YouTube to spread their message to both parents and children.
"We thought it was important to use their favoriate forums to create dialogues about destructive decisions," said Rossi
The Kings Park in the kNOw model became the blueprint. They were being asked to help organize similar groups in Smithtown and Massapequa. Now they have the attention of politicians such as County Executive Steve Levy and District Attorney Thomas Spota.
For the most part, the community is pleased to have such a dedicated group. School Board Trustee Steve Weber says, “they have been extremely effective in raising awareness to not only the issues we face regarding drug abuse, but also in providing the school district with concrete ideas on how to address this.”
The next step is to get an evidence-based drug prevention program into Kings Park schools. Leteri says, “what we’re trying to do is get programs in school that are just as important as math, English, and science.”
Two programs, the GREAT Program and Too Good For Drugs, were presented to the school board at the December 21st meeting. Since each program is volunteer based, Rossi claims the only cost to the district would be the time teachers spend away from the classroom in training.
Over 3,500 districts already employ the Too Good For Drugs Program. The Mendez Foundation that created the program has been designing evidence-based programs for over thirty years.
Leteri says, “we understand, teachers, administrators, drug task force can’t do everything, but we have to do everything we can.”
The Kings Park School Board is expected to announce a decision on which, if any, drug prevention program the district will adopt at the February meeting.