top of page

OLA Secures Place in NYS Budget for $50,000,

For the first time in its 22-year history, OLA of Eastern Long Island has secured a place in the New York State budget, ensuring the advocacy organization will receive $50,000 in state funding to support its teen mental health program, Youth Connect, during the 2024-25 fiscal year.

Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., who was instrumental in helping OLA secure this line item, has also allocated an additional $50,000 in discretionary funding to support OLA’s ongoing work to improve access to mental health services for youth and families, for a total of $100,000 in support for this fiscal year.

“I am deeply honored to stand alongside OLA of Eastern Long Island as they tirelessly strive to create a more just and inclusive community for Latino immigrants on the East End,” Thiele said in a release. “By advocating for equitable policies, offering vital legal representation and support, and empowering youth through education and arts programs, OLA is fostering a stronger, more vibrant, and united community that celebrates the rich diversity and contributions of its residents. I am thrilled to have allocated $100,000 to support OLA’s invaluable work, knowing that it will directly contribute to the positive impact they are making in the lives of individuals and families in our community.”

Thiele has been a crucial and committed partner in OLA’s work to improve access to mental health services for the past six years. The organization has convened elected officials and key stakeholders such as school superintendents, local mental health providers, and middle school and high school students for discussions focused on addressing the glaring scarcity of bilingual mental health services for East End adolescents and their families.

Thiele also invited OLA’s executive director, Minerva Perez, to speak at a legislative hearing early in the pandemic to educate legislators about community members’ critical needs during a time when people suddenly found themselves out of work during the shutdown and, for undocumented immigrants, without access to federal government aid.

Virtually overnight, families that were getting by were suddenly experiencing financial crisis and poverty. Perez focused her remarks to the legislature on the pandemic’s detrimental effects on youth due to economic and other stressors and the sudden social isolation teens were experiencing because schools were forced to shut their doors and conduct classes online.

“Assemblymember Thiele has been a true champion for mental health services for youth and their families and for immigrants in general,” said Perez. “His partnership and leadership were invaluable to ensuring that our work on this front was recognized by the state as critical to improving the lives of teens on the East End. His outreach, along with our own, highlighted for other legislators the depth of need in our often-neglected corner of Long Island. We’re proud that our relatively small organization is now known to elected officials statewide, who have said with their affirmative budget vote that OLA’s work is making a difference.”

“Youth Connect is honored to provide emotional support to the youth of Eastern Long Island, and we are grateful to Fred Thiele and all the school and community leaders who have endorsed our efforts,” said Anastasia Gochnour, Youth Connect program director. “We look forward to continuing to strengthen our work with students and to expanding our services to provide support to parents and young adults as well.”

In addition to discussions with Thiele and other local stakeholders, more recently Perez has met with leaders from other parts of Long Island and the state to impress upon them the dire need for affordable, accessible bilingual mental health services on the East End. The state budget includes $19 million for school-aged youth mental health initiatives, according to the Division of the Budget website.

“Access is everything,” said Perez. “We have next to no affordable bilingual providers in our region. Even if we had several organizations on the East End providing free or affordable mental health services, if they — and our local schools — don’t have bilingual counselors and therapists, then a huge percentage of our community isn’t getting the help it needs. As a region, we are making strides, though we still have a long way to go to ensure our kids and families are getting the support they need.”

Launched in 2022, OLA’s Youth Connect is a program for all East End youth, Latino and non-Latino alike. A bilingual prevention-focused crisis counseling program, it provides East End adolescents (middle- and high school-aged youth) with access to immediate support and guidance in Spanish or English through an anonymous, confidential helpline that local youth can text or call seven days a week to speak with a trained crisis counselor. In addition to staffing the helpline, Youth Connect’s crisis counseling team delivers interactive presentations and workshops in English and Spanish in middle schools and high schools, which have overwhelmingly welcomed Youth Connect in all five East End towns. Source:

1 view0 comments


bottom of page