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OLA Youth Connect Gets Program Director

Staff Writer on Mar 4, 2024

OLA of Eastern Long Island (Organización Latino Americana) has announced it has hired Anastasia Gochnour as its new director of Youth Connect, a program OLA launched in August 2022 that provides crisis counseling and related prevention services in Spanish and English to East End middle-school and high-school students.

Gochnour recently traveled to Albany with crisis counselor Jessica Tovar and Executive Director Minerva Perez to meet lawmakers at the 53rd annual Legislative Conference organized by the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, and Asian Legislative Caucus of New York State. OLA has received pro bono support from Bolton St. Johns to learn more about opportunities at the state level, including this conference. The main purpose of OLA’s participation was to make caucus members aware of the lack of bilingual, culturally competent mental health services for East End youth and to exchange ideas about how to deal with the scarcity of services with nonprofit leaders around the state who are experiencing similar challenges. The conference provided opportunities for these leaders to meet high-level state officials and attend panels focused on food scarcity, housing, health, mental health, civil rights, and many other topics. OLA staff attended panels focused on breaking stigmas related to mental health and the future of the Long Island workforce.

“Many people are surprised to learn that there are unmet needs in Eastern Long Island, particularly in the areas of housing and mental health care,” said Gochnour. “It was wonderful to be in Albany and have the chance to connect with lawmakers, as well as other conference participants, to heighten awareness of the unmet needs.”

Coinciding with the weekend-long caucus event was Assemblyman Fred Thiele’s decision to initiate and circulate a sign-on letter to his colleagues calling for the governor to provide direct funds to OLA from the executive budget to help fill the gap in youth mental health services on the East End. Thiele and Perez have had ongoing conversations about adolescent mental health and the lack of services on the East End.

Before becoming program director in January of this year, Gochnour, a licensed clinical social worker, provided professional consultation and staff support to OLA and was the 2023 recipient of the OLA award for Outstanding Mental Health Support. Gochnour has extensive experience working with at-risk youth in New York City through Safe Horizon Streetwork Project, where she served in a variety of capacities, including as clinical director, for over 20 years. Additionally, she has provided support services to chronically mentally ill adults through her participation on the Visiting Nurse Service Mobile Crisis Team as well as during her tenure as an assistant director for the Metropolitan Hospital Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) Team. She holds a master’s degree from the Hunter College School of Social Work and has completed postgraduate clinical training through the Gestalt Associates for Psychotherapy, the Women’s Therapy Centre Institute, the Developmental Somatic Psychotherapy Program, and the Zen Center for Contemplative Care. In addition to her role with OLA, Gochnour facilitates creative collaborations as the founder of Spruce and has been an affordable housing activist since moving to Sag Harbor three years ago. She also volunteers with Ma’s House, an arts organization on the Shinnecock Reservation, to help enhance their studio and residency spaces.

Given the number of East End students who do not have access to private therapists or to nonprofit therapy due to prohibitive costs, waiting lists, and not enough bilingual therapists to meet demand, OLA has expanded Youth Connect by adding two new part-time crisis counselors, Angélica Ortiz and Fernando Hurtado, bringing the number of crisis counselors on staff to five. Ortiz is completing a master’s in social work at Stony Brook University’s School of Social Welfare, and Hurtado brings to his current work his experience with OLA as a Project Hope crisis counselor during the pandemic. Like all Youth Connect staff, Ortiz and Hurtado have been trained in adolescent-focused crisis counseling.

In addition to operating a 7-day/week bilingual text/call helpline, Youth Connect facilitates interactive workshops in English and Spanish designed by its counseling staff for adolescents at East End schools, houses of worship, youth group meetings, and other venues; and it organizes forums for parents of teens. A significant component of Youth Connect’s work is focused on healthy options for stress management and substance-use prevention.

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