Meet the S.T.R.O.N.G Youth Family
Hear from all of the people who make up our amazing S.T.R.O.N.G Youth family by exploring the testimonials on the map below!
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“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”– Dr. Martin Luther King
Rahsmia was raised in Roslyn Heights, NY, an affluent community on the north shore of Long Island. Her experience of growing up Latina and poor in Roslyn, combined with the strong influence of her immigrant mother, led Rahsmia to be acutely aware of the impact of racial and economic inequality on people of color around the world. After attending a workshop in the sixth grade on the US prison system and minority populations, Ms. Zatar was convinced she wanted to work to give voice to incarcerated individuals. Rahsmia graduated from Roslyn High School in 1995, completed her undergraduate degree in psychology from Hofstra University in Dec.1999 and went on to obtain her Masters in Forensic Psychology from John Jay College for Criminal Justice in February 2002. In 2004, Rahsmia began attending the School of Social Welfare at Stony Brook University where she obtained her MSW in May 2006. Rahsmia met S.T.R.O.N.G.’s founder, Sergio Argueta, while attending graduate school at Stony Brook University. After just a couple of conversations, they both realized S.T.R.O.N.G. Youth was where she needed to be. It was a place where she could not only apply the knowledge acquired through school and previous work experiences, but could assist in enhancing communities and uplifting troubled youths who were desperate for compassion, understanding and a chance to shine in positive ways. Hired in Sept. 2005, she helped establish and run S.T.R.O.N.G. University, a gang intervention program working with previously incarcerated, gang involved youth and acted as the organization’s only social worker. Ms. Zatar’s passion and innate understanding of the dynamics playing out in the lives of STRONG youth and their families quickly made her a part of the organization’s executive staff. She worked closely with the Executive Director helping to design programs, provide input on the vision and direction the organization was headed in and representing S.T.R.O.N.G. at public forums and events, and committees. She was promoted to Assistant Director in July 2011 and then to Executive Director in January 2012. S.T.R.O.N.G’s mission to empower youth and communities in becoming active agents of change and building resources from within falls directly in line with Rahsmia’s overall philosophy in life. Since her appointment as Executive Director, Rahsmia has become a prominent voice speaking out against the systemic causes of youth and gang violence and advocating for the resources youth and families impacted by violence and incarceration need to become social change agents. Rahsmia is an active partner in several community empowerment groups and committees such as the Uniondale Violence Intervention Partnership, Community Voices and United for Justice in Policing - Long Island. Rahsmia hopes to continue building awareness around the issue of gangs and build a full service organization where youth can cultivate their leadership and social skills in positive, productive ways, helping them resist the lure of gang and street life.
Lead Youth & Family Engagement Specialist (Bellport/Wyandanch) + School-based Programs Supervisor (Suffolk)
“Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.” ~ Booker T. Washington
Life can teach us many lessons if we view it from a learner’s perspective. Gina’s deepest lessons in life came through obstacles, hardships and disappointments. These experiences have equipped her to better understand, empathize and encourage others. It was the struggles that set her on my journey to higher education as an adult. Gina obtained her Associates degree from Nassau Community College, her BSW from Adelphi University and her Master’s degree in Social Work from Stony Brook University in May 2013. Her passion to help others expanded into the community by providing encouragement to diverse populations within institutions. She visited and provided emotional and spiritual support to the incarcerated at Nassau Correctional Facility, East Meadow, NY, Juvenile Detention Center, Westbury NY, South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside NY, Holly Patterson and Townhouse Nursing Home, Uniondale, NY. Gina also established and facilitated a Grief Healing Group, Uniondale, NY. Gina feels working with S.T.R.O.N.G Youth has provided her the means to engage with youth and families to promote positive values, and empower them to understand that they don’t have to be defined by the obstacles they face, but can be propelled by them to become productive and successful citizens who can impact individuals, families and society in a positive way. Gina Dudley began as a counselor with S.T.R.O.N.G in January 2011 and rejoined the S.T.R.O.N.G. family in January 2017.
Case Manager (Suffolk Human Trafficking)
“No Rain, No Flowers” - unknown
Jessica grew up in a low-income, immigrant family. Her parents immigrated to this country chasing the “American Dream.” Growing up, she saw all the challenges her parents faced due to their inability to speak English, lack of formal education and legal status. Despite the difficulties they went through, her parents persevered and showed her that everything is possible. With the little her parents had, they gave it all to see her pursue her college education and dreams. In May 2019, Jessica graduated with her Bachelors in Social Work from Adelphi University. She was able to further her education by graduating in May 2020 from New York University with her Masters in Social Work. Her passion is to work with the youth, especially empowering the youth to overcome barriers and challenges that they will face. She joined the STRONG Youth Family in Dec. 2022 as a case manager working in the Minor Victims of Trafficking Program.
Lead Youth & Family Engagement Specialist (Elementary Schools)
“Sometimes the bravest and most important thing you can do is just show up.” – Brené Brown
As a result of many experiences in her childhood and adolescences, Juana always knew she wanted to help others and make a difference in her community. Juana grew up as an only child of immigrant parents, and she saw how much her parents struggled with the language barrier and the many challenges immigrants face when migrating to the United States. Juana’s passion for wanting to help others and her family’s experiences drove her pursuing a career in social work, obtaining her Bachelor’s degree from Molloy College in May 2020. During this time, she interned at an elementary school in Elmont where she created a support group for immigrant children who recently crossed the border. Juana went on to obtain her Master’s Degree in Social Work from Fordham University in May 2021. Juana had the opportunity to intern at S.T.R.O.N.G Youth as a graduate student in their Nassau intervention and elementary prevention programs. Juana’s time at S.T.R.O.N.G had a big impact on her, and she quickly realized she very much enjoyed working with the students at S.T.R.O.N.G. In February 2022, Juana joined the STRONG Family as a Lead Youth & Family Engagement Specialist for the elementary schools in Uniondale. During her free time, Juana enjoys spending time with her family, her dog and loves outdoor activities.
Intervention Counselor (Brentwood)
"Let it not be said that I was silent when they needed me." - William Wilberforce.
Luis was born in the island of Puerto Rico in the town of Santurce. At an early age domestic violence and divorce wrecked his family. Circumstances led his mother and two younger sisters to move to the Hunts Point section of the South Bronx. Needless to say he saw firsthand how the gangs, violence and crack/heroin epidemic was devouring entire neighborhoods. Most of his peers where getting caught up with making a fast buck and landing in places like Spofford, Rikers Island and, in many cases, the cemetery. Luis a latchkey kid was also responsible with helping his mother raise his two younger sisters. Eventually Luis made some poor choices, and like most of his peers, ended up in the NYS penal system. Out of these painful and difficult experiences Luis developed a tremendous passion for mentoring at-risk youth. In 1991 he obtained his GED from South Bronx High School. He attended Hostos Community College (1991-1992), and SUNY Sullivan at Lock Sheldrake (2011). He gained extensive volunteer experience through the Alternative to Violence Program (AVP) (1997-2010) and the Youth Assistance Program (YAP) (1999-2005), a program designed to address youth violence and at risk behavior. From 2011 to 2013, Luis connected with youth by sharing his experiences with youth at the AG Church youth group in Freeport and through is Youth Outreach position at the EOC of Nassau County from 2015-2018. Luis is also a volunteer Crisis Chaplain with the New York State Chaplain Task Force. In March 2018, Luis had the good fortune of meeting Rahsmia Zatar, Executive Director of S.T.R.O.N.G Youth through his mentor and fellow Chaplain, Dr. Hector Custodio. He was immediately asked to join the S.T.R.O.N.G family.
School-based Programs Supervisor (Nassau)
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” - Unknown
Michelle’s interest in social work and the juvenile justice system developed at a very young age. Through life experiences Michelle realized she was passionate and effective when it came to guiding and helping others. Michelle studied Psychology at Saint Joseph’s College where she received her Bachelor’s degree in May 2012. During that time, she interned in the gang unit at the Yaphank probation department and knew she had found the population she wanted to work with. Michelle attended Adelphi University and graduated with her Master’s degree in Social work in May 2015. She became a licensed in social work in June 2016. Michelle joined the S.T.R.O.N.G. family in July 2013. Michelle has had various roles working with the youth and families in the school based Chapter Program in Uniondale including being our Chapter Program Coordinator during the 2015-16 school year. As coordinator she played an active role in supporting the Chapter staff in creating and executing a successful violence prevention activities. Michelle also collaborates with a variety of partners to enhance the experiences of the youth at S.T.R.O.N.G., skills she will clearly bring into her new role of Youth and Family Engagement Specialists. Michelle also co-facilitates Structured Psychotherapy for Adolescents Responding to Chronic Stress (SPARCS) groups for youth experiencing chronic stress. Michelle is passionate about fitness and health, she loves her dogs, travels as often as possible and loves the summer and sunshine more than anything in the world.
“Life is very interesting. In the end, some of your greatest pain become your greatest strengths”
- Drew Barrymore -
Merary’s experience has been life itself. Not unlike many immigrant children, Merary grew up with my grandparents due to her mother’s migration to the United States seeking a better life for her family. Merary came to the United States when she was seventeen years old to support my family. At that point she had not even finished school. After a long wait, she finally finished high school and took various courses to continue building her computer skills. Now Merary supports S.T.R.O.N.G Youth as an administrative assistant. She loves to support staff keeping things things in order so they can do their best in their respective roles. She is also especially excited to greet and interact with youth and families when they walk through STRONG’s doors. . Merary joined the STRONG family in February 2021. Merary belongs to Refuge Church in Brentwood, and is the mother of two beautiful children. She likes to read and make crafts in her spare time.
Intervention Counselor (Nassau)
"Be the person you needed as a youth."
Rich carries this mantra with him every day as he works in the same community he was raised in. Although Rich was an honor roll student, he gravitated toward the negative influences of the street at a young age. This led him to participate in STRONG as a youth. Unfortunately, it also led him to hardship after hardship. However, Rich uses his life experience in conjunction with an education in social work, psychology, and liberal arts from Cayuga Community College, Cornell University, and Nyack College to educate and empower today's youth so they do not travel down the same road he once did. Rejoining the STRONG family as an Intervention Counselor in March 2021 has put him in the position to be fully engaged with the youth of the community and serve them with love and understanding. Rejoining the STRONG family, in Rich's words, "has been one of the greatest gifts life has empowered him with." In his off time, Rich is involved in several multimedia projects through “So Rich Entertainment" -- a company he founded. So Rich Entertainment is a company grounded in giving back to the community and also provides the services of photography, videography, spoken word, and music for all types of events.
Intervention Counselor (Brentwood)
“Be truthful to thy self”
Mr. Seabrook was raised in a single parent household, and whose mother taught all of her siblings that education is the key to success. Unfortunately, as a youth, Richard took the streets instead of school, which resulted in him being sentenced to 25 years to life and incarcerated for a majority of that sentence. Ironically, it was in the penal system where Richard learns the value of school the hard way. Richard now spends all of his time giving back to youth, one day at a time, as an Intervention Counselor. He also volunteers at local churches. Richard believes in reaching back to help youth of promise from going down the same path he went through. Richard believes S.T.R.O.N.G Youth. is a home for all who are looking to be helped. And he has been doing just that since joining the family in Sept. 2021. Let’s meet so we can talk about your Future!
Case Manager (Suffolk Human Trafficking)
‘’ Knowledge is the essential key that opens the door to discovery.”
Community service has led Rose to meet people from all walks of life. People that have shaped her life and led her to be the upstanding, loving woman she is today. Coming to the S.T.R.O.N.G. has allowed Rose to continue to acquire critical knowledge, pushing her to expand her perspective and see the vastness in opportunities life has for her. The work at STRONG has allowed her to discover and, most importantly, enter the hearts of families. Rose joined the STRONG family in April 2022.
Youth & Family Engagement Specialist (West Middle School)
"He aquí mi secreto: solo con el corazón se puede ver bien. Lo esencial es invisible a los ojos" - El Principito
Miss Sepulveda was born in beautiful Latin America. Her country of origin, Chile. Unfortunately, just like many immigrant parents, in her need to escape poverty and provide for her two children, Amory’s mother decided to embark on a journey to “El Norte”. This journey exposed her to a multitude of risks, including death. But her love for her children and recognizing that their future depended on her heading north pushed her to cross El Rio Grande Mexico, into the Unites States. Also like many other immigrant parent for centuries, this decision to head to the United States cost Amory’s mother the gift of seeing her children grow, of experiencing the bonding that only can be acquired during childhood. This mother left a precious 10-year-old boy and Amory, at 2 years old. After 11 years apart, at the age of 13, they were all reunited. By this time, they had already sacrificed too many years apart, and some things were lost along the way. And just like the many stories of immigrant families that reunite after so many years, Amory understands the devastating levels of traumatic effects this separation has in children, and families as a whole. Amory’s life experience, together with her Masters in Social Worker, which she acquired in 2016 from SUNY Stony Brook, is the perfect combination to engage her audience, and assist families to believe in the power healing and guide them to recovery. Her passion and enthusiastic abilities helps captivate anyone willing to listen. Amory has served as a motivational speaker for STRONG for well over 12 years and recently joined as a mental health specialist in December 2017.
“No one has ever become poor from giving.” - Anne Frank
Afro-Latina. Woman. Lovable. Compassionate. Self-Assured. A few words that capture the essence of this Bronx native who always sought out helping her peers and community make changes for the better. After much trial and tribulations, Zee was led to S.T.R.O.N.G. Youth. Applying for jobs can be a scary and daunting task when you are unsure of your future, but when Zee came across S.T.R.O.N.G.’s indeed job post, something felt different. She had never worked for a non-profit organization, but has always felt like philanthropy was instilled in her from a young age. Being able to provide and care for people on a larger scale is truly remarkable for her. Witnessing how it takes a village to help build our youth and communities and seeing how much IMPACT there is in numbers feels very refreshing for Zee. I Zee’s eyes, S.T.R.O.N.G. Youth has amazing staff. Individuals who are resourceful, level headed and proactive in what they believe in. She feels it is an honor to witness this every day. Making the choice to join the family in June 2022, wasn’t a difficult one. She stepped through the doors and never looked back. On her free time, Zee enjoy concerts, playing Sims and finding ways expand on the knowledge she’s acquired on the daily from those around her and her experiences in life.
Youth & Family Engagement Specialist (Immigrant Welcome Center)
“We rise by lifting others” - Robert Ingersoll
Victor grew up in a low income, split family. He moved to Brooklyn NY from the Dominican Republic when he was 17 years old. Not knowing how to speak English, he endured a lot of difficulty that almost hindered him from pursuing his dream of graduating college and becoming a successful adult. Determined to make something of himself, Victor completed his GED and graduated from Touro College with a Bachelors in Human Services in May 2015. With the support of his church community and family, he was given the resources necessary to succeed in all aspects of his life. Victor joined the STRONG Family in April 2019 and is currently a Youth & Family Engagement Specialist leading the work in Uniondale School District’s Immigrant Welcome Center program. "Now that I am in a position to help others, I believe it is my time to uplift and provide youth with the tools to excel in life." Victor Lopez
Lead Youth & Family Engagement Specialist (Middle School)
“There’s a Genius in each of us waiting to be unlocked."
Uwingablye Cunningham is a dedicated professional with a wealth of experience in the fields of life coaching, Pranic healing, and education. A graduate of Hampton University, she is currently preparing to embark on the next chapter of her academic journey by pursuing a master's degree in educational psychology. Born to a family of community-based entrepreneurs, Uwingablye's Panamanian pharmacist father has been a respected pillar in Hempstead's community for almost four decades. Meanwhile, her Jamaican mother has dedicated her life to ensuring that children in the boroughs of NYC and throughout the Caribbean have access to African-centered traditional and contemporary arts, a mission that has been ongoing for over 30 years. Uwingablye's commitment to serving her community runs deep in her DNA, and she has spent her entire career working tirelessly to make a positive difference in the lives of those around her. As the founder of The Sowo Group, an academic and life coaching company, she has helped countless highly gifted students overcome physical and developmental impairments to achieve incredible success. Drawing from her own experiences with physical and medical challenges, Uwingablye has developed a remarkable talent for empowering young people to identify and leverage their unique strengths to create meaningful change in their lives. Uwingablye joined the STRONG family as the Lead Engagement Specialist in March 2023. She brings a wealth of expertise and a deep commitment to excellence to her work at Lawrence Road Middle School. In addition to her work in education and coaching, Uwingablye is also a traditional herbalist and certified energy healer, with a deep passion for nurturing both her clients and her beloved plant babies. Her sophisticated approach to her work, combined with her unwavering dedication to excellence, make her one of the most sought-after professionals in her field.
Director of Programs
“All the world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming.” Helen Keller
Although she has faced her share of suffering and struggle, Beria has maintained a unique faith in others that she weaves into her work. As a child of a migrant farm worker who attended 14 different schools by the time she graduated high school, Beria was exposed to many of the perils that plague the youth in our communities today. But it was her love for learning and the influence of positive adults in her life that led her to overcome her many challenges and lead a successful life. She graduated Highland High School number 12 in her class and went on to earn a dual Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Spanish making her the first to graduate college in her family. She then completed a Masters in Counseling with a specialization in family and adolescent therapy. Beria is grateful that working with S.T.R.O.N.G. allows her to use her clinical skills and program creativity to infuse faith in our youth and their families so that they too can overcome the obstacles they face. Beria returned to the STRONG team in January 2018.
Intervention Counselor (Nassau)
“The wise man knows what time it is in his own life and in the life of the community”
– Sam Keen
Born in Brooklyn, NY and raised in the penitentiary for 26 years, Benjamin is the epitome of change. Growing up in a single parent household and tough neighborhood, Benjamin lacked positive male role models to provide him with guidance and critical thinking skills. Benjamin dropped out of school in the 10th grade, and what followed changed his world as he knew it. While the average 17 year old was in school learning and having normal life experiences, Benjamin was incarcerated learning the complexities of the penitentiary, fighting every day to survive. Benjamin was shipped from one prison to another, finding himself involved in the same behaviors that kept him from his better self for many years. However, as he matured and surrounded himself with positive people, people who provided him with the impetus to educate himself, things began to change. These relationships changed his vision and philosophy on life. Soon after, Benjamin decided to go back to school. He earned his GED, and that provoked a desire for more. Unfortunately, he had no path to college. So for the next several years, he put his energy in learning sign language to become a volunteer interpreter for the deaf. Benjamin went on to complete his “Manual Communication Sign Proficiency” assessment and later earned his certification as a sign language interpreter. That was a pivotal moment in his life, for he discovered that the process of learning is not just about accumulating information. It is also about understanding what can be accomplished by applying that information. For him, it helped to bridge a gap between the hearing world and the deaf. Benjamin is also a certified sighted guide for the blind. Benjamin volunteers his time to help legally blind individuals navigate unfamiliar territories. He also worked with and assisted developmentally disabled people with intellectual and adaptive behavior deficits. Furthermore, Benjamin was a facilitator and a mentor with the “Youth Assistance Program” where he educated youth on the criminal justice system and the consequences of making poor choices. Benjamin has facilitated Programs such as “Aggression Replacement Training,” “Alternative to Violence Project,” “Alcohol Substance Abuse Treatment" and much more. As a Bard college graduate, Benjamin learned that his education provided him with a sense of freedom; a new way to engage the world; to look beyond the immediacy of the prison experience; and to invest more deeply in the future. It helped him to imagine other possibilities. Benjamin is a WALKING ARGUMENT – he continues to break barriers and stereotypes, confirming his determination to improve not only his life but the lives of others. He is the counterargument to the popular belief and misconception that formerly incarcerated people are perpetual wrongdoers or have no inclination to educate themselves. What he has accomplished in the past, and what he is achieving now, has inspired many, reinforcing the idea that an education and exposure to positive people and activities can help change lives. Benjamin joined the STRONG Family in as an intervention counselor in August 2022. Benjamin now serves our next generation, their families and the community to create hope through concrete goals and intentional living.
Assistant Youth & Family Engagement Specialist (West Middle School)
“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.”
For most of Anthony’s life, he’s searched for a purpose. As a young man he experienced countless heartaches from family deaths to personal battles and legal issues. Deep down Anthony could never understand why bad things always seemed to happen to him. However, through all of his experiences, he received the gift of wisdom. The love of others helped him through the hardest times and made him truly realize the healing powers people possess. Today, standing on the “other side,” Anthony has felt an obligation to pass along the wisdom to help others in need. Anthony feels being a part of S.T.R.O.N.G. gives him an amazing opportunity to look at life in a different light. He uses his experiences as tools instead of defects. Anthony graduated from Suffolk College with a specialty in Addiction studies and acquired a CASAC-T certificate (Certified Alcohol and Substance Abuse Counselor). In the future, Anthony plans on pursuing a social work degree to help him build his ability to help others. Anthony joined the STRONG family in March 2023 as a Youth and Family Engagement Specialist, a position that is offering him a platform to guide others to a life they may have never thought was possible. Anthony’s hobbies/interests include anything to do with sports. He’s a big basketball lover but will watch and play pretty much anything. Anthony is just a person with a big heart that loves to have fun but knows when it's time to get serious.
Andrea Lopez - Intervention Case Manager (Brentwood)
“It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light” - Aristotle.
Migrating from her home country, mastering a different language, and quickly learning that she was now considered a minority in a very large population was a very lengthy process. This is what has allowed Andrea to connect and advocate for youths and their families that come through STRONG’s doors. In a way it has also helped the families feel more comfortable and trusting Andrea and the advocacy she offers them. After high school Andrea felt a bit lost. That is when she decided to pursue an Associate’s degree in Criminal Justice as well as a Bachelors of Arts in Forensic Psychology. Andrea joined S.T.R.O.N.G. in July 2022 as the Intervention Case Manager, serving the communities of Brentwood, Central Islip and Bayshore.