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 Zatar is a social justice advocate whose journey and mission vividly showcase the transformative power of education for individuals facing inequities, offering them the chance to succeed where it might have otherwise been denied. Rahsmia was raised in Roslyn Heights, NY, where she attributes the internal conflict stemming from her academic accomplishments and the privilege of having received one of the state and nation's top-tier educations as the driving force behind her efforts to combat the inequalities present within Long Island. As early as sixth grade, after participating in workshops on the US prison system and its disproportionate impact on communities of color, Ms. Zatar was unwavering in her commitment to advocate for, empower, and support the liberation of marginalized individuals and communities. Rahsmia completed her high school education at Roslyn High School in 1995, and subsequently earned a bachelor's degree in psychology from Hofstra University in 1999. She furthered her education by obtaining a Master's degree in Forensic Psychology from John Jay College for Criminal Justice in February 2002. In 2004, Rahsmia started her studies at the School of Social Welfare at Stony Brook University, and she earned her Master of Social Work degree in May 2006. During her time at the university, she crossed paths with Sergio Argueta, the founder of S.T.R.O.N.G. Youth, and felt an immediate connection with the organization's mission: empowering youth and communities to become active agents of change. In 2005, Rahsmia Zatar emerged as a formidable presence within the organization, playing a pivotal role in the development and leadership of some of the most innovative programs in the region. Among these initiatives was STRONG University, a program committed to offering support to highly promising individuals grappling with substantial challenges, which included ties to street organizations, entanglement with the criminal justice system, and being victims of youth violence. Ms. Zatar's passion and her innate understanding of the challenges faced by STRONG youth and their families swiftly established her as an indispensable member of the organization's executive team. She not only designed programs but also offered crucial insights into the organization's vision and direction. Her prominence as a representative of S.T.R.O.N.G. grew rapidly. As a result of her outstanding contributions, she was promoted to Assistant Director in July 2011 and subsequently to Executive Director in January 2012. Since her appointment as Executive Director, Rahsmia has emerged as a prominent advocate, that has gained regional and national attention. Drawing from a critical perspective, her academic achievements, and firsthand experiences that reflect the struggles of the marginalized, Rahsmia has chosen to prioritize service for the community above personal interests. She has been chosen to participate in various international delegations, which encompass the examination of the underlying causes of forced migration to the United States, contributing to an international women's delegation focused on women's advocacy and organizing for global issues, including a delegation that studied the historic uprising in Chile this past decade. Most recently, she was selected to represent marginalized communities across Long Island in a multi-year. multi-founder initiative called the Good Neighbors Initiative, taxed with the responsibility to increase the economic and political power of under-represented communities. Her vision encompasses an expanded effort to heighten awareness about the challenges STRONG Youth and their families face, amplifying a strength perspective that celebrates and embodies resistance through resilience and their right to self-determination.
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.
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.
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.
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 (Middle School)
“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
Asst. Youth & Family Engagement Specialist (Elementary School)
“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others.” - Nelson Mandela
As a first generation American, Jenmily understands the importance of hard work and dedication. It was difficult for her to grow up not knowing how to speak English and witnessing the hardships her parents faced. These hardships inspired Jenmily to keep working hard and build a brighter future for herself and her younger brother. Jenmily is the first person in her family to attend college, and she’s proud to be blazing the trail for future generations. Being a first-generation American, navigating life was challenging. But as a child, Jenmily’s school gave her the resources and support she needed to overcome these challenges. Having that support inspired her to be this support to others who have the same, or similar story as her. Jenmily is eager to keep learning and explore new opportunities that will help me reach my full potential. Jenmily’s parents have instilled in her the importance of education, and she’s grateful for the chance to pursue her dreams. After completing high school, Jenmily attended John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She always knew her purpose in life would be to help her community. It wasn’t until later in her undergraduate career that Jenmily realized policing wasn’t the way she would choose to help her community. After graduating in May of 2022 with a Bachelor's in Criminal Justice, Jenmily decided to pursue a Master's in Social Work at Fordham University. Jenmily was given the opportunity to intern at S.T.R.O.N.G in the Elementary Prevention Program starting in Feb 2023. She joined our STRONG Team as Assistant Youth & Family Engagement Specialist in June 2023. During Jenmily’s free time, she enjoys spending time outdoors and exploring new places. She also enjoys painting and reading books.
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.
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.