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Program for Teens Affected by Drinking Emerges on East End

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By Claire Walla

For those who struggle with issues related to alcohol addiction, there’s Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), and for those affected by people who struggle with alcohol addiction, there’s Al-anon. But what about those for whom others’ excessive drinking is also linked to peer pressure and the struggle to fit in? Those for whom a sense of identity and moral values are still being developed?

For teenagers, there’s Alateen.

On December 1, the new East End chapter of Alateen will hold its first meeting at St. Anne’s Church in Bridgehampton from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. While there are currently scores of well-populated AA and Al-anon meetings nearly every night of the week at locations across the East End, until now the closest Alateen program to the East End had been held up island in Mastic.

“I see that Alateen is so needed in this area,” said Alateen co-founder Patty*. Patty started going to Al-anon meetings three years ago because she said her family has a history of alcoholism and she had developed damaging coping mechanisms.

But she took a special interest in Alateen a year and a half ago in the wake of a cataclysmic family tragedy: in 2010 her grandson, who lived up island, died from an accidental drug overdose at the age of 15.

And with other grandchildren currently in high school in East Hampton, she said she has noticed a spate of “out-of-control” parties among high school students on the East End.

“Drugs are so prevalent and so easy to find,” she added. “Kids need places to go to talk about their feelings.”

“I think [Alateen] is an absolutely wonderful thing,” said Pierson High School Guidance Counselor Linda Aydinian.

Due to a lack of outside programs on the East End that address alcohol addiction, Aydinian said she and her fellow guidance counselors can recommend private counseling for students facing difficult situations, but that’s about it. Now, they have the option of offering teens the support of a group composed of their peers. Aydinian said she’s already circulated fliers around the school about the program.

Alateen follows the same principals of Al-anon: it is governed by a system of rotating leadership, it is completely non-denominational and it’s totally anonymous — members are strictly barred from repeating anything uttered during the course of meeting, a rule Patty said Al-anon members take very seriously.

However, unlike Al-anon, which is open to people of all ages, Alateen provides this structure exclusively for teenagers, many of whom do not deal with or internalize others’ alcohol abuse the same way as adults.

“A 13-year-old isn’t necessarily going to resonate with a 48-year-old,” explained Jennifer*, who co-founded the Alateen group with Patty.

“It’s a safe place to talk about your fears when you’re witnessing a lot of drinking around you, whether that drinking is being done by your family members or your peers,” added Patty.

Both Patty and Jennifer have been actively involved with Al-anon — for three and 14 years, respectively — and both sing its praises.

“I feel like it helped save my life,” Patty said in an interview last week.

She went on to explain that the program provides coping mechanisms for people who have suffered or are suffering through relationships with those who have addiction problems.

She said that for many teens, addiction often leads to co-dependent behavior, which can manifest in teens taking on too much responsibility at home, lying to cover-up for other people’s bad habits or generally feeling unwanted or unloved.

According to Jennifer, the biggest asset of a program like Al-anon or Alateen is anonymity.

“What we say in that room stays in that room,” she stated. “We can say anything we want and it is honored.”

“I could share my guts and it would be ok ” — Patty chimed in — “And I have.”

Jennifer, who has two young daughters herself, said a program like Alateen is desperately needed in this community.

“There are so many people out here who go to Al-anon and AA meetings, and those people have to affect the people in their lives,” said Jennifer.

Having lived much of her life with alcoholics who have been close family members, she added that she wants to be able to give kids the opportunity to have an outlet and to deal with these issues before they reach adulthood.

“That’s why I’m doing this,” continued Jennifer. “Because I’d like to save another kid.”

* Names have been changed to respect the program’s anonymity.

Economy Sways Seniors College Pick

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“I know there will be tears shed in this office. Maybe more so this year than before,” said Pierson guidance counselor Linda Aydinian as she leafed through college financial aid materials on her desk. The shrinking economy has hurt local parents and increased demand for scholarship aid, Aydinian added, making it harder for Pierson students to finance higher education. Almost every week, Aydinian is visited by distraught students who were accepted into top private colleges, but will have to attend community and state schools in the fall instead.

“Some kids are tens of thousands of dollars short …When your heart is set on going somewhere, but you can’t and its not because you didn’t get in … It’s because of money … It’s heartbreaking,” Aydinian observed.

But it appears the economy not only determines the schools students can afford to attend, but also shapes the way they now think about the college process. According to Aydinian, Pierson kids are being more pragmatic when selecting a school, financing their education and picking a major.

“You need to make sure the investment you make is going to pay off,” said senior Nicole Keane. “You need to know that the school you attend is going to get you where you want to be for the tuition you are paying.”

A fellow classmate, who preferred to remain anonymous, applied to larger schools with deeper pools of aid money, while Keane chose schools that ran the gamut from state institutions to small and specialized private colleges. Megan Pintauro applied to Plymouth State University where she is likely to get more financial aid because her sister is currently attending the school.

This year, Pierson students are looking for more aid as opposed to financing the bulk of their education through student loans. The anonymous student is drawing upon a number of resources in order to attend the University of Puget Sound in the fall. As her mother works for a not-for-profit and her father is currently unemployed, the school awarded her around $21,000 in financial aid. Annual tuition, however, is $44,000. To shore up the difference, the student plans to enroll in a work-for-study program and is open to becoming a resident advisor in a dorm to offset her living expenses. Members of her immediate family have also offered to pitch in. After her first year, she is likely to receive more scholarship money as the school tries to retain its student body through increased financial aid.

Pintauro was originally offered the most lucrative financial aid package from Dowling College. After her mother, Laura, read the fine print though, she learned a majority of these funds would be derived from student loans. Luckily Pintauro’s school of choice, Catawba College, gave her more scholarships and grant money.

“I think a lot more kids are looking for scholarships than in the past. I think they are more reluctant to take out loans,” noted Aydinian. She added that students often look online for scholarship monies, but have a better chance of receiving local grants. Numerous community organizations, from the Lion’s Club to the American Legion, offer modest scholarships to qualifying students. The teacher’s association also raises between $4,000 to $5,000 in funds every year.

“I see students thinking about their education in the long term. Some know they are going to go on to medical school and law school … They have a lot more education ahead of them,” guidance counselor Eileen Kochanasz chimed in. “I think they are also worrying about their ability to get a job coming out of school.”

Selecting a major that will translate into a viable career is a pressing concern for these students. Keane wanted to pursue illustration or a degree in bi-lingual studies at first, but decided upon computer animation for practical reasons.

“Animation is not only the art side, but it is technical as well. I will have computer knowledge and will be able to work for an animation company,” said Keane.

Although students seem to be taking a sage look at the college process it remains stressful, especially for parents. Once Megan begins her freshman year in the fall, Laura Pintauro and her husband Robert, will have three children attending college at the same time. All of her children attend state schools, but Pintauro maintains the costs are still high.

“It’s hitting the wallet big time, especially in this economy,” said Pintauro. “I try to teach Megan about loans and all of that … How it isn’t just like picking money off of the money tree.”