Lynne Conhagen Persing of Richmondtown loves to help people. As the chief operating officer of the South Shore Rotary of Staten Island, she makes it a point to help the community in many ways. One of her latest projects brings motivational speakers to Staten Island schools to help students who are struggling with substance abuse, thoughts of suicide or other crises.
South Shore Rotary of Staten Island Partners With Sports World
Before the pandemic, Persing formed a partnership with Sports World, an Indianapolis-based organization that sends former pro athletes to schools across the country to help students see the value of making positive life choices. According to the organization, students often lack self esteem and face peer pressure that can lead them to choose drugs, alcohol or even suicide.
To date, Persing has facilitated Sports World speaking engagements at several island schools, including Curtis, Port Richmond and Concord High Schools. The program has helped hundreds of students on Staten Island and nationwide deal with personal struggles and find the help they need.
Preventing youth substance abuse has always been important to Persing. In addition to being the COO of the South Shore Rotary, she spent many years working at the YMCA Counseling Service, located on both the North and South Shores of Staten Island.
“I saw the damage that drugs cause and how it tears families apart,” Persing said. “If there’s something you can do to help, you do it. It’s a passion of mine.”
Many of the Sports World motivational speakers suffered their own life challenges, whether during their childhood or careers. When they speak, their goal is to get kids to open up about problems they might be facing in a way that is easy and not intimidating. They do this by giving students comment cards where they can write something interesting or personal about themselves. The students can do this anonymously, but many choose to include their name—sort of as a way of asking for help.
Persing plans to arrange more speaking engagements at schools this year. And she wants parents and school officials to know the program is available.
Motivational Speaker and Former Staten Islander, Carmine Azzato
Persing brought Carmine Azzato, a former Staten Islander and pro wrestler from 1988 to 2011, to speak at several island schools after he presented at the South Shore Rotary in 2019. Azzato spoke at school assemblies, sharing his own personal struggles of turning to substance use to cope with depression and loss. The athlete, who played on the Wagner High School football team, suffered several career-ending injuries that brought him into a depression that led him to abuse alcohol and even attempt suicide several times.
With his life now on track, Azzato runs Hitting the Pavement ministry to help people in need throughout the country. The partnership between him, Persing and the Rotary has led to several students receiving the help that they so desperately needed.
Persing recalled one particular middle-school student who was suicidal, but after hearing Azzato speak, reached out for help. The former sports pro returned to the school this year, where that one student hugged him and thanked him for saving his life.
“Because of the sports professionals’ position and the fact that they are famous, makes them a hero for these kids,” Persing said.
Azzato shared a few kind words about Persing, too.
“She’s a rare gem. That’s the best way for me to explain it because she has a lot of family and grandchildren but she sees the calling in her life to help kids across the board, all over Staten Island,” Azzato said.
About the South Shore Rotary of Staten Island
The South Shore Rotary is made up of local business leaders and other professionals who work together to implement ways to support initiatives important to the community.
In addition to working with Sports World to help Staten Island students, the Rotary has a scholarship program and supports other local organizations, too. These include the Hungerford School, March of Dimes, On Your Mark and many more. For more information about the Sports World or the South Shore Rotary, visit southshorerotary.com or follow the group on Facebook.
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