Local Teens Produce Docu-drama to Speak to Peers

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People, young and old, from throughout Putnam County are invited to attend the premiere of the latest original drama produced by Peers Influencing Peers at 7:30 p.m. on Friday April 27 at Putnam Valley High School.

This year’s film is titled, “Fine Lines” and exposes the extreme dangers of illegal prescription drug use among the teenage population.

During the Putnam County Legislature’s full meeting this month, Peers Influencing Peers Vice President Buck Heller, Board Chairman Stephen Velichko and two students involved in the making of the film, Putnam Valley High School senior Dylan Garcia and Lakeland High School sophomore Jessica DeNoia, screened a trailer for the county legislators.

While Heller said he hoped the local community would turn out to watch the screening on April 27, the docu-drama will also been seen by potentially 70 million more people throughout the United States, as it will be broadcast by public television stations and cable companies in major markets including Los Angeles, Denver, Seattle, Dallas, San Diego, Baltimore, Phoenix, New York, Boston and Chicago, at 1 p.m. on Thursday, May 17.

“These communities are asking for our products,” Heller later said.

Now involving more than 150 students in the creation of a professional-looking film, Peers Influencing Peers began as a much smaller group 18 years ago by former Putnam Valley High School Teacher and current President of the non profit, Frank Reale.

“In the early years, it just started as a group of students to talk about the issues and it turned into this,” Heller said of how it has grown.

What those students desperately needed to talk about that first year was the tragic death of a classmate who was killed by a drunk driver. In a time before schools had programs to bring in grief counselors after a tragedy, Reale reached out to his students to help.

“Frank became the go-to person the kids went to,” Heller said.

It was quickly realized that it was much more effective for teenagers to talk to their peers about the dangers of illegal and risky behaviors.

“An adult telling a teenager don’t drink falls on deaf ears. But another teenager can do it,” Heller said of the thinking behind the organization.

In addition to helping young people make good choices, Reale and Heller wanted to give them valuable skills.

“We wanted to teach the kids something. We wanted to give them something,” Heller said.

That desire has led to the production of numerous public service announcements and docu-drama films that have won awards.

Students from all over Putnam and Westchester Counties learn how to use a camera, to light a set, the fundamentals of cinematography and all other technical aspects of film making. They also act in the productions.

“The subject matter each year is something that the kids pick,” Heller said. “It’s all about what they are feeling; all of the things they fear.”

This year’s film was written by  Steven Vilechko Jr., a recent Putnam Valley grad who is an alumni  of the organization and the son of the board president.

Peers Influencing Peers, started to help local youth, now touches the lives of many.

“We’ve gotten letters that have indicated that a kid saw the program just at the right moment and it changed things,” Heller said. “We are always encouraged about what we do because it does have an impact.”

Highlighting the importance and timeliness of the subject matter in “Fine Lines”, Putnam County Mental Health/Youth Bureau Executive Director Joseph DeMarzo told the county legislators at the meeting earlier this month that during last year’s “Medication Take-Back Day” thousands of pounds of pills were collected – 380,000 pills total – including 45,000 opiates. A collection day is scheduled again for Saturday, April 28, when Putnam County residents safely can dispose of old medications by dropping them off from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday April 28 at the Putnam Hospital Center Wagner Cancer Pavilion located at 670 Stoneleigh Avenue in Carmel.

“We are so grateful and indebted to the county for supporting us,” Heller said of the annual funding Peers Influencing Peers receives.


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