René Fiechter Safeguarding Long Island’s Youth
René Fiechter boasts a profound resumé—a mix of dedicated public service and vast academic study—as befits a Nassau County assistant district attorney who is also his department’s director of community affairs. But it was his progressive ideals that once prompted the late conservative Nassau County District Attorney Denis Dillon to profess, “René, you’re full of crap, but you have a big heart.”
Now his boss is the woman who defeated Dillon, Kathleen Rice, who’s running for Congress. Fiechter tells the story about the former DA with his signature hearty laugh, one that punctuates sentences that range from serious topics to deeply emotional experiences. But he always comes back to the importance of joy. He speaks of joy in the same breath as tragedy, opposing forces that he works to meld together. He discusses his strong belief in finding alternatives to incarceration—“Is there anything else we can do besides put a person in a cage?”—yet he feels just as strongly about his work with Parents of Murdered Children, which had him pleading with judges to keep criminals locked up.
“The ying and the yang of it,” he describes it. “You can’t pick a side. If you do, you’re part of this problem of polarization, this ‘we versus they’ business.”
The work to reconcile these contrasts is born from his own life. His youngest stepson David was murdered at 24 years old. Fiechter’s personal involvement with the parents’ group has been “therapeutic.”
Fiechter remembers where he was at a crowded meeting five years ago in the district attorney’s office when Rice first proposed the idea of the Long Island Youth Safety Council after an Island-wide event that focused on drunk driving had gone well.
“I was in the back with a cup of coffee and a donut,” he tells Milieu, “and I heard: ‘And René should do it.’”
Actually, it was right up his alley. Given his background, Feichter was in the unique position of having both the professional experience and the personal interest to help Long Island’s youth.
The Long Island Youth Safety Coalition comprises dozens of groups that each address a key threat to the Island’s teenagers ranging from health issues to gang violence, substance abuse and bullying.
“We put together about an 80-person board of directors, which is a bit unwieldy,” Fiechter explains, “but what we found out was when we said we wanted to do a youth safety coalition, it meant a lot of different things to different people. Some people said, ‘You must mean gangs.’ Or, ‘We were thinking highways.’ Drugs. Nutrition. Bullying, Internet Safety. The horrors that are happening in sports or sexuality. So we said, ‘Yes, that’s what we mean. You’re absolutely right.’”
With events that cover parenting and good decision-making to heroin and prescription drug abuse, the coalition has put together programs that offer speakers, share resources, provide information, discuss curriculums and create links among interested parties, coupled with intensive workshops on various topics.
The coalition’s next event is titled “The Talk: What every educator, coach, or concerned adult should know about the sexual challenges of today’s youth.” To be held Dec. 11 at Hofstra University, it promises to deal with issues like teen pregnancy, human trafficking and sexual violence. Katie Beers, a Long Island survivor of kidnapping and sexual assault, will be the keynote speaker. Fiechter believes that she will be a big draw because her devastating story was all over the news in 1992 when, at age 9, she was imprisoned in a bunker in Bay Shore that her neighbor had constructed for keeping her captive. In her book Buried Memories, she wrote that the ordeal she endured for 16 days was the tip of the iceberg compared to the severe abuse and neglect she suffered at the hands of her own family. It took her years of therapy to recover, but she finally did. Now she lives in Pennsylvania and is the mother of two small children.
Fiechter hopes that having Beers speak at the event will bring in the people who are seeking help for themselves or looking to help those in need. Giving back to his community in any way he can has been the crux of his career, whether heading the heroin task force or teaching criminal justice courses at Nassau Community College.
This drive to do more started years ago when he was disqualified from enlisting in the armed forces during the Vietnam War. Ever since, Fiechter has felt a keen need to find other ways to serve the public.
That service continues today in the DA’s office, in the classroom, and in his home in Northport where he is a father, a grandfather and a caretaker to his ailing wife. When it comes to René Fiechter, Denis Dillon was half right: He has an enormous heart.