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Teacher devotes life to Forest Hills teens

In a small, dim corner of the Forest Hills Community House, just off the stairway on the second floor, Jim Pullano sits in his tiny cubicle and talks animatedly about the one passion that has filled his entire life: his devotion to young people.

"What I've come to realize is that there aren't many young people that don't need direction, and there aren't many young people that can't be helped," he says, describing the reasons he has structured his life so that he spends most of his time with youth.

From 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Pullano is surrounded by teenagers and preteens, first as a social studies teacher at Halsey Junior High School during the day, then as director of the Community House's outreach program in the late afternoon and early evening.

He is in his second marriage and has no children of his own, explaining that his decision earlier in life to devote himself to youth services made him rule out the possibility of having kids.

"I work long hours," he says. "I knew it wouldn't be fair."

Instead, Pullano is an adult figure to many of the nearly 1,500 young people who are part of the Forest Hills Community House's outreach program, called Hot Spots, each year.

As a result of its success in Forest Hills and Rego Park, the Hot Spots outreach program has been duplicated by five other youth service organizations in Bayside, Flushing, Long Island City, and the Rockaways and in Budapest, Hungary.

Pullano and a colleague founded the program in 1984 based on complaints from the police and community that teenagers were hanging out on street corners or in front of pizza parlors and delis.

The two spent time forging relationships with teenagers and listening to them, Pullano says. What they found was that young people simply wanted recreation on their own terms.

The program grew out of a response to those expressions. It started with a few sports teams playing at parks in Forest Hills and Rego Park.

Rather than trying to coax teens into the Community House for its various services, Pullano says the program sought to "meet young people on their own turf."

As a result, all of the sports activities take place in city parks or the schools, Pullano says, places with which the young people already identify.

But once the relationships are in place, young people know where to turn for help should they need it, Pullano says. Through the outreach program, teenagers are linked to other services at the Community House, including resum

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