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By Jamie Jensen

Sitting at a class coffee of Rye High School parents or perusing the posts on the Rye Moms’ Facebook page, it is clear that parents want to know that their children are safe and their teens are staying out of trouble.

Its been nearly two years since more than 400 parents and grandparents packed Resurrection School’s Educational Media Center to listen to law enforcement officers, school administrators, civic leaders, and youth talk about how drugs and alcohol are affecting our children and families. We sat down with RyeACT co-founders Julie Killian and Nancy Pasquale to ask what the Coalition has been up to since that first meeting.

RyeACT (Rye Action for Children and Teens), the federally funded community drug and alcohol coalition is busy. Surveys have been administered biannually to 7th and 12th graders. The Rye Police Department has established an adopt-a-school program as well as an anonymous TIPS line. The Coalition has spearheaded drug giveback days and co-sponsored parent education efforts with PO’s/PTO’s and the Rye Youth Council. A fuller look back of the Coalition’s 2016-2017 is captured in a flyer shared with community stakeholders.

According to its leaders, what seems like a bunch of well meaning individual efforts is much more. Operating under what the field of prevention calls a positive cultural framework, RyeACT is training local leaders and youth, developing prevention messages, and increasing the town’s access to regional and national experts.

Kim O’Connor Stacks, who chairs the Health and Wellness Action Team, frames the challenge before the Coalition this way: “We are building on existing community assets. We don’t want to reinvent the wheel. So we gather data and commit to using best practice and researched based prevention models and work across sectors to find solutions.” The Team — a group of 35 professionals — received the Hudson Valley Heroes Award in the fall for doing just that. Tapping talented clinicians such as Hilary Cooper, Sasha Blackwell, and Casey DeCola, the Team developed the curriculum for last May’s Parent University. The Parenting for Prevention 101 curriculum piloted that evening has since been selected as a workshop topic for the CADCA (Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America) National Leadership Forum this month.

Gathering data, the Coalition is learning where to focus concerted attention. When recent survey data revealed that youth in Rye are vaping and using e-cigs at rates significantly higher than their peers nationally, the Rye City School District partnered with the Coalition to take on this challenge with a public information campaign. (The survey revealed that 42.3% of 12 graders had used e-cigs or vaped in the past 30 days.) Parents and students were reminded of 2017 NY State law banning e-cigs and vaping on school grounds and given research and statistics on the dangers of both. Because youth in Rye prefer a brand called Juul, a highly concentrated nicotine vaporizer which can be easily hidden in plain sight, (it looks like a small computer memory stick), the flyer’s picture captured the attention of parents. For RHS students, the response is hitting closer to home. Students, some for the first time, are getting suspended when caught with JUUL pods. There seems to be little question among teens at Rye High that these are considered drug paraphernalia.

Many students will tell you they are tired of messages that emphasize abstinence through scare tactics. The Youth Action team has grown from a couple of brave souls to nearly 15 students and they are looking for positive messages to share with their peers.

Relatively new to the Hudson Valley, the Coalition is receiving positive attention and Killian credits Pasquale as the Coalition’s anchor. Pasquale describes it another way. “What makes the Coalition stand out in a community filled with caring individuals and community-based organizations like Rye is that it’s built on a model of best practices in prevention. With lots of support from both the federal and regional agencies, the sectors engaged have a continuous improvement model to follow and lots of lessons to learn from others who have come before.”

The Rye YMCA is the fiscal agent and lead organization for RyeACT. Their institutional leadership has been critical to ensuring both financial support and access to national and regional partners.

Killian, the mother of five young adults, who has moved from Deputy Mayor to citizen, remains committed to educating parents about the dangers of marijuana and vaping. Pasquale, the coalition’s day-to-day coordinator, says that what keeps her up at night is: “Just knowing that the work of drug and alcohol prevention doesn’t ever really go away. With each new generation of parents and youth, you have new issues.”

To find out more, visit the Coalition’s website, RYEACT.com.


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