Stoughton rewarded for its dogged efforts in fight against youth substance abuse

Post 34 of 37
By Matt Stout
Posted Sept. 06, 2011 @ 06:01 AM

STOUGHTON —

As Karen Hall understands it, recipients of a Drug Free Communities grant are expected to demonstrate how their coalition can sustain itself, should its initiatives go without federal assistance.

Hall – who oversees Organizing Against Substances in Stoughton, or OASIS – said the program did the feds one better: It proved it.

A year after being denied renewal of its federal funding, OASIS this past week was awarded a five-year, $625,000 grant, joining programs in Avon and Middleboro as local recipients armed with help to curb youth substance abuse.

They represent a portion of the 38 Massachusetts communities receiving $4.5 million through Drug Free Communities, a 14-year-old program that works in conjunction with the White House drug czar’s office.

But the Stoughton-based initiative is one of just five in the state – and 87 in the country – to receive a new grant, which will allow it to hire back a full-time prevention coordinator as well as a part-time bilingual outreach worker.

Only California had more communities receive new grants this year than Massachusetts, underscoring the region’s place among those hit hardest by the national rise in substance abuse.

“We found out what the true meaning of sustainability was when we didn’t have the funding,” said Hall, director of the Stoughton Youth Commission, which oversees the community-based OASIS.

The coalition had received $100,000 a year from 2005-2010, helping it support compliance checks by police at local liquor stores, drug and alcohol surveys at the middle school and high school levels, and family-strengthening programs.

When the coalition applied but was denied last year, it forced Hall to reduce its prevention coordinator to a part-time position and ask volunteers in some cases to triple the time they put into their efforts.

By July 25, OASIS had run dry of all its funding, leaving officials to consider what else to “prioritize” to keep the mission going, Hall said. Now, with $125,000 tabbed for each of the next five years, it can begin looking to build again.

“Everybody worked together,” she said of the past year. “I think that made us much stronger for this year.”

The Avon Coalition for Every Student, or ACES, also was awarded $125,000, its third installment of its five-year cycle. The grant represents the coalition’s entire budget, director Chris Delano said, which in the past year has been geared toward reducing marijuana use – and its widely regarded misperceptions – in the school system.

For example, a 2009 survey of students grades 6-12 in Avon showed that only 45 percent felt there was risk or harm in using marijuana. In this past April’s survey, that number jumped to nearly 60 percent.

“So in that little piece, we are showing improvement,” Delano said. “But when we look at it, we still have a lot more work to do.”

Middleboro Youth Advocates, a group that includes parents, substance abuse agencies and members of local government, received its last $100,000 installment of its five-year cycle.

Once strictly reliant on volunteers, the program now offers a variety of programs ranging from ‘Parent Parties,’ where coalition members educate small groups of parents in an informal setting, to surveys in the school system that help measure the impact the group has made.

The coalition will re-apply for a new five-year cycle of funding next year, said programs director Sharon Seifert.

“Without the money, I’m very concerned all the work that we’ve done, I’m hoping it doesn’t cease to exist,” she said. “You have to really prove what you’re doing is making a difference. And we’re seeing it.”

But not all who applied locally received funding. Brockton Promise, a community-based coalition that includes six different agencies – among them Massasoit Community College and Stonehill College – had its application denied after its grant lapsed in 2010.

It had received $100,000 per year for five years.

Attempts to reach Heather Arrighi, chairperson of the organization’s steering committee, were unsuccessful on Friday.

Matt Stout may be reached at mstout@enterprisenews.com.

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