Parents of middle and high school students, as well as the students themselves, will soon have access to invaluable information, resources, and community support concerning one of the nation’s biggest concerns, underage drinking and drug use.
By Gretchen Althoff Snyder
Parents of middle and high school students, as well as the students themselves, will soon have access to invaluable information, resources, and community support concerning one of the nation’s biggest concerns, underage drinking and drug use. Rye-ACT (Rye Action for Children and Teens) is a recently formed community coalition to help address the issues of alcohol and substance use among Rye’s youth.
City Councilwoman Julie Killian and former Rye Youth Council Executive Board member Susan McGovern, both mothers of teenagers, have been talking for years amongst themselves and other Rye moms about the prevalence of drug and alcohol use among Rye teens. Nancy Pasquale, a Rye City School Board member, was having similar conversations with numerous other Rye parents. In January 2014, the three women attended a panel discussion sponsored by the Rye YMCA’s Healthier Sound Shore Coalition on teen issues, including drug and alcohol abuse. At the meeting, they were struck by the fact that numerous neighboring communities had well-established drug and alcohol coalitions. After hearing so many concerns from parents over the years, and talking to local youth service agencies about these concerns, the three women wanted to take the conversation to the next level and agreed it was time to create a formal drug and alcohol prevention coalition in Rye.
With assistance from the Westchester Coalition for Drug & Alcohol Free Youth, as well as Student Assistance Services (SAS), Rye applied for a one- year $75,000 Drug Free Communities (DFC) Mentor Grant to help establish the coalition. In September, Rye-ACT became one of only 20 coalitions nationwide to be awarded a Mentor Grant from the federal government. For the first year, the Westchester Coalition for Drug & Alcohol Free Youth will mentor and oversee Rye-ACT. In March 2016, the coalition will apply for its own five-year DFC grant to continue the coalition on its own.
Going forward, Rye-ACT will provide a forum to align resources and coordinate initiatives that focus on community awareness, education, law enforcement, access to support and treatment, and providing positive alternatives to Rye’s youth. Valuable information from a Drug and Alcohol survey given to Rye Middle and High School students in November 2014 (results are currently being evaluated) will help bring these initiatives into clearer focus. Input and guidance from the Westchester Coalition for Drug & Alcohol Free Youth, as well as neighboring coalitions with years of experience under their belts, will be invaluable as Rye-ACT gains momentum throughout the year.
Members of the coalition include representatives from various community groups: City Council, Rye City Police Department, Rye City School District, Rye Youth Council, Rye YMCA, local clergy, St. Vincent’s Hospital in Harrison, as well as parents and students. McGovern and Killian both agree that “it really does take a village – it can’t just be the parents – kids, teachers, coaches, the police – everyone needs to get involved, and this needs to be a community-wide effort to be effective and make a change.” Killian and McGovern also stressed that there needs to be a shift in people’s perceptions about the prevalence of alcohol and substance abuse among Rye teens. Some people believe that only the “outliers” are using alcohol and drugs, but there may well be a larger youth population that falls into this category.
One of Rye-ACT’s major goals is prevention, and Pasquale notes that, “prevention is most successful when the message is consistent across all sectors of the community.” For example, even the local businesses that sell alcohol need to get on board and send the same message as the police, the parents, the kids and the rest of the coalition community. In addition to prevention, the coalition will focus on reduction in substance abuse, delaying the onset of first substance use, and awareness for children and parents alike.
Statistics show that youth ages 12-17 constitute approximately 11% of people who engage in binge drinking and 15% of illicit drug use in the United States. In addition, 84% of the 4.6 million recent first-time users of alcohol were younger than 21, with an estimated 59.1% of first time users under the age of 18. Statistics also show that prevention efforts that integrate school, family, and community reduce substance abuse and can delay initial use by two years on average.
While Rye-ACT is currently working on its mission statement, one of its major objectives for this school year is to engage more youth representatives. In July, Rye-ACT sent its first youth representative to an international youth conference that provides training and networking opportunities for nearly 500 student leaders around the country. “We need to get kids talking to other kids,” says Pasquale, noting that Pelham’s coalition (Pelham PACT) sends over a dozen students to youth training conferences each year. Pasquale believes that with a larger number of students involved in the coalition efforts, more kids will be empowered to “be themselves” and not feel pressure to partake in underage drug and alcohol use.