A workshop held on the campus of Salve Regina University last Saturday marked the start of a collaboration that is being called a win-win for everyone: “We get manpower hours and they [the SRU students] get substance abuse prevention training,” said Lori Verderosa, Coordinator of the Middletown Substance Abuse Prevention Task Force (MSAPTF).
The workshop was led by Michael Sparks, a nationally known alcohol policy specialist and trainer for the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA). Attending the all-day session were members of Middletown’s Task Force as well as 16 undergraduates enrolled in Prof. Mary Montminy-Danna’s “Social Policies” class. As part of the course requirements, students must perform 15 hours of hands-on work with a policy group.
Sparks described the work involved in taking a policy from theory to action, and also participated in a session where students were divided into action groups to plan their work.
Some of the issues the Middletown Task Force and SRU students will collaborate on include trying to address such root causes of youth alcohol abuse in Middletown as parents passively permitting home parties where alcohol is consumed by minors.
Since 2009, Middletown has had a social host ordinance, but Verderosa said there is a need for widespread community support for police to enforce the ordinance. “Our strong allies are the police, but community support is not vocal enough yet,” she said. “We don’t want to wait for a tragedy before we act.”
The collaboration between the Middletown Task Force and the SRU undergraduates will also be aimed at root causes of marijuana use, which include access to marijuana and drug paraphernalia. Across the country, Sparks said, marijuana abuse prevention is becoming more complicated by access to medical marijuana.
Middletown’s Task Force was formed in 2010 as part of a drug-free communities grant that the town received from the federal government. The five-year grant aims to reduce underage drinking and marijuana use among a target age group of 12-18 year olds. The grant also aims to build the capacity of the task force itself and the Middletown community, according to Verderosa.
Although Sparks has extensive experience in leading community action efforts for alcohol policy, he said the Middletown Task Force-Salve Regina collaboration was a fresh approach. “This is unique to have this type of collaboration between a community and college students,” said Sparks. “It’s a great way for students to be involved in advocacy work, and it can be especially powerful given how close in age the university students are to the target group.”