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What Is The First Selectman's Task Force On Substance Abuse All About?

It may sound like a long and fancy name, but the goal is simply to keep Clinton's youth safe via a community-wide, collaborative effort.

Picture this: Clinton as a community is rich in the spirit of collaboration that inspires and supports a healthy, drug-free lifestyle for its youth.

That is the vision of the First Selectman's Task Force on Substance Abuse.

So what exactly are they about and what do they do?

Founded in 1990, the coordination and operation of the task force is under the local umbrella of the and is composed of representatives from the schools, parents, teens, community leaders, civic, business and religious leaders. There are about 40 members, some of whom are "collaborators, or folks in the community who are called upon to support the group's initiatives.

At their meetings held five times a year, they discuss updates on current substance trends and ideas to change the course in the community and implement many new programs and events.

The work is supported through significant grant monies with very specific goals related to positive youth development and substance abuse prevention. Clinton was one of just a handful of towns that has been awarded grant money for a second round of three years.

Overseeing the meetings along with leaders from the CYFSB is administrator Kristin Brooks, who guides this diverse team. Brooks, along with Kelley Edwards, are co-coordinators of the specific Partnership for Success and Drug Free Communities Grants.

"It is all about sustainability in the event that grant monies cease to support," says Brooks. "The team is dedicated to keeping alive the momentum and impact their work has made this far.”

Today, the task force has a renewed energy and many new faces sitting around the table. So what's new?

The work this year functions within five focus areas including enforcement, parents, marketing, schools, and community involvement.

The town receives funds that also support CYFSB program coordinator Andrea Kaye's activities such as job shadowing and mentorship programs which promote asset building (increasing a youth's confidence and feelings of value in their community) and other goals in line with the task force's efforts. Kaye's work in the assets field has increased awareness of the impact adults have on the youth they interact with, which ultimately leads to less risky behavior.

The work Brooks and Edwards do with students is currently in the form of the REACT club. REACT stands for Reality Even Affects Clinton Teens.

"These students have an intense commitment to healthy choices, promoting positive climate, and doing so in a fun way," said Edwards.

Mike BonTempo, one of the founding members of the task force and the Health teacher at the , says that "the beauty of this group is its fluidity. It takes on wherever they see a gap or whatever they deem viable and important to send a positive message to the community.”

Last year the task force hosted it's first World Cafe, a frank conversation about substance abuse concerns and solutions in a casual setting.

Programs such as the community viewing of the film Race to Nowhere and its ensuing discussion, as well as Messages in the Music are other avenues to build awareness and cultivate conversation.

Most notable is that no matter who comes to the table, old or young, professional, dedicated, or merely interested, they come to the table as equals. Everyone's concerns and ideas are listened to and respected. Everyone has something to offer to the benefit of the community as a whole.

As Edwards says, “the responsibility and solution lies with everyone.”

In the year to come the task force anticipates creating additional guidelines for adults in the community who have the opportunity to positively influence and value young people. They also anticipate hosting sofa socials, casual conversations and will launch a new marketing campaign with a brand identity.

Interested in knowing more? Click here for their website. The next meetings of the group will be held on January 11, March 14, and May 16 at Andrews Memorial Town Hall, Green Room, 3:15pm.  Anyone interested is welcome to attend, or contact them at clintontaskforce@gmail.com.   

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