By Amanda Wyatt
In order to combat drug and alcohol abuse, you’ve got to bring in “the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker.”
This is a favorite expression of Kym Laube, the executive director of the Westhampton-based advocacy group, Human Understanding and Growth Seminars, Inc. (HUGS). On Tuesday, August 21, Laube led Sag Harbor’s second community coalition meeting at the Pierson Middle-High School library.
Thirteen others from various sectors of society — including law enforcement, education and clergy — were also present to help build the foundation of the coalition, which is very much in its infancy.
At the meeting, Laube discussed the need for the entire community to band together. Rather than blame a particular group — such as the school, the kids or the parents — Laube believed the community must realize that dealing with substance abuse is everyone’s responsibility.
“In this field, we often say, ‘we can’t blame the fish for dying after they’ve swam in the polluted pond.’ And it’s really up to us to begin to take a look at why the pond is polluted,” she said.
Sag Harbor Village Police Chief Tom Fabiano called on the need to bring in more parents into the coalition. While some parents have expressed interest in the group, none were present at Tuesday night’s meeting.
Other participants discussed bringing in youth, as well as school security, janitors and counselors, in order to have a more comprehensive coalition.
As Laube noted, a community coalition does not focus merely on youth. Substance abuse is just as much of a problem among adults as it is among teenagers.
Still, the discussion of underage drinking and drug use at Pierson Middle-High School remained a hot topic. After the results of the New York State OASAS Survey were released in July — showing that substance use at Pierson was generally higher than average — some Sag Harbor parents were fuming.
“I received calls from parents [who] were adamant that [the results] were exaggerated lies, [saying] we were being so mean to the children,” said school board member and parent Mary Anne Miller.
Miller, along with Vice President Chris Tice, also mentioned the need to streamline the data. Currently, the results of the OASAS survey — as well as the TAP Survey and a recent survey taken by the district — should be reviewed and assessed by a professional.
“People may not realize that there have been three surveys, or that it is consistent,” said Tice.
“The bottom line is that all of the results tell us the same things, and that’s what I’m trying to get across to people,” Miller agreed. “And that’s the denial, saying we’re ‘being mean’ to the kids. And that’s huge in this town.”
Laube attributed some of the perceived denial to the stigma surrounding substance abuse.
“When we begin talking about [substance abuse] at a school, I always hear, ‘It’s a good school,’ and ‘He’s a good kid,’” she said.
“And guess what folks? Sometimes good schools and good kids make dangerous, high-risk choices,” Laube added. “And it’s our job to bring that to light and talk about it.”
Dr. Carl Bonuso, the recently appointed district superintendent, lauded Sag Harbor for being proactive.
“I think a sign of a really good school system is that they don’t just rely on giving out information; they’re willing to ask questions,” he told the coalition.
Another topic was the possibility of becoming involved with Vet Corps, a program that partners a veteran to work full-time with community coalitions.
“They really work hand-in-hand with taking a look at substance abuse, and also looking at how that affects the vet population,” Laube explained.
She noted that after San Diego, Suffolk County has the highest amount of returning veterans. Sadly, said Laube, each day a returning veteran takes his or her own life and one out of every three of those is under the influence of a substance when they do that.
Veterans involved in the program have training in the strategic prevention framework, and would be under the supervision of HUGS, OASAS or another organization. Laube said she planned to send additional information on this possibility to the coalition.
The tentative date for the next meeting of the coalition is set for Tuesday, September 25 at 5:30 p.m.
In related school news, the Board of Education will hold their next business meeting on Monday, August 27 at 7:30 p.m.