By Amanda Wyatt
Four months after their first meeting, members of the Sag Harbor Community Coalition, which is organized by the Sag Harbor School District, gathered on Tuesday, November 27 to discuss its future as an anti-drug and alcohol task force.
At the meeting, school and community leaders reflected on the past, its current challenges and the group’s sustainability over the coming months and years. The issues of the coalition’s mission statement and leadership were discussed intensively, as well as its visibility and public image.
Since July, Kym Laube, director of the Westhampton-based advocacy group Human Understanding and Growth Seminars, Inc. (HUGS), has been moderating the coalition. However, she has noted in the past that her role is to help the coalition get off the ground, rather than to be its leader.
While the coalition has yet to elect its president or other leadership positions, it did unanimously vote that someone from within the school district, as well as a member of the wider community should serve as co-leaders.
We need to “somehow try to figure out how we can get the kindling going so that the school and the community are marching forward with equal enthusiasm and equal outreach,” said the district’s interim superintendent, Dr. Carl Bonuso.
If the school’s efforts are not met with community efforts, he said, it would be “one dimensional.”
“That’s what we were hoping would be born out of this group — a community partner that would help us surround and sort of encapsulate the problem,” he said. “We can take charge of the first eight or 10 hours, but when [students] return home, they need an equal push.”
Chris Tice, vice president of the Sag Harbor School Board, noted that in the past when the school has reached out to parents on the issue of underage substance use, the meetings and events have been poorly attended.
“We have to find other ways to reach families and the other influencing factors in the children’s lives,” she said. “I think the school plays an important role in a student’s life, but it’s not the only influencer. We’ve got to attack this on all fronts.”
“Kids don’t pick up their first drink in English class. They pick it up in their house or in their neighbor’s house,” she said. “That’s what the research tells us, that’s what our research shows, that’s the common thread.”
Members of the coalition expressed a desire to increase its visibility and gain additional members. While there have been 15 to 20 regular attendees each month, the coalition hopes to attract more people to their meetings.
“We’re not actually bringing in the population that we’re aiming to reach,” said Robby Stein, a practicing psychologist and a Sag Harbor Village Trustee. “I think [we should try to] figure out how to get more kids involved and parents of kids involved.”
“I totally agree. We need to get more students involved here in this process,” added Lindsay Cox, a Pierson senior.
Meanwhile, the coalition is also working on its mission statement, which members hope will reflect their agenda as a group. A finalized version is expected to be presented at next month’s meeting.
And despite the challenges the coalition is facing, the group remains committed. This very fact is to be commended, said Laube.
Still, Pierson Middle/High School’s former principal Bob Schneider emphasized the need for the coalition to move forward.
“The school district identified the problem and brought it to the attention of people nine, 10, 11 months ago,” he said. “The school district’s got a responsibility to address this problem and it’s in a really good position to go out and bring the community in.”
Laube, as well as Pamela Mizzi, director of the Suffolk County Prevention Resource Center, pointed out having a Community Coalition will undeniably help to reduce the incidence of underage drinking and drug use in the area.
“There is a clearly delineated difference between communities that have coalitions and communities that don’t,” she said. “The research goes back to the early 1990s that when there is an organized group of people committed to harping on this issue, if you will, there is a quantifiable difference in the number of people — especially young people — who are using and abusing substances.”