For more than 20 years the Massapequa Takes Action Coalition (MTAC) has been working to prevent substance misuse and promote healthy families. And now, the nonprofit organization will be able to continue their work in the community, thanks to a $625,000 federal grant, part of the Drug Free Communities (DFC) Support Program Grant Award from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
The grant funding was announced during a Sept. 20 press conference at the YES Community Counseling Center, the fiscal agent for the MTAC’s new grant.
“This grant marks the continuation of some of the amazing work that’s been going on in this community,” said Jamie Bogenshutz, executive director of the YES Community Counseling Center. “It allows us to continue the work we started…and to work with partners in the community and stakeholders who are invested in seeing our kids stay safer.”
A total of 307 coalitions from across the United States applied for the DFC funding, with 156 being awarded. MTAC is the only Nassau County coalition to receive the award, which will provide up to $125,000 per year in funding over the next five years. After that time, coalitions can apply for an additional five years of funding.
Part of the DFC funding will go towards research, including studying alcohol and marijuana use for Massapequa students in grades 7-12, as some rates, grades 10-12, are above state and national norms. These ongoing assessments will allow the MTAC to prioritize efforts to prevent and reduce youth substance misuse through data-driven strategies.
“The foundation of substance misuse often begins with high rates of underage drinking and marijuana use. For the federal government to award us this grant, it validates our role as a leading authority on prevention, education and providing service support to reduce underage drinking and drug misuse,” said MTAC Coalition Coordinator Cathy Samuels.
Grant money will also allow the MTAC to have a full-time coordinator, who will help the coalition continue to implement strategies in the community such as working with the police department and the chamber to prevent the sale of alcohol to minors and the over-prescription of painkillers.
Community partnership is key for the MTAC, as evidenced by the crowd of collaborators who attended the press conference. Among them was Nassau County deputy police commissioner Kevin Smith, who said that the force has changed the way they tackle the opioid epidemic.
“We will always endeavor to lock up drug dealers but the police department has grown up a little too. We realize there are a lot of people who suffer and have a problem,” Smith said, adding that the police department tracks and responds to both fatal and nonfatal overdoses. They also stress the Good Samaritan Law and getting people to treatment. “We are going out there and trying to help people. We’re going back in about 30 days to houses where someone overdoses to see if they’re okay, if they want treatment. We have more of a holistic approach than we ever had but we’re still locking up the people who are dealing these drugs.”
The Massapequa School District has been another valuable partner; ongoing projects include parent universities, anti-drug curriculum and mandatory prom meetings for parents aimed at deterring underage drinking under the county’s Social Host Law. The school will also be the site of a drug take back day on Saturday, Oct. 27, from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., where area residents can safely dispose of unused or expired medications.
“This is a serious problem in our community and we are working together with MTAC to reduce this crisis among our youth and support the goals of its Drug-Free Communities Grant,” Superintendent Lucille Iconis said. “When school, home and community partners together to provide a strong foundation, our children are better positioned to make positive life choices.”
A big part of drug prevention starts at home, Bogenshutz said, with parents forming strong relationships with their children.
“When do we start teaching them to say no? We start teaching them the moment we can, because it’s about teaching our kids to be strong, resilient and know that they’re loved,” she said. “It’s not as simple as a phrase or one conversation. We have to build strong foundations.”