New Massapequa Takes Action Coalition project coordinator joins fight
Underage drinking is one of those societal maladies that has far-ranging impact from a nationwide basis right down to the local level. It’s an issue that the Massapequa Takes Action Coalition (MTAC) has been addressing since its origins back in the mid-’90s and one that Larissa Singh has embraced ever since she was brought on as a project coordinator for the organization in the past year. Youth prevention is a key component of what Singh has been doing in her new role and one that she’s embraced wholeheartedly.
“One of the biggest things I’m doing right now as project coordinator is working very closely with the Massapequa High School SADD Club, which is the Students Against Destructive Decisions,” she said. “Over the summer, we had four students from that club attend a virtual international coalition conference focusing on youth engagement and how we can come up with youth-driven coalition activities. So that’s the most recent thing we’ve been doing. And last week, we were going out to local pizzerias and businesses to see if you they’ll support the ‘Be Their Guide, Don’t Provide’ campaign we’re holding right now, which is that alcohol and teens don’t mix.”
Singh’s work with SADD club members found these students recently joining more than 500 youth and nearly 2,000 substance use prevention and treatment specialists from around the nation for CADCA’s (Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America) 2020 Virtual Mid-Year Training Institute (MYTI).
The Virtual MYTI offered interactive training sessions for youth and coalition members to learn about substance abuse prevention public policy, advocacy, media strategies and marketing to reduce youth substance use. The MTAC representatives heard from several federal leaders during CADCA’s youth training sessions and were able to hear young voices from around the nation and share experiences regarding substance use prevention. It’s this kind of interaction that Singh feels is the key towards battling underage drinking, particularly given the fact that 55 percent of Massapequa youth (grades 7-12) report drinking in “someone else’s home.” In addition, the age of onset (the time when youth start drinking) is around 13, which is slightly above the national average of 11.1, according to MTAC .
“One of my primary roles is really engaging the youth because they have such an important voice and know what’s going on in the community, sometimes more than the adults do because they’re in it,” the Baldwin native admitted. “The grant that I work under is really focused on that.”
Singh’s pathway to MTAC came via a two-year internship she embarked on with the YES Community Counseling Center in Massapequa while working on her case app training to become a substance abuse counselor. After earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Hofstra University, she earned a master’s degree in social work at Adelphi University. Throughout, the passion to give back has informed Singh all along the way.
“I knew I wanted to do social work to make a difference and I always wanted to work with youth, because I feel that they are our future,” she said. “I chose addiction as my specialty because more and more I noticed that addiction impacts everyone. Not just the person who is addicted, but also their family and friends, not to mention the community. The community piece of it was what locked me into prevention work. From working on the treatment and with youth who are affected by addiction, I’ve noticed that I’ve been seeing a decrease in the age of onset. The prevention work is so important to target a younger age and that really got me into prevention. When this became available in Massapequa, I was very grateful to be brought in as a partner in this.”
For Mark Wenzel, the YES Community Counseling assistant director who is also a licensed master social worker, Singh has proved to be a valuable addition to MTAC.
“[Larissa] was a star as an intern,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of staff that comes through our internship program, which has become our breeding ground for cultivating social workers that come in with the right talents, affinity and skills in addition to displaying the right commitment to both the agency and clients. Larissa shows tremendous potential. She’s got the perfect affect in terms of reaching out. This is going to sound stereotypical, but I’m a person in my sixties and to have someone younger who can relate to younger people makes a huge difference for us. All those things together and who she is, the way she has approached both the agency via her internship and now as a staff person reflects her tremendous potential [to make a difference].”
Grants that have encouraged MTAC to work with local businesses and the community have made a major impact starting with the Partnership For Success (PFS) initiative MTAC received money for back in 2014. It addresses prescription drug and opioid misuse.
The organization’s efforts included developing marketing campaigns to provide residents with tips to secure, monitor and dispose of unnecessary medications, helping healthcare providers and patients determine when and how opioids should be prescribed for chronic pain and the training (with help from the YES Community Counseling Center) of more than 800 residents to administer naloxone which reverses an opioid/heroin overdose. According to the Nassau County Police Department, the efforts have contributed to a 35 percent reduction in nonfatal opioid overdoses, among other positive results. It’s all part of a long-range approach Singh is thrilled to be part of.
“Long-term goals include being able to make progress in seeing that age of first-use increasing and also working to decrease access,” she said. “And also changing the conversation around substance abuse because we’ve seen such great progress that we need to continue.”
Visit www.mtacoalition.com to find out more about the Massapequa Takes Action Coalition (MTAC). If you are interested in being a part of the solution to reduce underage drinking and substance misuse, email firstname.lastname@example.org or contact Larissa Singh, MTAC Project Coordinator, at 516-799-3000, ext. 132.