UPPER SADDLE RIVER, N.J. – Mentors from Upper Saddle River and Allendale will work to protect area youngsters from the growing opioid epidemic thanks to a $150,000 federal grant – one of only three issued nationwide this year.
The success of a drug-mentoring program in Mahwah inspired Upper Saddle River Mayor Joanne Minichetti to pursue the newly-formed Northern Highlands Municipal Alliance, comprised of community leaders, parents, teachers, religious and fraternal organizations, healthcare and business professionals, members of law enforcement and the media, and other youngsters.
After discovering that her town had too few residents to qualify for a Drug Free Community Mentoring grant from the White House Drug Policy Office, Minichetti got Allendale Mayor Liz White involved.
Agreeing to serve as mentors were officials in Mahwah, who'd received a previous DFC grant.
“The partnership between Upper Saddle River and Allendale is a true win, since we share our high school and student/parent community,” Minichetti said.
“The intent is to make programming we provide at the regional level through the [federal] funds to also include Ho-Ho-Kus and Saddle River students,” the mayor said. “Prevention is a powerful tool to counteract drug use in our communities, and we will use this funding to help our young people make healthy choices regarding substance use.”
Recognizing that local problems need local solutions, DFC-funded coalitions bring together various community members to mentor youngsters.
Abuse of prescription drugs is a major target.
At least 97% of middle school and 93% of high school students mentored by DFC-funded coalitions reported that they hadn’t illegally used prescription drugs over the previous 30 days, according to a 2016 National Evaluation End-of-Year Report .
The report also showed that peer disapproval of illicit prescription drug use increased significantly for both age groups within the mentored communities.
It all began locally during a March 2016 forum on the opioid epidemic organized by the Northwest Bergen Mayors' Association at Northern Highlands Regional High School.
A speakers’ panel moderated by Minichetti included Bergen County Prosecutor Gurbir S. Grewal, along with members of law enforcement, school representatives, addiction experts, therapists, elected officials, the clergy, parents and others.
Along attending was a member of Wellcore Consulting, which specializes in applying for education and drug awareness grants.
Minichetti invited Wellcore to meet with the mayors -- and before long planning began.
“Allendale and Upper Saddle River extend our gratitude to Mahwah's Municipal Alliance, Mayor Bill Laforet, the Mahwah Council and Police Chief Batelli,” Minichetti said, noting that Mahwah “generously provided the application funds.”
“We are excited about this partnership and look forward to learning more about the excellent education and awareness programming already established in Mahwah,” she said.
“Thanks to Mayor Liz White, of Allendale, the Northern Highlands Alliance was recently established, the focus of which is to encourage the sharing of information and events amongst our towns,” Minichetti said. “With this funding, and the support from Mahwah, exciting programming and new educational tools will now be available.”
After using the federal grant the next two years – split in half this year and next – the alliance will be able to apply for another grant of $125,000 a year for five years. An additional five-year grant after that is possible.
Only two other towns in the United States got mentoring grants this year -- one in Florida and the other in New Mexico.
INFO: Contact USR Mayor Joanne Minichetti at (201) 400-3495 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
NOTE: Daily Voice Breaking News Editor Jerry DeMarco is a member of the Northern Highlands Municipal Alliance, representing the news media.
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