RCASA Newsletter 


August 2014-January 2015

In This Issue
A Daughter's Words
Support Recovery
Annual Meeting
A Daughter's Words
Melissa Weiksnar, friend of RCASA and Parent Advocate shares her late daughter's journals in a new book. "It's Not Gunna Be an Addiction: The Adolescent Journals of Amelia F. W. Caruso" is intended for youths who are facing decisions about substance use. It provides an intimate perspective on issues they may be facing with friends, family members, or in themselves. Parents and those who work with young people can also learn from Amy's six-year struggle; in contrast to most other literature on addiction, her story serves as a reminder that not everyone makes it through recovery." Melissa has volunteered her time to educate hundreds of RMHS wellness students and RCASA members over the past few years, she has taught in health education classrooms, at special events, and educated our Board of Directors. We thanks Melissa for her tireless efforts to raise awareness about Amy's Story and the impact of addiction on their family.

The following letter was submitted by a local parent, the letter is printed as it was submitted  


A Mother's Plea: Don't Wait


"Last Saturday I attended 18 yr old Kelly Johnson's funeral at St Augustine Chapel in Andover, MA. Bless her parents for speaking openly in her obituary of her battle with substance abuse. Bless the priest Reverend Gori for commending them and going further saying in a voice reverberating through the church and  in me still,  " If you think that you or your family and friends are immune to the disease of substance abuse- you are sadly mistaken."   

Bless all the children and their families who are at this moment struggling with any and all the issues relating to substance abuse.

Anyone who's been around the recovery block knows kids don't start off shooting heroin. It would be one thing if we had an MCAS test to discern which kids were going to dabble in pot and alcohol and go down the slippery path towards heroin and opiate abuse.  Nor can we predict with impunity which kids will struggle with depression, anxiety, be diagnosed as bi polar, or what type of medication and/or therapy might be effective with which kid.

But here are a few thoughts I've had this new year.  

First of all-  to parents and kids- we are NOT alone.   Walk down any street in any town/city and if you are willing to engage someone in a conversation about substance abuse you will find almost everyone knows somebody who knows somebody.....   if they haven't already experienced aspects of its consequences of it firsthand.

What we DO know is that rehab and treatment are no guarantee for recovery, nor is counseling, nor are medications, nor of course is anyone's denial.  It's clear  there is some type of downward trajectory that seems to happen over a period of time.  And that we are no longer talking high school age,  we're talking junior high and sometimes elementary school-  These are kids who haven't yet dealt straight up with the "normal" issues facing adolescents -   They never  got to navigate their way through to the other side of those issues sans drugs-    


So if your son or daughter becomes sober and is trying to maintain sobriety- remember - they are having to learn to negotiate their way through an entire emotional landscape without the usual "tools".... they relied on.  Don't be deceived by numerical age.

On the other hand these kids have lived through more of the suffering of life than we can imagine- or at times even bear to consider.   When they do battle with this disease it is a full fledged war against demons without and within.

Maybe you've had tastes of what I'm referring to-  or even whole entire meals....

Your kid is more withdrawn, school attendance and grades  drop off, there's less accountability for time, not enough checking in, "disappearing",  angry outbursts, lots of lying.   There's pot/alcohol use- not just a weekend here and there, but every weekend, and then weekdays- 

There's the standard intractable denial on all sides-   it's really not a "problem",  you're aware of it, it's just a phase,  maybe you don't want to intrude on "privacy" and check their room, check their texts, call other parents and verify where they are......

And then begins the stealing at which point there's more going on than we ever imagined.

Of course  there's the trajectory of parents' responses-   eventually leading to trying every kind of treatment you can afford (and those you "cant", but do anyway)-  There's of course MGH Arms Program and Children's Hospital's ASAP Program,  there's Mcleans 2 week in patient- if you can get a bed there,  there's wilderness programs,  there's residential treatment programs if you are lucky enough to have insurance that will cover them,   And with money you can even hire someone to the tune of 5-10,000 $ to help you choose which treatment program might work for your kid.   There's also the chance you will find a decent adolescent psychiatrist- not private pay,  and even a counselor or social worker that connects with your kid (which is worth more than can be measured).

There's also AlanonCOPESmart Recovery-  all of which can provide needed support  and resources but maybe even more significantly-   places where parents can see tangibly how many others are affected by this also--that they and their kids aren't "the only ones" in this boat.

Maintaining sobriety is so damn difficult at any age, but think about what it must be like for a teen to first acknowledge problem, consider a lifetime of sobriety- it's too huge to wrap your head around.   Not to mention- there must be things that make sobriety worth battling for.    If we aren't encouraging other interests and activities-  meaning literally FUNDING  them, how can we truly be fostering sobriety ?

There are so many angles to the disease of substance abuse and just as many varied approaches to addressing it.  It's easy to get completely lost in any one aspect- anywhere along the continuum-  There is so much to think about and often we are too busy treading water to really step back and have a bigger perspective, it's too personal and for so long we seem to be right in the thick of it.

My final point here  is to illuminate one fairly underutilized option right under our noses which deserves recognition AND assistance.  Recovery High Schools-   There are 3 in this state- Amen for those of us living in Massachusetts, because many states don't have the funding for this option.   Recovery High Schools aren't panaceas, but they are often a hope, a last hope, a first hope-  that a kid can get help in the community- or nearby.  They are a sorely neglected option in the recovery repertoire.  They are in need of our help.

I say this having  a teenager who has attended the Northshore Recovery High School for the past 2 years-  I say this despite all my previous fears of lower academic standards,  of- oh no he'll be surrounded by other kids using who knows what.  I say this because anyone who has been desperately searching for something to help their kids have a chance,  is willing to try almost anything.


Good news-  There are a group of people working there committed heart and soul to helping our kids- specifically with dealing with substance abuse.    One doesn't see this kind of thing every day of the week- and when kids are getting lost in the shuffle in huge mega high schools this is a place where everyone from the school janitor to teachers, support staff, counselors, and principal- all know your kid and are trying to have his/her back.

All this is no guarantee for sobriety-  but it is comforting and it has a shot at helping. Providing daily structure, compassion, support, small individualized classes,  fostering kid's interests in the arts while also addressing the substance abuse and mental health issues does have an impact-  not to mention being in a school where you can't quite disappear-  or if you do-  people go looking.

When Reverend Gori spoke about love of neighbor-  that's what Northshore Recovery High doesn't just espouse, it lives it-  in sickness and in health, in life and death.  These are people who will be there to rejoice at your kid's graduation and yes- be there to tell their story- to be their witness if that is what is required.   They cannot do it alone- They need our support and funding.


One can't help but be inspired by the brave struggle of so many of these kids and those around them. Kelly Johnson and all our kids deserve our love, compassion, and help-  if not now, when."


Diana LaVancher
Reading, MA


Spotlight on Kelly Sober House

The RCASA staff would like to thank Rich Winant, the Director of the Kelly Sober House for his participation in coalition events including our Annual Meeting and Dialogue Programs  The involvement of both the staff and affiliates has greatly enhanced our programming.  Thank you for the work that you do to support men in recovery and for offering hope to those that may join you soon. "The Kelly House, LLC was founded in 2012 by Richard Winant and his wife and life partner, JoAnn Napoli-Winant. Their primary mission is to provide a stable, structured and supportive residential experience for men. The goal is to work with each individual collaboratively on PROBLEM-SOLUTION-PLAN OF ACTION and on various Life Skills. We strive to give residents a reason to do something different."Functional Recovery"  Learn more at Kelly Sober House



RCASA Annual Meeting & Film Screening

Elaine Webb, President of the Board welcomed the Board of Directors and participants to the event. Click here for the President's RemarksFollowing the President's Welcome, Youth Leaders shared the following message with the audience. 
"To the families, friends and loves ones that are battling the disease of addiction, we extend our support to you as you navigate the path to recovery. Please take care of yourself and get support through a 12-step program or Learn 2 Cope, a network for family and friends of loved ones. To those that have lost loved ones to the disease of addiction, we share our deepest sympathies for your loss and we would like to honor those lives with the candles you see across the stage.  Since 2005, we have lost 38 residents in Reading to alcohol and drug related deaths. If you know someone that has lost a loved one, we encourage you to share the following resource with him or her.  It is GRASP, which stands for GRIEF RECOVERY AFTER A SUBSTANCE ABUSE PASSING.  The closest GRASP Chapter for families that have lost a loved one meets at Salem Hospital in Salem, MA.  More information can be found at www.grasphelp.org"


Next, the Director shared the Rx Round Up Video. She reviewed the local 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data Results compared to the state and national data (released in the summer of 2014). The local results showed decreases in tobacco use, underage drinking and marijuana use compared to the previous data collected in 2011.  

Participants also viewed THE HUNGRY HEART, a documentary film that explores the impact of opioid use in a small town. Following the film, audience members questioned whether we have enough access to recovery for people suffering from substance use disorders? Local substance abuse professionals raised concerns about suboxone and its efficacy on recovery.  RCASA members asked how can Reading address the stigma that surrounds this issue and how can we get more residents involved in RCASA? For more info on the film, visit www.thehungryheart.org


Reading Coalition Against Substance Abuse- Youth Coordinator (19 hrs a week). Youth development professional sought to engage youth and caring adults in prevention action teams on behalf of the Reading Coalition Against Substance Abuse. RCASA mobilizes community organizations, residents and youth to work together to implement multiple strategies to reduce substance abuse in Reading, MA.  The Youth Coordinator will assist the RCASA Director and Community Outreach Coordinator to implement coalition key goals, objectives and activities. The Youth Coordinator will support a youth-led media campaign, pilot prevention program and support youth-led policy change on the issue of substance abuse.  The Youth Coordinator will provide youth leadership development opportunities and work in collaboration with consultants, volunteers, and coalition leadership. Position requires flexible hours including afternoons, evenings and occasional weekend events. Qualifications should include: BS Health Education, BA Psychology or related field, background in Youth Development, Youth Worker Certification/Substance Abuse Prevention Experience preferred.

Resumes can be sent to the attention of the:

Human Resources Director-

Town of Reading-

16 Lowell Street-

Reading,MA 01867

Rocket Revolution
During the summer of 2015, RCASA staff worked on the Rocket Revolution Action Team with Jen Hagopian (High School Guidance Counselor), Steve Padovanni (Teacher/Coach), and Tom Zaya (Assistant Principal) to develop a Student Leadership Initiative. The name of the program "Rocket Revolution" captures the school's mascot name and the spirit of changing culture. The "Rocket Revs" Kick Off in October focused on the mission, vision, and planning. The Rocket Revolution engaged 62 students to promote the school core values. Students had the opportunity to brainstorm ideas, design a t-shirt and plan special events. Stay tuned for more Revs news!
Regional Dialogue on Opioids- RECAP
If you missed this amazing event, don't wait to read about what we learned from our World Cafe involving local partners across the region. Click here to view Regional Dialogue Recap and Video Highlights

Mental Health First Aid
Local Professionals Certified as Youth Mental Health First Aid™ Instructors
Mental health literacy program certifies 10 instructors representing Reading, MA
Click to learn more at Instructors Trained to Expand Mental Health Education in Reading
Chemical Health Education Program Update
Reading Memorial High School, Reading Police and RCASA continued the CHEP program that was launched in 2012. Referrals to the class are made by the RMHS administrators for Chemical Health Violations and/or by Detective Pat Iapicca, Police Prosecutor for the Reading Police Department in cooperation with court diversion. Referrals are for 1stChemical Health violations only. CHEP provides opportunities for young adults to reflect on their own behavior, to consider what influences contributed to their violation and ways to move forward. 
Student Leadership Development
On August 14, 2015, Tom Zaya, Mike Scarpitto, Laura Olsen, Erica McNamara, Julianne DeAngelis, School Resource Officer (SRO) Michael Muolo hosted the Annual Student Leadership Training for Club Leaders & Captains. Mr. Scarpitto and Ms. Olsen emphasized the importance of a student leader's role in shaping the school's culture. SRO Muolo introduced himself and offered his support and to use him and RCASA staff as a resource throughout the year. Mr. Zaya reviewed leadership expectations and important updates about safety. Speakers described the Chemical Health Policy expectations, answered questions, and reviewed ways student leaders can help meet the policy requirements. In small groups, students worked to complete seven exercises that drew on their experiences as student leaders. One activity demonstrated that the youth felt their leadership skills should focus on their capacity to be seen by their peers as hardworking, honest, respectful, understanding and approachable.   

In The Classroom

In October, RCASA staff educated 25 students on   Understanding the impact of maternal substance abuse during pregnancy in the high school's Child Development class and discussed the impact of underage drinking on adolescent brain development. In January, Officer Muolo, School Resource Officer and Erica McNamara, RCASA Director conducted Choose 2 Refuse opioid prevention workshops in freshman Decision class this past fall for 150 students. Special thanks to Mrs. Lennon and Mrs. Fiorello and their students. 

Choose to Refuse  

Youth Crew Life Maps Activity
Members of the Youth Crew participated in a reflection exercise by mapping major milestones in their lives including school, family events, and friendships. The group discussed the emotions associated with memories and how they affect them as teens today. Challenge: Think about a pivotal moment from your childhood, how did it make you feel?  Did it shape your adolescence?  Is that experience something you have shared with your family?
Fund Procurement

RCASA staff worked diligently over the past year with town, police and school staff to generate quality grant proposals for a number of public funding entities. RCASA, Police, and the Reading Public Schools was successful in securing 4 grants to support substance abuse prevention and mental health education. Learn more at RCASA Grant Seeking


On The Road

In September, Board Members (Pat Shannon, Elaine Webb, Meghan Whelan, and Sophia Kalogeris) and staff represented RCASA at the Reading Fall St. Faire to disseminate prevention literature. In October, the Outreach Coordinator hosted an info table at the Senior Center's Annual Health Fair.  RCASA Staff and Detective Michelle Halloran also collected unwanted medications from seniors. In November, the RCASA Director was invited to sit on a panel to educate Ashland Coalition members on developing a diversion program.  In December, the Director presented at a national conference co-sponsored by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and SAMHSA.  In January, youth leaders and the Director shared more about RCASA at the Annual Martin Luther King Celebration. 

Board Updates

In January. Sherri VandenAkker, Reading resident, RCASA member & "My Name Was Bette" filmmaker was featured on the national talk show "The View" this past week.  Congratulations to Sherri for raising awareness about women suffering from alcoholism.  Click below to purchase the film (Amazon) or view her TV appearance on THE VIEW at http://www.thebettefilm.com/


Board members met monthly and participated in a number of policy development opportunities. Members exchanged criticial information on liquor, medical marijuana, and opioid initiatives.


John Halsey, Board of Selectman Liaison kept members apprised of the Ricky's Liquors case which resulted in a significant suspension for sales to minors. 


Elaine Webb recruited board members to become involved in Zoning Committee meetings on medical marijuana.  Members participated in two zoning sessions. Medical marijuana zoning was presented at the special Town Meeting in September with the support of RCASA.  The initiative passed to site potential dispensaries in the industrial zone.Learn  more at the Reading Chronicle's website AG's office okays town's medical marijuana bylaw amendment

Opioid Abuse Prevention Collaborative

Reading participates in regional cluster funded by the MA Department of Public Health with Medford, Melrose, Wakefield, Stoneham, and Malden. Medford coordinates the projects and brings leaders together monthly to implement regional strategies to reduce opioid consumption and overdose. Learn more at key efforts we are supporting at MassTAPP including the Good Samaritan LawNarcan Pilot Program, and Prescription Monitoring

Alcohol Compliance & Law Enforcement

The Director presented to Police Supervisors on text a tip and the juvenile diversion programs to reduce underage drinking.  Staff conducted field training for new police officers and dispatchers.  Detectives processed over text a tips as they came in.  Police received two tips that a local liquor store was not carding buyers. One tip came in anonymously through the text a tip line, while the second tip went directly to Chief Cormier.  Based on tips, Reading Police found three violations for sales to a minor. The Selectman issued an unprecedented 90-day suspension, upheld by the ABCC upon appeal. With state funds, local detectives conducted alcohol compliance checks and party patrols. In August of 2014, there were 24 checks with zero failures.  Police conducted ongoing surveillance throughout the year. 

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