By Anya Bochman
Photos: Every spring, MAC plants red tulips to symbolize hope; MAC funded the make up artist at a recent mock car crash demonstration at Morris County Vocational School. Photos courtesy/Darlene Price
Recently, batches of red tulips were planted near Denville schools and municipal buildings. The endeavor is undertaken each spring by the Denville Municipal Alliance Committee (MAC); it was first implemented by the late Nick Picciano, a MAC committee member and teacher at Denville’s Valleyview Middle School. And although the color red is a symbol of MAC itself, there is a more poignant message contained within the blooming flowers.
“The tulips bloom again every spring,” said Darlene Price, a purchasing agent for the township of Denville and MAC’s accountant. “It’s a reminder that there is always hope.”
The hope that Price refers to is the central mission of MAC, which is a community based non-profit organization dedicated to securing funding and coordinating township efforts to combat alcohol and drug abuse. Created about 30 years ago, the volunteer-staffed organization aims to eradicate substance abuse via prevention, intervention, education and alternative activities.
Peg McCluskey, MAC’s president and committee member for 10 years, is the principal of Denville’s St. Mary’s Prep. Both McCluskey and Price are quick to point out that the endeavor is a group effort, regardless of one’s title in the organization.
“It truly is a team effort; it would not be possible without the collaboration of various district groups, and I could not do this without Darlene,” McCluskey said.
“We’re a team,” added Price.
The collaborative aspect of MAC is crucial to its success. The members of its committee are appointed by the mayor of Denville, and include representatives from local governmental bodies, businesses, the healthcare community, law enforcement, religious leaders and the community at large. The unifying goal of these individuals is the health, welfare and quality of life in the community.
The diversity of MAC representatives allows the organization to become aware of and tackle problems that affect a broad spectrum of Denville residents.
“It is a wise group,” McCluskey said. “Each [representative] brings an understanding of their own group and can share their needs and ideas.”
MAC is funded through the Governor’s Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse (GCADA), with fines and revenue collected through drug related offenses. Additionally, the organization relies on the township matching funds, fundraisers and private donations. With a fiscal year that runs from July 1st to June 30th, MAC allocates its funds to various groups in need of aid.
GCADA is an active and collaborative participant in the planning and coordination of New Jersey’s addiction prevention, treatment and recovery services, both through the development of a Comprehensive State Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Master Plan, and its Alliance to Prevent Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Program – which is the largest network of community-based anti-drug coalitions in the nation.
MAC recently reported that for the grant year of 2018/2019, the organization has helped fund initiatives at all Denville schools, including Morris Knolls, Morris Catholic and Morris County School of Technology. It also aided such programs as Celebrate the Children, St. Peter’s Orphanage, Denville police initiatives for children, Denville Public Assistance, The Mayor’s Council on People with Disabilities, the Denville Library and Denville Seniors. According to MAC, this is the widest range of constituents it has contributed to in years.
Some of the programs MAC has funded in the past year are the Junior Police Academy and Movie Night in Denville. For Denville police department’s LEAD graduation activities, MAC helped with customized t-shirts for the end of year celebration.
The organization also contributed to such activities as Senior Yoga and Art Programs held at Cook’s Senior Center and St. Francis, martial arts for the Mayor’s Council on People with Disabilities, anti-bullying initiatives, guest speakers in the middle and high schools, and books and wellness resources for the Denville Public Library. Additionally, the organization has partnered with other towns’ municipal alliance committees, such as that of Rockaway, to contribute to shared initiatives like the Color Run.
The MAC supports initiatives that foster healthy life choices for community members of all ages, particularly Denville’s children. In the past, it has contributed funding to the Culture and Climate Study in Denville schools and ran initiatives such as “Parents Who Host Lose the Most,” with stickers bearing the slogan appearing on pizza boxes from participating restaurants.
The initiative, which targeted parents hosting parties where underage children have access to alcohol, aimed to dispel a persisting belief that if children are allowed to drink under parental supervision, they will be safer than if they went out to parties.
In fact, according to a 2013 report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 8.7 million youths aged 12 to 20 had recently drank alcohol, and 5.4 million of them were binge drinkers. And one of the leading underlying causes behind underage drinking is well-meaning parents who supply their children with alcohol.
One of the obvious dangers of underage drinking is driving under the influence. To this end, MAC has helped sponsor a recent program at Morris County Vocational School that staged a mock car crash to bring home the realities of drunk driving. Complete with totaled cars, actual EMTs and police officers, the presentation relied on actors to stage the scene of a fatal drunk driving incident. MAC supported the initiative by paying for the make up artist to create realistic and shocking injuries.
“It’s a reality check that demonstrates the cost of driving under the influence,” McCluskey said.
This sort of collaborative effort is typical of MAC; while the committee members don’t necessarily come up with all the ideas, such as the mock car crash, themselves, they strive to provide the funds to make these initiatives possible. Listening to community groups address their underlying problems, MAC attempts to help in any way it can.
“We try to make a difference in the community – and it’s a wonderful community – and to promote its positive aspects,” McCluskey said. “Drug and alcohol abuse can happen to anyone in any town, and we help community leaders in their efforts to combat it.”
As an organization that is sponsored by grants, MAC has to report back to the county with its progress, and asks that the groups it supports collect information about their events. Every five years, as part of the grant cycle, the nonprofit has to complete an assessment in applying for a new grant.
This year, MAC is hosting a survey open to all Denville residents. Available at www.surveymonkey.com/r/FG28TY5 until the end of July, the anonymous survey asks for the community’s perceptions on drug and alcohol abuse issues in the township. With questions ranging from opinions on underage drinking to habits of safeguarding prescription medications, MAC’s survey also takes into account demographic information. Those that complete the survey are eligible for a $25 gift card drawing.
“We’re using the town website to spread word around in order to get honest feedback,” McCluskey said. “It will help us in the next grant cycle.”
Aside from community input, MAC relies on research by the Search Institute to brainstorm the best ways of reaching the youth. According to the Institute, there are 40 positive supports and strengths that young people need to succeed and thrive. Half of the assets, which are “external,” focus on the relationships and opportunities children need in their families, schools and communities. The remaining “internal” assets address the social-emotional strengths, values and commitments that are nurtured within young people. All of the assets are identified in the Developmental Asset Framework compiled by the Search Institute; MAC strives to allocate funds to those programs delineated in the document in order to build the positive supports into the Denville community.
Other concerns addressed by the MAC deal with senior citizens. By working with the Morris County Division on Aging, MAC has helped set up workshops for seniors that provide education on such topics as proper medication disposal, and general information on using available resources.
MAC’s targeted community education and awareness also focuses on everything from the opioid epidemic, vaping, internet safety to suicide prevention. Ryan’s Story, a presentation on the effects of bullying with the real-life tragic story of the suicide of student Ryan Halligan, is one of the tools MAC supports. Another is Rachel’s Challenge, a non-profit organization against school violence, started by the parents of the first student killed in the Columbine High School shooting.
Along with police/community prevention activities, senior wellness programs, climate change initiatives and family fun events, MAC tries to be as rounded as possible in addressing community concerns. By working in concert with educators, police and community members, MAC aims to ensure judicious use of all funds it allocates.
MAC’s official website is complete with a number of links to various resources, such as the New Jersey Addiction Hotline and 24-hour crisis hotlines. There are also helpful factoids for parents concerned with their children abusing drugs. For instance, one excerpt warns of the dangers of inhalants, stating that more than one in five children report having abused inhalants by the 8th grade. One bullet point addresses marijuana use, while another speaks to the dangers of cigarette smoking.
“Supporting the community is paramount to the success of the organization,” McCluskey said. “When people have positive reinforcements, they are less likely to turn to drug and alcohol abuse.”