Wayne Alliance Marks Three Decades Of Drug And Alcohol Education
By Anya Bochman
With the opioid crisis still looming large in the national consciousness, awareness of the dangers of drug and alcohol addiction for young people and their parents is more pressing than ever. In Wayne, the Wayne Alliance for the Prevention of Substance Abuse is an organization at the forefront of combatting addiction in the community.
Created in 1990, the Wayne Alliance is dedicated to the promotion of safe, healthy and responsible lifestyles through the three pillars of prevention, intervention and education. Comprised of volunteers from the community, the organization seeks to identify alcohol, tobacco and other drug problems, while unifying the community and becoming a force for change.
In almost three decades of serving Wayne residents, the Wayne Alliance acts as the official coordinating body for planning, awareness and prevention education efforts on substance abuse, with the ultimate goal being an alcohol and tobacco-free community.
Robbin Gulino, the coordinator of the Wayne Alliance, began working there in 2008 with the intention of making a difference in the area of drug and alcohol misuse by coordinating the grant which provides awareness to children, young adults, parents and senior citizens.
“The mission of the alliance is to provide tools intended to educate the public while providing insight and life skills that will enhance understanding of the benefits resulting from making healthy drug-free choices,” Gulino stated.
Gulino continues, “We use our grant and donated funds to bring awareness through educational assemblies and presentations, distributing literature and hosting substance-free entertainment events.”
According to research by the Wayne Alliance, parents play an important role in their children’s underage drinking choices, and teens are more likely to develop drinking and other substance abuse problems if their guardians provide alcohol at “parent-sponsored” events.
Although the “hosting” parents may have good intentions, they nevertheless end up sending the wrong message to their children. It has been found that children as young as 11 years old can interpret this as parental approval for them to drink alcoholic beverages at any time.
“Parents often only learn of prevention education when they are in search of a solution to a problem,” Gulino said. “They often think that hosting a party or reserving shore homes with alcohol is harmless, when beside the laws against this practice which would present a financial inconvenience, there are also other dangers, including the injury to property or to an underage youth either immediately or through damage to their underdeveloped brains.”
To support this statement Gulino adds, “There are many reports documenting the dangers of artificial substances and their damaging effects on the brain of someone under the age of 25.”
The assist with this, the Wayne Alliance has a Wayne Parents Care Committee, which is designed to help parents share information and learn methods to combat the practice of underage drinking and use of other drugs.
The funding for the Wayne Alliance is provided by the Governor’s Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, which allots funds to each municipality in New Jersey based on specific guidelines. Locally, the organization draws in support through its various fundraising efforts, which include the annual basketball fundraiser. Direct donations are another source of monies for the group, which has free membership.
The public can participate in the Wayne Alliance public meetings which are planned to be held on the third Wednesday of every month at noon in the Wayne Township Municipal Building. Additionally, there is a “Hot Topics Round Table Discussion,” which is set to take place on the third Monday of each month from January to June and September to November at 7 p.m., in the same location.
When considering drug-related problems still plaguing the Wayne community, Gulino cites poor education as a chief obstacle.
“Community members who attend our events are appreciative of the learning material,” the coordinator said. “However, it isn’t enough. The families who think that they will not be touched by the disease of addiction tend to skip prevention education events and don’t realize that they need to know more.”
She continues, “they need to learn about the effects of misuse as well as what their children might encounter at a party… [they] need to know all the prevention tools available and what to do if even after doing everything right, they still face a situation in their home.”
The committee of the Wayne Alliance is appointed by Mayor Christopher Vergano, who asked the community to be involved in 2018, adding that “Together, we can support Wayne families as we strive to reduce substance abuse.”
Recently, Vergano was one of the speakers at a “Drug Trends in Our Community” forum at Wayne Hills High School. Giving the opening speech at the annual event, which is co-hosted by the Wayne Township and school district, Vergano spoke of vigilance.
“This is an epidemic, and we cannot arrest our way out of the situation,” Vergano said, alluding to Wayne students being arrested while attempting to buy drugs in neighboring Paterson.
“Education is key,” Vergano explained.
As part of its approach to combatting drug and alcohol addiction, the Wayne Alliance provides a number of educational programs about the inherent risks and dangers of substance abuse.
The “Life Skills” program is an after-school initiative that is currently running at a number of township schools. Scheduled and monitored by the Wayne Education Foundation, “Life Skills” typically takes place for one hour a day for eight weeks. Seeking to educate children to make their own decisions, adhere to their beliefs and find their “natural high,” the program has demonstrated success as former students reported using the skills they learned.
Beginning Awareness Basic Education Studies (BABES) is a primary prevention program designed to give children a lifetime of protection from substance abuse. BABES accomplishes this by assisting young people in developing positive living skills and providing them with accurate, non-judgmental information about the use and abuse of alcohol and other drugs. Through a grant and additional donations from Chilton Medical Center, the program is currently available to every second grade classroom in Wayne.
Another initiative is called SMART Moves, which is a life skill class at the Boys and Girls Club in Wayne. Students from the Boys and Girls Club also volunteer with the Wayne Alliance at its annual basketball fundraiser.
Parent “Hot Topic” round tables is a discussion group that is set to meet the third Monday of each month in order to discuss thoughts, questions and experiences regarding the prevention of alcohol, drug and other substance abuse. Designed to be an interactive exchange of ideas with the moderation of Wayne Alliance members, the program encourages attendees to share conversation about the delicate balance of raising healthy children without alienating them.
The organization’s largest fundraiser, the annual basketball event, runs each year in April. Funds from this program provide money for school and public initiatives that are not officially covered by the Wayne Alliance’s grant. As part of the fundraiser’s past successes, the organization was able to provide educational programming to three middle schools that support Red Ribbon Week, and other informative events for children and parents.
Additionally, the Wayne Alliance is available to present workshops, training and assemblies to youth groups, civic organizations, senior citizen groups, businesses and the community at large.
Aside from educating parents about the dangers their children face, the Wayne Alliance also concerns itself with senior awareness and the importance of discussing medication use with senior citizens. Suggestions for keeping senior relatives safe include keeping track of the prescription medications they are taking, especially those in the opioid or tranquilizer class; asking them about any potential sleep or pain issues; making sure they are taking their medications as prescribed; and offering to attend medical visits with them.
“Loving grandparents are sometimes unaware participants or victims of visiting addicted or curious family members. When their medications are unprotected from visitors – whether at a Real Estate open-house or family get-together – they may be surprised to find their medications taken unexpectedly,” Gulino said.
Gulino states, “Also, as our neighbors and family members age, they are often prescribed a variety of medications whose interactions may cause side effects that they need to recognize and discuss with their pharmacists and medical professionals. It’s also important for seniors – or anyone – to bring a buddy to their medical appointments for the benefit of the extra ears a friend or family member can bring. Their ‘buddy’ may also bring up questions they didn’t think of during the visit.”
According to Gulino, the alliance hosts events designed to bring this information to seniors. Additionally, it strives to share resources that help reduce stigma and encourage checking in with a medical professional when it is wise to do so.
To further empower senior citizens, the Wayne Alliance has made possible, through a grant, the Senior Police Academy. Developed by Wayne’s Community Policing Unit and Chilton Medical Center’s New Vitality, the program has proved to be extremely successful and won national recognition in 2003.
During the four-week course, participants learn about defensive driving and pedestrian safety, fraud and scams directed at seniors, crime prevention and gang awareness, 911 communications and prescription drug and alcohol abuse. The program is offered annually in April and October.
Currently, the Wayne Alliance needs volunteers for its committees on public relations, fundraising, membership and grant preparation.
In the future, the Wayne Alliance hopes to incorporate community experiences into its programming.
“We are grateful for the recent dedication of families whose loved ones have lost a battle with alcohol or drugs,” Gulino said. “They have shared with us the pain that accompanies their loss and how their journey has changed their family. Our projects will keep in mind the information they have shared which will help guide us to provide valuable education as we continue to aim for a healthy community.”