As news of drug use mounts in communities across the nation, a group of Pleasantville residents are taking steps to guard against drugs becoming a major problem for the village.
On Sept.6, John Mueller hosted a pig roast at his Guion Street home to raise money for a substance abuse prevention counselor for the Pleasantville School District. The event attracted more than 200 residents and raised over $7,000.
“This is a very…special community. You don’t have to really twist people’s arms to contribute, to participate, to volunteer,” Mueller said.
The fundraiser is one of many steps that Muller and other residents are taking to help pay for the counselor. He said the issue of tackling drug use prompted them to form a committee representing different segments of the community, including Superintendent Mary Fox-Alter, Pleasantville Police Chief Richard Love and many parents.
The group is planning to apply for a Pleasantville Safe Community Coalition Grant in February. If awarded, it would provide $125,000 a year for five years for anti-drug and alcohol efforts.
The grant would also allow the district to fund additional programs to supplement the counselor’s work. One program, for example, includes having members of the school drama club role-play common scenarios involving drugs and alcohol in front of a panel that consists of an emergency room doctor, a police officer and a judge. Each of the panelists would educate the students and parents of the legal and health risks associated with abusing different substances.
Mueller stressed the need for a substance abuse prevention counselor to the board of education earlier this year, but after the current year’s budget had already been approved. Not wanting to wait a year until the district could allocate money for the position, Mueller began fundraising.
“We thought it would be a great opportunity to show how supportive the community was by trying to raise the money ourselves…to pay for [the counselor] this year and hopefully go before the board of education next year to advocate that this should be in the budget,” he said.
The counselor would be provided through the Westchester Student Assistance Program as a part of Project Success, a research-based program that uses interventions that have proven to be effective in reducing risk factors and enhancing protections for students. According to Mueller, the state will cover two-thirds of the expense, but the district would be responsible for the balance. He said it would cost $14,500 to retain a counselor one day a week for the school year. The goal would be to have the counselor available during the school day for middle school and high school students.
“John has done a great job of raising a lot of money already…. He’s got such energy behind this and it’s such a worthy cause,” Fox-Alter said.
Mueller, a Yonkers police department captain, has seen the region’s growing drug problem firsthand, testing police forces throughout Westchester that are constantly trying to develop new and creative solutions. He said students who start using drugs and alcohol at a young age are at a higher risk of becoming addicted, which is why intervention in the schools is crucial.
“Our philosophy is can we time our kids out enough to make sure they get to the point where they’re no longer in terrible danger?” Mueller said.
While Pleasantville’s drug problem isn’t as serious as some other communities, the goal is to educate the youngsters and adults to prevent the problem from growing, he said. Mueller commended community members who are eager to donate money and want to be involved in the conversation. Even parents with children at Bedford Road School, the district’s elementary school, are getting involved.
“That’s what makes a community healthy, when you have adults that are willing to give of themselves and give time and we have so many, it’s just fantastic and that, I think, puts us in a much stronger position to begin with,” said Mueller.
Anybody who wishes to donate to the effort for a substance abuse prevention counselor, may visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/pleasantville-community-fundraiser-for-a-substance-abuse-prevention-counselor-at-pleasantville-high-tickets-13001246077.
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