A little more than 10 years ago the Winchester Chief of Police and the Board of Health met to discuss their growing concern of the adolescent substance abuse problem in Winchester. That meeting spawned what is today the Winchester Coalition for a Safer Community.
For the last decade, the group received its funding from a grant, but on Jan. 1 that money ran out.
On Monday night, the Winchester Board of Selectmen unanimously voted to appropriate $9,750 from the hospital gift fund to the coalition so they can hire a community manager.
“There was a drinking problem at the high school in the 1990s and for a number of year the high school couldn’t have dances,” said Davie Heinold, chairman of the Board of Health. “The town needed support from the community to provide a service to help turns things around and that’s what the coalition did.”
The goal of the community manager, who will work 15 hours a week, will be to coordinate with the school, safety and fire personnel on substance abuse programs; work with the superintendent and principals to establish communication between school administrators, nurses and parent associations; design community forums regarding various issues facing adolescents; and to lead the coalition.
“Currently there’s no activities, there’s no coalition,” said Jennifer Murphy, Winchester Health Director. “There are no meetings or activities ongoing right now.”
Murphy said that in order for the coalition to be successful, a community manager is needed to help run the organization.
“This position is the lynchpin,” Murphy said. “Without it people will operate in silos, and there won’t be much of a community.”
According to Murphy, the community manager is needed to not just hold meetings and keep the community informed, but to help run some of the coalition’s programs, such as the medication take-back.
“Funding this program has an immeasurable benefit to the community,” said Selectman chair, Forrest Fontana. “These preventive programs are exactly what we want. This program has touched more people than you know.”
Selectman Jim Johnson was hesitant about voting for the program because the Fire Department was also looking for money from the hospital gift fund, to help pay for an outdated defibrillator.
“This isn’t a high enough priority on your budget to fund it,” Johnson told Heinold. “You’ve elected to fund other programs over this.”
According to Heinold, most of the programs the Board of Health fund is state-mandated and after all the required budgetary items, the board doesn’t have enough to pay for the coalition.
Fontana said that the board can figure out how to pay for a defibrillator, but the coalition is too important to the town.
“The coalition deals with significant issues in town that people don’t talk about,” Fontana said. “They have programs that address these issues. The payback on a program like this is immense. We can find other ways to pay for the defibrillator.”