Fairfield receives $625,000 grant to prevent youth substance use

Left to right: Coalition members Phil Dwyer, Cathy Hazlett, Reini Knorr and Cristin McCarthy Vahey are all smiles behind their safety masks after the Fairfield Board of Education unanimously voted to accept the CDC Drug Free Communities Grant.

Left to right: Coalition members Phil Dwyer, Cathy Hazlett, Reini Knorr and Cristin McCarthy Vahey are all smiles behind their safety masks after the Fairfield Board of Education unanimously voted to accept the CDC Drug Free Communities Grant.

Contributed photo

FAIRFIELD — The Fairfield CARES Community Coalition has been awarded a $625,000 grant by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to prevent and reduce youth alcohol and marijuana use.

Over the next five years, the coalition in conjunction with the Fairfield Public Schools will receive $125,000 a year to prevent what the coalition calls “the two most frequently used substances by youth in Fairfield.”

Founding member of the Fairfield CARES Community Coalition and current co-chairperson, Cristin McCarthy Vahey, said she welcomes the grant as both a parent and as a public official.

“I am grateful the CDC has recognized the importance of the collaboration between Fairfield CARES, Fairfield Public Schools, and our many community partners,” Vahey said. “These funds will allow our coalition to strengthen its outreach and connections to young people and their families as we continue our life saving prevention work.”

On Sept. 21, the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the CDC announced Fairfield’s grant as part of the $13.25 million in grant funding awarded to 52 new and 54 continuing drug-free community coalitions who seek to prevent and reduce substance use in individuals 18 and younger.

The school board unanimously accepted the grant on Sept. 28, which took effect on Sept. 30.

Fairfield CARES plans to use the grant to establish and strengthen collaboration among community agencies to address youth substance use, as well as reduce and prevent alcohol and marijuana use by Fairfield’s seventh through 12th grade students.

The grant will be used to educate parents and youth on the health risks of underage drinking and cannabis use, support the Fairfield Police Department’s efforts to combat underage substance misuse, provide responsible beverage server training to restaurant wait staff, provide professional development and resources to health teachers on latest marijuana research and build skills in youth to be peer to peer prevention educators, according to the Fairfield CARES Community Coalition.

“This grant will provide additional resources to help our middle and high school youth choose not to engage in alcohol and cannabis use, keeping our kids safe,” Superintendent Mike Cummings said.

The Fairfield CARES Community Coalition was established in 2009 in response to the findings of a 2008 youth survey. The survey showed 38 percent of students between seventh and 12th grade drank alcohol in the last month and about 18 percent used marijuana.

At the time, it was the worst data in a five-town area.

The Fairfield CARES Community Coalition jumped into action and through the use of best-practice strategies and a partnership with Positive Directions in Westport, the organization began to see changes happen among Fairfield’s youth.

The coalition issued another survey this spring, which showed a dramatic change compared to the 2008 survey results. The data showed that only 15 percent of the school district’s seventh through twelfth grade students drank alcohol in the past month and only 5 percent had used marijuana. The results were a decline of 60.5 percent who drank alcohol and 54.5 percent who used marijuana in 2008.

Since the organization’s inception, the coalition has worked with the Fairfield Public Schools. Cummings, who is also the co-chair of Fairfield CARES, said the Drug Free Communities Grant can bring together the partnership even more and “strengthen” it.

“It’s really an invaluable opportunity,” Cummings said. “It’s a tremendous opportunity for the good work that Fairfield CARES does and in conjunction with the Fairfield Public Schools.”