By John Toole
---- — PELHAM — Leaders of a new community campaign to combat drugs hope to fund a peer counseling program for students.
The program would be one of the first steps taken by the Pelham Community Coalition.
The group kicked off with a forum earlier this month for parents as well as activities with an anti-drug message in schools for students.
The coalition’s motto is: “Planting Foundations for Good Decisions.”
Selectman Hal Lynde, who is organizing the effort, said the application for federal funds will be made as soon as this week.
Superintendent Amanda Lecaroz said $20,000 will be requested.
The peer counseling program would be aimed at helping students make better decisions, Lynde said.
“We hope we can have an impact on kids,” he said.
The community’s Medical Reserve Corps also is supporting the effort, Lynde said.
Pelham would try to create a program similar to Dover’s youth program, which delivered an anti-drug message at Pelham Elementary School.
Lecaroz said an anti-drug message can have a positive effect when it comes from other students. The Dover program estimates 150 to 200 students, from both the city’s public and parochial schools, are involved with the group’s activities. Coordinator Dana Mitchell describes it as a “youth empowerment program,” one that not only teaches students about the substance abuse problem, but helps them identify and implement solutions.
“This has huge benefits,” Mitchell said.
Students gain skills in areas such as public speaking. Mitchell said Dover students have researched the drug abuse issue and testified before the Legislature.
Students also will have to make a commitment that Mitchell compares to that of playing on a varsity sports team. There also is an advantage that comes with fellow students delivering an anti-drug message, rather than adults, Mitchell said.
“There is nothing wrong with important messages from grownups, but a grownup cannot be a peer by definition,” he said.
When other students deliver the message, it adds a level of credibility, he said.
A Pelham program, if funded, also might engage students in nearby communities, including Salem and Windham, Lecaroz said.
The death of a former Pelham student from a drug overdose out of state prompted Lynde to organize the anti-drug effort. Lynde said about 100 people attended the community forum. Pelham should be pleased with that turnout, Dover’s Mitchell said.
“When you get 100 parents to come out and talk about something that is a very positive sign for moving forward,” Mitchell said.
The chairman of the Governor’s Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention, Intervention and Treatment also was pleased by what he’s seeing and hearing in Pelham.
Timothy Rourke of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation said it was impressive to see so many parents and community leaders turn out for the forum.
Many communities get what Rourke describes as “the choir,” a few attendees who realize there is a problem.
“I think for a lot of communities, recognizing there is a problem around drugs and alcohol is a difficult first step,” Rourke said.
But in Pelham he said he’s seen both in the number of people and what they’ve had to say that they have been affected by the issue.
Rourke said he agrees with Lynde that the community forum was just the start.
“I think he’s absolutely right,” Rourke said. “This is a complicated issue and requires a lengthy, deep commitment.”
For Pelham to be pursuing a grant is a very good sign, he said.
“They are seeing this as the beginning,” Rourke said.