By John Toole
---- — PELHAM — When word reached Pelham earlier this year that a graduate of the high school, a son of the town, had died from a drug overdose out of state, it shook Selectman Hal Lynde.
Discussion of the tragedy with his son, Zach, another Pelham High alumnus, brought home the reality that illegal drugs are around kids growing up in town.
“I was kind of shocked about it,” Lynde said. “I believe nobody in this town is fully aware of it.”
He said he felt compelled to make a difference.
Over the past few months, he has pulled together educators, police, social workers and others to form the Pelham Community Coalition as a response to substance abuse.
Its motto is: “Planting Foundations for Good Decisions.”
The coalition is behind a major anti-drug campaign formally kicking off Oct. 1.
Students will participate in activities throughout the day. A community forum will cap the day at Pelham High.
Lynde and other leaders spent Saturday at Old Home Day, spreading the word.
“The October event has got to be a start,” Lynde said.
“I don’t know where we are headed. There will be focus groups and a multidimensional approach to this problem,” he said. “We’ve got to go beyond this.”
Sandi Rubchinuk, coordinator with the Greater Rockingham County Regional Network Allies in Substance Abuse Prevention, is helping Lynde and other community leaders organize the event.
“There is substance abuse anywhere and everywhere you go, including Pelham and in our region,” Rubchinuk said.
She praises Pelham for what it’s trying to do about drug and alcohol abuse — and Lynde in particular.
“His was the first phone call I received about this,” she said.
She recalled how upset Lynde was by the drug-related death of the former Pelham resident.
“Hal really wanted to see something done,” she said.
Lynde wants to make people more aware of the problem.
He said student responses to a new drug survey will be shared at the community forum, which will give everyone an idea of what is happening in Pelham today.
But Lynde shared statistics from a national study that showed one in five students admitted to using prescription drugs within the prior month to get high.
“Police are telling me that’s the new gateway drug to addiction,” Lynde said.
The selectman wants this campaign to help families.
“We want to give them resources to help them deal with this,” he said.
The community appears receptive to the anti-drug message.
One of the speakers for the upcoming forum, Chucky Rosa, a man who lost two sons to overdoses, asks students to pledge to refrain from drugs. He provides them with dog tags as a symbol of their pledge.
At school Superintendent Amanda Lecaroz’s suggestion, organizers asked residents to consider purchasing dog tags for students during Old Home Day Saturday.
Lynde said more than 100 did so.
Rubchinuk agrees with Lynde that the first step is promoting awareness, then getting people on board to create a healthy environment.
“That’s what it takes,” she said.
She is optimistic about Pelham’s chances because so many key people and organizations already are engaged.
“It really takes a community to adopt these changes,” she said.
The Pelham Drug and Alcohol Awareness Event forum is scheduled from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 1, at Pelham High, 85 Marsh Road.
Speakers include Vahrij Manoukian and Tim Rourke, the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation’s point man on substance abuse issues.
Programs with students are planned by the Dover Youth-to-Youth Project and Media Power Youth from Manchester.