Focus shifted beyond schools

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a monthly series of articles generated by members of the Merrimack community, as part of the town’s Merrimack Safeguard program.

For many years the Merrimack School District has benefited from the collective efforts of teachers, administrators and community members in combating drug and alcohol abuse among our youth in Merrimack through work done by the district’s Drug Advisory Council. This well-known and hard-working group has evolved into another, more global and even more compelling form, known now as Merrimack Safeguard.

Rather than continuing to serve in the context of a school district entity, Merrimack Safeguard is now a community-based body that seeks to help local youth and families make positive choices by supporting a coordinated community effort among adults, youth, organizations, and businesses. Inspired by a substantial Drug Free Community grant, the coalition promotes positive behaviors that measurably improve the health and well being of youth and focuses on their overall wellness with attention to alcohol, tobacco, and other drug prevention. Twelve community sectors are represented in Merrimack Safeguard: youth, parents, business community, media, school, youth-serving organizations, law enforcement agencies, religious or fraternal organizations, civic and volunteer groups, healthcare professionals, state, local or tribal governmental agencies with expertise in the field of substance abuse, and other organizations or individuals interested in or involved in reducing substance abuse. Merrimack Safeguard relies on research-based data to develop programs and strategies found to be effective in creating healthier communities.

The earliest and, to date, the most visible outcome of Merrimack’s receipt of the Drug Free Community grant is the establishment of a school resource officer at Merrimack Middle School. This vital position ensures that our community is taking pro-active steps to encourage healthy choices among our youth at a critical point in their developmental continuum. But this is just the beginning. In the months to come, representatives from the twelve sectors constituting Merrimack Safeguard will provide critical information, in this space, about events, activities, initiatives and education sponsored or supported by the coalition from the unique perspective of that sector. You will learn that much work is happening in our community that supports good choices and healthy living among our youth.

Monthly meetings of Merrimack Safeguard are open to the public and interested residents are always welcome to attend. If you have any interest in learning more about this community group please contact Program Coordinator Officer Tom Prentice at Merrimack Middle School tprentice@merrimack.k12.nh.us or Merrimack Safeguard Chair Chrissy Barbera at cbarbera@comcast.net for more information.

Merrimack Safeguard looks forward to continuing to work together with our community partners and the larger community to provide the youth of Merrimack with the opportunity to make positive choices and engage in positive and productive behaviors as they grow into responsible adults.

Mark McLaughlin is the assistant superintendent for the Merrimack School District.