WESTBROOK – Westbrook Communities That Care, a coalition focused on positive youth development and curbing youth substance use in the city, announced this week that it has acquired a major grant that will fund the group for the next five years.

The Westbrook School Department will be the fiscal agent for the $625,000 federal grant.

In an email sent to coalition and community members last week, Claire Schroeder, program manager, said the grant will “provide stable funding” for the next five years. She said the money allows the group to fill one, full-time position, as well as one, part-time position.

“I am pleased to announce that today we were awarded the full Drug Free Communities grant,” Schroeder said last week. “This is an amazing accomplishment.”

On Wednesday, Schroeder said the grant secures funding for the coalition to continue its work of getting the Westbrook community involved in curbing youth substance use.

“The vision around the grant is to change the culture in Westbrook,” she said. “We want this to all be sustainable. It’s not just educating one group of kids, but systemitizing how we educate and talk about drugs and alcohol.”

Schroeder described the funds as a way to “institutionalize” community involvment.

The coalition is made up of students, parents, school employees, community organizations and business representatives, collaborating to reduce alcohol and drug abuse by youth in Westbrook. The initiative is a branch of the Westbrook Children’s Project, a partnership supported by the United Way of Greater Portland.

“This is another example of the positives that have been put in place since the Alfano report,” Superintendent of Schools Marc Gousse said Monday, referring to moves the department has made since last year, when a string of controversies stemming from instances of underage drinking led to an independent report that outlined measures to help the district.

When asked Tuesday if the grant is a direct result of the problems during the last school year, Gousse said he felt as though the coalition would have secured the grant regardless, but said those events “were a catalyst to heighten a sense of urgency toward the issue.”

“We have this grant because we have some good people who have identified a need, and this is a community issue that needs to be addressed,” he said.

Youth substance abuse has long been seen as an issue in Westbrook, but this is the first such major grant that will completely fund a coalition such as Westbrook Communities That Care.

Westbrook Mayor Colleen Hilton congratulated all “who participated in the development of the grant,” and called the announcement “very good news for Westbrook.”

Operating since 2011, Westbrook Communities That Care was formed from the Portland-based Opportunity Alliance’s Communities Promoting Health Coalition.

In the spring of 2013, the Communities Promoting Health Coalition was awarded a mentoring grant through Drug-Free Communities to mentor the Westbrook Communities that Care coalition from the fall of 2013 to the fall of 2015.

The Drug-Free Communities grant is a national program that provides funds to 680 communities. Westbrook is one of 197 new grantees this year, and is one of four new grantees in Maine.

Gousse said he sees the grant as a way for the coalition to further “cultivate awareness” in the community, with a paid coordinator able to shape specific objectives for the group.

“What was done previously was great work done on a shoestring,” he said. “Now we’re devoting more attention and more resources to bring some things to bare.”

Gousse added that he hopes the expanded coalition can boost positive activities in the community, with the coordinator working with local organizations such as My Place Teen Center and the Westbrook Community Center to streamline programs.

Donna Dwyer, executive director of My Place Teen Center, said Tuesday that the grant is “phenomenal” for the city, and will “allow three years worth of collaboration and partnerships to continue, and to implement critical initiatives.”

Dwyer, who is also a member of the coalition, said the funds will help continue the effort already made by the coalition and its various work groups.

“This will allow those dreams to become strategic action plans with tangible outcomes,” she said.

The Westbrook School Department will also be charged with hiring the two new positions, using the department’s hiring policy, with an interview and screening process.

“We’re kind of the umbrella organization that’s going to support the work, but Communities that Care are really the ones who have pulled this all together,” Gousse said.

Suzanne Salisbury, a Westbrook School Committee member, is also the chairwoman of the Westbrook’s Children’s Cabinet, the leadership body of the Westbrook Children’s Project.

She said Wednesday that she is “thrilled,” and that the grant is a testament to the hard work of Schroeder and Westbrook grant writer Katie Camplin, who collaborated on the grant process.

“This grant will allow us to fulfill one of our goals of having a full-time coordinator for our Westbrook Communities That Care program,” Salisbury said.

Superintendent Marc Gousse speaks during a public forum on the school department’s code of conduct policies in March. The controversies, and subsequent forums, were spurred by incidents of underage drinking. A new Drug Free Communities grant will help the city work on curbing youth substance abuse.  


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