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Huntington Woods

January 8, 2013

Mayors to discuss youth substance-abuse prevention

By Jeremy Selweski
C & G Staff Writer

HUNTINGTON WOODS — There will be a meeting of the minds next week, when three local mayors are inviting the community to talk with them about the importance of keeping kids off drugs and alcohol.

At the Tri-Community Coalition’s next meeting, Berkley Mayor Phil O’Dwyer, Huntington Woods Mayor Ron Gillham and Oak Park Mayor Marian McClellan will get together to discuss the pervasive issue of youth substance abuse. The event will be held at 7 p.m. Jan. 17 at the Huntington Woods Public Library, 26415 Scotia Road.

According to Judy Rubin, executive director of the Tri-Community Coalition (TCC) — a nonprofit organization that serves the cities of Berkley, Huntington Woods and Oak Park by working to prevent substance abuse and risky behavior, and by promoting a healthy environment for local youth — the meeting represents the continuation of a process that began a year ago.

“We first held this event last year and it was very successful, so we figured, ‘Why mess with success?’” she said. “We’re mostly going to be focusing on youth substance-abuse prevention, but we will also be opening things up to some broader topics. I think there’s always a good reason to talk to your mayor about issues that are on your mind.”

The meeting will feature speeches from O’Dwyer, Gillham and McClellan, followed by a question-and-answer session with the audience. Guests can also enjoy light food and refreshments afterward, as well as lighter conversation and mingling with their elected officials.

“I like this format because it gives the three mayors a chance to interact and play off each other and talk about the connections between their cities,” Rubin said. “I think people may also feel more comfortable asking questions of their mayor in this environment.”

O’Dwyer, who holds a doctorate in counseling psychology and is the director and president of Brookfield Clinics in Garden City, has three decades of experience working with young people with substance-abuse problems and other addictions. At the TCC meeting, he plans to share numerous statistics about youth substance abuse and offer some research-based strategies to prevent it from happening.

The Berkley mayor was quick to voice his gratification about being part of the event.

“When community leaders show up at meetings like this,” he said, “it puts an even greater emphasis on the message at hand. It shows our young people that this issue is important, and so they should listen up and pay attention.”

At the local level, O’Dwyer believes that it is crucial for city and police officials to work with business owners to make sure that they are not selling alcohol or tobacco products to minors. He also feels that cities should show consistent support for organizations like the TCC, which help keep local youth drug- and alcohol-free.

“The Tri-Community Coalition provides a tremendous service for families in this area, so we are very lucky to have them,” O’Dwyer said. “We are very grateful for all the hard work of Judy Rubin and her staff.”

For Gillham, collaboration between the three cities is one of the biggest keys to minimizing substance abuse among local youth. He acknowledged that, while this is “a complicated issue,” it can be managed by cities working together with schools, businesses, parents and teens.

“We’re all here to listen to our youth and learn from them,” he said. “This is a problem that has a mutual impact on all three of our communities. Our major interest is in empowerment and fostering the idea of, ‘How can we reduce the devastating effects of substance abuse on our young people?’”

Gillham added that, in Huntington Woods, city officials would be willing to do their part through a variety of tools, from passing new legislation, to providing more services, to issuing reminders to parents.

“I think this needs to be the sum of a lot of different little things, rather than us trying to find one big solution,” he said. “We can’t just wave a magic wand and suddenly get rid of all the drugs, alcohol and tobacco out there. That’s why having a strong partner like the Tri-Community Coalition is so important.”

Still, as Rubin pointed out, the process of youth substance abuse prevention is “a real balancing act” that requires the cooperation of everyone in Berkley, Huntington Woods and Oak Park. This is why events like the Jan. 17 meeting can serve as a symbol of solidarity between the three cities, as well as providing valuable information for residents.

“If we’re able to work together to create a healthier community, then we will all be better off in the long run,” she said. “From our vantage point, we’re really trying to bring together people from all over the region to make our cities, our school districts and our business communities as healthy as they can possibly be.”

For more information on the TCC, call (248) 837-8008 or visit www.tricommunitycoalition.org.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Jeremy Selweski at jSelweski@candgnews.com or at (586)218-5004.