Thursday, March 29, 2012

The "good 'ole days"....

This entry was contributed by Five Town CTC Board member Ed O'Brien, a Lincolnville resident and clinician at Harbor Family Services.

Some Five Town locals may know my mother, Diane O’Brien, a resident of Lincolnville for over forty years. During much of that time she has been an avid gatherer of local history; interviewing long-time residents, poring over historical documents and photographs, gathering the stories of the town that was. Since I have returned to Lincolnville and begun raising my own family, I have spent a lot of time talking with my mother in the family’s old farmhouse near the Beach. With her interest in history and my work with youth, our conversations have often focused on historical perspectives of adolescents.

As my parents could attest, I have always challenged the notion of “the good old days.” I have now lived long enough to hear my peers refer to our own upbringing in the‘70’s and ‘80s as “the good old days”- “when children had Respect.” Baloney. Every generation has had positives and negatives. When I look at the world my own children are growing up in, I see both great opportunities, and things that cause me to fear the future. Ibelieve every parent in every generation experienced the same feelings. We have the ability, however, to look at the past and learn lessons that might help youth today.

Reading the stories my mother has gathered, I do see a common theme in the families of the past. Due in a large part to necessity, youth were an integral part of the community. They were involved in all areas of the family and the community as active participants- working on the farms, taking care of younger children, making deliveries for the family business. They were visible, and adolescent culture was not as separate from adult culture. Because of this visibility, potential issues could be recognized earlier, and dealt with before a problem developed.

To me, it is not a matter of putting kids to work, or eliminating the youth culture- we have child labor laws for a reason, and adolescence is no longer simply a brief or non-existent interlude between childhood and productive adulthood. But I do see this visibility of youth in the community as something we can do a better job with. If we can find more ways to involve youth with the adult world, I think the entire community can benefit. We have some great programs for youth, but too often they turn into ways to keep youth off the streets and invisible. We need to find more ways to integrate,to recover a positive piece of the community preserved in black and white photographs.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A little history...

Previously we had promised to provide more information about the history of Five Town CTC between our start in 2003 and present day. We will pick up the story in this week's installment:

During the remainder of 2003 and the first quarter of 2004, Five Town CTC continued with a series of 7 formal training sessions in the CTC system. Five Town CTC members analyzed data, surveyed other community members, and explored potential prevention programs that had been shown to be effective at addressing what the data told us were our underlying causes of youth issues here.  In the spring of 2004, we launched our first programs. Math Mentors was aimed at reducing low commitment to school, and STAR was aimed at improving community recognition of the positive contributions our local youth make.  The additions of these programs meant hiring staff, and the size of the organization grew.

After several years of growth under the YMCA, Five Town CTC's volume of operations began putting a strain on the administrative systems, and (with the YMCA's blessing) we transitioned over to the Five Town CSD's umbrella in 2006.  Our continued growth led us to incorporate as a 501(c) 3 organization in 2007 and to step out as an independent agency in 2009.

As time went on, more programs were added to the community's suite of effective prevention strategies.  Five Town CTC provided support for implementation, training, and evaluation for such programs as Life Skills Training and the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program delivered by local school staff.  The Five Town CTC Coalition's skills and capacity to help other organizations continued to grow, and a fledgling consulting arm was born.  Consulting was provided free of charge here in the Five Towns and for a fee elsewhere.

The research into whether CTC was effective drew considerable attention when the first results (for students in the study group when they were in grade 8) were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine in September 2009.  Five Town CTC was asked to help provide a local, community perspective for media and other researchers who were curious about Communities That Care, and through this opportunity Five Town CTC was thrust into the national spotlight.  ABC news ran a piece on the efforts here and federal officials hosted a "National Town Hall meeting."  In October of 2011, a second article highlighting newly analyzed results from data on the youth participants when they were in grade 10 was also published in JAMA's Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.  In between the these two publications a paper was published in Prevention Science on an independent study by Penn State researchers which found similar results from Pennsylvania groups using CTC.  A national "buzz" about CTC can now be heard and requests for consulting services related to CTC have increased.

Funding for local efforts still comes from a combination of grants, foundation support, and local donations.  The Drug Free Communities Support Program provides $125K per year to support the coalition and environmental strategies, but cannot be used to pay for direct-service programming.  This particular grant was awarded in 2008 and was for five years.  Our first round of funding will end in September of 2013; we will be eligible to compete for one additional round of funding from this source.  We had funding to support implementation of our STAR program from Maine's Juvenile Justice Advisory Group for four years, but ended in 2011.  We continue to seek grants to replace this $75K per year funding stream so that STAR can be offered again in the fall of 2012.  We are also looking to increase contributions from Five Town community members who understand the importance of supporting this work. 

Our offices have moved about the community over our eight year history—from the Penobscot Bay YMCA to a room on Washington Street, to a space-sharing arrangement with Midcoast Martial Arts, and finally to our current home at 219 Meadow Street in Rockport.  We encourage you to drop by for a visit, especially if you have any questions about where we came from or where we think we are going!  Give us a call, or take a chance and stop on by.  We would love to hear from you.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Dad, Where are My Pants?

I am not a great morning dad. Getting my kids ready for and off to school stresses me out. I look for my son’s pants (found in his drawer) as I mutter into my coffee cup. I tell my daughter who is yelling at me from upstairs that her breakfast is ready. With precious few minutes to go before we need to get in the car, I can become a manic impostor of my better self.
At a time when the books “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom” and “Bringing Up Bebe” are grabbing headlines for their portrayals of uber-effective parenting, my book title is “Dad Needs Coffee More Than You Need Pants”, or “Ignore my Morning Whimpering and Please Ace that Math Test”.
Publicity-burnished models of parenting can be inspiring (more the Michael Landon father figure on Little House on the Prairie than the Tiger Mom, for me); we can strive for the ideal, but what we see offered up on TV or in best-selling books can also be defeating if we feel we’ll never measure up.
Fortunately, I have a realistic sense of where I stand in my parenting skills, and I know that I am not alone in having bad days. There are other grumbling coffee-clutchers in my circle of friends, just as there are those who are graceful and naturally kind in the morning. We share our stories. We laugh, we learn a few new techniques here and there---but perhaps most importantly, we come to understand when it comes to parenting just how normal we are. I mean this in the best possible way. Most of us are not 100% on our A-game every day. We do our best. We make mistakes. We learn. We move on.
Understanding what is normal behavior is crucial not only to peace of mind, but it also helps determine how we act. In the prevention field, we see this phenomenon in the social norms approach, an environmental strategy increasingly used in public health campaigns.
The social norms approach is based upon the belief that individuals incorrectly perceive that the attitudes or behaviors of others are different from their own, when in reality they are similar. It is largely because individuals assume the most memorable, often extreme, behavior is representative of the behavior of the majority. This assumption may lead individuals to adjust their behavior to that of the presumed majority. This effect has been verified for substance abuse and other destructive health behaviors, notably on high school and college campuses, but also within communities in general.
Prevention practice relies on assumptions. If we highlight the positive behaviors of the majority---the great number of teens who don’t drink compared to the smaller number who do, say---we color the perception of what it means to be normal. When kids understand that NOT “everybody is doing it,” they have a better foundation from which to say “No” to drugs and alcohol.
As for our family, luckily my wife is great in the morning. My kids know that I’m not at my best before school—but they also know that I will be fully there for them in the afternoon and evening. Play time, homework, dinner, bed time… Dad’s all over it.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Project X gets an "F"

As someone working to reduce underage drinking, the release of a movie like "Project X" gives me cause for concern. (If you are unfamiliar with the storyline, there is a summary of the movie on Wikipedia at Now, I understand that we cannot shelter our teens from everything, but I wonder if today's parents stop to wonder about the sheer volume of movies and other media that glorify binge drinking, misogyny, risky sexual behavior, and drug use that our kids are routinely exposed to.

Parents are faced with choices when their teens ask to go see a movie with friends...they can say no, they can allow it, or they can to go with them to the movie. When making this decision, I hope parents consider the following:

1) There is quite a bit of evidence that exposure to violence in the media increases violent behavior in youth. There is also a growing body of evidence that shows that exposure to drinking in movies increases the likelihood that youth will engage in underage drinking. A recent study published in the British Medical Journal concludes that reducing the amount of exposure to alcohol marketing and alcohol use in movies would significantly reduce the likelihood that a youth would either begin drinking, or escalate their behavior if they have already experimented with alcohol. (You can read the paper on this at

2) Discussing family values and guidelines can actually increase the bonds between parent and child when done in a non-confrontational way. Taking the opportunity to discuss why you have reservations about your son or daughter seeing the movie can help them get a clearer understanding of what your hopes and dreams for them are. When we do not have explicit discussions about what we believe healthy behaviors are, our kids guess what we believe. Many times they view our silence on a subject as an indication that we condone the behavior.

3) Underage drinking is not an inevitable fact of growing up in the US today. There are still many teens who choose to wait until they are of legal age to try alcohol. With new imaging technology that allows us to understand human brain development better, we know that binge drinking by teens can cause damage to their still maturing brains (and other organs, like the liver, too). It has been repeatedly shown that delaying the onset of alcohol use makes it much less likely that dependency will be an issue as an adult. Explaining this to your children CAN make a difference in their decision to drink or not to drink, as does monitoring their behavior.

4) We are facing a huge epidemic of problem drinking amongst our younger generations. As I have written before, Maine is one of the states with the highest rates of binge drinking across the age-span. The toll on this young generation is likely to be profound. In order to avoid unwanted heartbreak and suffering, as well as increased public expense to deal with the consequences, we should act to prevent more young people from engaging in this behavior.

Engaging your children around the topics of substance abuse, risky sexual behavior, and violence can be tricky.  Perhaps this movie will provide parents with a way to open the conversation.  If you decide to talk to your children about Project X, we would love to hear how it went!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Murder in the headlines

In the last week, I was saddened to hear of the loss of life at Chardon High School in Ohio and of the murder of Jerry Perdomo right here in the midcoast region.  My condolences and thoughts go out to all who were affected by these tragedies.  I often use statistics and "trends" in my work, but in following these stories I am reminded that behind every one of those numbers there are families, friends, co-workers, classmates, and communities who have been deeply affected.

I am also reminded that witnessing these horrible events can rub open old wounds, even for those not directly impacted by the current happenings. If you or a loved one are having difficulty dealing with events—past or present—help is out there.  Nationally there is the Disaster Distress Helpline (DDH) which can be reached via phone 1-800-985-5990 or text ‘TalkWithUs’ to 66746. The helpline is dedicated to providing disaster/trauma crisis counseling, operates 24 hours-a-day, seven days a week, and is free and confidential.  Maine has its own Crisis Hotline, at 1-888-568-1112 (Voice/TTY).  If you are concerned about yourself or about somebody else and are in Maine, call and you will be connected to your closest crisis center.

We must break through the stigma associated with getting help or needing treatment for mental, emotional, or behavioral disorders if we are to make much progress as a society.  Seeking help, and encouraging others to do so, is an important first step towards reducing the number of people who resort to lethal violence (including suicide). Many persons struggle with the fallout from past traumatic events, but never seek help.  Depression and trauma related disorders can be effectively treated, and people recover to lead fulfilling and productive lives.

You don't need to be an expert to connect a friend or family member to help.  You just have to listen and respond if you hear or witness things that make you concerned about a person's mental state.  Anyone can listen, show the other person that you care, and connect them to help via the crisis line or a local medical facility.  The hardest part is getting the courage up to ask the other person about how they are feeling (REALLY feeling) and resisting the urge to discount the seriousness or depth of what they are going through.

Five Town Communities That Care will continue to do all that we can locally to prevent violence and to decrease depression and anxiety, but effective prevention is a team effort.  If you are not already involved, I encourage you to get in touch with us to explore helping in ways that mesh with your life and your interests.  You can call us at 207-236-9800, email me at, or stop by our offices in Rockport.

I also encourage you to program the hotline numbers provided above into your personal cell phones, and to keep the numbers readily available at work.  Don't be afraid to reach out to those you believe are struggling, or to call yourself.  There are people at the other end of the help lines who really do care, just as there are people who care here in the community.