Manhasset’s CASA facing funding cut

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Manhasset's Community Coalition against Substance Abuse hosts quarterly sector meetings to update teachers, parents, administrators and community members of their progress to reduce the amount of drug and alcohol abuse by children and teenagers. (Photo courtesy CASA)

Manhasset’s Community Coalition Against Substance Abuse, which has been working with parents and students for nearly two decades to keep drugs and alcohol out of the hands of children, recently got a small funding increase from the Manhasset school district.

On July 27, the Board of Education approved $35,000 in funding for the coalition, a $10,000 increase from previous years. CASA’s director, Jennifer DeSena, said the increase was mostly a cost-of-living increase since the group has been receiving $25,000 for years.

Next year, however, the group is set to lose federal funding from a Drug-Free Community Grant through the Office of National Drug Control Policy. A group can only receive the $125,000 grant for 10 years, and, if approved this year, 2017 will be the last eligible year for CASA.

DeSena said the coalition has begun brainstorming ways to cover the expected gap to keep programs running.

“We’ve thought about trying to plan a bigger fundraising event, but it’s a question of where is there room for it in the calendar,” DeSena said. “It’s very hard to raise money because there’s so many competing charities.”

DeSena said the district’s money goes to funding programs in all the Manhasset schools and the federal funding goes to community events and education.

In the elementary schools, DeSena said, programs are focused around promoting mental health and discouraging bullying. Some things are done during the school day with the students and some are after school hours with the parents.

For the middle and secondary school, the discussion moves toward substance abuse and the dangers of addiction.

The district has a host of events during Red Ribbon Week every October. DeSena said Nassau County police officers speak to the middle school students about internet and social media dangers and about bullying to the younger students.

CASA also hires speakers to talk to students and parents about their personal experiences with drug and alcohol addiction and what effect those choices had on their lives. During the next school year, CASA has three speakers lined up: Larry Glenz, who lost his son to heroin, recovered addict Stephen Hill and former NBA player and former heroin addict Chris Herren, who spoke to the Port Washington schools last year.

“Teenagers want to take risks,” DeSena said. “You kind of have to say things to them more than once, and you have to say it to them in different ways, and that’s what CASA does. Some of our strategies are positive with incentives, and then there’s the scary stories of ‘this could happen to you.'”

Herren will speak twice in Manhasset: once during the day to students with a positive message about making good choices and asking for help when you need it, and again at night to parents, who DeSena say are the most important for keeping drugs and alcohol out of children’s hands.

“It’s really the responsibility of the parents to watch their kids, know what they’re doing and constantly remind them to make the right choice,” DeSena said. “Drinking, as a teenager, is very bad for the brain. The evidence shows that it increases the likelihood of substance abuse for the rest of their lives if they start drinking as teenagers.”

On the coalition’s new website, DeSena said a SAFE Homes section identifies parents who have sworn to keep drugs and alcohol away from their children. So far, the list has almost 60 families.

“CASA can send out all this information, but when it comes to each Friday night, where are the kids? What do the parents know about where their kids are? Are they being supervised? Are they drinking?”

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