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Brien Center Awarded $360K Curb Risky High School Student Behavior

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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Brien Center has been awarded a total of $357,480 in state grants that will fund a first-of-its kind program in two Berkshire County high schools that is designed to reduce such risky behaviors as smoking, vaping, drinking and substance misuse that could compromise students' futures.
The local organization applied for the funds through a competitive grant process offered for the first time by the state Department of Public Health, Bureau of Substance Addiction Services, Office of Youth and Young Adult Services. The bureau awarded 18 grants statewide, with the Brien Center winning two of them.
The grants will fund new and intensive services at Taconic High School in Pittsfield and Drury High School in North Adams – schools that already work closely with the Brien Center's youth programs. The schools are not identified because their students have riskier behaviors. Schools identified for the grants have a strong internal system to identify high-risk youth.
"We have had substance abuse educators in most Berkshire schools for 25 years on a limited basis due to funding," said M. Christine Macbeth, president and CEO of the Brien Center. "However, both Taconic and Drury have utilized our services to their fullest potential. This new grant will allow us to expand our collaboration to a much higher level."
According to Macbeth, one of the most unique features of the new grant program is the opportunity to now work with students and their families to curb identified behaviors that can easily jeopardize the student's future and reduce substance use disorders in adulthood.
"For the first time, we will have a clinician and two case managers in the two high schools who will carry a case load of 30 students and families," she said. "This is the kind of intensive family approach that will achieve a higher level of success."
Pittsfield School Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless said that collaboration among students, their families, the school, and the Brien Center is vital to the student's success and benefits the entire community.
"We know that for students to reach the potential that is present in all learners, we must work collaboratively with them, their families, and community partners," McCandless said. "We're fortunate to partner with the Brien Center once again to help students build a toolkit that will lead to happier, healthier and more productive lives."
Barbara Malkas, superintendent of the North Adams Public Schools, noted that youthful decisions around risky behavior can have long-lasting consequences.
"The wrong decisions can impact a lifetime and even limit a life span," she said. "By actively engaging our students and their families with clinicians and case workers from the Brien Center, we hope to destigmatize services for social and emotional well-being for our adolescent
At present, students who are caught smoking, vaping, drinking or misusing drugs are often disciplined or suspended. "This program presents a new model that works with students and their families — including any other kids in the family — to end the kind of behavior that can escalate," said James Mucia, director of child and adolescent services at the Brien Center. "All of these behaviors are precursors to substance misuse disorders down the road. Our goal is to prevent that."
To qualify for Brien Center intervention, students must have engaged in a risky behavior that has not yet escalated to addiction. They can be referred by the schools, by the court, by health-care providers and even by their families.
Michael Monti, the initiative's program director and community liaison, said family referrals will signify that parents are ready to invest in their teen's better health and future.
"This program will enable us to look at the high school years in a more holistic way," he said. "We want students to get a great education. We also want them to graduate as well-rounded individuals who are ready to be successful when they take the next step to college or entering our local workforce."
Monti said the state grants will fund the program for three years. During that time, the Brien Center and the 16 other grantees across the state will keep close track of the data in hopes that the state will provide permanent funding.

Tags: at-risk,   Brien Center,   state grant,   

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Pittsfield Gets 475K for Second Installment of Block Grant Funds

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Pittsfield received its second allocation of Community Development Block Grants in the amount of $475,103.00.

The federally funded program is designed to help small cities and towns meet a broad range of community development needs.

In total, the city has received $1,264,444. The first allocation was accepted by the City Council on April 28, 2020. These two allocations are separate and in addition to the city's annual entitlement allocation.

At Tuesday's City Council meeting, Mayor Linda Tyer submitted an order to amend the CDBG annual Action Plan for the program year 2019-2020 to provide a special allocation of CDBG funds in the amount of $475,103.00.
This $475,103 allocation is proposed to be spent as follows:

  • $325,000 for small business assistance
  • $50,000 for human services
  • $129,000 for rental assistance
  • $50,103 for administration

Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi and Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell questioned the $50,103 that is purposed to be spent in administration. The conversation got slightly heated as Connell questioned Community Development Director Deanna Ruffer on where the administrative costs go.

Connell asked Director of Finance & Administration/Treasurer Matthew Kerwood why salary line items remain the same come budget time when they received CDBG funding, wanting to know where that extra money goes.

He said this has troubled him for some time and that it seems like a black hole that some of these funds are going into. There has to be some decrease in line items for these positions if they receive these administrative costs from the grant, Connell added, because he knows that half of Ruffer and Program Manager Justine Dodds' salaries come from it.

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