An Open Letter to the Community from RCASA

The RCASA Youth Crew, Student Club, Board of Directors and staff to address concerns that have been raised in light of recent events.

Dear community members,

On behalf of the RCASA Youth Crew, Student Club, Board of Directors and staff, we would like to address concerns that have been raised in light of recent events. We were all greatly saddened to learn of the deaths of Joseph Ronan and Christopher Fischer. These events have brought many troubling issues to the forefront. We would like to thank all of the residents that have reached out to RCASA over the past few weeks.

When tragedies such as these deaths occur, it can raise legitimate fear and concern throughout our community. Unfortunately, the intersection of substance abuse and violence is a major challenge that our town and many other communities across the country face.

However, our community has made a significant investment in addressing these issues over the last 6 years. We would like to share more about the Reading Coalition Against Substance Abuse (RCASA). 

Our group was founded to address our community problem that youth in Reading, MA are using alcohol, drugs, and tobacco early, frequently and heavily, RCASA focuses on 7 Community Change Strategies ranging from information-sharing to policy development. 

From 2005-2007, volunteers worked diligently to conduct a needs assessment, develop a plan, and secure grant funds. A grant from the White House of National Drug Control Policy  was awarded in the winter of 2007 to focus on substance abuse prevention for young people (12-18 years old). The first staff member was hired in January of 2008. Leaders developed a 5 year Strategic Plan with the input of the community.

We have 4 leadership groups associated with the coalition:

1) The RCASA Board of Directors was founded in 2006. The board meets monthly at the police department. The group is comprised of 21 members representing 12-plus community sectors including: school, health, law enforcement, town government, youth, parents, business, behavioral health, and pharmacy.

2) The Executive Board, comprised of the Town Manager, Police Chief, Superintendent and RCASA President, meets bi-weekly with the RCASA Director to provide guidance.

3) The RCASA Youth Crew was founded in 2008. This youth-driven leadership team focuses on community projects that challenge, inspire and change community perceptions about substance abuse.

4) The RCASA Student Club was founded by Youth Crew leaders in 2009 to build a school-specific movement around substance abuse prevention.

As a coalition, we have...

  • Coordinated Bi-Annual Community Dialogues on substance abuse topics;
  • Reviewed town policies and recommended changes for Alcohol & Tobacco Compliance;
  • Strengthened police enforcement to reduce minors' access to alcohol;
  • Coordinated an Opiate Prevention Series; 
  • Advocated for the breathalyzer policy at school dances; and a town by-law to prohibit public consumption of marijuana;
  • Conducted youth-driven outreach at school and community events including Red Ribbon Week, Friends and Family Day, Old Towne Reading Faire, Wellness, and State House i.e. Kick Butts Day events;
  • Trained over 60 local sellers and servers of alcohol on "Responsible Beverage Service".


Key Accomplishments:

  • 5,000 individuals have been reached through prevention workshops for parents, faculty, faith leaders, and youth including the Improbable Players;  
  • 3,500 slICE Cards with emergency info disseminated to teens;
  • 4,500 surveys and/or evaluations were added to the RCASA community needs assessment and shared at the 2010 Annual Event;
  • 6 Enviro Scans were conducted including photographic evidence of underage drinking and drug use;
  • 125 youth leaders were recruited and trained to work on coalition projects;
  • 90 press releases and/or news articles were generated;
  • 12 quarterly newsletters were created by youth leaders;
  • Health & Wellness Day events reached over 2,440 students and faculty;
  • 8 in-service trainings were conducted for school nurses and faculty; 
  • 900 students completed RMHS Choose 2 Refuse Program focused on opiate prevention (using materials from the Essex County District Attorney);  
  • 3,000 bottles were turned in via RCASA Reading Rx Round Up;
  • 8 parent trainings were offered on substance use by field experts.


We leverage our resources through partnerships with the following groups in the region, state and nation: White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, U.S. Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration, CADCA National Coalition Institute, Middlesex Partnerships for Youth/Middlesex D.A.'s Office, Northeast Center for Healthy Communities, Mass Youth Against Tobacco "The 84 Movement", Mass Forum for Healthy Communities, MA Dept. of Public Health Bureau of Substance Abuse Services, National Enforcing Underage Drinking Laws, MA Alcohol Beverage Control Commission, Northeast DEA Office, and Sara Grinnell, RCASA Independent Evaluator 


In order to tackle this complex community issue, we need more active involvement and conversation between concerned adults, parents, teens, and community residents


We invite you to participate in two important events:

  1. Community Dialogue on Substance Abuse Prevention at the RMHS Fieldhouse on Wed. 9/21/11 from 7:00-9:00 p.m.
  2. RCASA AnnualMeeting & Leadership Summit at RMHS on Thurs. 10/6/11 from 7:00-9:00 p.m. 


Do you have information to share?

  • Any suspicious substance abuse activity, please text a tip to 847411 (type READINGPD in message box) or send a web tip
  • If you have been affected by substance abuse, we invite you to share your experiences with staff, board members or through participation in RCASA events.  


Do you want to know more about our coalition?

RCASA Edline Page

Our Edline Page is open to the public and contains a great deal of helpful information and resources.

RCASA Facebook 

Our Facebook Fan Page is a great place to visit for updates and sharing of news. 

Town Website

Our town page has basic information on our coaliton.


Do you need info on accessing substance abuse resources?

RCASA Resource Lists


Thank you.


Amy Vendt, President, RCASA Board of Directors

Chief James Cormier, Reading Police, RCASA Executive Board

Peter Hechenbleikner, Town Manager, RCASA Executive Board

Dr. John Doherty, Superintendent of Schools, RCASA Executive Board

Kelsie Pace, RCASA Youth Crew, RCASA Board of Directors 

Ashley Testa, RCASA, President of Student Club

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

AnonLikeU September 02, 2011 at 12:19 PM
Thank you RCASA. The Edline page does have more substantive information than the town page. One question I have is "how are you measuring impact?". In other words, what metrics do you have to show that all of your efforts are actually making a difference?
AnonLikeU September 02, 2011 at 12:23 PM
Also, the survey that you have on the town website is being misrepresented by a Patch reader as proving that teens drink alcohol because their parents are okay with it. There is no context to the survey when the results are revealed after a reader takes it. How many visitors to the website have responded? Do you discard duplicate responses? This survey is only showing what visitors to your website (who may or may not be teens) "THINK" is the reason teens drink. How do these results align with actual data, from the Youth Risk Survey results, for example?
Erica McNamara, RCASA September 02, 2011 at 12:57 PM
We do have an indepedent evaluator that looks at the coalition's effectiveness, process and outcome measures. We are also part of a national evaluation project and required to follow best practices for coalition effectiveness. I will be happy to post those reports and send you the link. The information posted on "thoughts" are relevant because perceptions have been linked to actual risk-taking behavior. When we present this info at workshops, its a better forum for discussion and we are able to clarify details of each survey instrument. Duplicate responses are discarded. We added questions to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey that ask about actual behavior, perception of risk, perception of harm, and perception of parental disapproval. These are national measures. These results will be shared at the Thur. Oct. 6th RCASA Event at RMHS at 7 p.m. Thanks for raising great questions.
AnonLikeU September 02, 2011 at 06:11 PM
"perceptions have been linked to actual risk-taking behavior." I interpret this to mean that youth may perceive it to be okay with their parents, not that their parents are actually okay with it. I hardly think your one neighbor constitutes a large enough sampling to think that there is an underage drinking problem because of widespread 'approval' by Reading parents, which is how I have interpreted some of the previous assertions. I don't know one parent that is okay with their kids drinking. At the same time, I think a lot of parents are ambivalent to a certain degree because,let's face it, alcohol is our legally sanctioned drug and as a society we send a regular message to youth that alcohol and fun go together. Youth see a lot of hypocrisy with adults and their messages about alcohol. This makes it a harder problem to confront. Indeed, I do want facts to get in my way. And we have alcohol problems like everyone else because of our societal relationship with this drug, not because of deficient parenting and/or police in the town of Reading.
AnonLikeU September 03, 2011 at 07:34 PM
Cher, I am not sure why you persist in communicating with others on this site in a consistently rude and nasty way. But since we live in the land of free speech and all that, you are of course free to continue doing so. I am going to ask if you would not address me again if you cannot do so in a civil way. Of course, you are free to honor this request or not, but I'm making it anyway.
VS September 04, 2011 at 04:28 PM
I do not have kids and therefore had no idea the RCASA existed until this publication.
Kat S September 04, 2011 at 06:34 PM
I don't personally find distributing information via newletters nor engaging youths in community projects as the best way to get at the drug and alcohol problems. Lets face it the kids in RCASA are not the ones we are concerned about, the ones doing community service and coalition proects (whatever those are) to me are not the "at risk"....at least in the hierachy of risk not at the top. Parents and teachers and community leaders need to have far more "presence" in there childrens lives. How is it I know that the neighbor kid is bringing nips to school and having oral sex down behind P&S but the parents don"t? How is it that 30 plus kids can post of drunken escapades after a recent house party (14 yr olds) yet when the police showed up the kids were simply dispursed? Maybe a traveling breathaliyzer??? How are 14-15 year olds tatoo without parental consent? Why are 12-15 yr old girls putting up photo's of there butts and breasts on FB and the responsible parent in there life does not know? I don't have all the answers but I know what is not working....and that is the status quo. Parents, teachers, coaches, neighbors....everyone is a stakeholder in our community. And a side note to student surveys,they all make things up, embellish, lie....not sure those are the best measure of the pulse of our youth either. With the upcoming football season ahead of us and known alcohol and drug activity going on under the bleachers what is the plan to address this?
mpk September 05, 2011 at 12:25 AM
These past few weeks in Reading have surely made everyone to widen their eyes about the deep seeded opiate drug usage but the problem didn't happen overnight. In the past the RCASA mission, of education prevention was spot on. However, it is a bit mis leading, when RCASA crew members have used drugs and alcohol and continue to engage in underage drinking or drug usage. ( Not a very convincing message).What message of seriousness, accountability and commitment are administartors and faculty personnel giving to high school students when coaches, AD-Phil Vaccaro, etc. are aware of althetes who use alcohol or drugs but still allowed to practice or play in games. (There have been times when varisity athletes arrive high prior to practices games and announce it overtly to fellow players). Enough with Reading Public Schools being more concerned with competition and winning, because ingoring confrontation and implementing sanctions is enabling prepetual drug and alcohol usage of students. Parents are just as guilty of the above. Reading needs to step it up a notch, As a parent I would welcome a stronger presence and consistent consequences to control substance usage amongst Reading students. Adults who are in contact with Reading students and young adults at all levels are responsible for the epidmic substance abuse usage of our students and young adults:students don't need more education and surveys but consistent consequences and enforced sanctions.
Cheryl Buono September 05, 2011 at 10:53 AM
Dear Ms Dudley, But we agreed on the Grumpy Doyle's/Street Faire decision :) "Rude and nasty"? Other readers have called public officials and their spouses names, verbally attacked other's professional careers, used profanity (until the posts were taken down) and even shared stories about a young dead man (which may or may not be true). Isn't dragging a dead person's name through mud, as another Patch reader put it, considered rude and nasty? I have done none of that. Repsonding with corrections, alternative views or even an opposing opinion is not rude and nasty. I will continue to repsond to anyone making excuses for bad behavior and opposing taking personal responsibility for deficient parenting. Am I'm not the only one. As one example, look back at your exchange with several other readers when you discounted the items taken in car break-in of having "little street value". Have a pleasant day!
Kat S September 05, 2011 at 02:57 PM
MPK I could not agree more. I have known about young kids drinking and not done anything with the information .....going forward I am going to not just shake my head I am going to speak up.....I think every coach needs to review the code of conduct and make a commitment to zero tolerance regardless of who the player is or what the record it.....are we ready to accept this as a community? I hope so.
Kat S September 05, 2011 at 05:12 PM
I think it is important for everyone posting here to remember that our children/students are reading this blog too. I think we should be conscience of how we respond to each other even though this forum does give us freedom of speech and anonimity. I showed my new freshman daughter the recent exchanges and she turned to me and said "is this cyberbulling"? We can't preach acceptance, understanding, open communication to our kids and then attack each other. What is clear is that we are all concerned, we all have an ideas on what may be contributing to the problem...lets work together on a solution. I plan to be in the front row with my child at the upcoming meetings.
Kat S September 05, 2011 at 05:19 PM
I look forward to hearing the results and I hope that they align with what we as a community are experiencing if not, I would be skeptical. I don't doubt your efforts as an organization but I think the current approach is not working and is reflective in the recent incidents in Reading and the fervor of the posts on the topic. RCASA I hope is going to be open to new ideas because what is abudnantly clear is that things are getting worse not better. I have never been concerned and involved in a community based project (shame on me) but I am 100% on board with taking an active role in helping RCASA and the community in whatever capacity I can.
Mathew Jutras September 05, 2011 at 06:21 PM
In my opion one of the problems is that there really isnt anywhere for 15-16 year olds to get jobs. I manage a Dunkin Donuts and we are strictly told NOT to hire any minors anymore. When I was 15 we had Atlantic, which everyone and thier mother worked at one point or another. Now there really isnt anywhere. They best way to learn disipline and responsibilty is by getting a job, not though people preaching to others or meetings or conferences. Not saying they are bad but really what kid is going to be like "i want to go to the RCASA meeting to make sure i dont make bad decisions"? Today is different then ever. So much high tech equiptment that can be utilized for good and none, and i will say NONE, of it is being thought of or used. We have all these park and courts and fields that dont get monitered like they should. When I drive down the street at any given time, now im not hating because my stepfather is a Reading Police officer, I see 1+ officers sitting in parking lots looking for speeders. Why couldnt we take the money that we spent on thos stupid, ugly looking $2000 each pillars sitting in the center of town and put it into camera systems around town? Why do we need pricy, now getting broken, brick crosswalks when we could build a nice recreation center where people DONT HAVE TO PAY to use the facilites.The problem is that kids have to much time and nowhere to go. Movie theatre? Less restaurants and bars? If you try to make a town into a city you get what come with it?
Cheryl Buono September 05, 2011 at 07:08 PM
mpk, Thanks for stepping up and speaking out. As you can read on these pages many have spoken out, before there were any killings, and have failed to make a permanent impact. The response included: "There's not enough evidence.", "It's his/her first offense. Every one deserves a second chance (and then a third, fourth, etc.).", "If we take action, they'll retaliate against your child.", "The parents have hired a lawyer and will sue if "Johnny" loses his scholarship." and so on. Maybe now they will listen, especially if everyone speaks out. No need to wait for any formal meetings. If you have information or concerns, contact Superintendent Doherty ASAP. I know he's been fielding a lot of calls.
Cheryl Buono September 05, 2011 at 07:29 PM
Matt, I wish all young people had your attitude. You are correct about teen's attitude towards meetings. You're right about Atlantic - everyone worked there. Doesn't Market Basket hire a lot of Reading teens or are they competing with Wakefield kids for the jobs? I'm sure you're not in hot water with your step-dad - he's a great person and officer. He'll probably tell you that speed traps often yields other results like capturing people with outstanding warrants for serious crimes, drunk drivers, possesion etc. I like the camera idea, but the ACLU types in town won't. The ugly broken pillars are usually covered by insurance of the driver that hits them. Assuming that they have insurance. Another common catch with speed traps.
Kat S September 05, 2011 at 07:55 PM
If we can get people from all walks of life on board with this working around the legalities of certain things will be clearer...such as the cameras. But when I read the police blog over and over and see crowds of kids being told to move on I have to believe that if we had some camera's around it might deter this...although where will they go? I am a single parent with a decent income but by no means "loaded", I cannot afford a Y membership for myself and my child and I make over the hardship limit. I suspect I am not alone in this. Jobs, healthy recreation, leadership...all sorely needed in town. More free things like battle of the bands or an open mike night at our beautful Performing Arts center might be something to think about.
mpk September 05, 2011 at 10:40 PM
All comments are valid. I cannot stress enough the other comments and dialogues being exchanged off and on the field, after dropping off the kids at school, or downtown coffee shop or Bagel World be directed to John Doherty, Chief of Police (and if necessary the Department of Education, or various state or local boards). Don't have the attitude you cannot verbalize your frustration and disgust to administration/management in fear your child, children or you may receive backlash. If you have grown children your wisdom and input needs to be heard and recognized too.The imminent need to protect our youth is necessary! Speaking up to make a change is worth the risk. It would be great if the next time Reading was in the media was for a collaboration of implementing a "substance abuse zero tolerance policy".
George September 08, 2011 at 02:57 PM
RCASA's efforts are laudible. They are not the only answer. A zero tolerance policy is an absolute neccesity. None of us like having to remove shoes to board an airpalne but we do it for the common good. The same should apply to substance abuse enforcement. It will have to be accepted to eliminate the problem and leadership is needed to achieve it. From these posts it seems some people are ready to get on board but leadership needs to get everyone on board. During the process which ended with the establishment of RCASA some proposed adopting language to promote zero tolerance but were outvoted by those who favored language to "reduce" substance abuse. It is time to set the goal higher and adopt a policy of zero tolerance. What is worse, having a young person labled as former abuser or having them dead?
Hammertime September 09, 2011 at 02:14 PM
Great point George. 0 tolerance is the only correct answer. Unless individuals have personally experienced the horrors of this epidemic, they have no clue. Allowing reduction of use sends the message that we are ok with it. We are not! Other then alcohol and nicotine all other substances are illegal ! We have enough problems with drunk drivers who cannot manage it as legal adults. Wake up people.
Reading girl September 10, 2011 at 02:04 PM
Might I add to all parents....please do not hand ur kids money without knowing what EXACTLY it is to be used for & double check afterwards. There are plenty of things for our children to do, so I do not think that is a good enough excuse. Same excuse as when I was growing up in the 70s.
Reading girl September 10, 2011 at 02:09 PM
Call me naive but I never understood why a bunch of kids (say 15) always has to "move on". I could get in trouble quite easily with just one friend as I could with a group of friends. If the group of kids is not in a store or bothering others...what is the point of moving on? Easier to watch a group of kids than a bunch spread out. We would just be gabbing & socializing on the commons, but that was not acceptable. Never got that.
Emily M September 15, 2011 at 08:02 PM
I'm no Tom Brady fan but how do you know he's not talking about Gatorade? dont' they sponsor him? Sheesh people.
Chris September 23, 2011 at 04:58 PM
Understandably so, it seems like there may be a lot of frustration among our residents and not everyone is going to agree on what the best ways to keep our kids safe and healthy is. We all just want what is best for our kids and we need to maintain a vigilant stance against drug and alcohol use. High schoolers have been drinking for decades..we can teach them the risks and show them the sad movies and statistics, but the reality is that they see everyone on TV ( Reality shows) and even all the beer commercials during sporting events, and they can get their hands on it somewhat easily. We just need to keep reinforcing the rules within our own homes and putting the fear into our kids to keep them on the straight and narrow path towards udulthood. Dont let your kids run your house.. you run the house. They live by your rules. If you catch them drinking, they WILL be punished. Loss of car, cell phone, grounding them, whatever it takes to get the message across. Kids that know that their parents wont follow through on rules will do whatever they please. I drank in high school at times, and sometimes I got away with it. But when I got caught, oh boy... i can still remember the way I felt when i had my car taken away for a month and was grounded as well. It taught me that my parents weren't going to put up with it and I then only drank if I was staying at a friends house who's parents weren't as involved... he has since developed a drug addiction among other issues.
Reading girl September 24, 2011 at 11:25 AM
To anyone who thinks that Tom Brady's comment meant Gatorade is delusional, no disrespect intended. He said it loud & clear "Start drinking early". If he was referring to one of his sponsors, Gatorade, he certainly would have said it!! The majority of tailgaters do not sit around drinking Gatorade. This is one of the problems, sports heroes saying & doing things THAT DO NOT MAKE THEM HEROES. Young kids hear & see these things.
Reading girl September 24, 2011 at 11:37 AM
As someone who has been there & done that I want to say to any parent reading these comments. There needs to be consequences to bad actions. Finding weed in ur kids room & telling him/her that the cellphone/computer is taken away for one month is GREAT....just make sure you stick to what u say. Giving in to the whining & pleading does nothing. The punishment should match the offense. These rules & how u feel about alcohol & drugs should be spelled out NOW. You are not being a dictator, just protecting your child. DRUGS ARE NOT CHEAP. Working @ a supermarket alone cannot support an opiate addiction. STOP handing your kids money & not get receipts. If they say they lost the receipt, well this should be the last time they get handed money. This is how I saw most of my drug using friends get their drugs.


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something