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.

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.


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