This is Municipal Alliance
By Jennifer Ersalesi
Drug and alcohol abuse is a serious issue that affects all communities. In the late 1970s, a program affiliated with GCADA (Governor’s Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse) was created and named Municipal Alliance. Municipal Alliances have been established in all 21 counties in New Jersey. TIR spoke with a few of the members of the Rutherford Municipal Alliance, including the Coordinator, Sergeant Julie Ann Ziegler, Rutherford High School Vice-Principal Nicholas DeBari, RHS Student Assistance Counselor Jeffrey Doorn, and Councilman Ray Guzman, Council Liaison, about this important group and their efforts.
TIR: What is the Municipal Alliance?
Julie Ann Ziegler: Rutherford Municipal Alliance, like the nearly 400 Alliances encompassing more than 530 municipalities throughout New Jersey, is established by municipal ordinance. Our committee consists of volunteers and stakeholders of our community. We have engaged residents, local law enforcement officers, staff from the public schools, the faith community, parents, youth and nurses in an effort to prevent alcoholism and drug abuse in our community.
Rutherford Municipal Alliance is a grant award recipient of the Governor’s Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse. In order to be eligible, we are required to submit a Strategic Plan and complete Needs Assessments identifying priority problems in our community after gathering qualitative data from key informants. Once the problems are identified, we plan for and develop evidenced-based and community-level prevention strategies to target substance abuse in the community by hosting programs and activities. Many of these are tested proven and effective evidence-based programs.
During the fiscal year of 2019 we participated in the following programs: National Night Out, a program entitled, “Athletes, Injuries, and Pain: A Discussion of Alternatives to Opioids”, LEAD Grade 6 at Pierrepont School, LEAD (Law Enforcement Against Drugs)Training Conference: 21st Century Drug & Violence Prevention Training Conference and Marijuana – Cannabis Summit, donation to Project Graduation, a Parent Seminar at RHS: Social Media, Internet Safety, Alcohol, Drugs, and Cyberbullying, we purchased supplies for Meditation Mondays (mindful meditation program) at both RHS and Union School, supplied a DJ for the “Senior Citizen Prom” where students of the Interact Club hosted a prom for members of 55 Kip Center, purchased Fatal Vision Marijuana Simulation Goggles and Kit, purchased 13 Proud to be Stigma-Free Signs that have been hung around the Borough, sent 2 youth to LMTI – Lindsay Meyer Teen Institute – Leadership Conference in August, and sent 52 students to YMCA Camp Bernie.
Below are photos of Meditation Mondays at Union School and Rutherford High School:
TIR: What is the purpose of this group?
JAZ: Throughout the history of the Municipal Alliance program the Committee’s goals and objectives have been to provide successful prevention programs and public awareness activities.
TIR: How did you become part of the Municipal Alliance?
JAZ: Many years ago I was appointed to the committee. Unfortunately at that time, the communication factor needed to keep such a vital committee working was lacking. In 2018 I requested that Police Chief John R. Russo consider me for an appointment to the committee on his behalf as a designee. I recall the first meeting I went to was with Councilman Thomas Mullahey and I. Knowing the heart of each community’s local prevention effort is its grassroots volunteers and representatives I vowed to restore a fully functional committee. At first, I began reaching out to those on the committee and advising them of my intentions. A new life was born! From there, we have grown into what we need to be in order to provide prevention programs to our community. I work with truly wonderful people who have a passion to improve our community and are committed to prevention education. Everyone has something to offer and for that, I am grateful as I am learning from each and every member of our committee.
Nicholas DeBari: Councilman Thomas Mullahy asked if I would join. He expressed that it would be a good idea to have an HS administrator on the Municipal Alliance.
Ray Guzman: Prior to my very recent assignment as Council Liaison to Municipal Alliance, I had the opportunity of being a committee member a few years ago when I was appointed by Mayor Joseph DeSalvo. I am thrilled to be part of this amazing committee again.
Jeffrey Doorn: I have been a part of the MA from the very beginning. I was appointed by the mayor which makes sense given my position with the school as the Substance Abuse Coordinator. I am a liaison between the alliance and the school system.
TIR: What is your role in the Municipal Alliance?
JAZ: My current role is Coordinator. Alliance Coordinator is responsible for the administrative duties of the Alliance such as completing required reports and applications for alliance funding and providing support to the Municipal Alliance Committee. As the Coordinator, I am not a voting member.
ND: We all have equal roles. We share ideas and discuss if they are appropriate and feasible.
RG: Currently my role is to assist this very important community program in spreading the word of the dangers of alcohol, drugs, vaping and prescription drugs to our youth. The Municipal Alliance does an outstanding job with events such as National Night Out held in Lincoln Park, L.E.A.D, National Prescription Drug-Take Back and sponsors assembly programs for students of Rutherford Schools. I am at their disposal to continue the success of the Municipal Alliance.
TIR: What do you hope the Municipal Alliance can accomplish this year?
ND: I hope we can continue getting the message out to the community about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.
RG: First and foremost, I need to attend my first meeting as Council Liaison on February 19th to get an understanding of what programs are in the works and where they need my help most. Coming from the corporate world, I know enough to get a good understanding of resources at hand and address immediate needs. My hope of accomplishments for Municipal Alliance this year is to reach more of our youth then reached last year.
JD: I hope we can continue to explore how we can positively impact community wellness through innovative prevention programming.
TIR: Are there any projects that you are particularly excited about?
ND: The Municipal Alliance, along with the REF (Rutherford Education Foundation) has funded the outside speakers we utilize at the HS. I'm currently researching who we would like to bring in next year. This year we brought in Stephen Hill from Speak Sobriety. It was a powerful assembly for our students.
JD: I am especially proud of the Alliances long term support of the Insight Program that is an evidence-based prevention intervention. Educational support groups are used to promote coping skills and improve emotional regulation while promoting a sober lifestyle. Additionally, we also promote improved self-management through our Monday Meditation program that is also supported by the Municipal Alliance.