By Victoria Espinoza

The Northport-East Northport Community Drug and Alcohol Task Force took 2016 by storm.

The organization raised $19,000 for a local youth group, organized its sixth annual Recovery Awareness and Prevention educational week districtwide and secured a $625,000 federal grant — not a bad way to commemorate its 10th year in existence.

The local organization works to eliminate drug use and substance abuse in the Northport-East Northport community as well as promote prevention, offer educational resources for parents and community members and more.

For the work the task force does for the community, Times Beacon Record News Media has chosen the members of the Northport-East Northport Community Drug and Alcohol Task Force as People of the Year.

Anthony Ferrandino, co-chair of the task force, said he’s pleased with the work the group was able to accomplish this year.

“It’s definitely a good feeling,” he said in a phone interview. “We’ve grown so much, it’s nice to break through certain thresholds.”

Sean Boylan, Ferrandino’s co-chair, agreed the task force accomplished a lot in 2016.

“We’ve come a long way as a task force,” he said in a phone interview. “This year was a tremendous amount of work.”

Anthony Ferrandino, co-chair of the task force, back left, and Sean Boylan, back right, stand with members of the task force at a board of education meeting. Photo from Sean Boylan

Ferrandino said the mission of the task force is to educate as many students, parents and community members as possible about the dangers of drugs — and it’s safe to say they exceeded their goal this year.

In June, the task force worked with the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport to host the premiere of a short film “Grace,” created by Marisa Vitali, a former heroin addict. The film depicted the struggles and triumphs of living life in recovery, and after the film Vitali answered audience questions and discussed her own personal experience with drug addiction. At the event, Ferrandino said he was thrilled to see how many community members they were able to educate that night.

Boylan echoed the sentiment, saying the success of the fundraiser was great but the real achievement was the conversations had.

“The tremendous event was the question and answer portion after the show,” he said. “We had many different subgroups talk about recovery and have real conversations with our community members. It was awesome.”

The premiere raised $19,000 in ticket and raffle sales, which was donated to the Youth Directions and Alternatives, a nonprofit with a new establishment in Northport that hosts free programs and events for the Northport youth. The YDA recently started offering a prevention program for kids as well.

Ferrandino said organizations like the YDA are key to reducing the amount of kids who turn to drugs.

“We collaborate with everybody,” he said. “It really takes an entire community to be on the same page to create change. We create partnerships and try to change the culture of a community.”

“It really takes an entire community to be on the same page to create change. We create partnerships and try to change the culture of a community.”

— Anthony Ferrandino

The task force is committed to branch out into the community as much as possible. They have organized countless Narcan training programs, prescription take-back events and most recently town hall events to try and collaborate with leaders with their new federal grant.

Late this September, the task force received more than half-a-million dollars in a grant that is part of the Drug Free Communities Support Program, a White House project that works to reduce youth substance abuse by promoting communitywide participation and evidence-based practices.

For winning this nationally competitive grant, the task force will receive $125,000 per year for the next five years. It enables the hiring of a full-time task force coalition leader and supports a range of coordinated practices and evidence-supported activities aimed at prevention. The programs include parent education, social media initiatives, pharmacist/youth collaboration and stricter law enforcement practices.

This is where the group wants as much community input and support as possible.

“We’re trying to create partnerships with local doctors, business owners and more,” Ferrandino said. They hope to use their grant as effectively as possible and educate as many residents as they can.

This past October, the task force successfully hosted its sixth-annual RAP Week — a five-day event in every school in the district that featured special guest speakers, activities and assemblies dedicated to raising awareness of prescription drugs, alcohol and other unhealthy habits in an effort to highlight the dangerous impact they can have on a person’s life.

Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer praised the work the task force does within the schools.

“We are very pleased The Drug & Alcohol Task Force is being recognized for their continued efforts to confront a pervasive problem facing the youth of our community,” he said in an email.  “The Task Force, under the leadership of Anthony Ferrandino and Sean Boylan, is made up of a diverse group of community members who all share the same resolve: bringing an end to drug and alcohol abuse and providing resources, awareness and opportunities for healthy decision-making, free of addiction.”

Boylan said he is thankful for all the support the district gives the task force to allow them to dedicate an entire week to teaching the students.

He said one memory from this year that sticks out for him was walking in the Cow Harbor Day Parade down Main Street.

“We’ve done it for many years, in the past we’ve had ten kids walking with us,” he said. “But this year we had more than 70 kids and parents, holding banners and wearing shirts. It was so symbolic; to me that is the impact we’re having. It’s showing we’re making an impact on a lot of different levels.”

But the work is far from over, both co-chairs said.

“We have a long way to go,” Boylan said. The task force holds open meetings on the second Wednesday of every month at 7 p.m. in the superintendent’s conference room at the William Brosnan Administration Building, and Boylan said new members are always welcome.

“What’s great about us is we’re made up of volunteers that bring their own passions to this,” he said. “They are dedicated to this community.”

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