Vernon Coalition members learn how words matter


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  • Rebecca Dorney discusses information with Vernon Coalition members.




  • PHOTOS BY VERA OLINSKI From left, Annie Colonna and Conor Brennan reflect on completed stigma activity brainstorm sheets.



Vernon Coalition members learned, Dec. 13, how words matter, especially when the coalition works with high risk populations, needing tools to be drug and alcohol free.

During the morning and evening meetings, members broke into small groups to complete different “Stigma Activities” and immerse themselves into different roles such as: drug, alcohol addiction, mental health issues, or in recovery.

Vernon Coalition Coordinator Rebecca Dorney then said, “From the perspective of your role, list words or short phrases that are used to describe or label people with alcohol addiction.” “It just gives you an idea,” she explained, “of what people are thinking — for perspective.”

Each role then continued to brainstorm labels of those who struggle with drug addiction, mental health issues, and people in recovery.

At the end, Dorney hung up all the brain storm lists from the different roles and labels like: “Alcoholic, out of control, drunk, wino, DUI/DWI, hereditary, abuse, financial, work, and character issues, lying, self-medicate, drug addict, overdose, junkie, not to be trusted, loser, out of control.”

She asked everyone to read the brainstorm lists, consider the point of view, and reflect. Due to the negativity and potential problems, sadness came over the members.

Dorney commented, “Imagine about being in recovery and having to deal with that?”

She explained, the goal of the exercise is to understand the power of words. Especially, in the coalition's efforts as peer coaches, she said, “It's not a one size fits all. We've got to listen; and we all have bias — even if we want to be understanding and have empathy.” She added sometimes mental health issues and drug use disorder co-occur.

“The whole process,” she concluded, “is to just stop and think.”

Dorney then reviewed the 2017 Vernon Coalition Annual Report, saying overall membership has increased from 192 to 272; 9,240 adults were served — the number of times adults attended programs and meetings, and children attended programs and meetings 7,266 times.

She also discussed the need for a sustainability plan in preparation of year 2021, explaining, their ten years of work is striving for cultural competence and sustainability. Among many questions she asked, she said, “Should the mission still be here?”

Dorney also reported 601 parents and 902 students submitted, six–through 12 grades, the 2017 PRIDE Survey.

She then reviewed seven Community Law Enforcement Addiction Recovery programs now available in: Andover, Byram, Hardyston, Franklin, Newton, Sparta, and Vernon. Since the CLEAR program started in the fall, Dorney added, already 37 “Narcan saves” have had a recovery specialist report hospital bedside for the individual involved in the overdose.

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