Who cares? Fresh blood needed for CTC to continue

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | The face of Shelter Island’s Communities That Care, Marilynn Pysher, says its time for others to take the lead.

The face of Shelter Island’s Communities That Care, Marilynn Pysher, says its time for others to take the lead.

“We’re exhausted and we don’t really know where to go from here,” Communities That Care leader Marilynn Pysher said.

Ms. Pysher was expressing her frustration and that of others who have long been involved with efforts on Shelter Island to curb alcohol and drug abuse among young people.

The statement comes on the heels of CTC’s release of data from a survey taken among students in February that shows progress on some fronts, but serious ongoing concerns, particularly about some young students who need much more parental involvement than they’re receiving.

“If this is truly a community effort, the community has to step up,” Ms. Pysher said.

She pledged to finish out the year with activities already planned and, possibly, to offer one more workshop in the fall for parents who need to be involved in keeping their children drug and alcohol free. But after that, if there aren’t fresh faces coming forward to take on needed tasks, she and many of the CTC volunteers will phase out the program on Shelter Island.

“Part of me is very sad because this is a passion of mine,” Ms. Pysher said.

What she’d like to see is both new leadership of the CTC and a commitment from the Town Board to fund a part-time social worker. She’s suggesting that Jennifer Olsen, who will be working for the school district for the equivalent of 3.5 days a week, fill out her time for 1.5 days working for the town.

“You can pay me now or pay me later,” Ms. Pysher said, explaining that what it would cost now to employ the social worker, who is already familiar with a lot of the problems on the Island, would be less than what it costs in police manpower and other services after unaddressed problems surface later.

Supervisor Jim Dougherty said he has a “very strong interest in the CTC program,” but was unable to attend the last “Key Leaders” meeting because of a scheduling conflict. Key Leaders with the CTC include town elected officials like Mr. Dougherty and Councilwoman Chris Lewis, Police Chief Jim Read, Superintendent Michael Hynes and various business owners.

“I’m told the part-time social worker issue was raised and discussed,” at that meeting, Mr. Dougherty said. But he said he understood that both Chief Read and Ms. Lewis had expressed financial concerns when the issue came up.

“We know where our weaknesses are [and] a social worker would help,” Ms. Lewis said. But with the 2 percent state tax cap imposed on budgets, it’s difficult to find money for many programs, she said.

“Marilynn has done such a phenomenal job” and brought so many into the CTC program, Ms. Lewis added.

But that burned-out feeling many of the CTC leaders have is a reality but still, Ms. Lewis said, she’s hopeful the program can continue, even if it has to cut back some efforts until new people get involved.

Chief Read also praised Ms. Pysher. “As a leader of CTC, you could not have asked for a better person,” the chief said.

At the same time, he said he knows from speaking with Mr. Dougherty that the town is not likely to add any employees to the payroll in 2015.

The results of this year’s student survey hold some positive news in terms of improvements from statistics of three years ago, but also some dire warnings about potential problems looming if not addressed, Ms. Pysher said. To those who have criticized past results of surveys, maintaining students liked to brag about things they weren’t really doing, the survey is peppered with questions designed to uncover false responses.

On the positive side:
• The presence of Superintendent Michael Hynes since the summer of 2011 has created an improved atmosphere in the school, as has the addition of a part-time social worker to troubleshoot problems.
• 65 adults have taken parenting workshops through the CTC program and many have reported improvements in their parenting skills, Ms. Pysher said.
• A school buddy program has paired 40 students with younger students for mentoring.
• The youth center that was once housed in a mobile unit at the Recycling Center now operates a fuller program at the American Legion Hall. There are more activities for older students, but too few for the younger students, she said.
• The All Faith Youth Group is “alive, well and growing.”
• Shelter Island Public Library and Sylvester Manor have expanded programs for youths.
• Many students express strong moral beliefs even though they are frequently not involved with religious organizations.

However, a number of negative factors are very much in evidence:
• A significant number of students are reporting they first tried alcohol at age 13 and by age 14, 30 percent were drinking regularly.
• Family supervision is only slightly improved and “nothing to do cartwheels about,” Ms. Pysher said.
• There has been a decline in participation in parenting workshops, perhaps because parents are working more than one job, she said.
• There is too little positive social involvement.