What does it take to get the superintendent of schools, a representative of the police department, a selectman, a member of the clergy, high school students, and over 20 other community leaders together each month? In Danvers, the answer is DanversCARES, a townwide partnership whose mission is to help youth and families make healthy decisions.
DanversCARES started in the mid 1990s as a school-based health advisory committee with the vision to invite community partners to the table to support school-based health and physical education efforts.
About 10 years ago, the group evolved into a formal community-based partnership led by former program director Peg Sallade. The group, which now includes acting director (formerly the assistant director) Lyle Harrod, adheres to the philosophy that partnerships are built on community involvement and designed to address local needs. This is done through collaborative dialogue, prioritizing concerns, and seeking partners and resources to support the work.
And boy has this group been working! Using data collected by regular surveys, DanversCARES has tackled issues including access to alcohol and prescription medication by teens, a mentor program run by Danvers High School upperclassmen athletes for incoming freshmen athletes, internet safety, and opioid prevention.
DanversCARES acting director Lyle Harrod.
“The value of the partnership model is that we can really get a pulse on what is happening in the community in order to take the appropriate measures to address [it],” says Sallade. “Having spent my career in public health and prevention, I have been pleased to work in a community where so many people from so many different parts of the town come together to make a difference.”
Danvers supports youth and families in many ways: a good school system, opportunities for community service, quality recreation programming and facilities, effective social services, and more. “All of these help make Danvers a healthy, vibrant community,” says Steve Bartha, town manager. “However, we can’t pretend that Danvers is perfect. We have many of the same issues facing communities across the Commonwealth and around the country. DanversCARES helps us to identify and respond to those issues.”
Negative media glamorizing drugs and violence, pressures from peers to conform, hurried lifestyles, and a society that equates celebration with alcohol use all influence our youth. By working together, DanversCARES is able to encourage youth to be resilient and adaptable to change. “Resilient youth feel connected, are goal-oriented, and are able to make good decisions,” adds Sallade. “Despite challenges, resilient youth thrive.”
In fact, the after-school programs at both the high school and middle school give members of the DanversCARES youth leadership groups a voice to address issues that affect them.
Last fall, with funding from Lahey Health, DanversCARES launched its first Parent University—a half-day conference for parents with sessions including The Impact of Screen Time on Early Development, Healthy Kids on and off The Field, Adolescent Holistic Mental Wellness, College Applications: How It All Works, Healthy Homework Habits, and many more.
“For a first-time event, the feedback was terrific,” says Lisa Dana, Ph.D., superintendent of Danvers Public Schools. “We know how busy families are, but we were so impressed with the number of people that attended Parent University that we plan to run it again in the fall.”
One of the sessions offered at Parent University was In Plain Sight. This interactive display of a teen’s bedroom provides a hands-on view of drug paraphernalia and other indicators that teens may be exposed to risks such as self-harm, unhealthy dieting and substance use. The eye-opening session was held for two additional days at the Danvers Police Station. This gave more parents the opportunity to view it and talk to professionals, who showed how these items are hidden in plain sight and offered help to address concerns with teens.