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Sept. 19, 2012
20th Anniversary Celebration
By Kimberly Primicerio, Record-Journal

By Kimberly Primicerio

Record-Journal staff MERIDEN — Twenty years ago, when the Meriden and Wallingford Substance Abuse Council was established, the nonprofit organization was run by two employees assigned to form community partnerships and raise awareness of substance abuse. Today, the organization is still run by two employees, but has grown into the South Central Connecticut Substance Abuse Council. Just recently, the organization was tasked with providing assistance to seven other communities, while continuing to provide programming for youth, informational pamphlets and awareness campaigns.

On Wednesday, community members and officials came together at the Augusta Curtis Cultural Center to celebrate the council’s 20th anniversary. Invited guests enjoyed refreshments. Community leaders said a few words throughout the evening as people looked over a table covered with newspapers articles, newsletters and pamphlets dating from 1992. “When I first came here I thought there was not enough to do,” said Marlene McGann, executive director of the council. “Now there’s not enough time.”

Marlene McGann, executive director of the South Central Connecticut Substance Abuse Council,
accepts a citation from Janet Storey, contract manager for the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services,
on Wednesday. The local council was celebrating its 20th anniversary with a reception at the Augusta Curtis Cultural Center in Meriden.

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McGann has been with the organization for 18 years. The council has taken on a number of initiatives, including the signature programs that prevention coordinator Christelle Aube created. “I told Christelle, ‘You know that saying, it takes a village,’ ” McGann said to the crowd. “It doesn’t take a village in our office, it only takes Christelle.” Aube can take credit for the council’s BABES program and the Soy Unica Soy Latina event. BABES, which stands for Beginning Awareness Basic Education Studies, allows volunteers to go into first- and second-grade classrooms in Meriden and Wallingford and provide children with coping skills. Whether a children, has a lost a parent, a pet or is going through a tough time, the program is meant to teach the children concepts to deal with such issues.

Soy Unica Soy Latina is an event that occurs once a year for Hispanic mothers and daughters to come together, go to workshops and listen to keynote speakers. The program provides inspiration and role models to the young girls. While the council has maintained those programs over the years, a lot has changed, McGann said. The council once put together a “no smoking dining guide.” “We don’t need that anymore,” McGann said. “There is no more smoking in bars and restaurants. That was a big initiative.”

McGann also said that in the early 1990s, people didn’t know a lot about HIV and AIDS, and the council started a candlelight vigil. “It was an important topic,” McGann said. “Our culture now understands more about it.” The council has also come a long way with smoking prevention and underage drinking, but more can be done, McGann said. The group also faces issues with people abusing prescription drugs and gambling. “We’re all over the board,” McGann said.

Aube, who has been with the council for 15 years, thanked McGann for having the confidence to lead the prevention efforts over the years. “Two decades isn’t bad for a nonprofit business,” Mayor Michael S. Rohde said at the celebration. Rohde gave thanks to Aube and McGann for their dedication. He also said the council is just one of the organizations in the city that works with other groups to make things happen. “There’s a bright future for what you do,” Rohde said.

kprimicerio@record-journal.com (203) 317-2279 Twitter:@KPrimicerioRJ

May 10, 2012
Girls Inc. honoree has long record of service
Christelle Aube always lets other people take the limelight, but on Wednesday night there was no escaping the attention. At Zandri’s Stillwood Inn, more than 130 people turned out to honor Aube, this year’s Girls Inc. Strong, Smart and Bold Award recipient. For the past 13 years, Girls Inc. has recognized a woman in the community who gives back, engages in community services and serves as a role model to young girls, according to Girls Inc. executive director Michelle Bourdeau. “She (Aube) is all those things,” Bourdeau said.

Girls Inc. is a nonprofit organization in Meriden that provides after-school opportunities for young girls. They offer summer camp and recreational activities. Aube, 54, a prevention coordinator for the Meriden and Wallingford Substance Abuse Council, believes in Girls Inc.’s mission and everything they do. She was overwhelmed and excited to be receiving the award.

“It’s a wonderful program for girls,” Aube said Wednesday night. “It’s way for them to bond together and spend quality time with mentors and role models.”

Born and raised in Meriden by French-Canadian parents, Aube’s career in the city started when she helped her brother deliver the Record-Journal at the age of 7. “That job lasted me 20 years. It was the longest job I ever had,” she said. It even helped her buy her first car, a Buick Skylark. After graduating from Maloney High School in 1975, Aube attended Central Connecticut State University. She received a degree in business management and would go on to become director of development at Easter Seals in Meriden. When the organization cut her job, she applied for the position at Meriden and Wallingford Substance Abuse Council. Director Marlene McGann hired her 14 years ago and they continue to run the office today.

“There’s no other position I want to be in,” Aube said. “Marlene allows me to create and bring awareness.” While Aube chatted with guests she was constantly interrupted by friends and colleagues who wanted to congratulate her. They gave her hugs and kisses, and said the award couldn’t go to a more wonderful person.

Over the years Aube has created two vital programs for the council: the Beginner Awareness Basic Education Studies program and the Soy Unica program. BABES allows volunteers to go into first and second grade classrooms in Meriden and Wallingford and provide children with coping skills. Whether a children, has a lost a parent, a pet or is going through a tough time, the program is meant to teach the children concepts to deal such issues. Soy Unica is an event that occurs once a year for Hispanic mothers and daughters to come together, go to workshops and listen to keynote speakers. The program provides inspiration and role models to the young girls, Aube said.

McGann said Aube was unanimously nominated as this year’s Strong, Smart and Bold award winner. “She was shocked,” McGann said. “She thought we were kidding.” Aube does a lot of hard work behind the scenes and doesn’t want any credit, McGann said. She’s involved with Kiwanis Club and St. Laurent Church, McGann said. She dedicates her time and goes out of her way to help the organization. “She takes care of everything. You don’t have to ask her twice to do things,” Mc-Gann said.

When Aube spoke to her audience she made sure to thank her friends and family. Her father died less than two weeks ago and dealing with his loss was still on her mind. “His memory burns bright in my mind,” Aube said. She spoke highly of her peers, who encouraged and mentored her to where she is today. City councilors, Mayor Michael S. Rohde and friends of Aube’s from the Kiwanis Club made brief speeches and congratulated her.

View the presentation

Courtesy of Record-Journal
May 10, 2012
By Kimberly Primicerio

Dec. 2, 2011
18th Annual Parranda Provides Link to Puerto Rican Roots
Puerto Rican caroling festival drew generations to John Barry School on Friday
Courtesy of Meriden Patch

Meriden Patch caught up with audience members at the city's annual Parranda on Friday night, as they celebrated the holidays with a classic Puerto Rican music festival.

To some, like Tina Rodriguez and Ixsia Cardon, hearing the songs was like a trip back to their birthplace, others like Sarina Cardona and Brandon Deleon were introduced to this piece of their heritage for just the first or second time.

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Letter to the Editor - Dec. 8, 2011
Courtesy of Record-Journal
On December 2nd, more than 150 people gathered to celebrate the Meriden and Wallingford Substance Abuse Council’s 18th Annual Parranda. The Parranda is a Puerto Rican carol sing that traditionally moves from house to house. When Hector Cardona of the Meriden Police Department suggested adapting the evening for the Meriden area no one knew if it would be successful. It has become so popular that the alcohol-free evening of singing, dancing and food has grown larger each year. Families look forward to this Meriden holiday tradition.

Many people helped to make this a special event and they deserve our thanks. We would like to thank Karen Dahn and the John Barry School, the Meriden Board of Education, Mid-State Medical Center, the Meriden Police Department, and thanks to the 3 kings for visiting.

Special thanks go to Officer Hector Cardona Sr., and his grandchildren Miguel and Celine and the rest of the family and band members who made the evening magical. Each year it gets better and better!      

Marlene McGann
Executive Director, MAWSAC

Oct. 15, 2011
10th Annual ¡Soy Unica! ¡Soy Latina!
Event Promotes Wellness  
By Tiffany Diorio
Record-Journal staff

— The Meriden and Wallingford Substance Abuse Council is celebrating its 10th year hosting the Soy Unica, Soy Latina event, and coordinators don’t think it will be their last. Since 2002, Soy Unica, Soy Latina has promoted mental wellness and high self-esteem and encouraged cultural pride. Event coordinators bring in motivational speakers, host workshops, and entertainment for girls. This year the free program will be held on Oct. 15 at Washington Middle School from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Although it’s usually referred to as a “mother and daughter” program, Christelle Aube, the prevention coordinator, said the program isn’t open only to mothers and their daughters. “You can bring your caregiver or your aunt,” she said. “It can be another female that might be a role model for you. You can bring anyone.” Aube first brought the program to Meriden after she heard about the idea at a conference in Washington, D.C. “I thought it was a great event to bring to the Meriden and Wallingford area because we have a strong Hispanic population,” she said. Since its start the program has grown in popularity. At first, it was open to girls ages 9 to 14, but after a few years Aube said they decided to increase the age range to 9 to 18.

This year’s event will include a Zumba class led by a YMCA instructor as well as 15 different informational booths. Organizations hosting booths and handing out information include Girls Inc. and Beat the Street. “A lot of kids complain that they’re bored and that there’s nothing to do, but there is a lot to do if you look,” Aube said. Organizers are also bringing back the “What do you know?” game. Inspired by television’s “Newlywed Game.” daughters will have to answer questions correctly about their mothers and vice versa.

Opening this year’s event will be Meriden School Superintendent Mark D. Benigni, State Rep. Catherine Abercrombie, D-Meriden, and Meriden Mayor Michael S. Rohde. “It’s a partnership with the girls’ mothers and the community and they have a lot of good booths with pertinent information,” said Rohde, who has attended the event the past four years. “It promotes a lot of positives about working hard and setting goals.” The three will introduce the program’s keynote speaker Ann Hushin, principal of Maloney High School. Hushin has worked at Maloney since 1991. She worked her way to principal after starting in the bilingual department, then Spanish teacher, a department chairperson, and assistant principal.

“We felt that she was a perfect Hispanic role model for the kids,” Aube said. Hushin, who is originally from Puerto Rico, attended the event last year and said she was shocked when they chose her as the speaker for this year’s program. “I think (the program) is a great thing for students,” she said. “I was brought up with the sense that my husband would take care of me, but in today’s economy it’s very hard to do that.” It was through education that she learned to be independent. Hushin says that when she first moved to Connecticut in 1976 after she married she had a hard time adjusting to the language. “I wouldn’t leave my apartment for a long time,” she said. “It was a while until I felt comfortable enough to talk to people. I thought people would make fun of me.” But through the encouragement of her husband she eventually got over her fear and went back to school. She’s stressed the importance of an education since, and plans to stress it in her speech.

“I tell all my students that if you don’t have money they can take away your lights, housing and cars, but they’ll never take away your education,” she said. “An education will give you a good future and you have to continue it.”

Oct. 26, 2010
First-grade program gets parents involved
By Jaclyn Hirsch

Photo by Jaclyn Hirsch/Record-Journal
Record-Journal staff

WALLINGFORD — A mostly volunteer program aimed to help first-grade students learn life skills had a few extra volunteers Monday morning. Several parents of first-graders at Highland School dressed up as characters from stories used to reinforce a five-week life skills program that helps children learn how to make good decisions and feel empowered.

Beginning Awareness Basic Education Studies (BABES), a national educational program that is intended to help first graders learn important life skills lessons through interactive storytelling and songs, is taught to Wallingford and Meriden pupils by eight local volunteers and organized by the Meriden and Wallingford Substance Abuse Council.

“It’s an important message, and they make it fun for the kids,” said Elaine Villano, one of the parent volunteers for the day. Villano changed Monday into a wise owl, who gives advice in several stories throughout the program. Her son, Ryan, is in first grade and is eager to talk about the stories from the programs when he comes home, Villano said. In past years, fifth-grade students have worn the life-size costumes for the program’s closing ceremony, but this year parent volunteers stepped in when the district reconfigured the elementary schools and separated the third, fourth and fifth grades from the lower grades.

Christelle Aube, the Meriden and Wallingford Substance Abuse Council’s prevention coordinator, brought the program to Wallingford and Meriden in 2000, and last year the program reached more than 1,000 children in 12 schools. The program is funded through donations and grants from the Meriden and Wallingford United Way, the Meriden Kiwanis Club and other local groups. Aube said having the parents come in for the final session of the program allows them to see what the children have learned. She said she believes it’s important for young people to learn about peer pressure and decision making at an early age. “They (first-graders) don’t always think about what kind of decisions they make on a day-to-day basis,” Aube said.

The eight volunteers from Meriden agreed that they enjoy working with children and making an impact on their lives. They also said they loved to see the parent involvement in the program, a new element this year. “There are so many children that have so much going on in their lives,” volunteer Elaine Murphy said. The volunteers — who range in age from late 60s to early 80s — said children still recognize them around the community several years after they go through the program. “We get acknowledged, and that’s very rewarding,” Murphy said.

Highland School first-grade teacher Allison Denya said she sees her students using some of the language and lessons taught to them by the BABES volunteers. She said the program teaches “valuable lessons” to the students such as how to avoid bullying or how to compromise during a disagreement. “Some of them have a lot that they are dealing with, and this helps them,” Denya said.

-- Ongoing Events --

B.A.B.E.S. Program
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Call For your Drug Free Workplace Kit
MAWSAC is offering local businesses a free kit on creating and sustaining a drug free and safer workplace.  The resource is filled with easy to use posters, fact sheets and low cost ideas for keeping employees and customers safe.  It is appropriate for any size business. Don’t miss out, call now 294-3591.

MAWSAC Joins with DMHAS To Start CT Statewide Task Force on Inhalants
In recent years, inhaling house hold products or “huffing”  has become prevalent among young people.  Children, some as young as 5th graders, have begun to inhale anything they can find in the hope of getting “high” from its fumes.  Some of the products used by these children have been lighter fluid, hair spray, white out, deodorant, air freshener, and gasoline, and the list goes on and on.  In recent years, this has led to brain damage in some children and even death.  In fact, 36% of youth who die from inhalant use die on the first time they use an inhalant.  

The problem is that these products that are commonly found in households and schools and can easily be purchased contain poisonous chemicals that are harmful or even fatal when inhaled.  Youth, parents and other adults are just unaware of this fact. In addition, these products are readily available to them.  

In response to this problem, the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, in conjunction with the Meriden and Wallingford Substance Abuse Council, recently established the CT Inhalant Task Force. Their goal is twofold:  to increase the awareness of inhalant abuse and to prevent inhalant abuse.  This task force is comprised of police officers, members of Connecticut Safe Kids, Connecticut Poison Control,  Department of Health and Human Services,  Governor's Prevention Partnership, and various health and youth serving organizations who work toward the welfare and safety of children.   

Some of the warning signs are:  a change in friends or interests, decline in school performance, disoriented/dazed appearance, slurred speech, chemical odors on cloths/breath/backpack, red spots or sores around nose and/or mouth,  headaches more than usual,  finding empty  lighters or spray cans or household cleaner containers, and finding of rags or plastic bags with chemical odors on them.  

For more information on the CT Task Force on Inhalants, contact  MAWSAC at mawsac@aol.com. If you think your child may be experimenting with inhalants, please consider these resources:   Infoline at 211 or on the web at www.inhalant.org.  In a poison emergency, call 1-800-222-1222 or 911 in CT.