Published in the May 17, 2017 edition


WAKEFIELD — In his keynote speech at WAKE-UP’s breakfast and annual meeting held Tuesday at Crystal Community Club on Preston Street, Wakefield Police Chief Rick Smith told a group of about 50 people a story about 40-year-old Joseph Bresnyan, father of four children, who was changing a flat tire on I-80 near Sacramento, Calif. when he was struck and killed by a passing motorist after drifting onto the shoulder of the highway. The incident happened only two weeks ago — Wednesday, May 3.
A Highway Patrol Officer arrested 24-year-old Brandon Rotolo for driving while under the influence of marijuana. He was later charged with manslaughter.
“As a law enforcement officer I, like 800,000 other law enforcement professionals (in this country), fear this may become more of the norm as we move forward into this distracted world we live in,” said Chief Smith. “Legalization of marijuana, the opioid crisis, bullying, texting, unprotected sex. Welcome to America. Welcome to Wakefield.”
Now in its sixth year, WAKE-UP, an acronym for Wakefield Unified Substance Abuse is headed by Director Catherine Dhingra who was at the breakfast to recognize community leaders, school resource officers, employees of the Health Department and members of the Youth Action Team from Wakefield Memorial High School for their extraordinary work in raising awareness about substance abuse and other negative behaviors and the work they are doing to eliminate the town from their disastrous effects.
Dhingra said she appreciated all the support she has received from members of the community over the past six years and spoke about WAKE-UP’s accomplishments this past year, including parent sports orientations, training for coaches on how to spot substance abuse, Parent University’s “In Plain Sight” event, a merchant safety forum and ice cream social at the McCarthy Senior Center on Converse Street.
Mental health programs included a one-hour training for school faculty members, the Interface Referral Service, the updating of patrol officers on available community resources and youth mental health first aid for 130 participants in an eight-hour training session held for school paraprofessionals, Beebe Library staff and interested community members.
Dhingra commented that the “collaboration and commitment” of everyone involved, including residents, businesses, organizations, professionals and advocates who work together to promote a healthy community environment. “None of our accomplishments would have been possible without everyone working together,” she said.
As part of the effort to keep Wakefield’s youth safe, copies of a 23-page Wakefield Youth, Health & Safety Guide were distributed to those attending the breakfast.
The guide, published by Wakefield’s Health Department and printed by the Daily Item, provides parents with useful health and safety information that can be discussed with children and their peers such as tips, trends and local resources concentrating on topics such as alcohol, tobacco and drug use prevention, healthy eating and active living and stress management.
Taking the 2017 community awards for their hard work to protect Wakefield’s youth were Brendan Kent, athletic, health and wellness director for the town’s public schools and Amy Rando, family services officer representing Wakefield’s Police Department.
Jared Hurley, youth action team leader, touched briefly on projects undertaken inside schools, including healthy Instagram contests, liquor store assessments and “Kick Butts Day.”
Looking forward to 2018, WAKE-UP plans to work on the expansion of the network of recovery coaches to support people returning from treatment programs, the development and implementation of a juvenile alcohol and drug diversion program for first-time offenders and the implementation of the SBIRT screening tool (Screening, Brief Interview and Referral to Treatment) for all grade 7 and 9 students in Wakefield’s schools.
Chief Smith gave a brief history of WAKE-UP and said that in 2011 a discussion was held about how Wakefield could protect the community, particularly its youth, from addiction to drugs, tobacco and excessive use of alcohol.
“We brainstormed, and it was decided to convene a local awareness group,” he said. “It involved the Health Department, police, schools, outside substance abuse experts, clinicians and many others. Upon recognizing the need in Wakefield, WAKE-UP was born. Our child has grown since 2011. Our child has matured.
“We live in days of legal marijuana, an opioid crisis that took the lives of 1,526 people in Massachusetts alone in 2015. Stuff doesn’t matter—boats, cars, fancy things don’t matter. What matters is to ask the questions: Did I seize an opportunity to do something for people with the talents I was lucky enough to be given? Did I make a difference in the lives of people who needed me?”
WAKE-UP and the people involved, Smith said, are making a difference.
“Hopefully, we won’t ever have to deal with a tragedy like the one that happened on I-80 in Sacramento,” he said.
Also attending were Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio, State Rep. Paul Brodeur, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Kim Smith, WAKE-UP Youth Coordinator Kara Showers, Health Director Ruth Clay, Selectman Tony Longo and School Resource Officers Kelley Tobyne and Michael Pietrantonio.
Youth Action Team members were also recognized, including Hurley, Kaitlin Murphy, Liam Cosgrove, Tommy Lucey and Kaia Carioli.