NORTH READING — The North Reading Community Impact Team’s Youth Substance Use Prevention Coalition hosted its fourth annual Guiding Good Choices program this past fall for five consecutive weeks, informing parents and caregivers on ways to set household expectations around alcohol and substances, and strengthen family bonds.

Youth Services Director Jen Ford and North Reading parent Jason Slattery co-facilitated the free program, engaging in thoughtful discussions with other adults in the community by creating a judgment-free space for meaningful dialogue and empowering interactions.

Judgment-free aspect is crucial

Ford noted that while the curriculum is proven and science-based, it is essential that the facilitation of it is engaging and judgment-free.

“Parents are invited to interact, and the more they do…the better it is.  When a safe, accepting environment is created, parents are more likely to share and build bonds with one another. There’s nothing more powerful than witnessing protective walls that parents have built around themselves being broken down and allowing others in to support one another. It’s a privilege to be part of,” she expressed.

Slattery feels similarly, and for him, involvement in the program hits home.

“I was, what you would call, an ‘at-risk youth’ growing up,” he shared. “I was fortunate to have had a few mentors along my journey that set me on the right path. I am extremely grateful to have a great career, family, and community. A huge passion area for me is to give back and make a tangible, active difference in North Reading, especially with struggling youth and families.”

Worth the commitment

Slattery now serves as the Vice Chair of the Youth Services Committee and continues to participate in countless volunteer opportunities in town. He believes that the Guiding Good Choices program is worth the five-week commitment because the substances in the world today are becoming more addictive and measurably more potent, making it imperative for family members to hold each other accountable.

“A decision to ‘experiment’ with a substance can and most likely will be life-altering. Additionally, with smartphones and social media, everything is being documented and shared at unprecedented speed. Regrettable mistakes have lasting consequences. That is just our children’s reality. Making better choices is more important than ever,” Slattery stated.

Furthermore, the GGC curriculum is noteworthy for its foundational focus on building strong household relationships, fostering lasting trust between family members, and establishing clear expectations and guidelines. Risk and protective factors are also identified, and strategies for improving communication within the family unit are discussed at-length.

Ford commented that while the focus of the GGC program is to prevent and address youth substance use, many of the skills that are reviewed and obtained by participants can be implemented in other household areas as well, such as vacation planning, chore distribution, and financial management.

“The heart of it all is about being connected and creating opportunities to highlight successes, while also providing support/tools with areas of development,” she explained.

Ford has co-facilitated the GGC program with Slattery twice now, and they both plan on returning to lead another cohort in the new year, with dates to be determined at a later time. Slattery is grateful for the partnership he’s built with Ford and other local community members, calling it nothing short of amazing.

“[Ford’s] dedication, passion, and the amount of programming she hosts is inspiring! My exposure to this GGC team comprised of Detective [Paul] Lucci, Amy Luckiewicz, Christie Perrone, and Laura Miranda has been remarkable with respect to the professionalism, content, and devotion. There are tons of resources here in North Reading for youth and families,” he believes.

Ford has also thoroughly enjoyed her role as co-facilitator, citing several reasons for her continued involvement.

“I get to play a role in creating a safe, engaged community for our youth. Additionally, I really appreciate the opportunity to work closely with parents, sharing resources and tools, encouraging them to build strong, meaningful relationships with their kids.  Whenever a safe, non-judgmental space is created we often see the best version of ourselves and each other…it doesn’t get any better than that,” she said.

Winter session planned

Those interested in learning more about the Guiding Good Choices program can contact Program Coordinator Christie Perrone at, or call 978-357-5054 with any questions about the upcoming session to be offered in the new year.