Hundreds attend Trivia Night fundraiser

NORTHSHORE RECOVERY HIGH SCHOOL Principal Michelle Lipinski (center) accepts the Michael V. Dalton Making a Difference Award from Think of Michael President Carmela Dalton and Think of Michael Treasurer Dick Dalton during the fifth annual Trivia Night fundraiser on June 7. (Dan Tomasello Photo)


WAKEFIELD — Michael Dalton’s life and legacy continue to make a positive impact for people in recovery and their families.

Hundreds of people came together to help support individuals struggling with substance use disorder during the Think of Michael Foundation’s fifth annual Trivia Night fundraiser at the Four Points By Sheraton in Wakefield on June 7. While proceeds from Trivia Night were still being tallied when the Villager went to press, Think of Michael Treasurer Dick Dalton said the fundraiser was a huge success once again.

“We had a great turnout and everyone had a great time,” said Dalton.

THE THINK OF MICHAEL FOUNDATION’S Board of Directors celebrates a successful fifth annual Trivia Night fundraiser with Kiss 108 FM radio host and special guest auctioneer Billy Costa on June 7. (Dan Tomasello Photo)

The Dalton and Cook families formed Think of Michael after Michael passed away from an opiate overdose while in outpatient treatment in January 2018. The nonprofit organization funds scholarships that allow people in recovery to stay at a sober house and supports recovery-related initiatives.

“On behalf of our family and our board of directors, thank you for being here this evening,” said Dalton. “Your support and generosity have been truly overwhelming. Because of you, the foundation is able to help individuals and families dealing with substance use disorder. Because of you, the foundation has never declined to offer a qualified candidate a sober home scholarship because funding wasn’t available. Because of you, the foundation has been able to expand our scope of services.”

Dalton said he often thinks about the foundation’s first Trivia Night.

“Our goal was quite simple: Let’s hope we can raise a few dollars over and above the expenses that we would be incurring,” said Dalton. “To our surprise, we exceeded our expectations. In those early years, I often wondered if the foundation was in fact sustainable. Because of you, we have once again exceeded expectations.”

Dalton and his wife, Think of Michael President Carmela Dalton, presented the Michael V. Dalton Making a Difference Award to Northshore Recovery High School (NRHS) Principal Michelle Lipinski

“Michelle Lipinski is a very special person who is making a real difference in the lives of her students,” said Dalton.

Dalton recalled that he, his son Jamie and Think of Michael Board of Directors member Chris Barrett met with Lipinski at NRHS just before February school vacation a few years ago

“We took a tour of the school and talked for a while in her office,” said Dalton. “It didn’t take me long to realize she was not your typical school principal. She would at times sound like a loving mother and other times sounded like a force to be reckoned with. While we talked, her mobile phone was on her desk and had constant incoming messages. She was very apologetic and explained that it was a stressful week for her students. I asked why, and she said the following week was February school vacation. I was a bit puzzled because wouldn’t a teenager look forward to no classes and no homework? She explained that the school was their safe place, a place where they had the benefits of adults who truly cared about them and classmates who were dealing with the same challenges. They were part of a community.

It’s difficult to even begin to appreciate what these teens are dealing with.”

Lipinski was touched to receive the Michael V. Dalton Making a Difference Award.

“I am humbled and honored to accept this award in the name of Michael, and will cherish it for the rest of my days,” said Lipinski. “I chose to enter into the field of education over 30 years ago because I believe children need more trusted adults who believe in them. As a science educator, I saw firsthand the impact of some of our school policies that kept our most vulnerable students sick and unable to access education. And, I am sorry to say, some of these policies are still prevalent today. In response to this, I started my first alternative school in 1999. I did not have the blessing of my high school principal, but my superintendent and mentor, Dr. Herb Levine, saw the need.”

Lipinski recalled that she first learned about Oxycontin after finding two pill bottles in a student’s backpack.

“I went down the rabbit hole on my blue Mac that night and discovered that there were communities being ravaged by prescription medications throughout the country,” said Lipinski. “I also learned that following the scourge of pills and due to the laws of supply and demand, most of these people were now transitioning to heroin. It was like a crystal ball and that was exactly what I saw happen over the next couple of years. It quickly became my job to check students for track marks and other signs of drug use.”

Lipinski said she opened Northshore Recovery High School in Beverly in September 2006. She said NRHS was the first recovery high school to open in Massachusetts and on the East Coast.

“I had no clue what I was doing,” said Lipinski. “I knew nothing about public health, and I am embarrassed to say I had never sent a student to treatment and had never even visited a mental health or substance use treatment program. The world of education and public health had not prepared me for what I was about to encounter. Wherever I turned, I kept hearing that when a student is relapsing, you must kick them out. This is the complete opposite of ‘No Child Left Behind.’ However, in this new world, they were equating relapses with failure when people needed more and not less support. Needless to say, I didn’t follow the rules, and quickly became the black sheep of recovery schools and many other schools who used a zero tolerance approach to addressing substance use. My staff and I rewrote the handbooks to reflect the ongoing need for more support for those we serve. We do not suspend for relapse since addiction is not a moral failing. It is a medical condition and it needs to be treated as such. This was not really welcomed by many people in the field 18 years ago.”

Due to a lack of adolescent treatment programs in the state, Lipinski said Northshore Recovery High School works to help students and families connect with community resources.

“We strengthen their social connections to one another, volunteerism, 12 Step and other recovery resources,” said Lipinski. “We are very fortunate to have foundations like yours to help us with our mission. However, we still fall short. Nothing could have prepared us for what started in 2015 when Fentanyl flooded our streets and homes. We ran our school for nine years and did not lose one student. Over the last nine years, we have buried 35 current and former students. We work with some of the most vulnerable students in our area, the ones most likely to succumb to their disease of addiction. We have chosen to work with students who are challenged by their previous mental health concerns, multiple suicide attempts, the loss of parents and siblings, the lack of financial resources, complex learning needs, stigma and shame and their own substance use concerns, all while watching as the current treatment landscape is almost non-existent. One would think we would get burned out, and although we are completely exhausted because it is the end of the school year, we return with a fire in our bellies and the resolve to change the system. We won’t stop trying.”

Lipinski said NRHS graduates have launched a variety of different initiatives to “use their voices to help one another out of the darkness.”

“We need to eliminate the shame and stigma associated with this disease so people can ask for help without fear of retribution or judgment,” said Lipinski. “I challenge us to find ways to help all students belong and heal in developmentally appropriate ways. I know we can find the solutions if we do this together. We have work to do. Use your voices.”

After Lipinski concluded her remarks, Trivia Night’s attendees gave her a round of applause.


NORTHSHORE RECOVERY HIGH SCHOOL Principal Michelle Lipinski gives Think of Michael Foundation President Carmela Dalton a hug after learning her school will be receiving a $5,000 donation during Trivia Night on June 7. The foundation previously donated $10,000 to NRHS earlier this year. (Dan Tomasello Photo)

Dalton recalled that the Think of Michael Foundation donated $10,000 to Northshore Recovery High School a few months ago. He surprised Lipinski by announcing that the foundation would be making another $5,000 donation to NRHS.

“Thank you very much,” said a touched Lipinski.

The team that won the Trivia Night competition was “We Just Want to Have Fun” that consisted of Interim Superintendent Tom Geary, Karen Geary, School Committee Chair Kate DePrizio, School Committee Vice Chair Kristen Grieco Elworthy, Craig Elworthy, School Committee member Jim Dillon, Matt Dillon and Kathleen Mathers. The team donated the $500 prize to the foundation.

THE TEAM that won the Think of Michael Foundation’s fifth annual Trivia Night competition on June 7 was “We Just Want To Have Fun.” From left, Matt Dillon, Kathleen Mathers, Karen Geary, School Committee Vice Chair Kristen Grieco Elworthy, Craig Elworthy, School Committee Chair Kate DePrizio, Interim Superintendent Tom Geary and School Committee member Jim Dillon. (Dan Tomasello Photo)

Kiss 108 FM radio host Billy Costa served as the special guest live auctioneer for Trivia Night once again.

“We are all Thinking of Michael tonight,” said Costa.

Dalton thanked the Think of Michael Foundation’s Board of Directors for helping organize the fifth annual Trivia Night: Natasha Anderson, Chris Barrett, Jenn Burnham, Jim, Bernadette and Audra Dalton, Candace Doucette, Jacqui Driscoll, Tony, Louise and Mark Ferullo, Jay Gardner, Bruce and Maria Glinksi, Patricia Hazelton, Nicole Lamar, Karen Littlefield, Pauline Marino, Maria Peary, Stephen and Michelle Riley, Amanda Petrini, Tammy Ryan, Shirley Sicilano, and PJ and Lauren Varone.

“This evening would not have been possible without the foundation’s talented and dedicated board of directors,” said Dalton. “They have spent countless hours to ensure this evening is an overwhelming success. I want to thank each and every one of you for what you do day in and day out for the foundation. It’s difficult to put into words how much we appreciate all that you do. Thank you.”

Trivia Night’s attendees gave the board of directors a round of applause.

KISS 108 FM RADIO HOST Billy Costa once again served as the special guest live auctioneer during the Think of Michael Foundation’s Trivia Night fundraiser on June 7. (Dan Tomasello Photo)

Dalton also thanked Trivia Night’s Premier sponsors Chapters Recovery Center, Everett Bank, the Massachusetts Center for Adolescent Wellness and North Suffolk Community Services. He also thanked the Patch family for giving “the single largest donation the foundation has ever received.”

Additionally, Dalton thanked Kevin and Leslie McCafferty, and Salem Five Savings Bank for supporting the Trivia Night fundraiser once again. He thanked the Four Points By Sheraton for hosting the Trivia Night fundraiser for the second straight year. He also thanked Bob Priestley and Boston Audio Visual Rental for providing production services for the event.