By Jessica Cohen
For the Gazette
PORT JERVIS - Five years of federal funding from a Drug-Free Community Grant will come to an end in September for Operation PJ Pride, a coalition of what their mission statement describes as “community members and agencies working together to promote healthy lifestyles and positive change through outreach, education and action.” They are applying for another five years of funding, says Megan Robbins, project coordinator. Funding is available for up to $125,000 per year.
The group emerged from a community task force that formed in 2012 to address drug addiction issues in Port Jervis. Guided by the Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Council of Orange County, the coalition was a combination of residents and representatives from law enforcement and social and health services agencies. However, a full coalition meeting last week drew eight people, primarily representatives of social service agencies, who gathered at the Port Jervis Recreation Center.
They assessed their accomplishments in relation to requirements for funding, since the grant application is due in April. Robbins pointed out that in January 35 people attended the Reality Tour, an event where high school students, police and ambulance staff dramatize a drug overdose incident.
“That shows that the community is interested,” she said, adding that people from Minisink and Middletown have expressed interest in having the program there.
“The youth coalition is involved in all our activities. Their involvement is required for the grant,” said Robbins, referring to a group of Port Jervis High School students who have organized to support OPJP efforts.
She noted the upcoming activities in which the youth coalition will participate. Kick Butt Day at the high school, on March 18, will focus on vaping rather than cigarettes, said Robbins. At Open School night, the youth coalition will have a table at both the high school and middle school. Their “color run” in the spring, a 5K run where colored powder is thrown at runners intermittently, will advocate “healthy decisions.” They will also do radio public service announcements for K104 and Neversink Media and promote “text to quit” phone numbers for people who want to quit juuling.
Other upcoming events promoting OPJP will include the Touch a Truck/ Be a Community Hero event at Stop, Hop and Roll, on May 2, featuring first responders and a petting zoo, and a yet-to-be-scheduled Elks Club fundraiser. Port Jervis police will again have pop-up barbecues in city parks, but this year they will add pop-up Narcan training sessions. A hygiene drive for soap, shampoo, deodorant and other hygiene products, to be offered to district students, was successful last year, Robbins said, and will be organized again.
“Last year all the stuff was taken,” she said.
Funding for her position will end in September, and last year grant awards were not announced until December. But Catholic Charities, the “umbrella organization” through which OPJP receives grants, would cover her salary in the gap period if that happens, Robbins said. The meeting was her last for about two months because she is going on maternity leave.
Valerie Maginsky, who helped to acquire the initial grant and launch OPJP, said that the decline in community involvement in OPJP is typical of the “maturing process” of such groups.
“The Newburgh group (also DFC funded) was similar,” Maginsky said. “There’s more participation on Facebook than face front. Next year OPJP will work on community outreach. People have busy lives, with two jobs and children. Many participate in events, but don’t come to meetings. Are objectives served? Youth are critical to the prevention process.” Creating the youth group was their triumph this year, she said.