Allston-Brighton Substance Abuse Task Force

Harvard University awarded the Allston-Brighton Substance Abuse Task Force funds through the Harvard University Allston-Brighton Emergency Response Grant Program and the Harvard-Allston Partnership Fund to support their efforts in supporting the community. 

Since 2004, the Allston-Brighton Substance Abuse Task Force has been marshalling community resources and working closely with neighborhood residents to help bring evidence-based education to the fight to prevent substance abuse.

“We are a community coalition with intentional representation from treatment providers, youth service providers, law enforcement, schools, and other neighborhood groups,” says Helen Connolly, the director of the Task Force. She notes the Task Force is focused on more than just drug use prevention, but also the behavioral health issues that could stem from, or beget, drug abuse.

The principal way the Task Force gets their message out is through education. They work closely with public schools in the Allston-Brighton neighborhood to bring a curriculum that focuses on evidence-based methods that lean on the community they have cultivated to teach each other.

The Task Force has continued working with schools to figure out how to continue providing their health education program while students were learning remotely and throughout the summer. Beyond their ongoing education and messaging goals, the Task Force saw new community needs in the wake of COVID-19. With people out of work, many families were facing the immediate crisis of food insecurity. The Task Force sought funds from the Harvard University Allston-Brighton Emergency Response Grant program in order to provide gift cards to local Allston-Brighton restaurants offering takeout and delivery or local grocery stores.

“We saw the gift cards as a way to help fight food insecurity [in the neighborhood],” said Caitlin Abber, the manager of youth prevention programs for the Task Force.

“[The initiative] serves three purposes: as an incentive for people to take part in substance use prevention workshops, to support local Allston-Brighton businesses, and fight food insecurity,” continued Connelly.

In more typical times the Task Forces works with local students to teach evidence-based life skills substance use prevention curriculum to sixth, seventh, and eighth graders, as well as after-school programming and peer education taught local high schoolers. They discuss many strategies, including how to cope with stress, and how to talk to friends about the difficult subject of substance abuse.

In addition to direct education in schools, the Task Force engages in messaging campaigns, which are in large part driven by the high school aged members of their youth coalition. Those members help identify the needs of their peers and work with the Task Force to utilize social media tools to share their message.