YMCA Nights of Conversation Provide Facts and Support for Addiction

May 3, 2019

Talking to kids about alcohol and drugs can be difficult for parents – knowing what to say and how to say it. Yet, having this conversation is more important than ever.

Opioid overdoses in New Jersey rank three times higher than the national average, and heroin use is on the rise. In Monmouth County alone, there were 189 suspected drug overdose deaths in 2018, according to the Office of the New Jersey Coordinator of Addiction Responses and Enforcement Strategies.

In 2017, the New Jersey State Legislature passed a joint resolution that was signed into law, designating a Night of Conversation in November of each year. The purpose is to create awareness about substance use and to help families initiate conversations about drug and alcohol addiction.

The Community YMCA held its first Night of Conversation last year on November 28. The free event was open to parents and teens, professionals and educators. “We wanted to bring this issue to the forefront of parents’ consciousness,” said Laurie Goganzer, President and CEO of The Community YMCA. “As one of the few YMCAs in the country that offers comprehensive counseling and social services, we felt such an event was in our wheelhouse.”

The Community YMCA teamed up with the Monmouth County Division of Mental Health & Addiction Services, Wellspring Center for Prevention, and the Governor’s Council on Alcoholism & Drug Abuse to encourage and support parents in having meaningful and effective discussions with their children. Mental health professionals spoke about the signs of substance abuse and strategies for intervention. They also provided information on resources.

“The Y is proud to collaborate with community leaders and organizations to help parents raise healthy, confident and connected kids who are empowered to make healthy choices that include avoiding using alcohol and drugs,” said Goganzer.

Forty adults and teens also attended the Night of Conversation hosted by The Lakeland Hills Family YMCA on November 19, 2018. “This was our second year and attendance was up,” said CEO Dr. Viktor Joganow. Speakers included Assemblyman Anthony Bucco, DEA Agent Timothy McMahon, Morris County Sheriff James Gannon, and parents Eileen and Rusty Wallin, who lost their son from a heroin overdose. Their 32-year-old son was an excellent student and an athlete when he first got caught up in drugs. He beat addiction once, but ultimately couldn’t extricate himself and died in 2017.

The overall message delivered by the event was: Do not assume substance abuse is an urban blight. It knows no demographic barriers. People in every community need to understand the signs, be alert to them, and know where to turn for help and support.

Both Ys intend to continue the conversation, making it part of their community outreach, believing it’s important to raise awareness about the depth and breadth of the YMCA services that help strengthen families.