HOPKINTON — Town Manager Norman Khumalo and Hopkinton Youth & Family Services Director Dawn Alcott are pleased to highlight the ongoing work of the Hopkinton Organizing for Prevention (HOP) coalition and introduce staff members.
HOP is a community-wide collaboration working to prevent substance use. HOP was founded by Youth & Family Services in 2015 with the goal of providing education, resources and support to empower youth to live a healthy, substance-free life as well as promote wellbeing for all Hopkinton residents.
The collaboration’s membership includes parents, clergy, youth, youth serving agencies, pediatric health professionals, business professionals, people in recovery, family members affected by addiction and representatives from the police and fire departments, Hopkinton Public Health, Hopkinton Public Schools and the school committee.
HOP’s work within the community is funded through two grants, the Massachusetts Collaborative for Action, Leadership, and Learning (MassCALL3) award and the Federal Drug-Free Communities (DFC) Grant. The funding supports HOP and its initiatives to build relationships with community partners and implement strategies and programs that aim to reduce youth substance use rates.
The MassCALL3 Part A grant in the amount of $80,000 was awarded to the town in April 2021 and will be distributed for two years at $40,000 per year. HOP may be funded for an additional six years for a total of eight years with increasing grant support. Part A of MassCALL3 supports local substance use prevention efforts through promoting community engagement, continuing and expanding a community assessment process started by the coalition and building capacity for the coalition.
Lauren Dellelo, a prevention coordinator with HOP, works through the MassCALL3 grant to further prevention efforts in Hopkinton. Dellelo has several years of previous experience in school counseling and special education, has worked as a social-emotional behavioral coach with the Framingham Public Schools and served as a court-appointed special advocate with the Worcester County Courts.
Dellelo holds a bachelor’s degree in public relations from the University of Rhode Island and master’s degree in counseling psychology with a school and community specialization from Lesley University. She also holds professional licensures from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and is certified in Mental Health First Aid (National Council for Behavioral Health), Psychological First Aid (American Red Cross), Break Free From Depression (Boston Children’s Hospital) and SOS Signs of Suicide (Mindwise by Riverside Community Care).
The DFC grant is a $625,000 grant from the Drug-Free Communities (DFC) Support Program. The grant is distributed over five years, during which time HOP receives $125,000 annually. The DFC Program, which is directed by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, provides grants to community coalitions across the country that work to prevent and reduce substance use among youths.
Cassandra Bigness is the town’s Drug-Free Communities program coordinator and works to manage the grant and its provisions. Bigness recently served as the DFC program coordinator with the King Philip Regional School District and previously worked in a similar role with the Town of Dedham’s substance use prevention coalition.
Bigness holds a bachelor’s degree in public health from Mercyhurst University in Pennsylvania and a Master’s of Public Health from Boston University with specializations in Health Communication and Promotion, and Mental Health and Substance Use.
Dellelo and Bigness both work through HOP to build community partnerships to support prevention efforts, plan and implement educational activities, communicate with stakeholders, work to ensure equity and culturally competent approaches to the coalition’s prevention work, and develop educational materials and programs for all ages.
“With a lot of the research and data that’s coming out, we’re finding that it’s not productive to just tell young people to say no, we need to use education and programming to help prevent the problem before it becomes a problem,” Dellelo said. “Prevention work has to be a multi-faceted approach that involves different strategies and input from many stakeholders. HOP is in a great position to do that because the coalition has been together for several years coming up with ideas and building its involvement in the community, and its members are dedicated to finding ways to make an impact. Preventing substance use and changing the environmental factors that influence decision making takes time, but these changes are happening and I’m excited to see the difference that HOP and these grants can make in our community in the coming years.”
Dellelo and Bigness have also been working on an action plan for 2022-23 that grows youth and adult training and programming, and are evaluating a possible future collaboration with the schools that would provide specific programming for middle and high school students. They have been working with youth recently to discuss possible events that promote substance-free environments, and as they move forward, they also plan to get out into the community to discuss what types of training and programming community members would find valuable.
“I started working with the Drug-Free Communities grant when I was a graduate student and I learned how impactful the program is, especially for communities who don’t necessarily have the funding needed to do this work, as well as the importance of community coalitions,” Bigness said. “Our goal is not just to tell students to say no, but to provide them with the educational tools and resources they need to make healthy decisions both now and later in life. HOP is working hard to create programs for the upcoming year for youth and adults community-wide, and we’re looking forward to involving the community in these plans and in our future work.”
HOP is currently planning a drive-in movie event for the Hopkinton community on Saturday, June 18 at Hopkinton Middle School. The event will be family-friendly and free to attend. Families will be able to drive in and watch the movie from their vehicle or bring their own chairs. Attendees will also be able to learn more about HOP, talk with community partners and find information and resources.
Additional information will be shared as the event nears, and community members are encouraged to stay up to date with HOP activities through:
- Hopkinton Youth & Family Services website
- Hopkinton Youth & Family Services Facebook page
- HOP Coalition Facebook page
- Hopkinton Youth & Family Services and HOP Coalition Instagram
Anyone in the community who is interested in being involved in HOP’s work or looking for resources is encouraged to contact Dellelo (email@example.com) and Bigness (firstname.lastname@example.org). The coalition always welcomes new members who are interested in prevention work, helping to come up with new ideas or facilitating events and programs.