GCASA’s Prevention Department Committed to Keeping Communities Drug- and Alcohol-Free
Written by WBTA STAFF on February 28, 2020
GCASA PREVENTION TEAM: Assistant Director of Prevention Sherri Bensley (middle) is surrounded by her team at GCASA, from left, Diana Fulcomer, Communications & Development Director Shannon Ford, Christen Ferraro, Carol Nicometo, Kristen Gombos, Diane Klos, Sheila Harding and Elizabeth Novak. Submitted photo.
By Mike Pettinella
If, as Ben Franklin so wisely stated, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” then the Prevention Department at Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse is a heavyweight in the effort to keep young and old alike from the ever-present dangers of alcohol and drugs.
“We offer cradle to grave services, from in-school programs to moms who are pregnant to seniors dealing with prescription drug management,” said Sherri Bensley, GCASA’s assistant director of prevention. “Our philosophy is based on prevention science – programs that are research-based, data-drive and outcome-focused.”
Bensley, a Medina resident with 15 years of prevention education experience under her belt, outlined the various services provided by the GCASA Prevention team, a group of seven educators and a secretary that serves Genesee and Orleans counties.
And she is quick to express her appreciation for the employees she supervises.
“Our collaboration is fantastic,” she said. “Really, it’s the best prevention staff in the world. They are passionate about their work and are good at what they do.”
And that dedication is fueled by the commitment that Bensley has made as a GCASA employee — starting as a prevention educator in Orleans County, coordinator of the highly-successful Responsible Server Training and Children of Addiction programs, and assistant director for two years in Orleans before being promoted to her current position.
“I’m motivated by the opportunity to help a young person or family stay clear of the problems caused by alcohol, tobacco and drug use and, beyond that, playing a role – whether big or small – in seeing people break free from substance use or addiction,” she said.
Toward that end, Bensley pointed to around a dozen different programs that GCASA offers.
Too Good for Drugs and Too Good for Violence target elementary and middle school pupils; SPORT, a one-on-one classroom initiative, focuses upon high school students’ overall wellness.
Teen Intervene is a fee-based program that assists school teachers and administrators in getting youth back on track after problems arise due to alcohol and drug use, and Active Parenting Now and Active Parenting for Teens help parents cope and manage difficult situations.
Other Prevention programs include the following:
— Accountability Circles: Based on restorative justice principles, this program serves youth who are ticketed for underage drinking or break their school’s code of conduct. They provide education regarding the dangers of drinking and drug use, as well as allow participants to hear community members explain how they are affected by underage substance use.
— Children of Addictions Support Group: A free program for children ages 6-16 whose lives have been hindered by a family member’s or caretaker’s use of alcohol or other drugs. Participants attend sessions over six weeks aimed to helping them develop healthy coping skills and understand the disease of addiction
— DWI Victim Impact Panel: Open to anyone convicted of DWI offenses in Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties, fee-for-service VIP sessions feature volunteer speakers who address the consequences of what happens when people drink alcohol and get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle.
— Responsible Server Training: This is a three-hour fee-for-service class, certified by the New York State Liquor Authority that educates employees of bars, restaurants, supermarkets, convenience stores, liquor stores and other establishments that sell or serve alcoholic beverages.
“We have been offering this for quite some time and have trained hundreds of employees all across the state,” Bensley said. “Owners of establishments that sell or serve alcohol understand the severity of serving to a minor or serving someone who is visibly intoxicated.”
GCASA’s Prevention staff also promotes several “environmental strategies” that are designed to reach the community as a whole, instead of centering upon individuals. These include the Underage Drinking Tipline (1-800-851-1932), Project Sticker Shock (putting warning labels on cases of beer, for example) and placing Red Ribbon Week literature in schools and banners along city streets.
Currently, GCASA has contracts with seven schools – Batavia, Byron-Bergen, Oakfield-Alabama, Notre Dame/St. Joseph’s, Le Roy, Medina and Lyndonville – and “are always looking to join forces with more schools,” Bensley said.
Regardless of its contract status, GCASA conducts Prevention Needs Assessment surveys in all Genesee County schools and in four Orleans County schools every two years in an attempt to gauge the incidence and prevalence of alcohol, drug and tobacco use among students.
“The PNA survey is an evidence-based endeavor, and we keep track of the results for several years,” Bensley explained. “We also encourage feedback and set up focus groups as required by the state Office of Addiction Services and Supports.
GCASA’s Prevention department has expanded its services in recent years to deal with the heroin epidemic, starting a free opioid overdose prevention training to help people learn to recognize signs of an opioid overdose, understand steps to be taken to prevent death and learn how to administer naloxone (NARCAN training) to reverse an opioid overdose.
While Bensley touts her staff’s commitment as the key to numerous success stories, she said one of the biggest challenges is making the public aware that “we’re out there – that we’re on the second floor (of the GCASA campus at 430 East Main St.)” as well as having a distinct presence at the Albion office, in several school districts and throughout the community.
“That, along with funding and parental involvement, is one of the hardest hurdles,” she said. “Educating parents is sometimes very difficult, because they’re busy. But the most dangerous thing is when a parent says, ‘Not my kid.’ For every parent who says that, there’s a kid who is struggling.”
For more information about GCASA’s Prevention services, contact Bensley at 585-331-8742 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.