Winthrop forum was a shining example of the power of community

This week all my posts are going to share the same theme:  community.  I’ve been thinking about the word community lately. I know it’s a crazy thing to think about in the middle of a presidential election cycle that seems to be all about division and polarization.

Because of all that polarization and division, I’ve been thinking that the importance of community may be the biggest takeaway from the Clinton/Trump debris field come November 9. No matter which of those two self-servers gets elected, their disconnect from Main Street America will make community leadership more important than ever.

In that vein, it was refreshing to catch an opiate addiction forum in Winthrop last Wednesday night, hosted by the Winthrop Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce. The event included a panel of speakers from a variety of fields including law enforcement, emergency services, public health, mental health, recovery, and sexual assault support.

Darren Ripley of  Maine Alliance for Addiction Recovery addresses Winthrop event.  Blurry photo by Trish Callahan

Darren Ripley of Maine Alliance for Addiction Recovery addresses Winthrop event. Blurry photo by Trish Callahan

(Photographer’s note:  I apologize for the caliber of the pictures. Let’s just say it wasn’t my favorite day of the month, it was my second event of the evening, and I was tired and hungry and a bit shaky. There’s a much better picture of my friend Donna Strickler from the Sexual Assault Crisis and Support Center speaking at the event in the article I hyperlinked in the first paragraph.)

Winthrop, Maine. So far removed from the scandals and poor judgments of Clinton and Trump, the babbling punditry of the national media, and their ilk.

Far from all that drama, community members in the Winthrop area and all around Maine are working hard to bring hope to their communities and maintain a quality of life we can all take pride in. The greater Winthrop area is stunning with all its bodies of water and rolling hills; but it’s also an area that’s been hard hit with manufacturing losses over the years.

And from what the panelists said the other night, it’s an area that’s being hard hit by the opiate epidemic. The same story is playing out in town after town in Maine.

Thankfully leadership abounds in our communities. I listened to community leaders like John Dovinsky, director of Emergency Medical Services in Winthrop. Dovinsky oversees 48 EMT’s and paramedics who serve seven communities with a total year round population of roughly 20,000.

The team is on track to do 40 drug overdoses responses this year, up from 31 last year. Dovinsky talked about administering naloxone (Narcan) to reverse opiate overdose and how volatile an overdose patient can become after receiving it — volatile enough that Dovinsky is looking to purchase 20-30 Kevlar vests.

Dovinsky explained that after receiving Narcan, overdose patients are overcome with withdrawal systems, which can make them combative toward the EMS team. Dovinsky estimated the cost of the vests at around $700 each, but considers them necessary equipment given how violent some patients become.

Kennebec and Somerset County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney spoke about being inspired by the participants in Kennebec County Correctional Facility’s Criminogenic Addiction Recovery Academy (CARA). This program was started by former Kennebec County Sheriff, now state prison Warden Randall Liberty and targets inmates serving sentences for drug-related crimes.

Maloney, echoing the sentiments of fellow panelist Kennebec County Sheriff Ryan Reardon, said the most important thing the academy provides for participants is hope. Some participants report the academy is their first exposure to thinking hopefully, their first exposure to seeing themselves and their lives positively.

Poster made by recent graduates of the Kennebec County Jail Criminogenic Addiction Recovery Academy.  Blurry photo by Trish Callahan

Poster made by recent graduates of the Kennebec County Jail Criminogenic Addiction Recovery Academy. Blurry photo by Trish Callahan

Maloney stressed that taking the time to help these inmates change their thinking works:  CARA’s 34 percent recidivism rate shines compared to a 75 percent national average. That kind of criminal justice reform programming is good for community.

Each panelist shared his or her unique knowledge of the harsh realities of the epidemic, as well as helping to identify where the hope lies, exactly what communities need from leaders during times of crisis — exactly what individual citizens need during times of crisis.

Like one audience member who spoke up toward the end of the question and answer session. He asked what to do if a loved one was addicted right now and just couldn’t see it. I didn’t know this person was, but I knew his tone of voice.

Too many of us in Maine know his tone of voice. That mix of confusion and frustration and utter desperation as the hurricane of addiction takes over lives and changes loved ones into unloveable creatures who we still love. It’s a sad, scared, helpless tone that follows tones of anger and begging and various other tones of intervening to no avail.

It’s a lonely tone that can only be soothed by community, and community cared last Wednesday night. A panelist shared resource information, and when the panel broke up, other panelists and audience members approached the gentleman with words of support. At the absolute least, I’d like to think he left with a little hope to fuel him through his trying time.

I wanted to thank the panelists and participants and hosts, from Winthrop Police Chief Ryan Frost to Donna Strickler of the Sexual Assault Crisis and Support Center. This event was a wonderful tribute to the power of community — the power of sharing good information, sharing the burden of painful challenges, sharing laughter to balance the pain.

Like when Rep. Craig Hickman had Sheriff Reardon and I chuckling over Hickman’s tales of the campaign trail. Hickman, a Democrat, said he loves interacting with people and going door to door. His favorite stops are at places where he sees a Hickman sign next to a Trump sign.

Hickman said when he sees that combination, he hits the brakes so hard he almost leaves tread marks because he knows he has to meet whoever lives there, thank them for their support and “find out what is going on!”

I know what’s going on — the concept of community surviving and thriving in spite of all the polarization and division.

Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

Trish is a writer who lives in Augusta. She has worked professionally in education and social services.