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‘We show up and do the work’

  • Cheryl Dukes accepts the Communities That Care Coalition’s Mike Fritz Community Builder Award Friday. Recorder Staff/Tom Relihan



Recorder Staff
Tuesday, October 25, 2016

GREENFIELD — For Cheryl Dukes, getting a community engaged is about more than just a few phone calls. It’s about “embeddedness” — about going out and doing the work.

That active, can-do attitude for which Dukes, the University of Massachusetts Amherst nursing school’s director of health care outreach and community engagement, is well known locally, landed her this year’s Mike Fritz Community Builder Award during the Communities That Care Coalition’s meeting in St. James Church.

The coalition, an arm of the local Partnership For Youth, collects data from around the community and local schools, then works with service providers from different disciplines to achieve its goals.

Dukes, organizers said, has been a longtime member of the coalition, where she’s used her position at the university to connect local services providers with deans and professors, and share useful data between the two. She’s also a founding member of the local Mass In Motion Steering Committee.

Dukes said Franklin County’s community is the first that she has lived in where she feels like she truly belongs, and wants people here to be recognized for all they do.

“I value all that you bring. We all show up and do the work,” Dukes told the audience. “It’s our community, working together in an embedded way. Franklin County has an amazing way of making people feel like they belong.”

The work Dukes spoke of was on display during the meeting, where the coalition’s organizers reported the latest data on health trends and risk factors among local youth.

Recent surveys

Coalition member Jeanette Voas noted the group’s most recent surveys have shown abuse of substances like alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and prescription pills trending consistently down.

“Things are going in the appropriate direction,” she said.

Voas said 80 percent of students reported they don’t smoke cigarettes, but of particular concern among those who do or have done so before, however, is a trend of vaping and electronic cigarette becoming more common.

“It could be a good thing — kids who are smoking cigarettes could be (vaping) to try and break the habit,” she said, but noted that youth tend to view electronic nicotine products as safer or cleaner than traditional tobacco. “They’re not thinking of them as a potentially dangerous thing, but nicotine is the most addictive substance.”

Voas noted that while most students consider using prescription painkillers, like those fueling the ongoing opioid crisis, to be risky, and the majority of them feel the same about binging alcohol, only 38 percent of students said they consider regular marijuana use dangerous.

Youth are also saying they think it’s less risky to drive while high than to drive while drunk.

“We know marijuana affects skills needed for driving, including judgment, reaction time and motor coordination,” she said.

Massachusetts voters will consider legalizing marijuana during Nov. 8’s elections, and Voas noted that early use of substances has been dropping among youth.

The coalition also adopted a new goal to increase health equity in Franklin County and the North Quabbin.