Pequawket Valley Health Initiatives hires counselors for Fryeburg schools

FRYEBURG, Maine — Pequawket Valley Health Initiatives has contracted with Common Ground Counseling, LLC to provide a licensed clinical professional counselor at MSAD 72 and Fryeburg Academy to help students make healthy choices around substance use.

Public events are being planned for the spring.

Common Ground Counseling, LLCSince September, counselor Susannah Tully of Common Ground Counseling has been providing support and education to the children, families and faculty of MSAD 72 three days per week, from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. on Mondays at the middle school and 9 a.m.-2 p.m. on Tuesdays and Fridays at the academy.

Pequawket Valley Health Initiatives is funding this counselor’s work for the school year to help young people make good choices.

Pequawket Valley Health Initiatives is a non-profit organization established in 2017, with a mission to help and support people in leading healthy, substance-free and happy lives.

It will provide resources to the local community, including direct services within the schools of MSAD 72.

“We identify school and community needs related to prevention, treatment and recovery topics related to addiction,” states a letter sent to Fryeburg Academy families in October. “We create environmental solutions targeted to reduce youth substance use by implementing evidence-based best practices that encourage healthy lifestyle choices. We facilitate access to these resources by direct services in the school system and community-based events.”

Tully’s role varies based on need. She has been working closely with teachers to present information regarding addiction from a preventative perspective by researching, developing and presenting relative curriculum.

Among the topics covered so far are e-cigarettes and vaping, addiction as a disease, and the connection between health and risk of addiction.

“Our hope is that by providing pertinent information to youth, that some will refrain from what may otherwise be innocent or normalized experimentation,” said Tully.

Tully also provides counseling as needed, support to parents and families, and has links to resources within the community to get help for substance abuse.

Along with attempting to permeate the school community with education and support, Tully also hopes to further raise awareness and provide support on a larger scale. She is currently in the process of planning community events that will take place in the spring.

Fryeburg resident Chris Whitaker, 58, is the initiative’s founder and also serves as its president.

Whitaker became involved with the issue of addiction after attending a drug-abuse forum with his friend, the late Tom Shaffner, which was held at Fryeburg Academy in August 2016. They learned that the schools were offering basic health education, but Whitaker saw a need for more.

Chris said he helped organize a meeting in October 2016, which about 30 people attended. There were representatives of MSAD 72, the town of Fryeburg, doctors, lawyers, counselors and clergy members.

“We have kept it going since then,” said Whitaker. “We try to meet on a quarterly basis. I usually try to meet with Susannah Tully (weekly).”

He said the group, a 501(c)(3) non-profit in the state of Maine, hopes to be a resource provider for people who have questions about addiction issues. He said his organization has an application in to get their federal non-profit status.

“In our case, the counselor has done a great job of working in conjunction with our health-education teacher to supplement our instruction in areas related to substance use,” said MSAD 72 Superintendent Jay Robinson. “If needed, she can and will also serve as a great resource to students and/or families dealing with substance-use issues. This support has been in place since this fall and things have been progressing nicely.