BELLOWS FALLS -- With a heavy heart, the media coordinator for Greater Falls Connections took a new job last month.
But GFC's director said Chad Simmons has left the prevention coalition in a good position to continue its fight in the cause of community awareness and strengthening.
"We're headed in a really great direction. We're very well-recognized, I feel, in the community with the goals that we have regarding drug prevention," Laura Schairbaum said. "And Chad was really influential in getting us to that point."
Simmons, who was hired as the organization's first-ever media coordinator in August 2010, recently started working for Building Bright Futures, a statewide organization with 12 regional coordinators around the state dedicated to improving things like transportation, food, childhood education and good-paying jobs for Vermont families. He said, however, he plans to take the transferable skills he used at GFC and apply them at his new employer. These skills blended with the others at the organization, which over the past four years has made the transition from the Greater Falls Prevention Coalition to Greater Falls Connections, revamped its website and established a stronger presence in the community.
The organization -- which runs entirely on grants -- officially rebranded itself in the fall of 2013 after generating input from parents, youth, law enforcement professionals and school officials in the area.
"Really, for us, it was about, 'What's the best way, the most effective way and the most empowering way to engage and connect with the community?" Simmons told the Reformer while sitting at a table at Mocha Joe's on Tuesday.
He said he has seen a ripple effect to GFC's work and tobacco use is down throughout the area and across the country.
The website includes information about the staff and board of directors, as well as facts about the affects of tobacco, marijuana, opioids and other drugs. Schairbaum said it has been well-received.
"(The response) has been really positive. I think through our process of rebranding we have brought in a lot of partners to our work and they have responded to the idea that we are a community-based organization which connects our community and all of the things that are already happening here," she said.
Within the past four months, GFC has hosted at least two public forums geared toward informing people about the dangers of opioid abuse. One held in Bellows Falls, where GFC is based, was so popular the Grafton Selectboard invited the group to its town to help raise awareness about the issue.
Simmons told the Reformer it was heart-breaking to leave GFC, but it was time to move on to the next cause.
"It was very bittersweet. I absolutely loved working in that community. The energy and stories, the richness within the community was beautiful," the Wisconsin native and SIT graduate said. "It was really inspiring. The resiliency, the strength of the community, it really shows.
"I'm an activist. My heart's in activism and community organizing. That's really my drive, my muse I guess you could say," he continued. "I think we're blessed, in Windham County and in southeastern Vermont, there's a lot of that."
Schairbaum said GFC will soon hire a programs specialist that will be spearhead the tobacco prevention program and handle media outreach.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.