Record number of Vermonters show up for Capitol Hill Day

Members of Vermont coalitions stand in front of the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 5, just prior to meeting with U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., and staffers for Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

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BELLOWS FALLS — Representatives from Windham County's community coalitions traveled to Washington, D.C. the first week of February to collaborate with 3,000 substance abuse prevention specialists and advocates throughout the country for the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America's (CADCA) 30th Annual National Leadership Forum.

The Windham County coalitions making the journey were: The Collaborative, Deerfield Valley Community Partnership, Greater Falls Connections, and West River Valley Thrives. Representatives from the Turning Point of Windham County and of Springfield, Greater Falls Community Justice Center and the Vermont Department of Health also attended. This is the first time recovery colleagues joined prevention staff at the forum.

The coalitions heard from several national prevention leaders, including Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Dr. Nora Volkow from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The Vermont contingent, totaling a record 63 people, had meetings with staff from senators Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy's offices, and met face-to-face with Congressman Peter Welch during the "Capitol Hill Day" event on Wednesday, Feb. 5. Topics discussed with Vermont's national representatives included the impact of opioids, marijuana, underage alcohol use, and tobacco and vape use.

"The best part of the forum for me is always Capitol Hill Day, when we are given the opportunity to meet with members of both the House and the Senate," said Cindy Hayford, Deerfield Valley Community Partnership Director, in a press release. "During these meetings, we are able to convey the importance of funding for prevention, and inform our legislators about specific successes and concerns in our communities. This year, the highlight of these meetings was having 35 Vermont youth attend the meetings with the Vermont group and having their informed, articulate voices be heard."

J.R. Layne, certified recovery coach and Family Restorative Justice coordinator, agreed. "The way the youth eloquently advocated for themselves concerning underage tobacco use and vaping, as well as underage drinking and drug consumption, was inspiring," Layne said. "They really renewed my hope in our society, particularly the future of the country in overcoming this epidemic and stopping the cycle among our next generation of citizens."

The CADCA Forum covered a wide range of topics — from how to prevent prescription drug abuse and the use of marijuana to how to deal with the recent vaping epidemic and develop policies to reduce underage drinking. The local coalitions in Windham County have launched programs to address some of these topics, such as the "I Will Be A Parent" campaign, Sticker Shock, and participating in national prescription drug Take-Back Days.

CADCA's National Leadership Forum is the nation's largest training conference for community prevention.