Class projects tackle Burrillville’s opioid epidemic

By targeting a section of rural Rhode Island, LRI hoped class members would develop a better understanding of rural concerns.

Tucked in the northwestern corner of Rhode Island, Burrillville is a quiet rural town wrestling with a huge national problem: the opioid epidemic.

The state Department of Health lists Burrillville among the communities in Rhode Island most severely impacted by the growing national drug crisis. That’s why two Leadership-in-Action (LIA) teams from this year’s Nu II class decided to focus their efforts in Burrillville, raising awareness and supporting a police initiative to get drugs off the streets.

Over the years, LIA projects, mandatory for Core Program participants, have spanned the state, addressing a wide variety of critical issues. The nine projects undertaken by Nu II teams, all focused on the rural towns along the Route 102 corridor, bring the number of LIA projects to 59 since 2010.

2017 Route 102 "Connect RI" projects

The 2016 presidential election revealed a deep political divide between residents on the state’s heavily urban east coast, where a large majority of LRI alumni reside, and those living on the state’s more rural western border. By targeting a section of rural Rhode Island, LRI hoped class members would build valuable new connections and relationships, while developing a better understanding of rural concerns and culture.

“Opiate use in Burrillville, one of Rhode Island’s largest communities, has increased dramatically in recent years and is directly correlated to criminal activity taking place in the town,” explained Laura Davis, leader of the Nu II team focused on matters of crime and incarceration.

This group partnered with the local police department to further develop a diversionary program that “will allow a Burrillville resident to surrender himself/herself, along with any drugs in his/her possession, to the Burrillville Police Department without legal ramification,” Davis said.

The LRI group raised $10,000 to help launch the program, create a Burrillville Substance Abuse Coordinator position, and increase awareness among state representatives.

Another team, drawn together by interests in poverty, basic needs and quality of life, helped to spread the word “about youth substance use,” expanding “the dialogue within families and within the community to stop this growing problem,” according to Amy Vitale, team leader.

Her group found that “parents lacked awareness of the prevalence of youth substance use and the signs to identify it,” Vitale said. They developed a five-minute video that drew on the “emotional impact of youth substance abuse,” hoping to stimulate discussion within the community.

The video debuted at Burrillville’s High School athletics orientation, followed by a panel discussion. “Our group was thrilled by the engagement of the audience in the discussion,” Vitale said.

She said the two teams hope that their efforts to work alongside local organizations created a “buzz” within the community and that the video and police program will “become a model of success for other Rhode Island communities and beyond.”

Here’s a brief look at the seven other projects:

  • Art and Design. The team created a video detailing three stories of residents – owners of Mishnock Farm and two product designers – who live along Route 102.
  • Economic Development. Working with Grow Smart Rhode Island and the Lieutenant Governor’s office, this group was intent on sharing the “voice of the farmer.” This group worked with a small business owner to get into distribution that started at the Hope & Main Incubator; supported and promoted Confreda Farms Advance RI Farm Forum; and worked with Grow Smart on takeaways that will help them go forward, planning for a future meeting to capsulize the group’s findings, according to Diane Bianco, team leader.
  • Education/Literacy. The group focused on “helping to generate awareness and engagement around three new state Department of Education-approved Career Technical Education programs that Scituate offers: Computer Engineering, Bio Medical and Health Sciences and connecting to invaluable, real work experience through corporate partnership,” according to Lanre Ajakaiye, team leader.
  • Government. Focusing on why women don’t run for public office, the team developed a survey, which was completed by nearly 400 respondents.
  • Health and Wellness. Working with the Coventry Teen Center, the Coventry Community Resource Center, and the Center for Resilience, the team focused on Coventry’s teen population and resources available for mindfulness and resilience.
  • Housing/Homelessness. The team supported South County Habitat for Humanity by marketing the opportunity to potential homeowners, raising nearly $8,000 in a fundraiser and participating in a workday to help build the home, said Susan Gunter, team leader. The team’s efforts are assisting with building two family unit homes in Exeter.
  • Workforce Development. Jay DeRienzo, team leader, said the group’s project focused on fact-finding, a survey of more than 300 stakeholders to better understand challenges, issues, and opportunities around workforce development; and holding a community conversation, “Backpacks to Paychecks,” at Bryant University. The group’s goal, DeRienzo said, was “to spark what we hope will be an ongoing dialogue to advance school-to-work opportunities along the 102 corridor.”