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Editorial Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, September 28, 2006

Security begins at home

An old African proverb is much quoted in America today: It takes a village to raise a child.

There are no guarantees, though, that an affluent village, a modern-day American suburb, will produce a happy, healthy child.

We’ve written for decades in this space about the problems of alcohol and other drug abuse that plague our children here in Guilderland. It’s no longer news when surveys show that drug use here is higher than national averages, higher than in many inner-city, poor neighborhoods.

Still, we were struck earlier this month by testimony that unfolded in the Albany County Courthouse as Hashim Burnell, a one-time Guilderland student, was tried for murdering another former Guilderland student, Todd Pianowski. The testimony revealed the lives of small-time drug dealers in town and the Guilderland cops who work with informants in an attempt to squelch the crimes.

That view of the underworld of suburban drug dealing was an eye-opener, and so were the comments the mother of the convicted murderer made to our reporter, Jarrett Carroll.

Lavern Burnell, Hashim’s mother, told Carroll that she moved her son at the age of 11 to Guilderland where his father lived to get him out of the city; she was completely surprised by the amount of drugs in what she thought was an affluent suburban school district.

Last week, Ronald Pianowski, the father of the murdered man, wrote us, asking, "Does she blame the school district for her son’s troubles""

Too often these days, our schools get blamed for problems that other parts of society no longer shoulder. As communities fragment, schools are often the last hope for mending society’s ills.

It’s not an upscale address that will keep our kids safe or an affluent school district either. The security on which our children will build their happiness has to begin at home.

Our children have to learn to take responsibility for their own actions; they have to learn how to lead lives that will help, not hurt, others.

This is no small task; it’s Herculean. That’s where the village comes in — not as an address that guarantees safety but rather as working parts of a community that mutually build strength.

We applaud a new program announced last week, a joint effort of St. Peter’s Addiction Recovery Center, the Albany County Sheriff’s Department, and the Albany County Stop-DWI program: The Youth Assistance Program will help educate 15- to 22-year-olds who are at risk for alcohol or other drug abuse.

According to the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, an eight-year-old survey shows that over 8,700 youths from the four-county Capital Region already need chemical dependence treatment, and a much larger number is at risk for developing addictions.

The problem, of course, is not local. A federal government survey last year showed half of the students today have tried an illicit drug by the time they graduate from high school — 21 percent in eighth grade, 38 percent in 10th grade, and 50 percent in 12th grade, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

But the solution has to be local. Albany County has run a number of worthwhile programs over the years. One, in its fourth year, that is going on right now is Drug Awareness Training for Education Professionals: It provides school nurses, teachers, and administrators with the knowledge and resources to identify students who are impaired by substance abuse.

Once the students are identified, they can be referred to the new Youth Assistance Program, to begin in October. The program is to help kids develop a model for change so they can be honest with themselves and take responsibility in their lives.

"Prevention is the key," said Joyce Chupka, a 34-year-old who started substance use at age 14. Since graduating from SPARC and college, she plans to become an addiction counselor; she said the new program would have saved her 20 years of heartache.

James Campbell, Albany County’s sheriff, said that his jail has the fifth-largest inmate hold in New York. "Jail should be the last stop...Underage drinking has become a problem," said Campbell.

It is a problem for all of us. We are saddened and sickened every time we report on a drunk-driving crash or a drug-related death.

"You don’t want to see those people who are binge drinkers and heavy drinkers graduate to the next level of being arrested for DWI," said Denis Foley, administrator for the county’s Stop-DWI program. "Our goal is to help young persons who have shown early warning signs how to develop a healthy lifestyle and avoid later substance-abuse problems."

Helping our kids to be healthy will benefit us all.

We opened with an African proverb; we’ll close with an American story. A jazz group was jamming before a major gig. When things went wrong, the pianist blamed the sax player, who pointed to the drummer for being off beat.

The session deteriorated until the trumpeter spoke up, taking responsibility for what went wrong with his part. Then the drummer conceded he could have done things differently. The other musicians followed suit as they talked honestly about the part each played and what he could do to make it better.

The music was beautiful.

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