RITTMAN — Imagine strolling along the shore of a river when, suddenly, you see a baby drowning in the current.
You jump in, save the child and bring it back to safety. Then you see another baby in the river, and jump back in to save it, too. Then another, and another, and other.
That’s the analogy the Rob Gable uses to describe the often overwhelming work of treating substance abuse in a community.
"At some point, somebody has go upstream and find out: Why are the babies getting into the river, and how is this even happening," said Rob Gable, who chairs the Rittman SALT Coalition, a volunteer-run organization focused not on treatment services, but on substance abuse prevention and education. "That’s where we’re at. It’s our job to try to get out in front and keep our kids, our community’s kids, from getting into trouble and making risky choices that result in drowning situations."
The group formed in 2008, and has grown to 34 members from all segments of the community.
"We have members of the clergy, members of law enforcement, city government, business owners and then just concerned citizens," Gable said. Anywhere from eight to 15 members typically attend the coalition’s meetings, which are held on the third Monday of each month from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the Rittman High School media room.
Mayor Bill Robertson has been a member since the inception of Rittman SALT, an acronym for Substance Awareness Leadership Team.
"The whole drug issue is just so frustrating to me that it’s still going on, and we’re not getting the message to adults and kids about the dangers," Robertson said. "And so this group has been one way for me to feel like I’m getting the message out, that I’m doing something about it."
All of the group’s members, Gable said, are dedicated to promoting its mission of "assist(ing) area youth to achieve their full potential by remaining alcohol, tobacco and drug-free."
"There needs to be people out there who are working to keep tragedies from happening," he said. "And so that’s what the coalition is doing. All the community coalitions are working toward that, keeping kids and families from needing treatment and recovery services."
The Rittman SALT Coalition is one of five community-based coalitions in Wayne County focused on substance abuse prevention. Others include: the Turning Point Coalition in Orrville, the CIRCLE Coalition in Wooster, Norwayne SALT, which is a subcommittee of the Rittman group that serves the Norwayne school district and Chippewa CARES in Doylestown, which is not currently meeting, though there are plans to re-launch the group.
"These groups are very important to substance abuse prevention because they are made up of each community’s residents," said Nonya Wenger, the community coalitions manager at OneEighty, which serves as the fiscal agent for each of the groups. "By engaging with different sectors of a community (such as) parents, law enforcement and schools, ... we get the varying perspectives of the concerns of a community and can work together on solutions and education topics to engage the community in solutions and ways to work together."
In pursuit of its mission, the Rittman SALT Coalition partners closely with the Teen Institute through the Rittman Exempted Village Schools. The student-led group has about 30 members, mostly in the middle school, who organize meetings and activities to encourage their peers to avoid risky behaviors like drinking and drug use.
The coalition also partners with the schools to provide monthly parent alerts with information on substance abuse prevention and education, and sponsors a "Safe Home Pledge," in which parents promise to not allow underage drinking or other substance abuse in their house.
"So if you’re a parent and you want to make sure that your child’s going to a safe home, when they say, ‘I want to go to Johnny’s house,’ you can look and see if Johnny’s parents signed the pledge promising to be drug, alcohol and tobacco free in their home," Gable said.
Additionally, the group promotes community engagement and education by running a booth at the annual Rittman Sleepwalker Festival and sponsoring activities such as a mock trial for high school students and presentations on the dangers of vaping.
— Reporter Jack Rooney can be reached at 330-287-1645 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He is on Twitter at twitter.com/RooneyReports.
Name: Rittman SALT Coalition
About: The Rittman SALT Coalition is a community-based, volunteer organization that works to create an environment in the community that will help keep kids alcohol, tobacco and drug-free.
How to help: Attend one of the coalition’s meetings, which are held the third Monday of each month from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the Rittman High School media room.