This column visits the faces of those who have benefited from the generous and tireless work of the nonprofits on the Mid Shore. Perhaps unknown to many of us, these individuals have had their lives transformed by the missions of these organizations and are giving back in unique ways to better our world. Amelia Blades Steward has been a freelance writer in our community for 20 years and offers a glimpse into the lives of residents on the Mid Shore whom she has met along the way.
For almost 30 years, Talbot Partnership for Alcohol & Other Drug Abuse Prevention was dedicated to mobilizing the community to address substance abuse issues by promoting early intervention programs and building a culture that favors a healthy, safe and substance abuse free community in Talbot County. On August 31, 2020, Talbot Partnership closed its doors.
According to a statement issued by the organization, “Talbot Partnership has been relentless in working to prevent substance abuse through awareness, education and opportunities for youth to choose healthier, safer activities.
“As of March, COVID-19 effectively eliminated access to students of all ages; all requisite operational expenses, however, remained due and have virtually depleted Talbot Partnership coffers. As difficult as the call was to make, faced with no young people to serve and amidst shrinking finances, the Board was left no choice but to cease function,” comments Jayne Fitzgerald, Executive Director of Talbot Partnership.
Janet Pfeffer and Paula Lowry, founders of the organization in 1991, recently took the time to look back on the organization’s beginnings.
Paula, Talbot County Health Department’s Substance Abuse Prevention Coordinator and a non-voting member of Talbot Partnership’s board, reflects, “When the Partnership first started in 1991, Talbot County was one of six jurisdictions in the state of Maryland to get a large federal grant for five years. What made us unique is that our grant was through the Prevention Office of the Health Department.”
According to Paula, Talbot Partnership became a non-profit at the end of the five-year grant period and the relationship continued with the Prevention Office for another 20 years. She adds, “The symbiotic relationship between the Talbot County Health Department and Talbot Partnership allowed us to accomplish many things, including parenting classes, media campaigns and other educational outreach. However, the most important work was changing norms, limiting access to tobacco, alcohol and other drugs and assuring consequences to breaking the regulations and laws.”
In addition to funding from the Office of National Drug Control Policy, over the years the organization received funding from the State of Maryland, Talbot County Council, the towns of Easton and St. Michaels, individual Talbot County residents and more than 90 partner organizations.
According to Janet Pfeffer, who became the organization’s first Executive Director, one of the first issues the organization addressed was tobacco use. She comments, “In 1994 and again in 2004, Talbot Partnership and the Talbot County Health Department rallied a diverse coalition of local agencies and citizens to press for smoke-free public places with help from state activists. Talbot was among the first jurisdictions in the nation to pass ‘no smoking’ ordinances.”
“Janet, Gary Pearce who followed Janet, and I were especially proud of our work on tobacco control, which included smoking bans and increased taxes. There were also many successes around alcohol access which included density of alcohol outlets, server age and increased alcohol taxes,” adds Paula.
Janet, who was Executive Director until 2008, reflects on the organization’s accomplishments during her tenure, commenting, “Talbot Partnership worked toward reducing youth substance abuse by changing community norms and by passing regulations and laws to limit access. Government, social, civic, education and religious organizations came together with families to encourage healthy choices and to make it harder for youth to obtain tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs.”
Over the years, Talbot Partnership played a vital role in substance abuse prevention for both youth and adults in the community by addressing strategies that addressed the core issues to minimize and prevent drug use to help people live healthier lives. Talbot Partnership offered a Parent Coalition, a Youth Coalition, and created workplace guidelines regarding drug use. Guiding Good Choices and the Safe Homes pact were implemented to decrease alcohol and drug use locally and help families find support in addressing these issues with their children.
In 1994, the Talbot County Chamber of Commerce, Talbot Partnership, and Easton Business Management Authority (EBMA) collaborated to create First Night Talbot, an alcohol and drug-free New Year’s Eve event to appeal to all ages, with an emphasis on family and the arts. The event remains a popular option for New Year’s Eve today.
Gary Pearce followed Janet as Executive Director in 2008 and spent the next five years focusing on alcohol, marijuana and cigarettes, which at that time, were the first, second and third most abused substances among youth.
He shares, “Our work included parent training programs, community awareness, a Youth Coalition, sponsorship of Teen Court, promoting the hiring of a liquor inspector, and working with our state legislators to stop the legalization of marijuana.”
He adds, “I am extremely proud of the many things that Talbot Partnership achieved through the years. Of particular note during my tenure at Partnership was working hand-in-hand with county and private partners, such as the Blue Ribbon Commission, Talbot County Health Department, Drug Court, local churches and law enforcement. During this time, we saw dramatic declines in the Maryland Adolescent Survey conducted by the Maryland State Department of Education which had shown widespread acceptability of alcohol, tobacco and other drug abuse among youth in Talbot County.”
When Jayne Fitzgerald took over the organization in 2015, the focus of Talbot Partnership shifted to working specifically in prevention for the teen community. Jayne comments, “It is documented that most individuals who experience Substance Use Disorders (brain diseases which adversely affect dopamine, serotonin and other neurotransmitters) introduced tobacco, alcohol and/or other drugs to their systems during adolescence. For that reason, Talbot Partnership placed a primary prevention focus on that most vulnerable population.”
Among the most recent programs offered to teens were Teen Court, The Hot Spot Society (youth-led events and activities), The Hot Spot Hangout (a place for youth to chill and get relevant educational programs), and Youth Life Coaching sessions to help youth come up with their own plans for their future. Talbot Partnership also offered educational seminars on adolescents and the current information available on the teen brain.
Local resident Jim Reed, who over the years served on the Board of Talbot Partnership as well as its Board President, got involved because he liked the idea of a community coalition getting behind substance abuse prevention and he found his service to be a great way to give back to the community.
He comments, “Over the years, our efforts played an important role in interrupting generational societal norms in Talbot County around substance use. The Teen Court Program was a particularly effective tool to empower the youth in our community to aid youth in making choices that could ultimately change behaviors. There are many examples of kids that did change.”
Jayne reflects on where Talbot Partnership was headed when COVID-19 arrived. Over the past five years, she worked to educate the general community and adolescents on the adolescent brain and why adolescents engage in risk-taking behavior and experimentation. She states, “We were about to announce a name change for the organization to Talbot Teens, focusing on keeping our teens off drugs through youth-led activities, filling a void in our community. We have begun to understand that if we give opportunities to our children, we have less drug use.”
In looking to the future, Jayne concludes, “It is Talbot Partnership’s fervent hope that, however possible, the community will continue to support those who struggle with substance use disorders while seeking to learn more about those at critical developmental crossroads. Heartfelt thanks, indeed, to our previous contributors, without whom our myriad successes would not have been possible.”