Community Partnership for a Safer New Paltz hires new director

Phoenix Kawamoto. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

There’s a new sheriff in town. The Community Partnership for a Safer New Paltz (CPSNP) has a new director, Phoenix Kawamoto: a full-time director and leader for a drug-free New Paltz.

Kawamoto, who has been in the field of substance prevention and abuse for more than 20 years, was hired by CPSNP this past March after the volunteer coalition received, through the Town of New Paltz, a federal grant of $125,000 per year for five years to create a community-wide program to combat substance use and abuse among youth. She’s a no-nonsense type of person who has been around the block many times, and she said she is excited to take the helm of this “incredible opportunity” to bring the “community together in an effort to educate, prevent and treat substance abuse.”

While new to the CPSNP, Kawamoto is no stranger to the field, in which she has worked for more than two decades as a social worker for Prevention Connection of Ulster County. “New Paltz was awarded a very competitive grant, and I tip my hat to those volunteers from the Community Partnership for sticking it through, doing the work and helping to secure this grant. Now it’s my job to help to capitalize on this opportunity.”

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To that end, Kawamoto has initiated a Youth Action Task Force that will work to promote positive youth events like 5K runs for various causes, fundraisers, drug and alcohol prevention clinics, blood drives, town cleanups, programs for local access and much more. “I can’t say exactly what they’re going to do, because we want it to be youth-driven. And after several talks in the middle school and high school, we realized how inspired and innovative our youth are. They want to be engaged, do good things, help others!”

On the subject of substance abuse trends in New Paltz, Kawamoto was hesitant. “There has been much data collected, and it is my job to go through that data, analyze it, confirm it and keep updating it. Data is useless in this field unless it’s updated at least annually.” That said, the new director did say that, from her non-definitive analysis of the data, New Paltz has had a spike in youth marijuana use and prescription drug abuse, which leads to heroin abuse.

“There are things that stay stable nationally,” she said. “Sadly, there is always abuse with alcohol and other substances, and New Paltz for the most part falls well within those national averages. But each community is unique, and one thing that stands out is marijuana use among our youth.”

She also noted that prescription painkiller addiction and heroin addiction are “trending.” “You see norms, and then you see spikes on the bell curve. Right now, painkiller abuse is spiking and trending, and it requires a lot of education and prevention. People trust their doctors and take prescription pain medicine that is really heroin in a pill. If they become addicted, and the pills become unavailable or too costly on the street, then they’re just one small step away from heroin.”

Kawamoto also concludes from her research as a professional that kids would rather “fit the norm than stand alone…It’s not about ‘peer pressure’ all the time; it’s about wanting to fit into the norm — just like they want to wear a certain kind of jeans or tee-shirts. They’d rather be ‘normal’ than make choices based on the information they know. We’re up against an enormous cultural advertising market, and we have to educate constantly.”

The new director — who has full-time office space at the New Paltz Community Center, behind Town Hall, as part of the matching grant — said that while problems can be identified, her job is to constantly evaluate the data, but more importantly to “create a community-wide network where we’re all working towards the same objective, and that is to educate, prevent substance abuse and then help families, individuals, schools, parents with the resources they need to help a child.”

There are many levels to the Partnership, but Kawamoto is determined to link and layer them all together and launch prevention, educational and action-based programs, as well as to work to connect youth with the resources that they need to assist them in times of trouble or addiction or abuse. “What’s frustrating for so many people is that they think there is a cookie-cutter solution to addiction. There is not,” she said. “There is therapy, 12-Step, inpatient, outpatient — so many other ways of fitting the person to the problem, but there is no quick fix.”

That is why Kawamoto and the Partnership want to empower New Paltz youth to engage in every and all positive endeavors, whether through school, extracurricular activities, sports, theater, music, dance, the Youth Action coalition, faith-based organizations — anything and everything that helps them to feel grounded, accepted, positive and engaged in life-affirming activities. “We have so many resources here, and the question really is how we help to connect our youth, parents, family to the resources they need,” she said. That is the goal — or one of many goals — that Kawamoto is attempting to tackle as the newly appointed director of the CPSNP.

The organization’s big launch is on July 18 at 7 p.m. at the New Paltz Community Center. “This is where the conversations need to happen. There is no judgment. We’re about awareness and connections. The more awareness parents, guardians, children have, the better poised they are to make good choices.”

This is the launch for the Youth Action Team, as well as a real, raw discussion of the challenges that New Paltz faces in terms of substance abuse and the resources that it has to prevent, combat and heal.

New Paltz Town Supervisor Susan Zimet had nothing but praise for Kawamoto becoming the director of CPSNP. “Phoenix has years of training in prevention and is very focused on what needs to be done,” said Zimet. “The community is very lucky to have someone with Phoenix’s talent and commitment serving us in this capacity.”

For more information, contact Kawamoto at 419-3678 or cpsnpdirector@gmail.com.