"I Don't Think We Can Wait" - Emergency Funding OK'd For Youth Behavioral Health

Jason Graziadei •

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“I don’t think we can wait,” Select Board member Dawn Hill Holdgate said last week.

She was referencing an emergency request for $175,000 in funding to be dedicated toward behavioral health programs for Nantucket’s youth that was proposed by the town’s Human Services Contract Review Committee (CRC).

In light of the ongoing behavioral issues being observed in Nantucket’s public schools - including the bathroom vandalism and pervasive vaping by students - the CRC is seeking the $175,000 in funding to collaborate with the island’s existing social services agencies to provide a youth-focused grant in support of prevention and education on substance abuse and wellness.

But after the Finance Committee and town administration asked the CRC to wait until the Special Town Meeting in the fall to pursue the grant, the committee brought its case to the Select Board last week to seek its endorsement for immediate funding at the Annual Town Meeting in May.

And they found a more receptive audience, as the Select Board voted unanimously to approve the funding request and send it to voters for their endorsement at the upcoming Annual Town Meeting.

“There might be other things that could be delayed to the fall special town meeting,” Hill Holdgate said. “This is a human services situation, this is a quality of life situation, this is something that’s important to the community and it rises above other things, to me.”

Making the case to the Select Board last week were CRC chair Dorothy Hertz and the town’s human services director Jerico Mele.

“It is clear there was a problem going on up at the school and we wanted to see if we could address it and help through a collaborative effort,” Hertz said. “The damage to the school showed us it was a desperate need.”

The CRC makes annual recommendations to the Select Board, Finance Committee, and ultimately the island’s voters on how to spend the town’s annual budget allocation for human services. Since the 2021 fiscal year, the CRC has allocated $650,000 annually to private non-profit agencies engaged in providing human services on Nantucket.

Since FY2021 the CRC has allocated $650K for grant requests from private non-profits providing human services needs for the community, in addition, since FY2022, CRC has received up to $175K in tax revenue from the sale cannabis for grants to support addiction education and treatment on the island.

Mele said the need for additional funding and a youth-focused grant became clear only after the CRC’s normal budget cycle, prompting the unusual request to the Finance Committee and Select Board.

“We believe an initial sum of money could develop a variety of programs with island stakeholders,” Mele said. “We are just winding down from the pandemic, and there are significant indicators of a behavioral health crisis across the nation, and funding for prosocial and socializing behaviors is in extreme need right now.”

Hertz said she believes that once the CRC and the collaborating organizations - including , Fairwinds, Health Imperatives, the Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention, the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and Addiction Solutions - demonstrate the need and the results of a collaborative approach, additional funding will come from state and federal grants. The town funds are needed to kickstart the program, she said, and prove that both the need and capacity to meet are present.

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