AGAWAM A one-stop source of information for individuals seeking help with substance abuse problems is opening is doors again in Agawam this week.
The Agawam Addiction Resource Center (AARC) is slated to host the first of its weekly open forums in the cafeteria of Agawam High School, 760 Cooper St., from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on March 7.
Conducted in a drop-in format, the forum will offer materials on drug and alcohol abuse, information about treatment and recovery programs, and an opportunity for individuals to speak with Junior High and Elementary School Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) officers Karen Langevin, Middle School DARE Officer John Field, or High School Resource Officer Robert Burke.
The forum's atmosphere, according to Burke, will be "relaxed and low key" and the officers will all be in plain clothes. He stressed that the AARC isn't being reopened because of an increase in substance abuse problems in town, and that officers aren't using the forum to ferret out individuals for arrest. All conversations will remain confidential, he added.
"It's a way to help people out who may have an addiction alcohol, substances, heroin, pills, club drugs," said Burke, who added that he's spent the past month calling agencies asking for materials and brochures to stock the AARC's information center. "They may not know where to go [for help] or be afraid to ask [for it]."
The program is modeled on the original AARC, which was developed by the high school's previous School Resource Officer, Mark Poggi, and parent Susan Hearn. That center ran from April through June of 2010. Burke said he found the original paperwork for the ARC when he took over as resource officer and thought it was "a great idea." His supervisor, he said, agreed, and gave him the OK to re-start the center. He and the other officers are staffing it on a volunteer basis.
The program is "anonymous, it's free, and it's open to the public," Burke said, adding that though the information is geared toward parents and students, anyone where or not they live in Agawam is welcome to visit the center.
"As far as I know there is no other community that has something like this in place," Burke said, adding that before the original AARC closed, it drew "people from Holyoke and other towns."
Agawam Public Schools Superintendents William Sapelli called the AARC "an excellent resource for people in need."
Mayor Richard Cohen said he was pleased to see the AARC open again.
"I want to commend Officer Burke and DARE Officers Karen Langevin and John Field for their help in bringing this resource center back to life," Cohen said. "I just think it was something that worked extremely well."
He said the AARC is one more example of how Agawam has "been in the forefront in providing information and resources for those who need it," citing as examples forums the schools have conducted on bullying and ways to combat it as well as previous programs on addictions and substance abuse.
Burke said the AARC will meet every Wednesday except March 14 and April 18 in the school cafeteria, and he hopes to keep the program going through the summer. On March 14 the AARC will meet at the Agawam Public Library. On April 18 the program will take a week's hiatus because of school vacation.
For more information on the AARC, call Officer Burke at 821-0619 or 726-9787.