It’s true that Islanders, both young and old, are smoking pot, getting drunk and sometimes even getting behind the wheel of a car afterwards, but that’s not the point.
The point is that most people are not taking such risks. The point is focusing not on the risky behavior but on positive behavior and learning what nurtures it. The point is not the problem, but the solution.
It all sounds a little strange, but next week’s two-day-long Community Workshop on Substance Use, Misuse and Abuse aims to take a different look at an issue that’s been troubling Island school leaders, psychotherapists and some parents since last fall when a survey of teen behavior revealed high rates of alcohol and marijuana use among Vineyard teens.
"The idea is to build on what’s being done correctly," said Rob Doyle, an alcohol counselor at Martha’s Vineyard Community Services. "Not every kid is getting into trouble. In fact, most kids aren’t. So what are they doing that’s right, and how can we build on that?"
The workshop is sponsored by MVCS, SafeRides of Martha’s Vineyard and Vineyard House. Next Thursday, students from seventh grade on up will meet in groups. Then Thursday night at 7:30 p.m., parents will gather in the high school library. On Friday afternoon, providers will get together - police, teachers, guidance counselors and human service providers.
The culminating event is a wrap-up meeting and light supper at 5:30 p.m. at the high school to which the public is invited. Ideally, the workshop will conclude with some prescriptions for change, but the man in charge of the event is not guaranteeing a magic formula.
"What I bring to this is not solutions for the Island. I facilitate people being invested in a solution that fits for them," said Stephen Andrew, a social worker and consultant from Maine who has run such workshops in other communities.
While Mr. Andrew will not arrive here with prepackaged answers, he does come with a bag of tricks for getting people to think of good answers. He also comes with a sense of Island life. Several weeks ago, he visited the Vineyard and met with counselors from the schools and Community Services.
Quickly, he saw similarities between the Vineyard and towns in Maine. "Maine is sort of like the Island, a place where people left the city," he said. "It has some of the same very strong liberal context especially around the values and beliefs around marijuana."
A dichotomy between the haves and the have-nots also exists between locals and tourists. "It creates a need for more that can’t always be fulfilled," he said.
But Mr. Andrew does not dwell long in such assessments. The strength of the Vineyard, he said, is that it is a caring place. "There’s a lot of compassion in the community that comes from the isolation of an island," he said. "People put themselves out on a limb for each other."
The problem is that the people whose job it is to help, often end up faced with a lot of criticism - teachers, police, parents, social service agencies.
"They get a lot of flack. It’s not necessarily honoring," he said. "A blame game is going on. That part needs to stop. A bunch of parents are being blamed for their beliefs and attitudes. We want to blame them or blame the sixties or blame an institution."
If mental health experts have learned one thing, it’s that blaming can make solutions impossible. "We know from our work with couples that when they’re blaming, there’s no chance of them getting any closer or nurturing their relationship," he said.
The antidote to blaming is to think as a community.
"The worst thing we’ve done with substance abuse is make it a kid’s thing," said Mr. Andrew. "A fact we need to see is that [substance abuse] is a telltale sign of the health of the community."
The workshops next week, while initially grouping kids and adults separately, really aims to bring everyone together at the end. "The workshop invites students, parents and providers into a conversation about community development, what works in the community and what we need to do to enhance that. For kids, it’s an attitude and belief of the community as a whole. Everybody has to pick up a piece of ownership."