Wheeler program manager to head STEPS in Southington

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SOUTHINGTON — A substance abuse prevention expert has been chosen to lead the STEPS board starting next month.

Heather Clinger, a program manager for Wheeler Clinic’s Connecticut Center for Prevention, Wellness and Recovery, will lead the anti-drug coalition as board president for a one-year term. She’s been a board member since 2014 and served as board vice chairwoman under president Chris Palmieri, a local principal and Town Council chairman.

“... the STEPS advisory board has been one of the most impressive boards that I’ve worked with throughout my career, with what they’ve accomplished,” Clinger said. “I’m excited to see what we can accomplish within this next year and going forward.”

STEPS, the Southington Town-wide Effort to Promote Success, is a substance abuse prevention group. It has supported the creation of school programs and has lobbied for laws aimed at preventing youth drug, alcohol and tobacco use.

As a prevention professional, Clinger has worked on substance abuse programs across the state.

“I think STEPS is one of the premier prevention coalitions in the state,” she said. “I think they’ve had a lot of growth and have really become a key part of the Southington community.”

While Clinger wanted to continue efforts to combat drug and alcohol use among youth, she said vaping was a top concern.

“There’s a decreased perception of risk for vaping,” Clinger said. “We need to continue to do education around the dangers of vaping.”

Earlier this year, STEPS helped local police conduct vape sales compliance checks on local businesses. Three businesses failed.

One of Clinger’s goals is to show adults in the community how they can support young people and help prevent substance abuse.

“We all play a part in prevention and increasing the positive assets of our youth so they can make healthy decisions,” Clinger said.

Kelly Leppard, STEPS coalition coordinator, said Clinger as president will strengthen the group and bring “a wealth of knowledge.”

“Heather is wonderful. She is an expert in our field. Not only is she representing the community, but specifically the reducing substances sector,” Leppard said. 

Leppard said Palmieri had also been important to STEPS, both with his position in the schools and his seat on the Town Council.

“Our town government considers prevention a priority,” Leppard said. “That’s been such a privilege to work with Chris.”

Twitter: @JBuchananRJ


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