WARWICK – An annual award recognizing a young adult in Rhode Island who has contributed significantly toward substance use and abuse prevention was given to three recipients this year – and all three were seniors in the Burrillville High School Class of 2024.
Mary Chenot, Hannah Silvia and Kaitlyn Fleming were named MADD RI Youth Champions of the Year and honored at the organization’s annual recognition breakfast, held at the Crowne Plaza in Warwick on Friday, Oct. 27.
All three have been members of the youth arm of the Burrillville Prevention Action Coalition since they were middle school students, when that organization was first formed in an effort by the Burrillville Police Department to address substance abuse issues in town. They were nominated for the award, typically presented to just one deserving young leader, by BPAC Coordinator Monica Blanchette.
“I couldn’t pick just one,” Blanchette told NRI NOW. “I don’t think this coalition could exist without the three of them.”
From organizing gatherings for local youth looking for substance-free activities, to conferences, meetings and special events held annually, Blanchette noted that the three students have dedicated countless hours to the local cause.
Chenot, now 18; Silvia, 16; and Fleming, 17, were presented a citation from the state attorney general at the annual breakfast, with attendees including all three of their mothers, Blanchette; Burrillville Police Col. Stephen Lynch; School Resource Officer Jason Nault; BHS Asst. Principal Ashley Crenca; BPD’s Major Albert Carlow Jr.; former Harrisville Fire Chief Michael Gingell; and Town Councilor Dennis Anderson.
Lynch noted that Attorney General Peter Neronha and former Rhode Island State Police Supts. Steven Pare and Steve O’Donnell all spoke appreciatively of the Burrillville girls and their efforts in the area.
“It was pretty special to see the three girls from Burrillville’s BPAC being honored for their tenacity, courage and passion in their substance use prevention efforts, since they started when they were in middle school,” Lynch later told NRI NOW. “They stole the show at the MADD event, which honors police officers and so many others who are in the daily fight to make RI’s roadways safe from motorists traveling under the influence and inflicting such pain on innocent families with their recklessness. Great to see and very much well deserved.”
“It was a wonderful event and it really reflected nicely on Burrillville,” Anderson said of the breakfast. “When the attorney general got up and talked, he directed his comments and basically showered them with praise. The keynote people all zeroed in on our girls who were kind of the center of this whole breakfast. It just made you feel good that those were our girls.”
“The girls definitely stole the show,” agreed Blanchette.
The Youth Champion Award is given annually to a young adult who has done significant work to end impaired driving, prevent underage drinking and positively influence their peers to make good choices. And the three Burrillville teens certainly fit the bill.
In 2019, Silvia at front left, Chenot, third from left and Fleming, at front right, were among those standing with partners in the Burrillville Police Department.
Calling themselves “the OG three,” due to their participation in BPAC from the beginning, Silvia, Fleming and Chenot have attended multiple conferences with the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America. They have planned and participated in BPAC events including mock crash, pre-prom dinner, and video game nights. Blanchette noted the trio is “always involved,” in the town’s community clean ups in April, and have helped to organize and run Town Hall and 5K events for the larger public. The have facilitated weekly meetings with the youth coalition and attended the monthly meetings with the prevention-minded adults.
The three were the youngest attendees ever at their first visit to the Youth Driven Summer Summit, a traffic safety and leadership program led by the Rhode Island Student Assistance Services with support from the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, and all three have since served as leaders at the annual summer event.
Blanchette noted that for her, their graduation this year will be, “bittersweet.”
“I’m happy that they’re moving on and growing up, but I’m sad that they won’t be with me,” Blanchette said. “They’ve been with it since the inception.”
“They have been just an amazing, powerful force since I started,” Blanchette added. “I couldn’t imagine three more deserving youth.”
The girls were among a group of BPAC youth to receive citations in 2019 at a Town Council meeting. Pictured from left are Sen. Jessica de la Cruz; Silvia; Fleming; Samatha Mansolf; Chenot; Ponaganset High School student Andrea Leary and Rep. David Place.