Professor Plum, at the back of the library, sensitized to drugs | Herald Community Newspapers


In 1970, the Baldwin Council of Drug Abuse (BCADA) was founded by a woman named Ellen Silberman in the name of prevention, awareness, education, and positive impact on young people who smoke marijuana. Arriving on board in 1986 as a part-time secretary, Claudia Rotondo has carried the torch of education and treatment since arriving more than three and a half decades ago. With a background in education, she began working with social workers, psychologists and counselors. She was so impressed with the work she was doing that she returned to Adelphi University to get her Masters in Social Work.

“When I graduated, Ellen said, ‘Okay, I’m ready to retire, and you know as much as I do about this agency,’ so she recommended that I become an executive director, which I became in 1994 and then we built the agency,” Rotondo said. Located on Church Street in Baldwin, the agency had 80 clients in the low-end processing scale, like getting once-a-week individual counseling for gambling, mental health and addiction on a sliding scale.

“In 2011 there were state budget cuts, really bad budget cuts and rather than cut every (addiction) agency they decided to cut some of the smaller ones, but they took out 250,000 dollars from my treatment budget, which left me with just prevention,” Rotondo explained. “So I had to close the agency because we couldn’t exist.” Staff had to be made redundant, interns sent elsewhere and 85 clients transferred to other agencies, all Rotondo could do was “pray to God they would go”.

However, persistent, she made a deal with Baldwin’s superintendent, Dr. James D. Mapes. She would use her prevention money to teach a ten-week program called Too Good for Drugs, if he gave her an office, which was more like a closet, but it worked. Topics taught included goal setting, decision making, peer pressure, alcohol, marijuana, tobacco and more. Beginning in 2012, she reached approximately 800 children a year in the Baldwin School District and developed her alias “Professor Plum” for her distinct purple hair, outfits, and accessories.

Over the years, Rotondo can’t remember how many previous students came to see her years after graduation and said something like, “Professor Plum, I just want you to know that you you had me as a senior and that I still have a safe haven. I didn’t take drugs.

As part of the prevention grant and work plan provided by the Office of Addiction Services and Supports, it was necessary to engage with a community coalition. So Rotondo simply launched its own, the Community Coalition of Baldwin. “The goal was to raise community awareness about drug addiction and provide a positive alternative for children, community members, who are struggling and also to bring the community together in a more cohesive way,” she said. What the organization does every year with the Grand Baldwin Festival.

David Viana, who started the Baldwin Civic Association, was also part of the coalition and came up with the idea of ​​organizing a community festival to showcase local businesses. More than a focus on business, it’s also a way to “open it up to members too, we have a lot of community members who have hobbies, who make jewelry, and they make paintings, and they do wreaths, so we’re giving a place to start,” Rotondo said.

October 19, 2019 was the first of the Community Coalition of Baldwin Grand Baldwin Festival in conjunction with the Baldwin Public Library who helped sponsor the event. With over 70 vendors and 3,000 Baldwinites in attendance, it was marked as a huge success, with many remarking on the sense of pride in their community. Foot traffic centralized by the location of the library and downtown businesses provided a mutually beneficial day for those who came to the festival.

Picking up more speed, the festival has grown in its early stages, and this year on October 1, Rotondo promises it will be the biggest yet with over a hundred vendor spaces available. In addition to shopping, there will be food, entertainment, and drug and alcohol awareness resources. At the first festival, local jazz player and educator Matt Wilson performed, and while he’s not locked down for this year, there’s a chance he’ll perform again at the event in come.

In addition to her work in coalitions, Rotondo teaches as an adjunct professor at Molloy College, teaching students about substance abuse. “I teach that addiction does not necessarily mean pills, drugs, alcohol. Gambling is addictive and I do a whole section on gambling,” Rotondo said.

What makes the game different is that it’s easier to hide but just as destructive: “It’s not like you can take a urine test and see you’re a gamer, it’s not there are no physical signs. They are so adept at concealing their illness that family members don’t notice until someone comes knocking on the door to read to kick them out of the house.


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