We moderated our use of alcohol and drugs 

And then there were cross-Island trams. — Elissa Turnbull


I’m taking the Cross-Island tram to grab some fresh caught striped bass in Menemsha. With many roads down-Island occasionally washing out (at least until the new seawall is completed) the elevated tram has become the most popular way to move about the Island. Striper stocks are now at an all-time high, so the price is right, and vindication is in the air for those who endured the fishing moratorium back in the early 2020s. 

Speaking of 2020, the Island-wide conversation about substance abuse has also been ongoing for a decade, and the results are equally brag-worthy. When the Film Center premiered the Oscar winning short, “Our Vineyard,” we launched the initiative to change the scope of Martha’s Vineyard’s love affair with alcohol and drugs. Most people who had answered the Islandwide survey said change was a good thing and that it was time to act. Here’s how right they were: Worker productivity, income, home ownership and school test scores have all seen measurable increases, while arrests, overdoses and vehicular accidents have all dropped. 

The multiyear effort, initially launched by a diverse group of concerned Islanders who partnered with The Public Good Projects and created the catalyst that produced an alchemy of introspection among our population: that more responsible usage of drugs and alcohol was a worthwhile and achievable pursuit. The Island’s children have been the main beneficiaries of the movement, and it’s common to find that young people have delayed and in a few cases abstained from abusing substances altogether. Looking inland from the tram cabin, I occasionally see one of the original initiative yard signs — a little shopworn but still beaming out their hopeful messages. They say some of those signs ended up on eBay when the pilot program we pioneered went into Ohio in 2024 and West Virginia a year later. 

Today, with the new age-reversal protocols in full swing, adults and especially ‘matures’ (‘senior citizen’ is so 1990s) are taking another look at how we use drugs and alcohol, which when abused have long been known to be major causes of premature aging. As the Vineyard initiative spread across the state, some traditional bars morphed into trendy ‘beverage tapas’ boutiques, where patrons sample ‘tastes’ of exotic (albeit pricey) alcohol varieties while food is provided free of charge.

Finally, the crowning benefit of the initial 2020 campaign can be seen in the Island’s leadership. The young influencers who, a decade ago took the message of responsible usage directly to their peers — producing a more vibrant Island culture — have become our school administrators, selectmen, police chiefs and yes, we even have a couple of boutique beverage tapas owners. Well, the tram is just pulling into the Menemsha Station. I wish it wasn’t so fast, so I guess I need to say goodbye for now. Wow, it’s going to be another spectacular sunset!


About Chip Coblyn: After a career as an illustrator, graphic and industrial designer, Chip Coblyn and his wife closed their DC-area design studio and moved to Martha’s Vineyard full time in July; Cobly hopes to pursue a second act as an artist. The Coblyns became involved with the substance abuse initiative in the wake of the loss of a friend’s son to an overdose.


About the project: 

In May 2016, a group of concerned citizens, including many families directly affected by the opioid crisIs, began to raise awareness about substance use disorders on Martha’s Vineyard. The grassroots effort led to the development of the Martha’s Vineyard Substance Use Disorder Coalition, an unincorporated Island-wide community coalition composed of the major health and social support institutions and concerned citizens on the Island of Martha’s Vineyard.

 The vision of the coalition is a community free of substance use disorders with a mission to engage, advocate, bridge service gaps, raise awareness, and decrease stigma of substance use disorders through education, prevention, treatment, and recovery efforts. The coalition consists of several committees working on solutions — one of which is the Public Health Campaign committee — a group of a dozen Islanders with various backgrounds and experiences who came together in 2017 with a shared desire to create the change envisioned in Chip Coblyn’s 2030 essay.

 The committee has been steadily working toward this vision; meeting twice a month over the past two years to become clear on a mission for this work and identify a partner to help them achieve this ambitious undertaking: To educate and begin to mobilize the community of Martha’s Vineyard in order to decrease the use of alcohol and drugs by changing culture and shifting social norms. The motivation behind this mission is to save lives, support families, decrease 

stigma, and reduce the damage to community for residents and visitors alike.

After much research and evaluation, and with funding from the Tower Foundation, the Public Health Campaign committee has enlisted The Public Good Projects (PGP), a national public health communications organization that uses a grassroots, community-led approach to solve the biggest health challenges by making them local, personal, simple to understand, and everyone’s responsibility. PGP specializes in community health interventions that utilize communication methods to change knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors of populations most at-risk.

 PGP’s investment and partnership in this project is unparalleled, as they have contributed an in-kind donation to support the early phase of the work. Members of the PGP team are working closely with the committee, coalition and community at large, with the work well underway. Members of the PGP team recently visited the Island to complete the first phase of formative research work, from which an Island-wide survey and professional documentary “Our Vineyard” will follow. Consolidating local experience and information, telling the story of the community and framing what has been done and what is possible, will begin to shift social norms and generate further interest and momentum to move into the subsequent phase of work: a multi-year branded community norm campaign effort. From there, the sky is the limit. 

– Mary Korba