Grant renewed for youth sobriety

Prevent! Coalition will use $600,000 to help reduce abuse

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

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Clark County's substance abuse prevention coalition will continue its efforts to reduce youth drug use and underage drinking for another five years, thanks to a $600,000 federal grant.

The Prevent! Coalition was recently awarded its second five-year grant from the Drug-Free Communities Support Program, a federal program that funds community-based work on preventing youth substance abuse.

More than 500 organizations from across the country applied for the grants but only 60 groups received funding. Of those, only about half were seeking their second grants to continue community efforts, said Sean Chavez, the grant coordinator for Prevent!

"It really shows the quality of work that's gone on in the community," Chavez said. "They invest in communities that are ready to continue the work."

The Prevent! Coalition was started in 2005 by a couple of parents who wanted to prevent substance abuse. In 2007, the group partnered with Educational Service District 112 and applied for its first Drug-Free Communities grant. That funding ran out at the end of September, the end of the federal fiscal year.

With the first grant, the coalition hosted community forums and town halls, supported school prevention clubs and programs, conducted community assessments, brought in speakers and hosted youth prevention summits.

The coalition also worked on a statewide initiative to reduce the number of alcohol and tobacco advertisements at convenience stores and partnered with the Clark County Sheriff's Office to host drug take-back events, Chavez said.

The coalition will use the new five-year grant to continue those efforts and tackle new goals. "We have a pretty comprehensive agenda," he said.

That agenda includes evaluating county and city policies that look at access to drug paraphernalia and alcohol, and delving into the core causes of substance abuse, he said. Chavez said he also hopes to form partnerships with other organizations that go beyond hosting events together.

Prevent! celebrated the grant award with a ceremony Thursday, the first National Above the Influence Day, at Mountain View High School. As part of the event, a panel of local teenagers spoke to community leaders, parents and school officials about staying drug- and alcohol-free.

The teens, some of whom have battled their own addictions, gave numerous reasons for staying away from drugs: They want to be role models for their siblings. They want to accomplish goals, go to college. They didn't like the person they'd become on drugs.

"It's crazy how your perspective can change when you're sober," said Ryan Radu, a sophomore at King's Way Christian School. "I don't think being sober changed me; it just got me back to who I was."

The teens answered questions about facing peer pressure and saying "no." Sticking to your convictions, staying busy with other activities and having good friends with similar values are important, they said.

The teens also offered suggestions for parents and other adults in the community who want to prevent substance abuse: Support school levies that pay for after-school activities, don't yell or scream when discussing drugs and alcohol, let teens educate their peers about the dangers of drugs, ditch the scare tactics and simply take the time to talk to your children.


Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546; http://twitter.com/col_health; http://facebook.com/reporterharshman; marissa.harshman@columbian.com.