With funding cuts to mental health and addiction services, prevention is more important than it has ever been. The media promotes healthy lifestyles to prevent obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, etc. We must also prevent drug and alcohol abuse and untreated mental health in order to ensure that our youth grow up to be healthy productive adults.
Learning to set both short- and long-term goals and living in a community where youth feel supported changes the outcome for many young people today. In addition, research shows that investing in prevention programs yields a 10 to 1 return for society in economic benefits. (www.jointogether.com/features/2009)
The Right Path for Washington County, our community coalition, has worked to provide alternative activities for youth since 2003. We also offer "Positive Action" curriculum to sixth-graders throughout our county. A study conducted by the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) and published in the American Journal of Public Health found that primary prevention programs reduce problem behaviors. "Positive Action" is a comprehensive K-12 social and emotional development program for enhancing behavior and academic achievement.
Collaboration is the key to ensuring that resources are shared and services are not duplicated. We partner with youth serving agencies and organizations like the YMCA, Ely Chapman, Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club, and 4-H that support a common vision, offer socialization, a chance to learn from peers and learn how to work in teams. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Your Time, Their Future)
Best known for our summer dances and swim parties, The Right Path for Washington County works throughout the school year to ensure that our youth will help plan and attend our summer alternative events. We currently work with school service clubs such as Marietta High School's SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) group and Belpre Elementary School's "Right Choice Club" to plan drug, alcohol and tobacco-free events with youth as role models to their fellow students.
We hosted a Server Training and Parent Forum in September, partnering with Marietta College, looking at responsible beverage serving and underage drinking laws and consequences, both presented by Agent Rob Anderson, Ohio Investigative Unit.
In October we will partner with Marietta College leadership students for their annual "Make A Difference Day" (MADD), working with Marietta Middle School, St. Mary Parochial School and Belpre Elementary School to celebrate Red Ribbon, Oct. 26 to 30. All schools in Washington County will be invited to join the effort and commit to living drug-free lives. In 1985, DEA Agent Kiki Camarena was killed in Mexico by the drug cartel. To honor his memory and to show they would continue his stand against illegal drugs, the youth in Kiki's community began wearing red badges of satin. Local prevention coalitions joined them in wearing red badges and in holding celebrations, honoring Kiki Camarena, embracing his belief that one person can make a difference, and adopting his symbol, the red ribbon, as their own. These informal Red Ribbon campaigns helped to trigger a ground swell in the prevention movement, bringing in more parents and concerned adults ready to fight against drugs for the sake of their kids. This celebration continues each year here in Washington County.
Opportunities for youth to give back to their community help them feel connected to their communities. We will partner with Marietta College "MADD" students for a county-wide food drive, working with local schools and boy scouts to ensure the success of the drive. We will also hold our annual "Feed the Hungry Tour" in November and our "Martin Luther King Challenge" Dance in January to continue our support of our food pantries.
In January we will host our annual Missy Hayes Pick-Up Basketball Day with our partners Norwood United Methodist Church and Marietta College Men's Basketball team. This free event is an opportunity for all youth, third through 12th grade, to pick up basketball pointers and have positive role models shoot some hoops, all in a day of fun and fellowship.
BandFest 2010, in February at Washington State Community College, is a showcase for local bands and a safe, fun event for Washington County teens. This is also a fundraiser for our summer youth media campaign.
April is alcohol awareness month and we will be offering the SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) "Teach-In" curriculum, offered to sixth-grade students county-wide to talk about the myths and facts of underage drinking. Other alcohol presentations are also offered, including alcohol Jeopardy.
May is Prom Promise month and we have partnered with Marietta Memorial Hospital and the YMCA to offer an after-prom all night party. This year will be an opportunity to discuss how we can make this bigger and better, possibly making it a county-wide event.
A free resource library for parents/community is available during business hours at Washington County Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Board office, 344 Muskingum Drive.
The Right Path strives to serve as a resource/support for both youth and their families in Washington County. Find out how you can make a difference in the life of a young person.
Cathy Harper, Washington County Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Board, can be reached at 374-6990, ext. 16.