HELP Drug prevention program serves area’s hidden problems

JESSE BROOKS IS director of prevention at the United Way of Addison County.

ADDISON COUNTY — Driving around Addison County it might be hard to believe that our youth are engaging in risky behaviors.
Coming into Bristol, you’ll see packs of teens waiting to use their student discount in a line at Cubbers restaurant during the school week. Many of the students are there to grab a quick bite to eat before practice, while other students wait for their fall musical rehearsal to begin.
In Vergennes, the entire elementary school participates in ‘Walk and Roll’ to school once a month. For the students who live too far to walk (or roll) from their home, the bus drops these students off at the Parish Hall and they join their friends in scooting, biking, walking and rolling.
It is evident that families feel safe and comfortable within the borders of our small towns.
It is unlikely that parents who schlep their chairs and blankets out to the soccer field to watch their kids play are thinking about risk and protective factors or whether their kid feels valued by their community. Especially when the leaves are a perfect shade of orange and their kid has never shown signs of risky behavior, let alone an interest in using drugs.
This isn’t surprising when we look at the results of the  2017 VT Parent Survey, where 81.5 percent of parents in Addison County think it is “not very likely” or “not at all likely” that their child has used alcohol in the past 12 months, and 81.6 percent for marijuana.
However, parent perception of youth use doesn’t match what youth are reporting. It might surprise parents to learn that 68 percent of 12th graders reported to have ever drank alcohol and 22 percent reported to have binge drank in the last 30 days (according to the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey).
Also, not surprising when we consider that our small state is ranked #1 in breweries per capita, that 70 percent of  Addison County high school students report that it is “easy” or “very easy” to access alcohol.
In meetings with our local Vermont State Police officers, we have learned that a lot of underage drinking happens while youth are also engaged in the recreational activities Addison County is often known for (fishing, boating, off-roading, etc) making the signs of use difficult to see and the use itself far more risky.
Living in Addison County you may have heard of HELP (Health Education Learning Program), United Way of Addison County’s youth substance prevention program that has been supporting students for nearly four years.
HELP works with  local community partners (law enforcement, first responders, teachers and more) to educate students on substance use and prevention. In another component of the program, students work with experts from the film industry to make PSA’s about what they have learned to share with their peers and community partners.
HELP is one of the ways that UWAC is proactively responding to aiding in reducing youth substance use. Another way, is in obtaining the recent federal grant known as Partnerships for Success, which UWAC was awarded in August.
PFS is a five-year grant that will allow UWAC to continue to support youth substance prevention in Addison County by continuing to provide the role of our former Prevention Coordinator, now Director of Prevention, Jesse Brooks, as well as expand our prevention department by hiring a paid youth intern, Olivia Brooks (age 15 from Vergennes Union High School) and Emily Pareles, our new Prevention Coordinator. Jesse, Emily and Olivia will work closely with students across Addison County to reduce access to alcohol and marijuana, to increase youth perception of harm of alcohol and marijuana, and to decrease social norms that contribute to a very confusing message for students.
The UWAC prevention team will also be working to help parents and families to better support their kids during these busy and confusing times; as we know, parents are the biggest influence when it comes to youth substance use. In fact, the #1 reason kids give for not drinking or using drugs is that they don’t want to disappoint their parents.
Our vision for Addison County is to support its most precious resource, youth. The team of prevention experts at United Way of Addison County are committed to the future health, education, and financial stability for our youth through increasing  protective factors and reducing overall risk factors.
When students are healthy and happy they can make informed decisions that will have positive, lasting impacts on their future. 

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