FAIRMONT - A federal block grant worth nearly $1 million has reinvigorated the local non-profit organization "Services for Challenging Youth of Martin County."
The youth-focused alcohol, drug and tobacco-use prevention program has been a grassroots operation for nearly 10 years. Various members of the community played a role in creating SCY in hopes of doing something supportive and preventative for area youth.
"We were working with the tools and funds we had," said Dennis Lockwood, supervisor of SCY. "For example, we [served as the fiscal agent for] the post-prom party so there was a tobacco and alcohol-free option for kids. We worked with other groups within the school system such as TARGET and STORM, and with students with like minds aiming to be alcohol- and tobacco-free."
TEAMWORK?— Fairmont Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition members, from left: Chief Greg Brolsma, Cheryl Hamp, Amber Tisue, Ramie Vetter, Sgt. Kevin Kelly, Bob Wallace, Principal David Paschke, Erica Volkir, Rich Odom, Larry Behrens and Dennis Lockwood. Members not pictured: Principal Jim Davison, Ron Arens, Charlie Sorrells, Mike Johnson, Officer Shannon Bass, Harold Wade and Emily Labes.
Seeking new funding and opportunities, the group applied for a federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration block grant last year, with the grant application primarily drafted by Lockwood and Brendan Babcock,
SCY looked at other communities that received the grant five years ago as part of the first cohort and that were successful implementing it. SCY successfully received the grant along with nine other communities throughout Minnesota as part of the second cohort.
"Each of the 10 grants requires a planning and implementation coordinator to create and mobilize a community coalition, as well as oversee the multiple prevention strategies that will be implemented," said Erica Volkir. "And that is my position with SCY. I have the honor of being their first full-time employee."
Volkir left the Public Defender's Office last month in order to accept the job managing the grant.
"I entered law, and specifically public defense, with the desire to help people and be of service to the community," she said. "I liked being able to help in that capacity. But public defense, and law in general, is highly reactionary. I soon discovered that by the time the court system became involved, many of my clients had already been shaped by so many traumatic life circumstances that it was difficult to alter behaviors at that point. We were simply getting to them too late, especially the juveniles. A significant number of juveniles I represented as a public defender had issues with alcohol and substance abuse, many as a means of self-medicating their mental health issues."
The $950,000 grant is for a five-year period through June 2016. Administered by the Minnesota Department of Human Services - Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division, the grant is being implemented by the newly created Fairmont Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition.
"The coalition falls under SCY, but SCY is maintaining its own identity to support other opportunities that aren't covered by the grant, and because SCY will remain in existence beyond the term of the grant," Volkir said.
The Fairmont Area Substance Abuse Coalition will implement a variety of prevention strategies in coming years to target different aspects of the problem of underage drinking and other substance abuse by Fairmont youth. Those include working with schools on enhancing the TARGET and STORM youth groups; offering leadership skills training; organizing alcohol and substance-free events; and providing grades 6-12 with evidence-based prevention curriculum entitled "Project Northland" by Hazelden Addiction Treatment Center.
In addressing issues of underage access to alcohol, the coalition will work with police on enhancing Responsible Beverage Server Trainings and conducting compliance checks. Other activities include analyzing local court and law enforcement data on charges and convictions of underage consumption and adult provider offenses.
Finally, the grant is partnered with The Montana Institute and it's director, Dr. Jeffrey Linkenbach, to conduct community and student assessments and develop a "Positive Community Norms" marketing campaign.
"The Positive Community Norms model focuses on the positive," Volkir said. "For example, most youth are making the right choices regarding alcohol and drugs; however, you usually only hear about those who are not - particularly where statistics and media are concerned. Instead of focusing on the minority who are abusing substances, the PCN model shifts to a focus on the majority who are not. We want to concentrate on those students as the norm and provide support to increase that number. This is shift that has occurred in mental health treatment as well, called a strength-based approach."
Every aspect of the grant is being evaluated by the Wilder Research Foundation.
"In this way, they make sure the money is invested wisely and is community-specific," Volkir said. "If Fairmont is doing well in one area but needs more funding or emphasis in another, the evaluations will provide that key information."
While the grant has been awarded initially for the Fairmont school district, success could mean additional funding through a Drug-Free Communities Grant or through members of the community and coalition implementing aspects of the programming beyond the life of the grant.
"We will be looking for sustainability from day one," Volkir said. "That is one of the reasons why the coalition members represent 14 different sectors of the community ranging from youth and parents, to businesses, schools, corrections and courts, media, law enforcement, religious groups, community service clubs, health care and other organizations involved in reducing substance abuse. The other reason being that each offers an important voice to reflect our community as a whole. We are recruiting a great group of dedicated individuals, but are still looking for more members."
SCY is the first nonprofit to receive this type of grant. The others are part of an agency, such as public health or a school district.
"We're a pilot project in and of ourselves," Lockwood said. "We have a gold mine in that I think we can help the kids and the community, and we have people committed enough to make that difference."