Stumbled into substance abuse prevention as a volunteer and a newcomer to an economically depressed community. The learning curve was fascinating and devastating at once. Now substance abuse prevention for youth has become a passion. Keeping up with trends a challenge, and advocating for community education ahead of legislative changes an imperative. Our summer kids camp is a model we want to replicate in other communities that want a homegrown, community owned way to create positive paths for their future leaders.
The first year, our prototype program, consisted of all referred students from Juvenile Probation, ages 13 to 16. We quickly learned that their behaviors were already so entrenched. We looked at our mission as a "prevention" organization and backed the age group down where our efforts actually could address prevention and actually influence the participants. Those subsequent 9 years yield much better results. However, being that prevention is so hard to quantitatively measure, we look to qualitative information from parents, teachers and the youth themselves. That and office referrals for drugs and alcohol or lack thereof.
Basic skills we incorporate are self-esteem building, goal setting, team building and peer support, basic interview skills, table manners, responsibility, personal reflection, community service. Activities incorporate the learning so the kids don't realize the "lesson" but enjoy the results. With new interview skills they go to senior residences and interview elders. There they learn how to interact, ask questions, listen, record data, reflect and present what they learned. As a side benefit, this has led to several "adoptions" over the years of kids returning to visit their interviewee. Goal setting is demonstrated by running a mile a day. Some start out walking, some don't even want to do it. But by tackling it bit by bit daily, they learn the stepping stones of goal achievement and improvement by the challenge to improve their daily time. Community service and simply serving lunch to each other daily, teaches the joy of service and continues throughout the year. A noted artist spends 2 hours showing basic drawing techniques and the kids achieve an artwork. This has thrilled and surprised many students and awoken some true talent. Daily readings of the book Mama Bear, Baby Bear by Linda Silvas, requires understanding personification, parallelism, introspection, empathy and group reflection. The readings conclude with a final Skype session with the Author where the kids can again apply their interview skills and self confidence. The list goes on and on with skills learning buried in FUN!