Connect Evergreen Coalition wins Drug Free Communities Support Program grant to help educate and prevent youth substance abuse
VANCOUVER — In September, the Connect Evergreen Coalition received a federal grant from the Drug Free Communities Support Program to help address substance abuse among youth in Evergreen Public Schools boundaries.
Connect Evergreen was one of 719 recipients of the grant, and over a five-year period will receive a total of $625,000, according to a press release from the organization.
Connect Evergreen Chair Delena Meyer said that the organization is one of several local coalitions dedicated to addressing youth substance abuse and community response to it. About 10 years ago, Vancouver citizens started an organization called Prevent, which evolved into the Prevent Coalition.
The Prevent Coalition eventually planted organizations in Battle Ground, La Center, West Vancouver and Washougal. Meyer said that Connect Evergreen is the newest coalition in the area, and began about a year and a half ago.
According to Meyer, each of the organizations seek to focus on the “link between complex trauma and toxic stress and a higher risk for substance abuse.”
Meyer said that traditional measures of risk for substance abuse, such as demographics and poverty indicators, do not adequately address the root issues of substance abuse. Rather than a specific demographic, Meyer said that those in Clark County who are at the greatest risk for substance abuse are “kids who are constantly under the stress of abuse, neglect or other life hardships.”
According to Meyer, Connect Evergreen seeks to address the effects of adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, as well as toxic stress and complex trauma and how those conditions affect one’s likelihood for substance abuse.
To be able to prevent youth substance abuse, Meyer said that “kids need connection more than anything else.” Simply telling them to not do drugs is an ineffective method of prevention, Meyer said.
As such, Connect Evergreen was founded to be a coalition that was “trauma informed and youth led.” The group advocates for change that allows anyone to be part of the discussion, Meyer said. She said that the group is made up of a diverse range of people, including adults who may use substances such as alcohol, tobacco or marijuana. Meyer noted that all of those substances are legal for adults to use in the state of Washington, and partnering with the community means that one does not have to be strictly against all substances to advocate for youth prevention and wellness.
Part of Connect Evergreen’s efforts to partner with the community is to reach out to local retailers that sell alcohol, tobacco and marijuana and make sure those retailers are doing everything they can to prevent their products from being used by youth, Meyer said. According to Meyer, this allows the message of Connect Evergreen to reach parents who may be consumers of legal substances about the harms of providing those substances to youth.
Meyer said that Connect Evergreen’s trauma based approach to prevention is based on studies done in the 1990s on ACEs that showed a link between higher levels of childhood trauma and a higher likelihood for addiction, divorce and other health problems.
The goal of the organization is not to educate youth about the risks of substance abuse. Rather, Meyer said that it works to change the environment of youth and establish connections for at risk youth to help them through difficult life experiences.
“An enormous amount of the work is building community connections,” Meyer said. She noted that to facilitate those connections, Connect Evergreen works to change “the conversation so that people in the community understand how to connect with those that they may not understand how to relate to.”
According to Meyer, if youth know that they have support, they are less likely to make harmful decisions.
To help create connections with youth, Meyer said that Connect Evergreen’s bylaws dictate that the organization must have equal numbers of youth and adult members, from its steering committee to down to its individual work areas.
Evergreen Public Schools has also provided a large amount of support and connections for Connect Evergreen, Meyer said.
Meyer also noted that while Connect Evergreen focuses on prevention, it also facilitates harm mitigation. According to Meyer, harm mitigation means that some people will inevitably use substances, but the harms of those substances may be reduced by having youth use less often, or waiting until later in life to use them.
“If you’re going to do the bad thing, how do we lower the risk of the bad thing as much as possible?” Meyer said.
Connect Evergreen is not a direct services organization. The coalition helps train youth and adults for drug prevention, and spreads awareness and information about the effects and correlation of trauma on youth substance abuse, Meyer said. However, it does not provide direct services such as counseling.
“We are convenors, collaborators and connectors, and educators, more than direct service providers,” Meyer said.
Obtaining the Drug Free Communities grant was an “enormous undertaking,” Meyer said. The process is competitive, and must be based on data measured in the coalition’s local community.
The grant will be disbursed over five years, in $125,000 amounts per year, and is renewable once, Meyer said. About half of the money will be used to pay for “staff and infrastructure time.” It will also be used to develop educational and marketing materials, as well as support training for education and connecting with the community, Meyer said.
The organization Prevent serves as the mentor organization for Connect Evergreen, and the two have collaborated on prevention projects in Clark County such as prescription drug take back campaign.
Meyer said that some of the successes of Connect Evergreen have been its ability to bring together people from all walks of life in the community, and gaining support from businesses, faith communities and other coalitions.
“Prevention that makes room for the messiness, makes room for voices and perspectives that are sometimes really hard to hear and accept, is essential for today’s young people to safely navigate complex choices in an increasingly complex world,” Meyer said.
More information about the Connect Evergreen Coalition can be found online at http://connectevergreen.org/.