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BRATTLEBORO — Substance misuse is more than a personal struggle; the effects of addiction are felt across families and through neighborhoods. It’s a community issue, and it calls for a community solution.

Windham County Prevention Partnership, a collaborative effort by the Deerfield Valley Community Partnership, Greater Falls Connections, West River Valley ThrivesBuilding A Positive Community and Youth Services, Inc., aims to stop substance misuse before it starts through programs for youth and their families in Windham County, Vt. This fall, WCPP received the Vermont Department of Health’s SPF-PFS2020 SAMHSA Award, a five-year grant. The funding will be used to implement research-based methods throughout the region, establishing support systems designed to build a stronger, more sustainable community for children and families.

While the new grant helps solidify WCPP’s plans moving forward, the five member organizations have been working collaboratively for the past seven years, with initial funding provided by a federal grant issued by the Vermont Department of Health’s Division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Programs. Each group works with a different community within Windham County, split by Supervisory Union, to reduce substance misuse, expecially in high-risk groups like teens, young adults and LGBTQ+ youth.

WCPP’s plan is built around a list of critical developmental assets, compiled by the Search Institute, a nonprofit youth research organization based in Minneapolis. The Developmental Assets Framework consists of 40 relationships, supports, strengths and skills that young people require to grow and prosper, such as personal empowerment, positive identity, productive use of time and an ability to set boundaries and expectations.  Grant money will go towards establishing programs that target these needs, with the underlying belief being that where children flourish, substance misuse does not.

Current WCPP projects include copeandconnect.org, an online directory of resources for youth and their families to stay active and engaged during coronavirus shutdowns; windhamrx.org, with information on preventing prescription drug abuse through education and medication disposal programs; and a guide for parents of LGBTQ+ teenagers, all of which are available on the group’s new landing page, windhampartnership.org.

From the Directors

Leadership from Windham County Prevention Partnership’s four member organizations explain how developmental assets build a strong, healthy community.

“We’re really excited that we just got a new five-year grant to expand on our work and to really share our resources, expertise and knowledge in becoming more effective with our prevention work across the county. What I think we are most proud of is our ability to work together in support of each other, which ultimately translates into better serving our youth.”

— Cindy Hayford, Director, Deerfield Valley Community Partnership

“As a prevention partnership, we are working together to help communities reduce the risk factors that can lead to substance misuse by young people...Our vision is to have thriving communities throughout Windham County. What that looks like in each of our towns is going to be different, but what we know is that students who have the opportunity to acquire and strengthen developmental assets are likely to be more successful and more productive citizens.

We also know that thriving communities are usually those that have had success in identifying risk factors, and reducing those risk factors, which can lead to substance misuse. That can be anything from communities that have put forth campaigns to educate parents about the importance of locking up their substances, so that their children don’t have easy access to alcohol, marijuana and prescription drugs, to communities that have worked with retail outlets to reduce youth access to substances, and make sure advertising isn’t attracting young people.

I think it’s also important for communities to recognize the importance of having these public spaces in their towns to be substance-free, especially where families are gathering.”

— Meg Gonzalez, Director, West River Valley Thrives

“When we talk about developmental assets, what the Search Institute found to be a common thread among all of them was the importance of positive, strong relationships in these youths’ lives. These are what we call developmental relationships. They incorporate five elements, which are: expressing care; fostering growth; providing support; sharing power; and enhancing possibilities.

“So if a relationship incorporates all five of those elements, that’s considered a very strong relationship. What we really want to focus on is, ‘How do we make sure that children have developmental relationships in their lives?’

“People who can foster developmental relationships with children can be parents, school staff, friends, neighbors, or youth program leaders. It’s so important for the community as a whole to care about youth, and it’s kind of exciting to know that we all have a role we can play in creating a strong relationship with our youth.”

— Cassandra Holloway, Director, Building a Positive Community

“We are out in the community meeting people and helping to create change. Our staff, most of whom live, work, and raise families here, really get to know folks and essentially listen to and elevate their stories. We hear their dreams, their hopes, their fears. That’s the work of a prevention coalition, to center those community voices and empower them to work with us to create community change and all the positive things we want to see happen. Our hope is to make real change. That’s probably the best part of the work.”

— Laura Schairbaum, Director, Greater Falls Connections

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