Story by Suzanne Gibson | Feb 24, 2016
Photography by Anthony Jinson
Council for Drug-Free Youth helps create a path for healthy, drug-free alternatives.
Whatever the reasons that lead a young person down a path of alcohol and drugs, it is a route that can lead to quick and early destruction. Jefferson City Council for Drug-Free Youth, founded more than 30 years ago as a group of concerned parents, fosters education on the hazards of substance abuse.
Longstanding programs implemented by CDFY include Safety Kids, Tobacco Prevention, Show Me Players, UPLIFT, COPE, TEAM and Baseline. Today, these programs continue to be modified or revised in order to incorporate best practices, current data and national trends.
“We are about empowering local youth toward living healthy, drug-free lives,” says Joy Sweeney, executive director. “It’s a staggering fact that sixth grade children in our community and nationwide are experimenting with drugs and alcohol. Research shows that underage drinking can permanently rewire the brain, and youth who drink have an 80 percent greater chance of becoming addicts. These consequences are serious and staggering.”
Since Sweeney came on board seven years ago, CFDY has gradually transitioned from a program targeting schools into a community-wide collation.
“Our goal is to have a unified message from parents, churches, doctors and schools. We can teach the children all day long, but if the community doesn’t support the teaching, the message isn’t going to stick,” Sweeney says. “We want parents and others who interact with youth to understand that lessons learned at home are the long-lasting messages. If parents don’t emphasize that underage drinking or for instance, pot smoking is bad, kids get signals. They can start to think, ‘Well, maybe it’s not that bad if I try it.’ Positive role models are crucial at a young age.”
CDFY urges early intervention to prevent substance abuse and to reduce the negative consequences of addiction before they occur. Through community-based efforts involving youth, parents, educators and government officers, the group works to strengthen support systems. Their programs deter young people from drug consumption and help to improve both academic performance and workforce readiness.
“Like most communities, alcohol is the drug of choice and marijuana is second among teenagers here,” says Laura Morris, project coordinator. “Nights and weekends at their homes, at a friend’s house or in cars are times when substance abuse is most likely to occur. We try to give kids a lot of positive options to help them make better choices.”
In order to build the strongest program, CDFY conducted research and collected data to assess drug and alcohol abuse challenges among Jefferson City youth. Resource partners were then organized and aligned.
“We have an exciting year ahead of us with new initiatives to share,” Sweeney says. “One of the most vitalizing aspects of our future is that some of these changed dynamics will have a positive impact on our youth. Although several of the new initiatives are specifically targeted toward youth, significant work is also directed toward adults through policy changes that will first change attitudes and will ultimately change behavior.”
Some of the new initiatives include the Marijuana Proclamation, Second Chance early intervention, a YouTube video contest, a testimonial media campaign, PACT 360 parent education, Venture Crew, Alcohol EDU and Life Skills.
As the first of its kind in the state, a proclamation signed by Mayor Carrie Tergin states that marijuana is harmful to youth, and subsequently, several other communities have adopted one as well. This proclamation also preempts a new six-week class in conjunction with area public and private schools designed to guide families into recovery and sobriety through understanding and communication.
This year’s YouTube video contest was successful with nearly 100 people in attendance to help select the winner. There were more than 25 submissions and the top 10 finalists were recognized.
Venture Group is a partnership between CDFY and the Boy Scouts. Plans are underway to create three community activities in 2016 for youth ages 14 to 20. The intent of these gatherings is to show youth alternative ways of finding exhilarating activities other than by using drugs or alcohol.
Launched in the fall, the testimonial media campaign has received rave reviews from both youth and adults. This campaign will continue to touch the hearts and minds of the community by sharing real stories of families impacted by youth substance abuse.
The PACT 360 parent education, created by the Partnership for Drugfree.org, incorporates MADD Parent Power program information. This project is being utilized by area churches, schools and parent organizations. It offers parents consistent, timely, relevant information so that they can help empower their children to live drug free.
Alcohol EDU and Life Skills are evidence based programs that CDFY is working to implement within the schools to provide youth with coping skills and information. These two innovative programs are designed to reach high schoolers and college students with consistent reminders of making good choices. The life skills program empowers 10th through 12th grade students with the accountability and responsibility required to be successful after high school, either in college or with a career.
“CDFY looks forward to this new beginning,” Sweeney says. “These collaborative efforts we have in place will contribute to community wellness and a positive future for our youth. Our vision to create a healthy, vibrant, drug-free community is being realized through education and collaboration. We are thankful to have so many people working together and there is always room for more volunteers and partnerships. It truly takes a village.”