BACODA: DRUG PREVENTION SERVICES FOR FREE TO 65 KIDS A DAY, 23,700 KIDS A YEAR
Every day, the Bay Area Council On Drugs & Alcohol serves 65 new youths, 18 and younger, through its prevention education efforts across the Texas Gulf Coast.
Prevention education aims to encourage prevention through focusing on concepts such as improving self-concept, making healthy decisions, accepting responsibility and practicing honesty. Youthworks, BACODA’s prevention department, provides prevention education services in elementary schools, junior high/middle schools and high schools. Youthworks elementary and junior high/middle school staff provide educational groups in the school setting. In addition to providing educational groups, the high school staff also provide individual counseling, encouraging youth to set and meet personal goals in regard to their physical, intellectual, social and emotional selves.
Known as Prevention Specialists, Youthworks staff implement the Positive Action curriculum in the following school districts: Bay City, Clear Creek, Dickinson, Galveston, Goose Creek, La Marque, La Porte, Sweeny and Van Vleck ISDs.
Positive Action is based on the philosophy that “you feel good about yourself when you think and do positive actions, and there is always a positive way to do everything.” The prevention specialists work with participants in a group to educate kids about how thinking more positively can help them make better choices and feel better about themselves, in all areas of their lives.
Parents may attend family sessions, covering the same topics, in order to better reinforce positive changes, for their children, themselves and their families. The classes are a six-part series, and may range from a few nights to a few weeks, depending on the schedule of its participants. The parenting classes are so successful that Youthworks regularly holds public sessions at DeWalt School and La Porte Neighborhood Center Inc. in La Porte, and Matagorda County Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Program in Bay City.
Jonette Sheridan, a prevention specialist at DeWalt, teaches the Positive Action curriculum to both students and their parents.
“Everyone I’ve taught seems to really enjoy the class,” Sheridan said. “Especially the parents; they all get the importance of using positive actions. I’ve even had a parent retake the class because he found the information so valuable.”
Justin Williams is the father of one of Jonette’s students. He took the parenting class three times; first by himself, then with his girlfriend, and lastly with his teenage stepdaughter.
“The class really opened my eyes,” Williams said. “I’ve learned there are a lot of things I can improve on that I did not realize I was doing. I really enjoyed the communication the class brought out and needed this with my stepdaughter.”
His girlfriend at the time, now his wife, Julie Williams, also enjoyed the class. She credits the parenting class to helping her connect with her own children, ages 10-18.
“I found a new light in our relationship and I am very grateful for this,” she said. “Do we still have some issues, absolutely; however, I looked forward to the class to share and learn every week.”
Serving more than 23,700 students each year, BACODA’s prevention services extend far beyond the classroom. They also offer tobacco presentations and community outreach activities for free to anyone in Southeast Harris, Brazoria, Galveston and Matagorda counties.
“To know that Youthworks is helping a child every 22 minutes, 65 new children every day, it’s just astonishing to realize how many lives we are impacting for the better,” said Youthworks Director Becky Buentello.
Last year, Youthworks participated in 573 community outreach activities and gave 466 tobacco presentations. Through activities like community fairs, family nights, field days and health symposiums, Youthworks reached more than 29,800 individuals, from pre-kindergarteners to senior citizens, during the 2010-2011 fiscal year. That’s more than the population of Alvin; nearly twice the population of Bay City; and more than the population of Seabrook and Webster combined.
This year, Youthworks plans to surpass that figure.
“We’re hoping to achieve similar numbers this year, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we blew that number out of the park,” Buentello said.
She credits the outreach efforts to a dedicated staff, welcoming communities and a combined effort to change their communities.
“There’s no way we could have done so much if it wasn’t without the great staff of Youthworks,” she said. “They are truly inspiring, and work hard against all odds.”
Buentello says that Youthworks staff, particularly the high school prevention specialists, are often met with resistance from students who believe drinking alcohol or using tobacco or an illicit substance is a right of passage for them. And Sheridan agrees.
“It’s challenging to try and teach kids that these things are harmful when there are others around them telling them otherwise and that there are no consequences,” Sheridan said.
She continued, “But we’re never going to give up. We’re going to keep teaching these kids that they can make the right decision and abstain from harmful behaviors.”
Youthworks provides these services free of charge with the support of the Texas Department of State Health Services, the United Way, foundations and private donations.
If you’re interested in learning more about the prevention specialist in your area, or would like to schedule a free tobacco presentation or parenting session call 1-800-510-3111 and ask for the Youthworks department. You may also email your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
BACODA is a non-profit 501(c)3 agency that has provided substance abuse prevention and intervention services since 1974. BACODA’s mission is to help individuals, families and communities stop alcohol/drug abuse and addiction. BACODA’s services extend to Southeast Harris, Galveston, Brazoria and Matagorda counties. BACODA is a United Way Agency. For more information, visit www.bacoda.org.
Photo: Fourth grade students working in their Positive Action workbooks during a classroom session with a BACODA prevention specialist.