Vashon garners five-year grant to tackle teen substance abuse

Vashon Island is one of three King County communities selected for a program that will enable educators and social service providers to attempt a comprehensive and long-term response to teen substance abuse.

Vashon Youth & Family Services (VYFS) will receive $130,000 a year for the next five years as a result of its designation, state money that is being directed to the Island via the county. The funds, which will come to VYFS beginning July 1, will pay for a number of services, including parent support groups and workshops, training for coaches and teachers, direct services and a review of the best anti-drug curricula available for schools and agencies.

Coupled with another state grant and federal money Vashon is already receiving to address the environmental and cultural norms behind substance abuse, the Island is poised to have nearly $500,000 a year directed toward the issue, leading to what advocates hope will be the Island’s first comprehensive response to teen substance abuse.

“It’s a big responsibility and it’s a big opportunity for us to have this kind of support over a period of time,” said Ken Maaz, VYFS’s executive director.

“This is an important issue we’re dealing with,” he added. “And it’s the first time this community has had an opportunity to address it comprehensively.”

Robin Blair, a parent and the chair of the Vashon Alliance to Reduce Substance Abuse (VARSA), said she believes Vashon is poised to turn a corner on the issue, one that has prompted considerable concern among parents, teachers and providers.

“I believe this is going to do it. I feel real optimistic, real hopeful, that these resources, along with the individuals involved, will bring this community to a new place around youth use,” she said.

Vashon’s youth report a higher use of marijuana and alcohol than their counterparts in other communities, according to surveys conducted over the last few years. The 2010 Healthy Youth Survey, released last year, for instance, found that 58 percent of the 12th-graders at Vashon High School reported consuming alcohol in the previous 30 days, compared to 40 percent statewide; 39.5 percent of those same 12th-graders said they’d used marijuana over a 30-day period, compared to 27 percent statewide.

Vashon was selected as one of three places in King County to receive targeted funds in part because of survey results, according to Jackie Berganio, community coordinator for King County Mental Health. “Our needs assessment showed that this is a community that could use more intervention,” she said.

She and her colleagues were also struck by what Berganio called Vashon’s “readiness” for such a project and the fact that the Island successfully garnered a large federal grant three years ago to address the issue of teen substance use.

“I think Vashon has been creative already,” she said.

The initiative marks a change in the way the state is directing its substance abuse dollars. In the past, many communities would get a piece of the pie by submitting individual and often small grant requests. On Vashon, those grants have helped to fund several VYFS programs, including the Guiding Good Choices curriculum for middle school students and their parents and parent coaching at the PlaySpace, also a VYFS program.

Last year, the state announced that it was adopting a different approach, called the Prevention Redesign Initiative, a coordinated funding approach targeted at those communities considered most at risk — those with high use rates, high drop-out rates or considerable economic need. The idea is to focus funding in fewer communities and to provide longterm support, state officials said.

“Our goal in redesigning and targeting our state prevention services is to leverage enough resources in the highest-need communities to achieve greater reductions in substance abuse and the harm it causes,” Chris Imhoff, director of the state’s Division of Behavior Health and Recovery Services, said in an email. “Community leaders are prepared to use these resources to help more young people succeed, and to improve the health and safety of their community.”

Vashon has already received one grant via the Prevention Redesign Initiative, funds that were used to hire Terri Tilotta, a substance abuse counselor who began working at the Vashon School District last fall.

Maaz, Blair and Luke McQuillin, VARSA’s coordinator, have spent the last several months working with other Island advocates on a plan for how they intend to use the state funds. All three said the process has been rewarding, in part because they brought several different players — from the school district to Vashon Allied Arts to the Vashon Park District — to the table to discuss how they can work together to support Vashon youth.

“We have a much tighter community working together,” McQuillin said.

Blair, who refers to herself as “an old VISTA volunteer,” said the community work has reminded her of her early days as a community organizer, when activists came together — with little money but a spirit of determination — to tackle some problems. In the course of this effort, she said, disagreements have, of course, surfaced. “But we’re all on the same page in terms of accepting responsibility and wanting to make a difference,” she said.

Particularly noteworthy, they said, has been the close working relationship VYFS and VARSA have established with the school district. “We’ve been partnering with them in a new way,” McQuillin said.

Maaz said the group’s action plan, recently submitted to the state for approval, keeps in place VYFS’s early learning programs — parenting classes and parent coaching, for instance, that occur at PlaySpace. Had Vashon not gotten the grant money, VYFS would have lost funding for those popular programs, he said.

The plan also involves delegating someone to coordinate youth activities; improving the training school personnel receive about substance abuse; analyzing programs now in place and ensuring the use of what he called “best practices” and establishing parent workshops and support groups.

The group considered using the funds to create a teen center, something many in the community have lobbied for, Maaz said. But a center would have taken nearly all of their funds and might reach only a small number of kids, he said. Finding someone to coordinate the many youth activities already on the Island, he said, “gives us more flexibility.”



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