News

A community that cares

By Ruth Longoria

Living in an affluent community doesn't necessarily mean immunity to the problems often associated with low-income neighborhoods, such as alcohol and drugs.

If you read the weekly police report in the Reporter or happen to live near one of the homes where teen drinking parties are a regular occurrence, chances are you already know there's a problem with underage drinking on the Island.

In the past month, Island police were called to several teen drinking-related incidents.

Officers responded to a June 4 request to offer assistance to medical personnel at an underage drinking party of more than 100 youths. An underage girl required medical attention and was lying in a pool of her own urine in the street after attending a drinking party at a local park in a separate incident that same day. There have been a few incidents of intoxicated teens cited for driving under the influence or being in a car with their friends drinking from cases of liquor.

It's no wonder some parents and officials are concerned with the issue of alcohol and youths.

In a quest to bridge a gap in services to the community, and with the help of a recently acquired grant from King County, Mercer Island Youth and Family Services is embarking on a two-year project to discern the Island's unique problems and create solutions and prevention. The City Council last week approved acceptance of a county grant to YFS to begin an official Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) prevention project. The grant runs from July 1 to June 30, 2007, with a total funding of $61,260. An additional $21,915 for the project ``Communities that Care'' will come from the YFS Foundation and YFS Trust.

Cindy Goodwin, director of Mercer Island Youth & Family Services, is confident the project will be a relevant solution to existing needs in the community.

``Each community is unique and there's no cookie-cutter solution,'' Goodwin said. ``But, the Communities That Care program looks at those differences and will help us with our ongoing drive to remain focused and part of a healthy community.''

Communities that Care was developed by Dr. J. David Hawkins and Dr. Richard F. Catalona, both professors of social work and leaders of the University of Washington's Social Development Research Group. It is a model program, now used in several states across the country, and developed to help communities promote the positive development of youth and prevent problem behaviors, including substance use, drop-out and delinquency, teen pregnancy, and violence.

In addition, YFS has hired a project coordinator, Suzanne Tedesko, who will work with Goodwin and YFS administrative manager Chris Cassidy to implement the project.

Tedesko, a Seattle mother of two grown children, has been involved in several similar city-wide projects around the Seattle area. She worked on a successful Raising Healthy Children project in Edmonds, and a cross-cultural families project in Seattle middle and high schools, as well as a teen pregnancy prevention program in Seattle.

``I'm quite familiar with this program,'' she said of the Communities that Care project. ``It has been evaluative and helpful in other areas across the United States, and offers a `community up' approach. It's a template to organize the community and I'm sure it will be helpful here.''

During the first year of the project, a volunteer board will be created, with members from all sectors of the Island, including residents and members of the Island's school, recreation, public safety, business, social services and faith community. The board will discuss issues and data, including recent Healthy Youth and Asset surveys and reports from the school system. The data collected will be used to assess what are the needs of the community and, during the second year, enable the board and community groups to implement a course of action that will help with whatever the problems are determined to be.

``The community will be the one to define what our focus will be,'' Goodwin said, adding that though the project is aimed at alcohol and drug prevention, it also can be used for other youth problems, including depression, eating disorders, anxiety depression, and suicide prevention.

Cassidy, who wrote the grant application, said she's excited to see the project set in motion.

``We have a road map, but we're not sure which direction this will take us,'' she said. ``This is an exciting process.''

Sidebar: Communities that Care

Residents of all ages are needed for the Youth & Family Services' Communities That Care board. To be involved, contact Cindy Goodwin at 236-3535 or by e-mail at cynthia.goodwin@ci.mercer-island.wa.us.

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