Last month, staff & members of the Alaska Wellness Coalition attended the National Prevention Networking conference in Seattle. Hope Finkelstein, AWC Coalition Coordinator presented the story of the AWC and how the specific strategy of implementing the statewide Be [You] campaign has served to both increase the capacity of the AWC as a whole and its individual members. The Anchorage based Healthy Voices Healthy Choices coalition sent three teens to the NPN’s first annual youth track.
Zara Smelcer, HVHC Prevention Project Manager, reported the youth preferred attending the adult track. She stated, “Even though they already knew about “Be [You],” they learned more at that session than the entire youth track.”
“I think rather than having all the youth stay in the same room all day it would be greatly beneficial to emulate the adult track and have the option to pick a choose various presentations throughout the day that may be more tailored to that particular coalition’s needs.” Olivia Stoneking, one of the youth shared, “There should be different classes or presentation that coalitions can choose from after short group presentations.”
Barae Hirsch, another Alaska teen expressed similar thoughts: “The team from Alaska had already created an evaluation and assessment plan, and the training team seemed more focused on turning the conference into an elementary school pep rally than a learning experience. I watched participants be told by the training team that establishing suicide and depression prevention in youth as a community goal was “not what they were looking for,” even as these very real issues are proven again and again to be the root cause of drug and substance abuse. The youth portion of the conference was clearly geared towards elementary-age children, and I found myself playing introductory party games with 11-year-olds. While I think it is essential to engage youth in creating supportive programs for youth, I believe that the youth track at NPN needs to be sorted by age and develop more nuanced perspectives than simply “drugs are bad,” and “we need to get rid of drugs.” I hope that reflection will produce a more sophisticated approach to the complex issue that is substance abuse.”
I learned that many students at the conference, even the young ones, were deeply impacted by substance abuse, often in close members of their own family. I think that often the issue of drug abuse is overlooked in favor of more “violent” or exciting issues, but it was very obvious that many of these participants felt there was a pressing issue that was doing real harm to their communities. I know that I will view substance abuse and especially efforts in substance abuse prevention in a more appreciative light for the work that is being done and the passion evident in that work.