By Karen Vernon
What if we could leverage the energy, creativity and passion of youth to change the world?
PATH starts by identifying the community’s most pressing health needs that are identified in our region’s Community Health Needs Assessments. Working with community partners – including Mission Health – PATH helps design and implement health initiatives tailored to their community. The focus? Long-term, sustainable change.
In 2009, a group of physicians approached PATH to ask for help in building awareness about the growing problem of prescription drug abuse in the community. With help from these stakeholders, along with local elected officials, PATH worked with the community to form the Mitchell Yancey Substance Abuse Task Force (MYSATF) and began exploring ways to advocate and educate people about this critical health issue.
This is where the kids come in. Seeking to get upstream and approach the issue from the perspective of prevention, PATH received funding from Mission Health to create advocacy groups in four local middle schools. The grant supports the facilitation of youth-led groups as they work to build participants’ capacity to advocate on behalf of substance abuse prevention while also developing lifelong leadership skills.
“It’s all about engaging the kids in crafting their messages,” Ashly Maag of Mission Health’s Community Investment team said of the skit. “The middle school students were empowered by what they learned in their peer group and were eager to share it with the elementary students.”
Other more targeted initiatives have included:
- Regional planning with other youth coalitions to address barriers that keep youth from being happy, healthy and productive in their community
- Partnering with UNCA to complete environmental scans to identify and raise community awareness regarding the ways that alcohol and tobacco are being marketed and targeted toward youth
- Planning and advocacy with local elected officials to help their schools become truly smoke-free campuses
- A program to put stickers on cases of beer at local retailers to warn buyers to stop and consider the consequences before providing alcohol to minors
“We’re so grateful for the funding and support from Mission Health Community Investment,” said Schell McCall, Executive Director of PATH. “It has enabled us to develop and grow these youth advocacy programs in our middle schools, supporting our students as leading change agents for substance abuse prevention in our community as well as increase the knowledge, skills and capacity of our Mitchell Yancey Substance Abuse Task Force coalition members.”