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$1 million grant will aid prevention

Among members of Hubbard County's Drug and Alcohol Task Force on hand to acknowledge St. Joseph's Community Health $1 million planning and implementation grant award from the state are, from left, Don Dearstyne, Hubbard County Attorney; Joe Peterson, state probation parole agent; Terry Eilers, Park Rapids Police Chief; Ben Koppelman, St. Joseph's President/CEO; Corey Aukes, Hubbard County Sheriff; Heidi Wormley, Nevis School home interventionist; RaeAnn Mayer, St. Joseph's Community Health manager; and J...

The Hubbard County Drug and Alcohol Task Force makes one thing crystal clear: Most youth, ranging in age from grades six through 12, are not involved in alcohol abuse, but it remains a serious problem for those who are.

Members of the task force steering committee met at St. Joseph's Area Health Services recently to accept a $1 million planning and implementation work grant from the Minnesota Department of Human Services Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division official.

Strategies and evidence-based alcohol use prevention programs will be integrated throughout the communities and schools. There will be new opportunities to reach youth and change the perceptions about community norms in regard to underage alcohol use.

"We see this as a great opportunity to continue to improve the health and the lives of people in our area," said Ben Koppelman, St. Joseph's President/CEO.

The grant was sponsored through St. Joseph's Community Health.

"We are fortunate to have many good leaders from our area who care about our youth and want to make a lasting impact," he said

Jeff Johnson, Park Rapids Area High School principal, said the grant will help the task force to sustain "great efforts that have already been made.

"It is an opportunity to get educational programs into the schools and build on the work that has already been done," Johnson added.

Heidi Wormley, Nevis School home interventionist, said the county couldn't have secured the grant without St. Joseph's to host the grant. She also shared the fact that the Hubbard County Child Abuse Prevention Council was recently honored with Blue Ribbon status for its vital work in the community.

St. Joseph's Community Health manager, RaeAnn Mayer, commended the work of the task force and steering committee (nearly 80 members strong) for the past five years to bring alcohol prevention efforts to this point.

She noted it is the final year of funding from the Federal Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant dollars from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The $1 million grant provided by the state will bring classroom-based programs to Hubbard County schools and focus on family, community and policy efforts. A "Positive Community Norms" approach will utilize media and other activities to reach youth.

Sara Bowles, current chemical health coordinator with the Hubbard County Youth Drug and Alcohol Task Force, said the grant funding should allow the task force to continue a lot of the programs already working in the community.

"The main focus will be alcohol prevention and working on programs to combat abuse in the community," she said.

"The goal is to close the gap between the actual and perceived norms of behaviors and attitudes," Mayer said. "There will be new conversations among youth and adult community members to change the perceptions about community norms and underage alcohol use, to promote better education, communication, monitoring, enforcement and policies to reduce underage drinking."

A stipulation of the grant is that youth groups be involved in every community in the county.

Anna Erickson
Anna Erickson is editor of the Wadena Pioneer Journal.
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