Youth—with their high levels of enthusiasm and energy—can prove a valuable ally in substance misuse prevention efforts. They know how to communicate in ways that resonate with their peers and they bring creative new ideas to the table. However, figuring out how to involve youth can be a challenge.
When Montana’s Department of Public Health and Human Services was awarded a Partnership for Success (PFS) 2013 grant from SAMHSA in November 2013, one of their goals was to find more meaningful ways to involve youth in their prevention efforts. “It’s always been our vision to include youth,” says Vicki Turner, Director of Montana’s Prevention Resource Center, “but we wanted to go beyond involving them in token ways, to really get their ideas and participation. If we are going to have an impact on the lives of kids and families, we need to include them in meaningful ways, every step of the way.”
To support Montana in their efforts, CAPT’s West Regional Resource Team developed a virtual training series designed to help prevention practitioners explore new and creative ways to engage youth. “Online was our best alternative,” explained Turner. “Montana is a large frontier state, with sparsely populated rural areas and limited prevention resources. Taking a virtual approach helped us keep costs in check as well as maximize participation.”
Practitioners began the series by participating in CAPT’s self-paced online course Involving Youth in Your Substance Abuse Prevention Program. The six-module, interactive training offered practitioners a foundation for engaging youth in meaningful ways, introducing concepts such as “adultism” and the importance of engaging youth in different levels of responsibility and decision-making. “[The course] was easy to navigate, the information was great, and the way it was presented was engaging,” said Turner. “Also, the design of the course allowed participants to focus on the content areas that were most important to them. This flexibility was important to us, since our participants came from a range of prevention fields, and had a range of experiences.”
Next, practitioners participated in the webinar Involving Youth: Using Social Media to Reach Young Audiences. “We need to reach [youth] where they’re ‘at’—and for a lot of young people, this is on social media,” said Turner. “Also, social media transcends distance and it’s free—perfect for a state like Montana.” The webinar went beyond what social media is to how it can be used. It also explored common misconceptions (for example, that using social media will produce immediate results) and key strategies for success (for example, having youth take the lead in social media efforts).
The series concluded with a peer-sharing webinar featuring presentations by three practitioners from Nevada and Iowa who have successfully involved youth in their prevention coalitions. One of the presenters was a young woman who has been involved in Nevada’s NYE Communities Coalition since she was twelve. Sierra McKillips is now organizing the activities she once participated in as a girl. McKillips emphasized the importance of creating leadership activities that allow young people to continue to learn and grow. She explained that these opportunities benefit not only the young people, but also the coalition, by keeping young people on-board and engaged.
According to Turner, the series provided the momentum Montana needs for the work ahead. “We always understood that youth need to be at the table, playing an active role in our prevention efforts,” she said. “Now we have the tools to make this a reality.”
For more information about CAPT activities in Montana, contact Michelle Frye-Spray, Coordinator, CAPT West Regional Resource Team at firstname.lastname@example.org.