Training aims to empower young people

High School recently took part in "Lead & Seed" training in Washburn. The training is part of a grant-funded effort to empower youth and adults to more effectively fight to counter alcohol and drug abuse among adolescents.

Most people who live in the Bay Area agree that it is a wonderful place to live, work and raise a family.

But the communities along the shore of Lake Superior are not without their issues.

Studies by the Center for Disease Control and the Wisconsin Department of Health indicate that the state ranks the highest in the United States in terms of adult and underaged alcohol use.

Ashland County ranks third in alcohol-related hospitalizations and the area is not immune from rising rates of young people struggling with addiction, suicide and violence, said Ashland County Health and Human Services Adolescent Health Project Manager Michael Cashman.

There is nothing new in this. Efforts have been made to counter problems caused by youthful drug and alcohol abuse dating back to the 1970s. Programs like "Just Say No" and Project DARE have attacked the problem, but with mixed results at best.

Still, Cashman says this is a battle worth fighting.

"There are evidence-based strategies that can be employed to improve outcomes for our teens, but change will require a cultural shift and engagement of youth and adults in our communities," he said.

The key, said Cashman, was to bring young people into the process.

"It makes sense for our teens to have input into the change process," he said. "The insight and honesty that teens bring to a discussion never ceases to

amaze me."

To this end, 18 young people and six adults from Bayfield County schools, including the South Shore, Bayfield, Washburn and Drummond districts recently took part in "Lead and Seed" training at the Washburn Public Library.

Cashman said a separate Lead & Seed training is available to Ashland County schools as well, but progress finding adult partners and forming youth councils has "been a bit slower" in the Ashland County schools.

The program — more formally known as "LEADing Community Action, SEEDing Anti-Drug Efforts" is the product of Aluiiq Professional Training LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Afognak Native Corporation, of Anchorage, Alaska, formed under the Alaska Native Claims Act of 1971. The organization's training methods have been recognized for the effectiveness of their training.

Funding for the program comes from a grant written by Ashland and Bayfield Counties in cooperation with North Lakes Community Clinics.

"It was written as a result of some of the adolescent health outcomes that we have experienced in the area with high amounts of underage drinking, suicides, violence, teen pregnancies and things like that," Cashman said.

"Lead & Seed is one of several programs that are underway to address adolescent issues. One of these is offering a more comprehensive, evidence-based reproductive health curriculum to the schools, as well as trying to engage youth, community members and parents into the process of improving adolescent health. We are trying to give them a voice and empower them to do something about the issues that are concerning them."

The teen advisory groups receiving Lead & Seed training are a big part of this.

Literature from Alutiiq says Lead & Seed is a "youth-empowered, adult-supported environmental, balanced approach to initiating healthy choices, including reducing underage drinking and substance abuse."

"The Lead & Seed program is recognized as being an evidence-based and researched-based training program through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's National Registry of Evidence-Based programs and practices," he said.

Under the program, youth leaders are selected and trained with their adult advisors who support the youth efforts. Information provided by Alutiiq said the adult advisors can include teachers, guidance counselors, parents, faith community individuals, civic organizations and prevention specialists who work with youth leaders to change behavior by changing local practices, policies and procedures.

"The mission of Lead & Seed is to reduce and prevent underage alcohol consumption, teen tobacco use and illicit drug use at the individual and population level by empowering youth and adults with the knowledge and strategies they need to build human, technical and financial capabilities, build leadership skills and use print, broadcast and electronic media effectively," the Alutiiq information said.

Cashman said once the students and adults are trained, they will be able to go back to their schools and work on the issues of concern.

Cashman said Lead & Seed is one anti-drug and alcohol abuse that actually works.

"It's actually a nationwide, highly respected and accepted program," he said.

Cashman said the training was just the start of the process.

"It's giving the kids the skills to go after the things that concern them," he said. "The hope is to grow those groups once they are in the schools."

Working with the teen councils is the Wellness for Life Coalition, Cashman said.

"It is the setting for the transfer of teen input into real change in community setting by adults who are in a position to initiate and implement change in those professional and community settings," he said.

Cashman said the Wellness for Life Coalition was an organization that could focus on teen needs.

"Using that coalition becomes a venue for those teens to come together with those professionals to share ideas and thoughts and help with decision-making processes for change," he said.

Cashman noted that the issues that they and their peers face frustrate many teens. And they are looking or an avenue that will empower them to do something to effect change.

"One local teenager who attended our last Wellness for Life Coalition meeting, talking about his feelings of helplessness around the loss of his friend and classmate said 'This is big! This is exactly what I've been looking for!'" Cashman said.

(Copyright © 2021 APG Media)

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