Penn State team leads efforts to prevent youth substance abuse in PA


“Research on PROSPER, a national prevention research initiative, has really highlighted the power of combining family programs with school-based prevention programs,” said Jochebed Gayles, assistant research professor of health and development with EPIS and the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center. (PRC). “In particular, youth who participated in both programs showed the greatest reduction in drug abuse compared to other youth who received one or no programs.”

A community approach to help young people

The project provides training under the Social Development Strategy to anyone who works with youth in the comm. The focus is on creating opportunities for youth to participate in prosocial activities – such as caring for a classroom pet – teaching them the skills needed to succeed in their business and providing recognition public about their success. The goal is for young people to form strong, caring relationships with people who have healthy beliefs and clear standards.

Because community participation is essential to the success of the project, the project team trains people at each of the sites to create communication plans and facilitate focus groups.

“It’s been rewarding to lead communities using focus groups to see what’s working and what’s not, what we should continue to do, and where else we might want to focus,” said Aaron Luneke , EPIS research data analyst.

“Our sites came up with some incredibly creative recruiting ideas,” Burris added. “In addition to billboards, direct mail and flyers, venues advertised their programs on signs in bus shelters, towels, grocery carts, window stickers and coffee cup sleeves. produced short videos to play on school monitors and at sporting events, and paid for social media ads.”

The sites also use professionally produced PA Start prevention messages to recruit community members into the programs and promote community awareness of drug abuse prevention techniques.

Erin Shelton, project coordinator with Effective Prevention in Connellsville Communities, said “how our community has embraced the program has really helped us reach as many young people and families as possible in Connellsville.”

The project is funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, and the Pennsylvania Department of Education. The EPIS team designs tools and procedures for data collection and project evaluation in collaboration with project funders and participating communities.

Gayles said building trust and relationships with community coordinators and project staff was an important part of the process, noting that community members were able to provide input into the creation of tools for evaluation and data communication resources through honest and meaningful conversations.

Participating sites are made up of these community partners:

  • Beaver County – Keystone Wellness Programs and Aliquippa, New Brighton and Rochester School Districts
  • Erie County – Northwestern Pennsylvania and Erie Public Schools Family Services
  • Fayette County – EPPIC, Fayette County Drug and Alcohol Commission and Connellsville School District
  • Lancaster County — Joining Forces for Prevention, Lancaster General Hospital and East Lancaster and Pequea Valley School Districts
  • Schuylkill County — Raiders Promise-Schuylkill, Clinical Outcomes Group Inc. and Tamaqua School District

The EPIS team also includes Janet Welsh, professor of health and human development research at the PRC and principal investigator of the project; Sophia Amarillo, support assistant for EPIS meetings and training; and Nataly Barragan, EPIS Project Assistant.


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