During National Prevention Month, Crissy Groenewegen of the Northern Dutchess Community Coalition shared how they have been spreading their mention of substance use prevention during a time of social isolation.
“Most of the same programs that we were delivering live, we are now able to deliver virtually,” she said.
The aim of the coalition, which operates under the guidance of the Council on Addiction Prevention and Education of Dutchess County (CAPE), is to provide substance-free activities and programs for school-age teens to take part in.
They partner with local school districts to offer these services, which are funded in part through a federal five-year grant from the Center for Disease Control and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
“As a community educator, I address risk and protective factors and try and look for ways to reduce risk factors by creating awareness and events that lead to better outcomes for our youth,” she said. “We promote a dance party or a trivia night and do events like that to try and find an outlet that is a safer alternative than substance use.”
By providing information over fear tactics, the Northern Dutchess Community Coalition offers a safe space for its students to understand the risks involved with substance use.
“What we have to do now is educate, prevent, refer and treat,” she said. “Just like cancer and diabetes are a disease, we don’t desert people when they suffer. We don’t ridicule them, we support them.”
Social isolation is a big risk factor according to Groenewegen. This was crucial this year, in a time where people were forced to stay home to mitigate their risk of catching the COVID-19 virus.
“When people are isolated and have no support, that’s a risk factor, so what was very interesting in the with the pandemic is that basically that went in reverse,” she said “That really put the whole world of prevention and mental health into a tizzy. We had to adapt and address these factors and make sure that we could still provide the same message, the same prevention message and still accomplish the same goals.”
Counselors within the partner schools, which range from Hyde Park to Amenia, has been meeting with different student groups virtually. Initially, there were hurdles in re-establishing these groups on a virtual level.
“There was a lot to think about where those kinds of things are concerned, because you’re talking about now confidential issues over the Internet,” she said. “There were many challenges.”
Today, programs are slowly transitioning to resuming in-person meetings. In the meantime, Groenewegen advises youth who are tempted to start using substances to cope with mental health struggles to ask for help.
“Reach out to the supports that you have, and don’t be afraid to come forward,” she said.