This past September, 6th-grade students in various Southern Illinois schools discovered a different sort of curriculum on their class schedules, thanks to UCC-related Hoyleton Youth and Family Services: a life skills curriculum geared toward substance abuse prevention. The in-school partnership between Fairview Heights-based CHHSM ministry and the schools allows Hoyleton’s substance abuse Prevention Specialists to help educate youth on various substances while also building critical skills necessary for health life choices.
Based on the Botvin’s Life Skills Curriculum, “the program begins with 6th grade and follows the youth each year as they reach their 8th-grade year,” says Director of Community Support Services Kristen Shinn. The life-skills topics include “assertiveness vs. passiveness, making decisions, self-image, social skills and communication skills, and coping with anxiety.”
The middle school curriculum is part of Hoyleton’s Substance Abuse Prevention Program. Since 2012, the substance abuse prevention program has focused on helping to prevent and/or delay youth from using or abusing substances, including underage drinking, drugs, prescription medication, and smoking cigarettes and vapes.
The middle school youth learn via discussions, presentations, role playing, games, and other activities that reinforce and help the students retain the information.
The other half of the program is geared toward high school students. “The high school component engages youth through advisory committees, giving participants a voice in their communities regarding substance use,” says Shinn. “The youth [middle and high school] also participate in National Prevention Week by hosting events and educating their communities.”
During 2018’s National Prevention Week — an annual health observance dedicated to increasing public awareness of, and action around, mental and/or substance use disorders — the middle school youth participated in the #DearFutureMe Campaign. The youth wrote messages to their future selves about what they’re doing today to ensure a healthier tomorrow. The messages included reasons they will choose to not drink, plus what to say when presented with substances. In 2019, National Prevention Week takes place May 12-19.
Since the beginning of 2018, more than 700 Southern Illinois youth have participated in Hoyleton’s Substance Abuse Prevention Program. Currently, the program is helping youth in Illinois’ Clinton and Washington Counties, along with some communities in St. Clair and Monroe Counties. “We would like to continue to expand the program in communities throughout Southern Illinois,” Shinn says. “We believe that by educating youth on the dangers of substance use, providing resources, and engaging various preventive initiatives, we can build stronger communities.”
The program received an additional boost during #GivingTuesday, Nov. 27. Hoyleton easily reaching its $1,500 goal, and the funds raised will help the prevention education to continue.
“The funds allow the youth to host community events, educate their community, and provide reading materials to their friends and family about ways to prevent substance abuse,” says Shinn. “Events such as parent education nights, youth leadership activities, and town hall meetings are also supported through funds raised.”
The grassroots prevention program also helps youth who might not have other opportunities to learn about substances and health life choices, says Shinn.
“Our Prevention Specialists work hard offering youth healthier alternatives and perspectives through this program,” she adds. “The program allows an opportunity for youth to discuss these matters when they may not have another venue to ask the questions around substances and ways to avoid using substances.”
In addition to the youth program, Hoyleton also partners with the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) and the RX Abuse Leadership Initiative of Illinois (RALI), leading a statewide effort to distribute safe prescription drug disposal pouches.
“Hoyleton prides itself on being a resource in the community,” Shinn says. “We hope to continue to provide the support and care that those in need require. From workshops on mental health and addressing trauma to navigating complex public programs and child welfare systems, we are here to help.”