By Chris Hendrickson, Monitor
The perception still strongly exists among many Sky Valley teenagers that in order to be cool, you need to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol and use drugs. Local research at Sky Valley schools has shown that early initiation into drug and alcohol use among high school students is close to 50 percent in certain age groups.
A group of local citizens hopes to make that change.
These recent Sultan School District statistics have inspired members of the community to take action and promote positive change by developing a community volunteer organization called the Sky Valley Community Coalition.
Sky Valley Community Coalition’s mission is to “reduce the negative impacts of substance abuse, especially among youth in the Skykomish Valley,” as stated in the Coalition’s 2013 5-year Strategic Plan. Currently, the Coalition is about 20 members strong, and still in the membership-building phase. They are seeking additional community involvement, as key players are needed for the Coalition to be able to take the important strides to further their cause. Future goals include applying for a federal drug-free communities grant, along with achieving 501C3 non-profit status.
The concept for a community outreach began to take root after the 2009 gang-related stabbing death of a 17-year old Marysville boy named Antonio Marks, who was killed just feet away from the Sultan City Hall.
“Having a knifing happen right off of Main Street was pretty devastating to our little town,” said Mayor Carolyn Eslick.
A panel was created at that time which included social workers from Volunteers of America, Mayor Eslick, the police chief, counselors from the school district and some ministers. A community meeting was held to give the citizens a chance to speak and voice their concerns.
“Out of that came the idea that we really needed to be working towards a healthier community and a drug-free community,” stated Mayor Eslick.
The Coalition began to come together formally in 2011, as Mayor Eslick, former Police Chief Jeff Brand and Sultan Volunteers of America Director Dave Wood recognized that there remained a need for proactive steps to be taken against drug and alcohol abuse among the youth in the community. City Councilmember Sarah Davenport-Smith also played an important role as the coalition began to grow and take shape.
Wood took the reins and began to facilitate the Coalition, gathering group members and introducing the idea of applying for the federal drug-free communities grant.
“We got far enough to get our bylaws,” remembered Davenport-Smith, speaking of specific rules which non-profit organizations utilize to self-regulate.
The group then suffered a temporary setback as Wood became ill, and passed away in September of 2011.
In 2012 they re-grouped and took another look at the statistics on drug and alcohol abuse in the schools, again determining that the need for a community coalition continued to exist.
“It wasn’t necessarily increasing, but it wasn’t decreasing either,” said Davenport-Smith about the amount of drug and alcohol abuse in the schools.
The group began to function again, and with the assistance of Snohomish County Prevention Specialist Joe Neigel, they were able to obtain a $5,200 county grant specifically purposed for keeping communities drug-free. This grant money enabled them to draft the coalition’s official 5-year strategic plan which carefully identifies specific risk factors which have been scientifically determined to be predictors of teen substance abuse.
The coalition has identified the Sultan School District as one of the most at-risk communities in Snohomish County. They are examining both community risk factors as well as individual risk factors in an effort to move towards successful prevention.
The Coalition focuses on strategies that are statistically proven to be effective in helping to prevent drug and alcohol abuse in youth. An essential aspect of this has been to establish a group of teens who are willing to become advocates for staying drug and alcohol-free, and who want to spread their positive message of self-worth to their peers in the community.
The Youth Coalition is comprised of seven Sultan High School students, from freshman to seniors. They meet weekly, and are advised by Sultan Police Chief Robert Beidler, who is serving as a mentor to the teens. They have developed their own trademark, or catchphrase, which is “Want More.”
The idea being, “when you want more, you won’t settle for less,” said Davenport-Smith.
The coalition would like to recruit members to assist in advancing their primary goal of reducing substance abuse among youth in the Sky Valley.
People who are interested in becoming involved in the Sky Valley Community Coalition can attend the next meeting which will be held on Wednesday, April 10, from 1 to 3 p.m. in the Mountainview Community Church at 211 6th St., in Sultan.
Involvement with the coalition can be either as a voting member or an advisory member. For more information about the Sky Valley Community Coalition contact Carolyn Eslick or Sarah Davenport-Smith at Sultan City Hall, (360) 793-2231.