TOWNSHEND, Vt. – West River Valley Thrives (Thrives), a substance use prevention coalition in Windham County, has recently received a $40,902 grant from the Vermont Department of Health to help strengthen efforts to address youth substance misuse in the West River Valley. Specifically, this funding has allowed Thrives to hire a part-time Parent/Caring Adult Engagement Specialist, Sara Webb, to help build connections, capacity, and engagement by parents and other caring adults as a strategy to prevent youth substance use.
Thrives’ mission is to support and promote healthy lifestyle choices with an emphasis on the prevention of alcohol, nicotine, and other drug use by young people. The organization serves a large rural area in southern Vermont that includes the towns of Brookline, Jamaica, Marlboro, Newfane, Townshend, Wardsboro, Windham, and their associated villages. Since its inception in 2012, Thrives has been making a difference by collaborating with a broad array of stakeholders to help reduce risk factors that can lead to substance use, while strengthening protective factors known to help young people succeed. In addition to this new part time position, the organization currently has 3 full time staff and operates out of an office at Leland and Gray Union Middle and High School in Townshend.
Engaging parents and caring adults in young people’s lives, inside and outside the home, is a promising protective factor. Research shows that parent engagement makes it more likely that children and adolescents will avoid unhealthy behaviors, such as tobacco, alcohol, and other drug use. (CDC Strategies for Parent Engagement and School Health, 2012). Furthermore, when people see “school” as nothing more than a teacher and their students, they fail to see the role the broader system plays in the success of children (www.frameworkinstitute.org). This highlights the need for “a village” approach to raising youth, including promoting developmental relationships with other caring adults (www.searchinstitute.org/).
Thrives Director Meg Gonzalez says “Adding the Parent/Caring Adult Engagement Specialist position to our team will help us to connect with parents and other caring adults where they live and will deepen our understanding of the risk and protective factors, culture and conditions specific to each town. This will allow us to tailor our efforts to better meet the needs in each community we serve.” In addition to developing more targeted strategies, Thrives also plans to expand its work with families at the elementary level to help build capacity before middle and high school. Sara Webb has a background in nonprofit program management. As a West River Valley resident, she has connected with the community at NewBrook Elementary by serving on the Farm-to-School committee, PTO, and Principal Advisory Committee. She also represents the district as an At-large Member of the WRED School Board. Sara and her husband live in Brookline with their two children who attend NewBrook Elementary School.
Sara Webb says “I am excited to be joining Thrives and helping to expand their work to include elementary school families. I am passionate about helping our communities grow and thrive, and look forward to connecting with other parents and caring adults to achieve this goal.”
To learn more about West River Valley Thrives, visit their website at www.wrvthrives.org/.