By Lindsay Carey
Southington’s Town-wide Effort to Promote Success (STEPS) has received another five years of funding from The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, through the Drug Free Community Grant.
STEPS Advisory Board members and town officials stood on the steps of Town Hall to make the public announcement Monday afternoon.
“Five years ago we stood on these very steps announcing that we received our first five years of our drug free communities grant,” said STEPS Coordinator Kelly Leppard.
The ONDCP put out a press release on Sept. 19 with the list of the 2014 Drug Free Community Grantees.
STEPS was awarded $625,000 for the next five years, through the federal grant from ONDCP, which receives its funding from Congress through the Drug Free Communities Act of 1997.
According to Leppard, ONDCP provides support to community coalitions like STEPS that strive to decrease local youth substance use, which overtime will decrease substance use in adults.
The Drug Free Communities Grant is also a matching grant, which means that the Southington community is responsible for matching the money STEPS receives from ONDCP. The program receives about $125,000 per year from ONDCP.
“From office space to countless hours, our community and our coalition has exceeded the matching dollars every single year,” said Leppard.
Trevor Rogers, from the STEPS Youth Council and the Advisory Board, said that he has been involved with the program since middle school.
“As a 16-year-old high school student, I’ve seen over the past six years how STEPS has changed this community and provided the youth with the building blocks to grow and have a brighter future,” said Rogers.
Rogers said that one of the ways he has seen STEPS make a difference was its developing of Asset Building Classrooms in the Southington school system. STEPS has introduced 40 developmental assets into classrooms to influence the youth to make smart decisions and not turn to alcohol and other drugs. STEPS will continue to use this educational program over the next five years.
STEPS has some new plans for the next five years. Director of Youth Services Sue Saucier announced some of those plans at the press conference.
After reviewing and releasing data from a student survey of grades seven, nine and eleven last November, the STEPS Advisory Board has decided to launch a Social Norms Marketing Campaign.
“Social Norms Campaigns seek to address people’s misconceptions about what’s normal or typical,” said Saucier. “Using reliable data, we can show that in reality the opposite is very often true.”
Saucier said that a lot of times, students are under the impression that “everybody drinks.” However, data shows that that is simply not true. STEPS will be looking to guide students by pointing out the real story.
Another new component that will be added to the STEPS program is an effort to increase the perception of harm from marijuana and prescription drugs.
“Our laws in Connecticut have changed in the last few years about marijuana, as have the laws across the country for marijuana in particular,” said Saucier. “We’re concerned that our kids perception of harm for that specifically and also for prescription drugs is that it’s not very harmful.”
In addition, STEPS is looking into working with Southington High School to provide an eighth grade transition program. There is already a transition program for fifth graders going into sixth grade.
“We know that transitions can be a really tough time for some kids,” said Saucier. “We know that that is a risky time.”
She also added that a part of the Drug Free Community grant includes enforcement. Saucier said that the Southington Police Department has been doing an excellent job breaking up underage drinking parties and also holding adults responsible when they allow underage individuals to drink on their property through the Social Host Law.
However, Saucier said that STEPS is looking into increasing the police enforcement activities in Southington. She said the board is looking into using GIS mapping to identify hotspots for drug and alcohol activity in town.
By Lindsay Carey