By Lauren Gallegos
In October 2023, the Wellness & Prevention Coalition started a new five-year cycle of funding through the Office of National Drug Control Policy Drug Free Communities grant program. This competitive award will support collaborative work across sectors in the San Clemente community to prevent youth substance use and promote healthy youth activities.
The Drug Free Communities (DFC) program is unique in that it recognizes local problems need local solutions. DFC-funded coalitions engage multiple sectors of the community and implement a variety of environmental strategies to address local substance-use problems.
Evaluations demonstrate the DFC Support Program significantly reduces substance use among youth, the target population.
The Wellness & Prevention Center leads the coalition with partners including San Clemente High School, Orange County Sheriff’s Department, Orange County Health Care Agency, The Noble Path Foundation, Community Outreach Alliance, Laura’s House, Providence Mission Hospital, Picket Fence Media, Partners4Wellness, Outlets at San Clemente, PTSA, members of Pacific Coast Church, Project Youth OC, Rotary of San Clemente, SCHS students, parents and community members.
These organizations and individuals work collaboratively to plan and implement prevention-focused activities for youth and parents to build a healthier San Clemente.
This year, the coalition had some great successes. A Spanish-speaking committee, Padres en acción, jóvenes saludables, was developed to support Spanish-speaking parents and residents in San Clemente.
The first meeting, held in February 2023, had seven attendees, and the most recent meeting in June had 49. This growth can be attributed to the hard work of the project coordinators and coalition members who engage members in the community, find out what the needs are and seek to bring in support to meet those needs.
The coalition works in many ways to engage youth in developing prevention education and activities. The Noble Path Foundation includes youth in planning social activities such as guitar lessons and game nights.
It also runs the AIM High Program, which brings together all coalition sectors to educate and mentor youth to live healthy lifestyles. The seven-week program combines prevention education with mentorship and safe social activities. These free programs provide a safe space to be a teen without the pressures of drugs and alcohol.
Providence Mission Hospital leads The Strength in Numbers club at SCHS. This club gives students a space to discuss the challenges of being a teen and find support through peers and adults.
This year, the club hosted multiple on-campus campaigns including the Perfection campaign, in which students were reminded that no one is perfect and being your best self is enough. It also held lunch-time activities for students to engage in stress management and develop healthy coping skills.
Two of the club members, Emily Ceja and Ethan Furlong, were recognized during the coalition appreciation event this June for their contributions to the club’s efforts.
One of the most exciting events the coalition hosted was the San Clemente Music Festival on May 20 at the Outlets at San Clemente. Thanks to the leadership of Joanie Angeli and Jennifer Wooley-Aquino from Community Outreach Alliance, the festival was a huge success, with nearly 1,000 in attendance.
The festival featured youth musicians, a resource fair, and keynote speakers who spoke about the fentanyl crisis, mental health support and developing leadership opportunities for youth.
Thanks to the collaboration and contributions of the coalition members, we have had a very successful year. Since the coalition began, we have seen a decline in reports of youth substance use in San Clemente; however, there is always room to grow.
If you are interested in supporting the work of the coalition, join our virtual monthly meetings the second Tuesday of each month at 3:30 p.m. or our Spanish meeting the fourth Thursday of each month at 6 p.m. at Las Palmas Elementary.
Contact Leslie Lopez for more information. email@example.com
Lauren Gallegos, ACSW, is the Prevention Director at the Wellness & Prevention Center.