For the last five years, Newton County Drug Free Coalition (a strategy team of Newton County Community Partnership – Family Connection) has sponsored a Kick the Habit event in one or more Newton County high school. The program began in 2014 as a way to support GNR Health Department’s Kick Butt’s Day campaign targeted to youth. On the surface the event is a community resource showcase, but the level of student input and interactivity provides a unique opportunity for youth to advocate for their and their friends’ own health and wellness.
Newton High School was targeted for the pilot event because the president of the FBLA club was looking for a project and volunteered to work with the Coalition partners on planning and implementation. Over the course of five years, event leadership has grown from a single youth coordinator to a team comprised of a Senior Chair, Junior Co-Chair, and Sophomore Chair-in training. The planning process now includes as many as thirty-five students over the course of six months, with an additional fifteen to twenty students supporting the actual event in the spring. Newton High’s first event had only four information tables manned by Coalition partner professionals (underage drinking prevention, tobacco cessation, suicide prevention, and prescription drug use prevention). In the course of time, the event has more than doubled with booths representing an array of wellness issues, staffed by youth ambassadors who pre-train to educate their peers through interactive activities, and the affiliated professionals available for consultation as needed. Wellness topics still include substance abuse prevention, but also range from how to have healthy relationships to avoid dating and domestic violence, identifying your personal sources of strength for better mental health, and ways that physical fitness and nutrition build healthy minds and bodies. Annually, at least eight hundred students participate over three lunch periods. Each year, the students have opted to keep the original name for the event, coming from the position of being strong enough to kick bad habits out of their way.
Because the planning group at Newton High School has become so strong and has a faculty advisor who is a member of the Coalition, the partners were able to shift attention to developing a Kick the Habit event at Eastside High School in 2018. At first, school staff were unable to identify a student chair for the project so Coalition partners met with a series of students to get input on a theme and structure that would fit the school’s personality. Several clubs supplied twenty volunteers on the day of the event, supporting five partner tables and reaching approximately four hundred students during two lunch periods. Several of the event volunteers indicated that they are eager to help with planning the 2019 event, and a faculty representative from Alcovy High School attended in anticipation of implementing their first event in spring 2019.
An additional result of the effort put into developing youth voice through this initiative is that the Drug Free Coalition now has a committed team of youth representatives attending the monthly strategy team meetings. The Coalition meets at Newton College and Career Academy so that students from each of the three high schools can be included. The youth partners offer real-time insight to the issue of substance use among their peers and give their feedback as prevention campaigns are developed. Initiatives targeted to teens and their families include social hosting prevention materials distributed at high school sports events, a safe and sober celebrations campaign targeted to graduates and their parents, and a prom safety campaign designed to support students in staying safe and sober during and after prom. Several of the youth representatives say that they volunteered for the Coalition specifically because of their experience with a Kick the Habit event.
If you would like more information about Kick the Habit or the Newton County Drug Free Coalition, contact Mollie Melvin at 770-786-0807 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The Drug Free Coalition is a strategy team of Newton County Community Partnership and invites all members of the public interested in substance abuse prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery to participate. The Coalition meets monthly at Newton College and Career Academy in Covington.
Mollie Melvin is Program Director for Newton County Community Partnership and has worked recently with HEARTS for Families, providing activities to promote prevention of underage drinking. Mollie has worked in organizations supporting families and children since 1987, first in Savannah then coming to Covington in 2006. In addition to chairing the Newton County Drug Free Coalition, Mollie sits on the Newton County School System CTAE Advisory Committee and the Georgia Piedmont Technical College Early Childhood Education Advisory Committee. She has a passion for promoting family literacy and working with youth volunteers through the Hands On Newton program.