DREAM of Hattiesburg (DOH) tagline – “Prevention For Everyone. Everyone For Prevention.” – is very fitting. Its comprehensive prevention approach ensures the engagement of community leaders who are pivotal in helping children and young people grow into healthy adults. For the past 30 years, this community-based substance abuse prevention agency has been working to prevent and/or reduce the abuse of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs in this southeastern Mississippi community of 46,805.
This week, CADCA had opportunity to interview Ieshia Donaldson, DOH’s Prevention Coordinator. We talked about the coalition’s vision, challenges and initiatives which are making a difference in the lives of Hattiesburg’s children and youth. DOH creates and implements a cadre of initiatives, designed to:
- Improve academic performance
- Develop leadership skills
- Educate children on how to live healthy, drug-free lifestyles
- Garner community support around drug and alcohol abuse prevention
“I am very proud to be DOH’s Prevention Coordinator because the work we do is truly creating the leaders of tomorrow, helping to ensure that our community remains healthy well into the future,” affirms Donaldson. Spotlighted programs include:
- It Starts with Us: This annual youth conference, which is supported by DOH’s Superintendent Committee, provides critical opportunities for middle and high school students to obtain and share information about suicide prevention, bullying and cyber bullying, and alcohol, tobacco and other drug abuse. “Every February, we invite about 200 students from different schools in the Pine Belt, and we rotate participation between our high schools and middle schools. Student response has been excellent,” confirms Donaldson. “In 2017, we’ll be hosting 20 students from each of our 10 high schools (both public and private). It Starts with Us is a great way to educate our youth on approaches to prevent being a part of the problem by becoming a part of the solution.”
- DREAM Team! and Junior DREAMers: 30 high school and middle school students who have pledged to be drug free are learning how to be tomorrow’s leaders. Says Donaldson, “They take on community service projects of their own choosing. They volunteer at a local animal shelter, collecting donated toys for foster children to commemorate the winter holidays, host their own benefit concert to raise money for future projects and star in a commercial for a suicide prevention campaign. The DREAM Team! & Junior DREAMers are role models to their peers and are making our community a better and safer place to live.”
- Underage drinking prevention: Research data indicates that Hattiesburg’s biggest drug-related challenge is underage drinking. As such, DOH has integrated Project Northland’s curriculum into the community’s school system, with a particular emphasis on working with grades 4-6. “This six-week program trains over 300 students per year. DOH also recognizes Red Ribbon Week annually where we go into schools across the Pine Belt to deliver substance abuse prevention presentations to students. We get a lot of help from community volunteers, too. This year DOH and our committed volunteers were able to reach 6,739 students in grades K-6 during Red Ribbon Week,” affirms Donaldson. “Doing programs such as these helps us reach more youth in our community as well as get community members and leaders involved in prevention efforts.”
DOH also promotes a campaign called “Sticker Shock,” a national campaign sponsored by MAAUD (Mississippians Advocating Against Unhealthy Decisions). This campaign aims to reach those individuals over age 21 who legally purchase alcohol and then illegally provide it to minors. The campaign consists of stickers being adhered to multi-packs of alcoholic beverages (beer, wine coolers, etc.) in participating retail stores to provide important reminders about the penalties associated with selling to minors, social hosting and zero tolerance statues.
“Our ability to bring the right people to the table who have their hands on the pulse of how to keep our young people safe and are committed to doing so is perhaps our greatest asset,” concludes Donaldson.