“The ACCESS Substance Abuse Program (ASAP) Community Coalition formed in response to substance use concerns in the Arab-American community of Wayne County, Michigan, including a 2008 drunk driving fatality involving a local Arab-American man,” said the coalition’s Public Health Coordinator Mona Hijazi. “Even in the face of this well publicized tragedy, many community members refused to acknowledge that alcohol was a concern for the local population, due to the religious prohibition of alcohol use in Islam. The individuals who went on to form ASAP were concerned by the level of denial they saw after this death. ASAP initially focused on alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and prescription drugs. In addition to the goal of reducing use of these substances among youth, ASAP made stigma reduction a primary focus of the coalition. ACCESS (Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services) is the lead agency for ASAP. Today, ACCESS is the largest Arab American community nonprofit in the U.S., with a 47-year history of excellence.”
“Prior to the pandemic, we increased the capacity to respond to substance use in the community by expanding our youth membership and developing youth councils in the community,” said Hijazi. “Our youth worked on recruiting events, combined with an awareness campaign that addressed stigma around substance misuse in the community. During the past year, our youth educated 16 tobacco vendors on the importance of not selling to minors and launched a photovoice project that addressed the normalization of tobacco use among youth in the Arab Community. Both the ASAP and the Substance Use and Tobacco Prevention program at ACCESS have coordinated monthly substance use forums at local community centers, including schools and faith-based organizations. Our team of Health Educators successfully presented LifeSkill Training that has proven to be effective in reducing and preventing drug use and violence among youth. In hopes of responding to the opioid crisis, we also collaborated with different sectors in the community to host several Naloxone trainings.”
“During this unprecedented time, we are working hard to find new ways to connect our youth, parents and community together even while separated,” said Hijazi. “We are fully aware of the uncertainty and destabilization brought by the current COVID-19 pandemic, and our shared responsibility of preventing substance misuse continues to be as essential as it has ever been. Because of this, we started several webinars, trainings, media campaign and consistent youth meetings. We started our virtual trainings by engaging our youth members to take the lead on topics that enable them to make healthy choices whilst refraining from substance use. Our webinars covered the importance of mindfulness, coping with depression and anxiety, vaping and hookah, and more. Another successful training was our Advocacy Training that was hosted in collaborating with Take on Hate – a national campaign of ACCESS. This training served as an introduction to advocacy, shedding light on substance use policies.”
“Both the ACCESS Substance Abuse Program Community Coalition and the Substance Use and Tobacco Prevention program commit to social distancing guidelines during this pandemic,” said Hijazi. “Our primary commitment is to the health and safety of all community members. Nevertheless, we already adjusted how we work, and will continue to find ways to educate, connect and engage with our community. We are currently working closely with school administration to host bilingual seminars where all meetings will take place virtually. We also aspire to host multiple future webinars.”
“It is vital that we proceed with our prevention efforts within Crestwood Public School District,” said Hijazi. “We are committed to continue working with Crestwood Schools and their leadership, in hopes of engaging more parents, youth and staff. We also aspire to connect with the District PTA. We have successfully developed and implemented parent dialogues and presentations in Macomb County and would like to do the same in Dearborn and Dearborn Heights. We are committed to culturally competent prevention methods and our team is always open to any ideas, topics or suggestions that work best for schools.
“ASAP celebrated National Prevention Week this year by hosting weekly webinars to 140 attendees throughout the week,” said Hijazi. “We honored Red Ribbon Week through social media platforms, a youth meeting featuring a jeopardy game on mental health and substance use and by attending a local food drive where we provided community members with educational resources on Red Ribbon Week and gave attendees a red ribbon to tie on their cars.”
“During these difficult times, my advice is to be patient and open to new ideas,” said Hijazi. “Take the time to be mindful of your community and involve your coalition in more community events such as food drives and COVID testing sites. Provide your schools, parents and youth with flexible options to work on our prevention efforts. I also advise you to be mindful of yourself and your coalition members. With busy work schedules and working extra hard to keep the community engaged, we tend to forget we need time for ourselves.”
“We plan to attend CADCA’s National Leadership Forum this February,” said Hijazi. “Our youth loved the Virtual Mid-Year and they can’t wait to experience Forum.”