TOGETHER! is on a mission to advance the health and well-being of all young people. This non-profit organization has been working with families for almost 30 years in the areas of drug, alcohol and tobacco prevention. Later this month, the staff at TOGETHER!, along with leaders in their field, will share the latest science in redefining prevention at the Healthy Futures Conference at the Great Wolf Lodge on April 18-19.
Healthy Futures is a conference for prevention and treatment professionals, school and district staff, nonprofit administrators and programs, community organizers, and anyone else who is interested in innovative community responses to youth substance abuse, mental health, and other barriers to health and success for youth. Healthy Futures will bring together leaders in all these fields to amplify the voices of young people, and to coordinate their approaches to solving problems. The conference is also an approved provider of continuing education clock hours for OSPI and CHES credits.
While public concern on the topic of drug, alcohol and tobacco abuse among youth has been around for decades, TOGETHER! has evolved as an organization with new discoveries in the science of addiction, and the knowledge that this complex issue requires a deeper understanding of how to reduce harm in today’s youth. Research has shown that the “scared straight” style programming of zero tolerance and abstinence-based prevention is very effective at scaring students. However, it is not resulting in students making healthier and safer choices.
Experts have learned that building youth leadership and engaging kids in the conversation is a much more effective way to ensure positive outcomes. When the students have a voice, they are more invested in their communities. Prevention begins earlier than ever with parents and educators building communities with their youngest members.
TOGETHER! implements this “flat” structure by putting staff members directly into the school. In the Tumwater School District, TOGETHER! staff is looking at the whole student and providing integrated support in all non-academic areas. TOGETHER! looks at why a student may end up abusing drugs or alcohol and addresses areas such as home life, social structures and peer pressure. Students are encouraged to develop a relationship with a trusted adult who can provide answers to their questions and direct them to resources within the community.
“When we take adults out of the center of the conversation and students share with their peers on topics such as what appropriate texting looks like, the students are listening,” shares Ari Rogers of TOGETHER! Creating youth-led discussion with community partners like SafePlace provides education and knowledge to the victims of domestic violence and their families who are vulnerable to a path of drug and alcohol abuse. TOGETHER! is a strong believer in prevention over punishment. The outcomes for youth that are involved in mediation are much better than for those who end up in a prison pipeline. “We want young people to understand the impacts of their actions and to be highly involved in healing both victims and themselves,” says Rogers. When students are approached in a group and care mindset, they are more likely to change their behaviors.
No one understands this better than the keynote speaker at the Healthy Futures Conference, Nicholas Bradford. Bradford has been a lifelong student of conflict and education. He has facilitated ropes courses and worked in a halfway house for young men returning from prison. He received his master’s degree in education policy from the University of Washington and has studied policy problems of discipline from school resource officers, zero tolerance and disproportionality as discipline. He plans to share his research at the Restorative Justice Center of the Northwest with school and district staff, nonprofit administrators and programs, and community organizers.
Attendees can expect some levity mixed in with serious topics from the other featured speaker at the conference, Sam Miller. Miller is a comedian and case manager for youth living in unstable situations on the Key Peninsula and unincorporated Gig Harbor. Miller grew up in rural Pierce County and moved to Olympia at the age of 14. Miller has had diverse work experience from being a farm hand, to a firefighter, to an assistant preschool teacher, to a chemical dependency counselor and a bouncer. He has lived with alcoholism and methamphetamine addiction since his early teens. He is now in recovery going on eight years and is currently a husband, father, student as well as a comedian. He competed in the Seattle International Comedy Competition in 2017.
The conference is open for registration. For more information on the Healthy Futures Conference and how TOGETHER! is building community resilience visit their website. Contact Ari Rogers for questions at email@example.com
1520-A Irving Street SW, Tumwater