“Some people say it is hard to stay in touch with Washington,” said Deputy Director David Mineta of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). “That is not true from our side.”
Deputy Director Mineta oversees ONDCP’s Office of Demand Reduction, which focuses on promoting drug prevention and drug treatment programs, as well as the agency’s newly created focus on programs for individuals in recovery from addiction. He, along with Jamila Robinson, Policy Analyst, Prevention Branch, Executive Office of the President, visited Ettrick Elementary School last Tuesday to observe the Buddy2Buddy project.
Buddy2Buddy is a collaborative project between Ettrick Elementary School’s 21st Century Learning Grant, Communities In Schools of Chesterfield, Chesterfield Mental Health Prevention Services and SAFE. It is a nine-week program that has trained Matoaca High School mentors who facilitate discussion to Ettrick Elementary School students on the positive aspects of leading a substance-free lifestyle.
“The program was piloted this year, and we are currently in the second session of the program,” said Kimberly Reynolds, the coordinator for Communities In Schools of Chesterfield at Ettrick. “I can’t say enough about the program,” she said. “The kids have been so awesome, so professional. It has been a wonderful program.”
Reynolds hosted a reception for Mineta and Robinson with local senior officials as well as directors involved in the collaborative project. During the reception, Mineta said his office has been looking towards 21st Century schools to have a drug prevention program in the school. The success of the Buddy2Buddy program is one that he will share with other school systems. He thanked the county school system, SAFE, and community leaders and mentors that came together to make this happen. “We have been looking for this kind of program,” he said.
Sherry Callear, Powhatan County Mental Health Director – former Chesterfield Mental Health Prevention Specialist (Sr. Clinician), spearheaded the project and wrote the curriculum for the program. Callear served on the Underage Drinking Taskforce (UDTF) of the SAFE coalition.
“When I worked as Prevention Specialist, Sr. Clinician, with Prevention Services at Chesterfield Mental Health, I served on the Underage Drinking Taskforce of the SAFE coalition,” she stated. “In that capacity I was made aware that SAFE was trying to launch the Teen Ambassador initiative. Since my job in Prevention Services allowed me access to many school partners, I felt I could successfully spearhead this initiative for the SAFE coalition, of which I was a part of. This was exactly the type of work that Prevention Specialists could accomplish.”
Callear along with her prevention colleague, Karl Kalber, did the work of recruiting and training the initial mentors and meeting with Communities in Schools (CIS) to establish their partnership in the program, as well as developing the curriculum that the mentors (Ambassadors) would use with their mentees.
“I knew I wanted the curriculum to read like a script, an idea I got from my Prevention colleague, Robin Jones, who facilitates the RELATE mentor program at Matoaca and James River High School, for the mentors so that it would be easy for them to implement,” Callear said. “Then I chose among the best model, evidenced base, prevention programs for ideas and substance free, with hands on activities that I wanted to complete the message from mentor to mentee.”
Lee Archard, Prevention Consultant for Chesterfield Mental Health, is the program’s facilitator at Ettrick and meets with the mentors and mentees each Tuesday. Bellwood and Chalkley elementary schools are also part of SAFE’s Teen Ambassador program.
Even though Callear is working in Goochland, she continues to stay in touch with her colleagues in Chesterfield and is making an effort to start a new substance abuse prevention coalition that includes both Powhatan and Goochland and hopes to have a Teen Ambassador model as one of their initiatives.
“The most important part of the program is the work that goes on between the mentors and mentee,” she said. “While the visit from the White House was a real honor and very delightful, no amount of recognition compares to the magic that is happening between the teens who are implementing the messages and the children receiving the mentoring. Like most Prevention work, Teen Ambassadors is about planting seeds.”
Deputy Director Mineta said he really misses being out in the field and coming to Chesterfield made him feel like he had his “boots on the ground again, solving problems.” He said, “These kinds of programs are really, really important. Getting the information out in a collaborative effort – that is what it takes to reduce drug use. It [the Buddy2Buddy program] only has to be a slice. It could be the magic to help you get there and who can tell a young person better than a high school role model.”