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Published: Wednesday, 10/6/2004

Swanton: New coalition aims at youth drug use

BY JANET ROMAKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

SWANTON - Residents are taking the first steps toward a new community coalition to prevent and reduce substance use among young people.

They are working with Deacon Dzierzawski, executive director of The Community Partnership, a coalition dedicated to substance abuse prevention and intervention. The partnership, based in Toledo, has been awarded $175,000 in federal funds to help create community coalitions.

"Community coalitions have a significant impact on the rates of substance use, among youth in particular," he said.

Swanton residents aren't interested in "reinventing the wheel," officials said. Rather, they will be build on what is in place in the Swanton area. In addition, they will review information from existing coalitions. Similar programs include the Sylvania Community Action Team; the Ottawa Hills Prevention Advisory Council; Substance Abuse Intervention League in Maumee, and the Perrysburg Alternative to Substance Abuse organization. Among the newest coalitions are Springfield Holland Assets Partnerships for Excellence (SHAPE) and the Oregon Community Family Coalition, Mr. Dzierzawski said.

During a recent meeting, Swanton area representatives agreed that there is a community problem relating to substance use, and that it was time to begin stages to develop a community coalition here, he said.

"Swanton looks like other communities. There is an issue with kids drinking alcohol. There are a certain number of kids who smoke marijuana. There is an issue of kids getting cigarettes," Mr. Dzierzawski said. "The way to begin substance abuse prevention and intervention is with the community. It is about mobilizing the community and creating a climate or environment where substance abuse prevention can exist."

Swanton will need to take a serious look at the behavior, patterns, and policies of the community regarding substance abuse, and then develop programming that targets the issue, he said. The Sylvania coalition, for instance, has a "those who host lose the most" program aimed at making parents aware of the dangers of underage drinking and the legal issue.

SHAPE helps give students in the Springfield Township and Holland area a "sense of identity," said Kristina White, a SHAPE board mem-ber. A community calendar is one of SHAPE's success stories. The calendar lists activities for the village, the township, and for Springfield and other schools that students attend. She recently shared information about the community calendar with the Swanton representatives.

Swanton, too, has a student population that is splintered with many going to Swanton, but others being bused to schools in Toledo, such as private schools. "We encouraged them to find projects that bring the students, the community together as one," she said.

Swanton Police Chief Homer Chapa said that efforts are being made to see if programs could be incorporated into the community to help all students in the Swanton area. He said that this is a pro-active step to address substance use. "We want to get on top of it so we do not see an increase," the chief said.

Neil Toeppe, executive director of the Swanton Area Chamber of Commerce, said that in the coming six weeks 40-50 organizations would be contacted to find out about existing programs that address substance use prevention. The new coalition could supplement those efforts, he said.

Colin McQuade, Fulton County Eastern District Court judge, said that it appears at this point that the Swanton area representatives are interested in pursuing some sort of a program to address substance use, but it isn't yet known what that program would involve. "We do intend to do something more than just hand out pamphlets," he said. The program could, for instance, focus on parental involvement.

Information about substance use is being gathered, he said, but he said that in the court he has seen that youth are using drugs, such as Oxycotin, that are more dangerous than what young people were using a few years ago. That is one reason for the interest now in a community coalition, he said.



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