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The Next Door, Inc. is honored for drug abuse prevention efforts

The Governor’s Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Programs honored The Next Door, Inc., with its annual Tom Dargan Community Award on Dec. 17. The Dargan awards are given annually to individuals and organizations that demonstrate an ongoing commitment to substance abuse prevention and treatment services around the state.

The Next Door was recognized for its Hispanic Outreach Prevention Enhancement (HOPE) project, a component of the Hood River County Prevention Coalition founded in 1995. Program coordinator Claudia Montaño took eight students, Hood River Valley High School principal Steve Fisk, and community members to Salem for the awards ceremony last Tuesday.

“Claudia has accomplished a lot on behalf of Next Door,” said Bob Johnson, the organization’s executive director. “She has led HOPE and prevention efforts, been active in the Hispanic and Latino communities, and works closely with Maija Yasui.”

Yasui, Hood River County’s Prevention Specialist, aided Next Door staff in obtaining the five-year, $425,000 Drug-Free Communities grant that helped establish the outreach program three years ago.

The program was targeted at the county’s Hispanic and Latino population, disseminating information about substance abuse through community mobilization, presentations, parenting classes, and projects with youth. Montaño noted that one of the project’s aims is to establish a Hispanic/Latino prevention coalition and advisory council.

During the program’s first two years, its emphasis was on education at work sites, churches, parents’ nights at schools, soccer leagues, and other venues.

“We explained the laws and why they’re in place,” said Yasui. “We in this country live in a very different culture than where they’re from.”

The program’s third year involved students, including members of high school club MEChA. Working with OSSOM, the students petitioned Hood River bowling alley Orchard Lanes to become a non-smoking environment.

“By doing so, the bowling alley became one of few in the state to go above and beyond the law,” said Yasui.

The students also consulted with local retailers on the placement of “alco-pops” like hard lemonade, since studies have indicated that such beverages have a greater appeal to children. The students also participated in minor decoy operations in The Dalles and Corbett, giving letters of commendation to retailers if they refused to sell alcohol, or if they did, letters asking them to curtail such practices. The back of each letter bore a petition signed by a coalition of local businesses supporting the project’s mission.

“I think the whole key to this award — and this is why I invited Mr. Fisk and the kids — is the collaboration in Hood River County,” said Montaño. “We’re known throughout the state for our collaboration in solving challenges.”

The outreach program is currently expanding its services thanks to a three-year, $510,000 American Legacy Foundation grant, one of two awarded in Oregon. The money will help create tobacco prevention and cessation programs developed in conjunction with Nuestra Comunidad Sana, another Next Door program.

“We’ve found that tobacco use among Latino youngsters continues to grow, while their Anglo counterparts have been reached by cessation efforts,” said Johnson. “We’re especially concerned with Spanish-speaking teen girls.”

The Next Door is currently hiring additional staff and developing a detailed two-year plan for working with the Hispanic community in Hood River.

Boths grants will continue to involve youth in similar minor decoy operations, outreach programs, and education efforts. Students will be trained in violence and drug prevention, and will continue to provide child care during English language instruction for Hispanic and Latino adults.

“We wanted to see the best approach to getting information to the public, so we worked with the county extension agency and surveyed the Hispanic population,” said Yasui. “The answer was that they wanted classes in English, so we started classes at Wy’east around a year ago.”

The Wy’east Middle School classes meet four times a week, and were recently expanded to include once-weekly classes at Mid Valley Elementary School. Yasui explained that the curriculum has been revamped to include a focus on drug prevention.

“We’re using the 30 people at Mid Valley as a focus group,” said Yasui. “If the program is successful, the American Legacy Foundation will take it across the United States.”

At Mid Valley, the students providing child care act as big sisters and brothers to the younger children, reading to them and acting as bilingual role models.

“We need to change how Hispanic kids feel in the community,” said Yasui. “They feel like outsiders, and most of them want so much to take part and be an asset to the community. We’re involving kids locally, and it’s exciting. Hispanic people are helping themselves and changing how things are done.”

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