Wellness & Prevention by Lauren Gallegos
Two years ago, I had the opportunity to return to work in my hometown of San Clemente as the Director of the Wellness & Prevention Center’s Drug Free Communities Coalition. I was familiar with the work the Wellness & Prevention Center was doing, but like many people, I didn’t really understand the purpose of the federally funded Drug Free Communities Coalition.
As I led my first meeting, I quickly realized this was a special group, a true representation of what San Clemente and South Orange County are—a community that cares. It was the first time in my professional career that I encountered people who volunteered their time to prevent youth drug use. Teachers, city representatives, businesses, police, churches, parents, nonprofits, hospitals, retired community members, and youth themselves are represented. Each member came to discuss and strategize how to build and sustain a healthy community.
Along with a common goal, each organization and individual came with varying resources and expertise that could be leveraged to make the greatest impact on the youth in South Orange County. This was the true picture of the phrase “work smarter, not harder”. Many members had their own story of why they were at the table—some because of family struggles with alcohol and drug addictions, some because they were tired of hearing about another young person overdosing in our community.
Since the beginning, when the community came together in a basement of a church six years ago, the coalition has planned and held town hall meetings and community education seminars about how to prevent risky adolescent behaviors. The Wellness & Prevention Coalition launched a prescription drug education program to help doctors and patients both understand the risks of use and how to safely dispose of unused medications. The group partnered to train local businesses on responsible beverage service. Youth and adults presented to city council multiple times to help inform local decision making that discourages underage substance use.
In 2017, the coalition was awarded five years of grant funding by the Office of National Drug Control Policy. The Wellness & Prevention Coalition joined 710 community-based coalitions nationwide that receive this support. The coalition goes beyond providing education about drugs and alcohol and looks to impact policy, create safe healthy environments with activities and spaces that are drug-free, and build youth leaders.
I also help run our youth Wellness & Prevention Coalition. Members of the youth coalition have been to training conferences in Washington, D.C., where they developed leadership skills and met with politicians to discuss the impact of local and federal laws on positive youth development in their community. As a youth-led club, they plan activities for red ribbon week, substance abuse prevention month, and mental health awareness, as well as partnering with other clubs on campus, including COA club, to reach as many students as possible.
This year, three senior leaders—Alexandria Blackwill, Kyle Stevens, and Zulma Dias—will each receive $500 scholarships for the work they have done in creating positive change for their peers. The youth leaders have been integral to the success of the coalition. Without their perspective, stories and vision, the youth coalition would not be what it is today.
One of the major projects the youth coalition works on each year is a fun event free from the pressures of drugs and alcohol. Led by adult coalition members from Community Outreach Alliance (COA), National Council on Drug and Alcohol Dependence, Orange County Health Care Agency, Mission Hospital Community Benefit, & Waymakers, the youth coalition will be hosting a music festival at the Arts Project OC on Friday June 7.
You can find more information about the event on our Facebook page: wellnessandpreventionschs. Consider joining our mailing list; sign up on our website: wpc-oc.org.
Substance use is widespread, costly, and impacts families and our community. The coalition is working to reduce the impact that substance use has on the South Orange County community. If you want to join us in the effort and join us at our meetings, or you know a youth who would like to join, email me for more information: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lauren Gallegos, MSW is the Director of Community Prevention for the Wellness & Prevention Center. She has lived in South Orange County for 32 years.