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Lauren Gallegos

By Lauren Gallegos

The Wellness & Prevention Coalition is a federally funded Drug Free Communities (DFC) coalition that leads efforts to support healthy habits among children and their families.

The mission of DFC coalitions nationwide is to reduce youth substance use through increased community collaboration. Funded through the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the coalition follows the agency’s mantra that local problems can best be solved with local solutions.

The work of the coalition is succeeding, as evidenced by downward trends in alcohol and drug use among Capistrano Unified School District (CUSD) students. In 2018, the California Healthy Kids Survey reported that past 30-day use by 11th-graders is down from the 2016 report for all substance use, except vaping.

The graph displays the decline in percentage of 11th-graders who reported use of substances in the past 30 days. Data collected from CUSD 2016 and 2018 California Healthy Kids Survey.

Alcohol was at 39% in 2016 and dropped to 21% in 2018. Marijuana decreased from 20% to 13%, while tobacco (exclusive of vaping) saw a decrease from 12% to 2%. Prescription drug use went from 5% to 1% in that two-year period.

Community Outreach Alliance (COA) has played an integral role in this success by fostering a positive environment and hosting free activities for our youth that support their well-being.

Teri Steel, executive director of COA, shares how her organization keeps teens active to prevent drug abuse:

“COA offers a wide variety of fun free activities that serve to link teens to social settings and resources that our team designs to ensure positive outcomes for their future and for the community.

“Offerings include fitness, fishing, music, supervised social events, and beach cleanups. Additionally, we have a Food Connection program that has provided tens-of-thousands of free meals this year alone, as COA knows that basic needs must be met for youth to have the capacity to attend to social needs.

“In the future, we will again offer ‘Thrive Alive’ courses. Thrive Alive focuses on drug and alcohol prevention by engaging teens in activities that provoke thought about the science of illegal substances and addiction while giving them tools to engage in community prevention efforts.

“I am proud of the COA model that I helped to build with other community leaders and youth,” Steel said.  

Luke Giannelli of San Clemente said of the program that “going from a COA kid to COA Program Manager has been amazing. Simply being surrounded by healthy minds and strong leadership, then having the opportunity to take on those qualities and mentor the next generation is such a rewarding experience.

“Without a doubt, COA has given me the skills and confidence to carve my own path and help others around me to live above the influence,” he said.

These are difficult times and more than ever, organizations such as COA and the Wellness & Prevention Center are a needed part of this community effort to help raise healthy kids. If you would like to partner with us, consider joining the Wellness & Prevention Coalition; email our coalition leader

To learn more about Community Outreach Alliance, please visit and follow @COA.Entertainent, @COA_clubbin and #COAstrong on Instagram.

Lauren Gallegos, ACSW, is the Prevention Director at the Wellness & Prevention Center. You can reach her at

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