SANFORD, N.C. — “Like many states, North Carolina faces an opioid crisis that has rapidly intensified in recent years.” The NC Medical Journal goes on to say that addressing this epidemic requires interventions in medicine, law enforcement, and community-based prevention programs. WRAL reported in July of 2018 that Lee County is in the top ten NC counties for opioid overdoses. According to the CDCs 2017 numbers Lee County has one of the highest prescription rates compared to other US Counties. Since the line between use and abuse is so blurry this crisis does not have easy answers.
To address these identified issues of substance abuse, N.C. Cooperative Extension and 4-H have taken the lead on initiating community-based prevention tools through youth and family education to provide proactive education.
Strong families build up resilient youth who become productive members of our community. Strong families also have nurturing skills that support children, have effective discipline techniques, are building and supporting healthy future goals, and have coping skills for stress. Young people in strong families will be more resilient, more able to resist peer pressure, and more likely to talk to their caregivers about problems they are facing. Resilience is defined as the capacity to recover quickly from adversity, especially during childhood.
Resilient youth and adults are more optimistic, getting through difficult situations without crushed spirits. Psychologists tell us that youth resilience is formed when caregivers and/or other adults, like teachers and youth leaders, care about them, love them, discipline them consistently, and are interested in their life.
Our community has a number of reactionary resources in place for families and individuals experiencing a multitude of problems. However, powerful communities are built when we can get in front of the problem and learn how to prevent it. Education is the first step in prevention. Teaching parents and guardians responsible for children about developing a strong family unit is the key to proactively addressing the problem of youth drug abuse. Lee County is one of thirteen North Carolina counties adopting a new program designed to do just this. Empowering Youth and Families focuses on building resilient people, strong families, and powerful communities, equipped and ready to combat the opioid crisis across North Carolina. Through funding support provided by NC State University, we at Lee County 4-H have teamed up with Lee County Department of Social Services and the Lee County Health Department to offer this program locally. Families participate, free of charge, in twelve weekly sessions beginning with a family-style meal at the start of each session. Near the end of the cohort, a weekend family retreat is held. Along with relaxing and enjoying the retreat facilities, families from different counties can join together and design community outreach events to impact their communities as a whole.
On October 1, 2019, Lee County 4-H kicked off a second cohort of families, who will spend the next twelve weeks building relationships with each other while strengthening the relationships in their homes. Together these families will fill up a toolbox of skills empowering the children to resist peer pressure and increase instances of positive family communication. Please don’t despair, it isn’t too late for your family to participate.
The first cohort completed their obligation to the program with their community outreach event on September 17th. Participants and volunteers were able to speak about the powerful impact the program had in their families and answer questions. Local organizations from Lee County set up booths and allowed participants to become more familiar with the resources available to them. There was delicious food provided by Fat Juniors Grill and Kona Shaved Ice for everyone to enjoy. At the end of the event, a raffle was held, three attendees were able to take home gift baskets, and the young people in attendance got backpacks stocked with school goodies.
Participation in this program is free to the families. For more information about how to participate or support the Empowering Youth & Families Program, please contact Gabrielle Dunlap right away at 919-775-5624.
–Pam Kerley, Lee County Center