With heightened concerns that the community lacked activities for youth, current Chair Erin Frasier got the ball rolling for TAC in 2010. “When I was in high school I had the opportunity to participate in a group called ‘Teens Need Teens’ in Lewis County. It was a group of high school students from each of the area schools. We received training around drug prevention topics and developed presentations we offered in the county’s high schools. I thought I would draw upon this experience and try to replicate this opportunity for youth in Pacific County, so I contacted numerous agency, school, business, and community representatives for the first brainstorming meeting in October of 2010,” Frasier explained.
For three years, the coalition operated without a budget, solely with help from volunteers and people in the community who wanted to see youth succeed. Today, TAC has transformed into a far-reaching coalition with 30 members including youth servicing organizations, schools, law enforcement, healthcare agencies, private businesses, civic or volunteer groups, parents, and youth themselves.
The mission of TAC is to create pro-social activities and avenues for youth involvement that will strengthen mental health and reduce substance abuse.
“The foundational philosophy of TAC is that teens will seek advice from their peers and instead of adults deciding what should be done to positively impact their lives, we need to involve the teen voice in the discussion,” Frasier said. “There are so many wonderful organizations in Pacific County offering activities for youth and so much potential in our own backyard. The real need is to promote these opportunities and make sure teens are involved and connected to the community. TAC creates positive activities, but we also look to leverage resources with community partners and promote the opportunities that already exist.
“My vision for TAC is to have an extensive network of supporters within the community, positive social norms, and direct engagement of youth in the decisions we make to strengthen the healthy opportunities we create for them within this community,” she continued. “Ultimately, I want to see teens in leadership roles creating positive change in our community. They are the focus of our efforts, but they are also the key to the solutions.”
Last September, TAC received a federal Drug Free Communities grant for the amount of $125,000. The grant is renewable upon a continuation application for five years, with the option of reapplying for another five years in 2018. This grant has allowed TAC to expand its reach and even hire two employees, who are currently housed in office space donated by Willapa Behavioral Health.
The grant comes with a kicker – “We are required to match every dollar we spend, 100%,” TAC Program Coordinator Natasha Nesbitt said. “So we have $125,000 to spend, but we have to provide $125,000 of match. Match can be anything from volunteer hours, to community donated items, prizes, food, equipment. And the reason the federal government does that is because this money is meant to be more of an investment. They want, when it’s all gone, for there to have been real community input.”
People in the community can help TAC meet its match by volunteering, attending TAC meetings, getting involved in TAC activities and events, or donating services, money, or gift certificates.
“The sky’s really the limit. This whole thing is supposed to really be representative of the community and a collective thing, so it’s whatever people have that they can give,” Nesbitt said.
A town hall meeting hosted by TAC in April revealed some ideas about how to help youth succeed, including: having inspirational speakers at schools, offering more vocational and technical skills trainings in high schools, having mentors readily available, and getting a YMCA in town. Citizens at the meeting also reported that problems that youth face include: lack of organized activities outside of school, a large divide of students on the college track vs. those not on the college track, language barriers of kids whose parents don’t speak English, and generational poverty with drug and alcohol abuse.
Perhaps the most impactful activity by the coalition, for the past three years TAC has organized a Peer Helpers Retreat. “This is a three-day retreat with teen participants from all five high schools in Pacific County,” Frasier explained. “Participants are selected by their peers as the teens they would seek out for advice when they are facing issues. We provide extensive training on many issues including drug and alcohol prevention, suicide and depression, communication and leadership skills, and how to become engaged in their communities. This is a very impactful event for participating teens as well as a learning experience for the adults working with them. Teens know the issues they are facing and can contribute greatly to directing adults toward solutions that will be useful to teens. In addition, throughout the year, these selected Peer Helpers continue their work within their schools and use the information they have learned at the retreat to positively support other teens.”
The next Peer Helpers Retreat will be this fall. “This event is possible because of the many volunteers that share their time and talents and we are always looking for volunteers or donations to sponsor additional spots for more teens to attend,” Frasier continued.
TAC meetings are the second Monday of the month at 3:15 at the Grays Harbor College Riverview Campus in Raymond. The next meeting is July 14 and anyone interested in learning more about TAC or becoming involved is encouraged to attend. Visit TAC on facebook as well, at www.facebook.com/teenadvocacycoalition.