By Janet Jacobs
Corsicana Daily Sun
A Corsicana-based non-profit has received a $2.6 million state grant to expand its drug prevention program from nine counties to 16 in the north-central Texas region.
VOICE (Viable Options In Community Endeavors), was begun more than 20 years ago by Lois Jean Hart who worried about the effects of drugs on kids in the community. Now, the program works with kids and families here and in surrounding counties, but the Texas Department of Health Services grant will mean nearly doubling the size of the coverage area, according to Lynda Sloan, VOICE executive director. They’ll be in 43 different school districts.
VOICE received 10 separate youth drug prevention contracts, more than any other agency, Sloan said proudly.
Other agencies offer drug-prevention programs, but not all of them are geared towards rural-based kids, Sloan explained.
“It’s hard for larger agencies in the Metroplex to get to those communities,” she explained. “We feel like we’re good at meeting the needs of rural communities.”
A 2011 national survey on drug use showed that rate of rural kids who binge drink is higher than that of urban kids, as is the use of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco.
“We know our programs make a difference,” Sloan said.
The three kinds of programs that VOICE will be taking to the other counties include a kind of general drug prevention program suitable for any elementary or high school audience, such as the VOICE program called “Too Good for Drugs,” which teaches social skills and healthy choice-making. Then there’s a targeted type of program for kids at risk of drug use, and a third type that’s very specifically for families of kids who are already getting into trouble, or who might be on probation.
VOICE already serves Navarro and the surrounding counties, including Henderson, McLennan, Falls, Kaufman, Limestone, Freestone, Hill and Bosque. This expansion will take the programs into Hamilton, Coryell, Milam, Anderson, Cherokee, Van Zandt and Rains counties.
In addition to the typical drug prevention programs, VOICE also reaches out to kids and families about a healthier lifestyle in a year-round effort that includes a spring-break program, and a summer vacation outreach at public housing centers; “Worth the Wait,” a program designed to encourage sexual abstinence and cut down on teen pregnancies; a program to help kids develop leadership skills; and La Voz para la Familia, a Spanish-language program for families that offers English and GED lessons through the center’s computer lab.
“Our goal is for all the students in all the areas to get the benefits of all our programs, but we’ll see how it’s going to work out,” Sloan said.
The group found out it got the grant Aug. 2, and has until Sept. 1 to set up in all its contracted counties. It will mean hiring some new people, particularly in the McLennan County office, and a few in the Corsicana office. The new hires will be on the road a lot, Sloan said.
Currently, VOICE has 20 full time employees, and hires part-time people to come in depending on the season and the program being done at the time. This grant will mean expanding the staff to about 30 people, Sloan said.
“Fortunately for us, this is not our first large expansion program,” she said. They had similar growth spurts in 2009 and 2010, she said. “We’re very good at moving quickly, establishing partners and making sure the services are provided to kids and families.”
Janet Jacobs may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Want to “sound off” to this article? Email: Soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com