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Becoming a Recovery Friendly Region Through Youth Engagement

In 2022, OCH sought to empower youth in the Olympic region to meaningfully address and reduce the stigma of substance use disorder (SUD) in their community. OCH utilized a portion of funds provided by Cambia Health Solutions to support youth-created, inspired, and implemented projects to help create a culture that supports and humanizes people with SUD. OCH contracted with three youth-serving organizations to address SUD stigma, totaling $45,000. Read more about OCH’s work to become a recovery friendly region in our previous blog post.

Becoming a Recovery Friendly Region

Youth-led projects are an important step towards becoming a recovery friendly Olympic region and one of the ways OCH moves upstream while also remaining responsive to immediate needs. Positive Youth Development is an intentional approach that engages youth within their communities, provides opportunities to develop leadership strengths, and views youth as assets to be cultivated rather than problems to be solved. Engaging youth in our collective work provides unique perspective and lived experience as well as develops the future leaders of our communities.

OCH works towards the overarching goal to improve individual and population health and advance equity by addressing the determinants of health by addressing the following focus areas:

  • Together, recovery is possible (SUD)

  • Individual needs are met timely, easily, and compassionately

  • Everyone has access to the full spectrum of care

  • Everyone housed

Stigma of SUD is a health challenge that requires collaborative action and continuing our collective work to address SUD stigma is one of the identified actions under the together, recovery is possible action plan. The impacts of SUD are felt far and deep across the Olympic region and most of us has a family member, friend, neighbor, or coworker who has or is currently struggling with addiction. SUD is one of the most stigmatized health conditions. Stigma impacts how likely someone is to seek the treatment they need to get better. By continuing to elevate this important work we work towards creating a recovery friendly region, one that supports individuals throughout their recovery journey including prevention, treatment, recovery, and relapse. Check out OCH’s data tool, Connecting to Data, to learn about local health metrics including a perceived stigma scale.

Summary of Partner Projects

Olympic Community Action Programs was awarded $20,000 to support a youth-led event for youth and young adults in Clallam and Jefferson counties to share lived experience and combat SUD Stigma. Olympic Community Action Programs collaborated with key partners including community-based organizations and SUD treatment providers to plan a community event featuring local youth artists and storytellers to address SUD stigma. The event welcomed 30 individuals and featured OCH’s stigma presentation, youth with lived experience sharing their recovery journey stories, and information tables from local health partners.

“The day of the event was a day that I felt proud, happy, impressed, and excited all at the same time. Knowing that we could lean on each other and have the help we needed was enormously powerful, and seeing the professional development within the young people involved impressed me immensely” - Autumn Nolan, young adult leader at OlyCAP.

They also purchased self-care, stigma reducing, and harm reduction items for future outreach efforts including Fentanyl testing strips and Narcan kits.

In the future, young adult leaders at Olympic Community Action Programs plan to advocate for continued training around implicit bias and stigmatizing language. They look forward to exploring future funding opportunities to host more community engagement events to build awareness and combat SUD stigma.

OWL 360 was awarded $20,000 to support youth and young adult-led activities to address SUD stigma in Jefferson County. OWL 360 engaged their Youth and Young Adult Advisory Council to lead many community events including a naloxone training, overdose awareness event, over 35 safe and sober events hosted at The Nest for youth and young adults, and a screening of the film “The Nest: Love in the Time of Fentanyl”. Additionally, the Youth and Young Adult Advisory Council developed and distributed a stigma awareness brochure, participated on a community forum, and several volunteers and young staff have received their peer counselor certification.

In the future, OWL 360 will continue to regularly host events and educational sessions as well as continue to ensure the youth and young adult voice is heard in the effort toward reducing stigma in community.

“As an organization it is imperative to engage youth and young adults in the conversation. It is a top priority that we offer leadership programming to our Youth and Young Adult Advisory Council. With the development of leadership and communication skills they will be better equipped to work towards reducing stigma in our community” - Kelli Parcher, OWL 360.

Bainbridge Youth Services was awarded $5,000 to create a small video series to promote community knowledge of resources as well as education about the impacts of drugs and alcohol. Videos were created by youth and also offered opportunities for technical skills training of engaged youths. Click here to access the videos.

As a result of this project, Bainbridge Youth Services launched Healthy Bainbridge Alliance where community members, parents, and youth come together to take action related to youth concerns. Youth chose drugs, alcohol, and vaping as one of the first concerns. Read more about Bainbridge Youth Services project in our previous blog post.

What’s next?

One of the project goals under OCH’s Stronger Together Funding Opportunity (2023-2024) is to “Address and reduce stigma of those community members with a substance use disorder through community-wide education, youth engagement, and through policy and systems change”. OCH looks forward to supporting partners in project implementation and continuing this important work.

In addition to funding partner projects, OCH plans to continue to convene partners around person-first training, explore programs to reduce stigma around youth impacted by SUD in schools, and connect with Tribal partners to learn more about how we can collaborate. We are stronger together and look forward to continuing to build partnerships that foster a recovery friendly region.

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