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The Dukes County Health Council formed the Youth Task Force (YTF) in 2004 in response to concerns over findings of Youth Risk Behavior Surveys (YRBS 2000 and 2002) that documented levels of substance use and other risky behaviors among Martha’s Vineyard youth to be significantly higher than state and national levels. The mission of the YTF was “to reduce substance use and other risky behaviors by promoting community-wide health and wellness for youth and families through a cooperative integrated network of youth, parents, health practitioners, health and social service organizations, public officials, educators, law enforcement officers, and other community members.”

In 2004 the YTF raised funds and conducted a follow-up YRBS. In the summer of 2005, after studying and inventorying existing data and resources, the YTF engaged senior associates from the Heller School for Social Policy and Management of Brandeis University to facilitate a broader community-wide assessment and planning process. Under the Heller School leadership two day long community forums brought together over 75 Island stakeholders. The forums included students, parents, teachers, therapists, guidance counselors, administrators, members of the clergy, law enforcement, and representatives from the Brazilian community and Wampanoag Tribe along with representatives of non-profits that work with youth and families. Through this process the YTF recruited and engaged a broad-based coalition of community partners who identified and agreed on youth substance abuse problems and were committed to finding solutions. This process resulted in The Blueprint for Community Youth Development, Phase 1 of a strategic plan. Five Working Groups (Parent (Education, Substance Abuse, After School/Out of School Activities, Mentoring, and Resource Mapping) were established to implement the strategic plan, inventory existing programs and services and identify gaps.

In July 2006 the YTF applied for and received a technical assistance grant for strategic planning services from Southeast Center for Healthy Communities (SCHC), an organization funded through the US Department of Public Health, Bureau of Substance Abuse Services to provide assistance in planning and implementing environmental strategies for substance abuse prevention. Through regular meetings and specially scheduled sessions the SCHC increased the YTF Coalition’s capacity through trainings in the science of prevention, cultural competency, social norms theory and coalition development. The result of these efforts was the development of a 5-year strategic substance abuse prevention plan utilizing environmental strategies to address the community’s youth substance abuse problems.

An assessment of the Vineyard community identified the following risk factors that need to be addressed: 1) Vineyard parents have favorable attitudes & involvement in alcohol and other drug use, 2) Vineyard community laws and norms are favorable towards youth ATOD, and 3) the Vineyard community is not mobilized to prevent youth ATOD use. To reduce adolescent substance abuse these issues need to be addressed to change the environment in which MV youth grow and develop. Specifically, we have to 1) strengthen and coordinate substance abuse community efforts on the Vineyard and 2) mobilize the Vineyard community toward substance abuse prevention. The YTF has built a coalition of key community stakeholders who have worked together to define the problem, develop a strategic plan to address it and are mobilized to work toward the implementation. The next step was raising the funds to hire a YTF Coalition Coordinator to coordinate the activities of the YTF Coalition, support the implementation of the strategic plan, and sustain the YTF Coalition’s efforts. Toward that end the Youth Task Force applied for and was awarded a one year $90, 297 grant in January 2008 from the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office to hire a coalition coordinator and support the implementation of the strategic plan. In July 2008 the YTF was awarded a three year $300,000 grant from the Massachusetts Bureau of Substance Abuse Services to continue middle school substance abuse prevention efforts. Beginning in October 2008 the YTF has been awarded a 5 year $625,000 ($125,000 @ year) to provide substance abuse prevention targeting high school students and their families. This has enabled the YTF to hire a second staff member as Coalition Co-coordinator.

In August 2009, the coalition formed subcommittees to increase member involvement in current initiatives.

Youth Task Force of Martha's Vineyard