CRMHC gets $195,000 prevention grant
by Emily McLain
Cheaha Regional Mental Health Center in Talladega County is extending its youth alcohol and drug prevention services into Coosa County thanks to a state grant.

The Alabama Department of Mental Health awarded the facility $195,000 over the next three years as part of a Strategic Prevention Framework — State Incentive Grant, or SPF-SIG. The funds, to be paid in annual appropriations of $65,000, will support efforts to start and maintain youth prevention programs in Coosa County.

“This is a capacity-building grant to curtail underage drinking,” said CRMHC Prevention specialist Richard Bonds. “We can add in other things that are needed for the area, but the primary focus has to be underage drinking, and capacity-building is building the people, funding and tools that you would need to sustain a long-term prevention program.”

Bonds said Coosa County, with a population of roughly 11,500, is part of CRMHC’s four-county coverage area, including Clay, Randolph and Talladega counties, but “in the past, we’ve neither had the money, nor would the state allow us to (do prevention services) outside of Southern Talladega County. The state has decided to change that.”

One of 20 counties in the state included in the SPF-SIG, Coosa County is in “fairly significant need” of underage drinking prevention, Bonds said.

“Looking at the (Alabama Pride surveys) for Coosa County is really frightening, to be honest,” he said. “Almost every drug you can think of is used way above the national average in 10th grade. You’ve got 77 percent of kids on free or reduced lunch. There’s a lot of stuff going on down there.”

According to a state survey from 2011, the average age children first try an alcoholic beverage in Coosa County is 10.8. In Talladega County, the start-to-drink age is 10.5, and the state average is age 11.

“Their start-to-drink age is actually a little better than in Talladega, but Coosa County is just a county that needs some significant resources,” Bonds said. “Over three years, $195,000 is not a huge amount of money, but it’s enough for us to get down there and start some programming and build partnerships with a lot of agencies.”

CRMHC is already talking with the Children’s Policy Council, the Office of Juvenile Probation, Coosa County Board of Education, Department of Human Resources, Sylacauga High School, area churches, University of Alabama at Birmingham, state and county departments of public health, and others agencies to kick start the process.

The mental health center will begin its efforts by examining the needs of the county and forming relationships with schools and local organizations. It plans to implement school curriculums and student-led programs for prevention with the approval of the school board. A specific goal of the “Coosa pride project,” is to initiate a Ribbon of Red community service scholarship program — something CRMHC also intends to start in South Talladega County. The program would basically expand “Red Ribbon Week” into a year-long school project, with students proposing and completing community projects dealing with some type of prevention.

“Obviously, the long-term goal (of the prevention program in Coosa County) is to reduce underage sales and lower the start-to-drink age, and also to evaluate their needs and see if we are being successful in what we’re doing,” Bonds said.

CRMHC may be eligible for another two-year grant at the end of the initial three-year period.

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© 2013