Portland youth program gets funding for drug awareness campaign

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PORTLAND — The YES! program, a nonprofit program that uses basketball to provide a positive environment for youth in southern Maine, was awarded an $8,000 Healthy Living Grant from the Chicago-based American Medical Association Foundation.

YES!, an Amateur Athletic Union program whose mission is to build student self esteem and confidence, create learning opportunities, and serve as as a primary prevention strategy against substance abuse, gangs and other risky behaviors for 400 students annually, will use the grant to create a 30-minute educational television program, produced and hosted by local youth, about prescription drug safety.

Another project will be a 30-second public service announcement to teach peers about how to break drug habits and lead healthier lives.

Both specials will be aired on the YES! program website, yestoyouth.org, as well as on WPME-TV, which reaches about 400,000 homes in Maine and New Hampshire.

Dudley Davis, director of the YES! program, said officials reached out to the AMA for the grant because they wanted to bring attention to these issues. He said the announcement came almost a month ago.

“We’re actually going to start doing the shoot for the event during the second week of January,” Davis said.

The event will be a round-table discussion with kids, some of whom have some kind of experience with prescription drug abuse, as the subjects. Davis said the discussion might end up being streamed live, too.

“Sometimes parents leave cabinets open and don’t know kids and teens might get into it,” Davis said. He also said young people in their teens and 20s “who have actually lived with it” will talk about what parents can do to be aware and help prevent abuse, and what programs are available for young people.

YES! was one of 17 national community organizations that received grants. Davis said all of the $8,000 will be used for production costs of the roundtable and PSA.

“Our goal is to make sure kids are involved in all aspects of production,” he said. “It’s a young person’s game, so we’re trying to make sure kids are helping drive content. We think that’s the way to get this message across.”

In an email statement, AMA Foundation Executive Director R. Barkley Payne said the YES! program projects “are an excellent example of the type of community-based awareness and prevention programs we support because they are vital to helping deter medication misuse and abuse.”

Since 2002, the AMA Healthy Living Foundation has awarded more than $1.1 million in grants to nearly 350 health education programs nationwide. This is the fourth year the foundation has awarded grants to support prescription medication safety through its Healthy Living Grant Program.

The AMA Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving public health and does so through fundraising and philanthropic support to high-impact health and medical scholarship programs.

Amy Jenkins, AMA Foundation communications manager, said grants were given in varying amounts to organizations all around the country, from the Drug Abuse Awareness Team in South Jordan, Utah, to the City of Worcester Division of Public Health, in Massachusetts.

“Everyone had to cost out exactly what they wanted to do,” Jenkins said, adding that the $8,000 gran to YES! was “about average.”

Davis said that while YES! has partnered with other organizations for projects, like the American Cancer Society and the Department of Justice, this is the first time it has paired with the AMA.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.