EVANSVILLE, Ind. — Mayor Lloyd Winnecke and other city officials announced Wednesday afternoon that Evansville was awarded a $1 million federal grant to help youth affected by opioid and substance abuse connect to local services.
Winnecke, as well as other speakers, informed the crowd at Youth First Inc. about the grant, which was awarded to the City of Evansville, the Mayor’s Substance Abuse Task Force (MSATF) and Youth First Inc., by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, a division of the U.S. Department of Justice.
The grant, Winnecke said, is a response to the number of youth dying throughout the nation because of substance abuse.
“We want every child to thrive in Evansville, no matter the challenges they may face in their homes or neighborhoods,” Winnecke said. “With the help of this grant, we will connect affected young people to the services and support they need to be drug-free.”
Evansville’s proposal for the grant was one of seven in the nation to be selected.
While Winnecke is unaware what specifically set Evansville apart among the highly competitive group of applicants, he suspects it’s because of the collaborative efforts organizations like MSATF and Youth First Inc. have already made throughout the city.
Once the federal grant review process is completed, these groups plan to form the Restoring Every Affected Child’s Hope (REACH) initiative, which will develop data-informed responses to opioid and other substance problems that affect the well-being of Evansville youth.
“Currently, youth who are traumatized or at-risk for substance use disorders are not tracked effectively by any agency or system,” Youth First President Parri Black said. “This realization helped shape our proposal and the name of our project. Through REACH, we will identify that youth and help them build hopeful, resilient futures.”
MSATF Chair Dr. William Wooten said the implementation of REACH will supplement other efforts from the city to resolve substance-related issues in the community.
“While law enforcement and treatment options are important, the long term solution to the substance abuse problem in the Evansville area is effective prevention,” Wooten said. “This grant will enhance our capacity to share information with one another and respond effectively with coordinated prevention efforts to improve services for at-risk youth and families.”
Through REACH, locals will have access to a number of social service organizations, treatment centers and area hospitals that will provide coping strategies and life skills to reduce the trauma sustained from substance abuse, Wooten said.
REACH will directly serve nine Evansville Vanderburgh County School Corp. schools through MSATF’s collaboration with Youth First, which also boasts several social work services and prevention programs.
These schools include Bosse and Harrison High School, Washington and McGary middle schools, Lodge Community School, Glenwood Leadership Academy, The Academy for Innovative Studies and Dexter and Harper elementary schools, which were selected based on their reports of overdose, substance abuse and drug-related arrests.
More schools and services could be added after continuing to collect and review data, Black said.
Black believes once the REACH initiative takes effect, affected youth will be successfully aided and the Evansville community will grow stronger.
“Long after this three-year project ends, our community will continue to benefit from the collaborative efforts generated by the REACH initiative,” Black said. “But more importantly, many at-risk young people will become thriving in our community because they got the support they needed at a difficult time in their lives.”