A local program seeking to help young people avoid drug and alcohol and drug abuse is becoming active again with new funding, a new coordinator and a new focus.
Kaitlyn Gawet, a social worker, will be the facilitator for Rutland Partners for Prevention.
“Basically, we’re really working to support prevention with the goal to foster sustainable prevention programming in Rutland County,” Gawet said.
The grant-funded position, for the current cycle, calls for work to prevent young people, 12 to 25, from drinking alcohol or using cannabis, or to reduce use if it’s already happening.
Gawet said the 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey is helping to determine where assistance is needed.
The Vermont Youth Project, which is part of the Mentor Connector, also did a survey in the fall. Because that survey is annual, it will allow the RPP to track whether the information on substance abuse is showing improvement, Gawet said.
As a starting point, the 2019 Vermont Youth Risk Behavior Survey indicated that 15% of high-schoolers said they had alcohol before they were 13; 7% tried marijuana before 13.
“We’re really looking to do some education, for both youth and parents on the effects early substance use has on those that are developing especially marijuana and cannabis and try and get those numbers even lower,” she said.
Of the high school respondents from Rutland County in the 2019 survey, the most recent results available, more than 30% said they had alcohol in the last 30 days and 27% had used marijuana in the 30 days before they took the survey.
“Those are really kind of astounding numbers, and it’s really important that we get that education out there, but also do a lot of programming and creation of other outlets so there’s healthy options for kids and parents to choose rather than substances,” Gawet said.
The numbers in Rutland are not much different than in other states and Rutland has had the RPP running before.
Gawet said one difference is that the current cycle is providing funding with the direction that those running the local programs should do more to help young people who identify as LGBTQ.
Of the LGBTQ respondents in the survey 37% reported alcohol use in the previous 30 days and 38% reported using marijuana.
There were 63% of LGBTQ kids reporting feeling sad or hopeless compared while 31% of heterosexual or CIS-gender students reported the same.
Gawet had worked in the emergency department at Rutland Regional until January when she moved to the RPP position. Gawet described her field as “big picture, kind of macro social work.”
Turning 27 next month, Gawet said she hoped her age would allow the young people she works with to see her as a peer.
“I definitely think I can help bridge the gap between youth and young adults and those that are older. I think it’s a great advantage because I grew up in the area. I went away for school (Gawet got her master’s degree in social work from Boston College.) but I’m familiar with Rutland County. I lived here since I was 18, went away for school, but then found my way back,” she said.
Gawet said she is developing her team of community partners, but expects it will include law enforcement, educators and staff from other agencies that work on substance abuse issues.
Gawet’s position is funded by Regional Prevention Partnership, a federal grant from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and supported by the Vermont Department of Alcohol and Drug Alcohol Program.
Rutland County is one of five counties in Vermont getting funding.