While we all know Martha’s Vineyard youth face unique challenges, great work is being done to ensure that these challenges are being faced head-on. Based on recent surveys, we know that all the way through middle school, our youth are making excellent, healthy choices, at rates higher than national averages. This is the result of community collaborations and the careful, concerted effort of our parents and schools to ensure that our youth are informed, invested and empowered. We are aware that there is much work to be done. The Island community has encountered and overcome extremely tragic events related to substance abuse, especially around alcohol consumption and driving. The seasonal nature of our economy and flux in population pose rapidly changing and widely varied issues every year, some that we have to deal with when tourists have long left for home. And just like many other communities across the country and the world, the overbearing influence of media and popular culture, the wildfire-like spread of harmful trends, and the inevitable pervasiveness of technology all make it more difficult every day to stay in touch with what our kids are feeling, thinking and ultimately doing. As a community, we are working toward becoming better equipped to handle these challenges. The Martha’s Vineyard Youth Task Force applauds our community members for their continued efforts to make this Island the safest it can be for our kids. While we are all painfully aware of the aforementioned challenges, we should also be happily aware of the positive things happening in our community.

The youth task force is a coalition of over 50 community members working to help kids make healthy decisions. Since its inception in 2004, the task force has been successful in many ways as a result of the community engagement and support. To highlight a few positives:

In an effort to assess the appropriate needs of the community, the task force has administered surveys among youth, parents, teachers, law enforcement, and conducted one-on one interviews and focus groups.

Through initiatives like the Safe Homes pledge, free annual dinners for parents of students aged seven to 12, the speaker series and website, the task force has connected and informed parents.

To provide positive reinforcement for youth on the Vineyard, the task force has run a positive social norms advertising campaign, provided tips and products to youth on prom night, and hosted speakers at high school assemblies.

Many of the efforts have included collaborations with local police and included initiatives to educate the community about current liquor laws. Lastly, the anonymous tip line has been established to reduce underage drinking in the community.

As a result of this work, high school drinking rates have decreased 13 per cent since 2007. Over the past six years, the task force has brought in funding of over $1.4 million to the Vineyard to work on these challenges for our youth. This past month, the task force was awarded another $625,000, to be distributed over a five-year period, from the federal Drug Free Communities program. This substantial support allows the task force to maintain its efforts to address youth alcohol and substance use and expand efforts to address more specified marijuana and other drug prevention for this population.

The youth task force continues to call Vineyard residents to action. With another five years of funding, we look forward to continued and new partnerships with parents, schools, local law enforcement, community organizations and other important players. Our vision is a mobilized Martha’s Vineyard community with a culture that values the prevention of substance abuse.

For information visit mvyouthtaskforce.org, or to find out how you can get involved call 508-696-5304.

Theresa Manning is executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Youth Task Force.