Federal money is complicated, explained the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia. At the Roanoke County Administration Building Tuesday, Tim Heaphy announced the award of Strategic Prevention Framework State Incentive Grants (SPF SIGs).
These funds from Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service’s Administration to the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Service go to jurisdictions based “unfortunately” on their motor vehicle crash statistics, explained Heaphy.
Being a drug free community increases the chances that a locality will receive the grants. There is infrastructure already in place to carry out prevention strategies, said Community Outreach Coordinator Gwen Mason.
“The funds are needed to keep young people safe,” Heaphy said. Developing youth struggle to control impulses that “are not fully formed … sometimes teens encourage each other in bad decisions – alcohol fuels risky choices.”
The first phase of the grants will be used to collect data, collaborate with partners and develop strategic plans to eliminate drinking drivers ages 16 to 24. A coalition, that includes the city of Roanoke, works to identify consumption patterns of young adult binge drinking in 18-24 year olds.
The localities receiving the funds include the cities of Roanoke and Lynchburg and the counties of Roanoke, Campbell, Franklin, Augusta, Washington and Rockingham. The city of Roanoke is receiving $121,000 and Roanoke County is receiving $145,000 each year for three years.
Nancy Hans, the director for the Prevention Council of Roanoke said, “The SPF SIG grant is vital to continued alcohol abuse prevention in Roanoke County. If we can find a way to prevent one young man or woman from getting behind the wheel after drinking we can save at least one more life.”
Judge Phillip Trompeter of the Roanoke County Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court said, “In this age group the public sometimes fails to understand that this is our youth’s number one public health problem today.” Alcohol and drugs have a big impact on traffic safety.
Ray Bemis, project coordinator for the Roanoke Prevention Alliance in Roanoke city explained that they would use the first year’s funds to look at where alcohol related crashes are occurring and evaluate the reasons. “It could be a particular neighborhood or drivers from outside the city,” said Bemis. A strategic plan would then be formulated to address the results of the findings with the goal of reducing motor vehicle crashes.
Aaliyah Gray, a Roanoke County freshman, said that though she is not yet driving she thinks that the grant might help implement programs “to prevent [crashes] and make people realize what is right.”
In Roanoke County they have a Youth Risk Behavior Survey every two years. The official survey goes to every middle and high school student including parents. The anonymous surveys are then analyzed at Virginia Tech and results returned. “It gives us some tremendous information on how we can target messages,” said Chuck Lionberger, community relations specialist with Roanoke County Schools.
“We’ve got to make them understand that their life can change in an instant – it just takes one bad decision.” With prom coming up it is the time of year when kids make some of those risky decisions. The Prevention Council will “increase the messaging – you don’t need to have alcohol to have a good time and a good prom” said Lionberger.
Sometimes there are no second chances.