MAINE, USA — Applications are now open for new grant money in Hancock and Washington Counties to help communities try to prevent youth substance use.
This is the second year that Healthy Acadia is providing mini-grants to local organizations to prevent the use of alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana and promote the health and well-being of youth through its Downeast Maine Partnerships for Success (PFS) initiative.
Mini-grants are between $1,000 and $10,000 and will go to selected community groups like schools, community centers, and nonprofit organizations with plans to create new opportunities for peer-based mental health support and social development.
Sara McConnell, the coordinator for Healthy Acadia's PFS initiative, says about $100,000 is available for these grants this year—and potentially a bit more since the coronavirus pandemic ended up canceling some of last year's projects. Last year, 13 organizations were able to see their projects through, which included things like new after school programs, summer camps, and outdoor activities for kids ages nine to 20.
McConnell says PFS programs are tailored to the needs of Downeast Maine, and communities can choose what they think is needed. McConnell says rural areas like Hancock and Washington Counties don't often have as many options for activities as more populated areas, which can sometimes lead to a higher rate of substance use.
"When we provide these programs and activities for our youth, it really can have an impact on their lives—not only, you know, the day or weeks that these happen but into the future," McConnell explained to NEWS CENTER Maine via Zoom.
Highlighting youth mental health and proneness to substance use is especially important during the coronavirus pandemic, according to mental health experts. That's because studies indicate more young people have feelings of isolation—and that's a risk factor for substance use, as well as depressive and anxiety symptoms, which are also on the rise.
Dr. Nadia Mendiola, an in-patient child and adolescent psychiatrist at Northern Light Acadia Hospital, says one benefit of COVID-19's impact is that there is generally more parental oversight at home, but it's still unclear whether youth substance use is on the rise since a lot of families are also under additional pressures.
Mendiola says the substances most used by youth include alcohol, marijuana, and things they can naturally find at home, like parents' prescriptions or cough medicine. Experimentation usually begins around the age of 12, and the earlier that onset, the higher likelihood of lifetime use of substances.
That's why Mendiola says it's important for families to have open communication, especially during these challenging times, and schedule quality time together, like family dinners or movie nights.
"I think right now, especially because of the isolation, more kids are leaning towards social media and using those means of communication, which can sometimes not always be safe," Mendiola told NEWS CENTER Maine. "You really want to make sure you keep that open line of communication with your kids, as well as spending as much quality time as you can with them."
Healthy Acadia is accepting applications for its PFS initiative online until November 4. McConnell says she will be doing Zoom calls to answer any questions on October 21 at 10 a.m., October 29 at 3 p.m., and November 3 at 3 p.m. You can contact McConnell at Sara@HealthyAcadia.org for login information.
McConnel says they are hoping to have awards signed by December.