Do you believe in prevention? We do! So does Voices for Prevention (V4P), a newly formed coalition in Georgia that focuses on substance abuse prevention. In order to build a unified voice for this cause in the state, V4P collaborates with a committed group of prevention providers, community coalition members and individuals.
On March 25, over 200 youth and adults from this network in the state of Georgia gathered at the Capitol for Substance Abuse Prevention Day, hosted by V4P. They came together to raise their voices in an effort to heighten legislative awareness of substance abuse prevention issues in their communities. Several GUIDE Staff were joined by one former and three current Youth Advisory Board members and a new GUIDE volunteer to advocate for substance abuse prevention in Gwinnett County.
To kick off the day, the crowd was energized by a video that featured several youth and adults from across the state sharing why they believe in prevention. We were welcomed by Dr. Earl Suttle who reminded us that “our life begins to end when we are silent on the things that matter, and substance abuse prevention matters.” Advocacy is the act of supporting an idea or speaking in favor of an interest or cause. Advocating for substance abuse prevention does matter because it allows Representatives and Senators to hear what is important and enables them to fight for changes that would positively impact their constituents. Before heading over to the Capitol to meet with our legislators, we heard from Lobbyist Mark Middleton about how to successfully navigate the Capitol and from two youth advocates from Learn to Grow who shared their stories as change agents for the cause.
From there, we were empowered to make our way over to the Capitol to meet with our legislators! With our Fact Sheets in hand, we made our way “to the ropes” to meet with Representatives from Lawrenceville and Norcross. Our Youth Advisory Board members were able to speak with Representative Buzz Brockway about their role with GUIDE, projects they are working on and their vision for substance abuse prevention in Lawrenceville. Charlene Marsh, a current Youth Advisory Board member, spoke about her experience by saying, “I am so glad I was able to see how the legislation process works and how advocates can get involved with it. I enjoyed meeting a lot of people who are passionate about the same thing.”
Afterwards, everyone gathered in the South Wing of the Capitol for the Prevention Saves Rally. We were so proud to have Charlene Marsh and a former Youth Advisory Board member, Marilyn Carias, speak at the rally to help spread the important message that “Prevention Saves!” We also heard inspiring words from Travis Fretwell, the Director of the newly formed Office of Behavioral Health Prevention at the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, Superintendent Richard Woods from the Department of Education, Representative Joyce Chandler, Emily Miller from the Dual County Defenders Youth Action Team and Elizabeth Osman from Cobb Alcohol TaskForce. A message that particularly resonated with the crowd was one from Stephanie McCladdie, a Regional Administrator with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. She stated that prevention is:
Resilience not reaction;
Victory and not being victims;
Energize change for our community;
Never ending quest;
Tangible outcomes, like money saved;
Now is our future to make prevention number one.
We closed the Rally by standing on the steps of the South Wing, waving our prevention dollars and declaring that “Prevention Saves!”
And it does. Research shows that $30.00 is saved for every $1.00 spent on substance abuse prevention (Miller and Hendrie, 2009). If we invest in effective prevention efforts, it does make a difference. Patricia Granda-Malaver, another current Youth Advisory Board member, summed up the day by saying, “Today inspired me and exposed me to all of the passionate advocates throughout Georgia. It also allowed me to experience our government and the impact we can make with our voice even at a young age. It is great to know that we can influence lives.”
Marilyn Carias also “love[d] how so many people came out to talk about the growth of prevention and to advocate for continuing this mission in the future.” Well said, Marilyn! The first annual Substance Abuse Prevention Day was a fantastic first step in establishing our unified voice. If you are involved in substance abuse prevention work in Georgia, we invite you to take this survey from V4P to share what information and assistance you need in order to make the work you are doing in your community more successful and sustainable.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead