Pictured (left to right): Kevin J. Roberts, chief executive officer for Champion for Children; Daniel Contreras; Marcela Badillo; Selena Badillo;  Edeline Bebe; Honorio Marquez; Nyara Whitlock; Tikira Battle; Aisha Alayande, director for Drug Free Highlands; and Eddie Cuencas, coordinator for SFSC’s Panther Youth Partners program.

Pictured (left to right): Kevin J. Roberts, chief executive officer for Champion for Children; Daniel Contreras; Marcela Badillo; Selena Badillo; Edeline Bebe; Honorio Marquez; Nyara Whitlock; Tikira Battle; Aisha Alayande, director for Drug Free Highlands; and Eddie Cuencas, coordinator for SFSC’s Panther Youth Partners program.

For the third year, students from South Florida State College’s Panther Youth Partners (PYP) program participated in the Drug Free Highlands (DFH) retreat on Feb. 13 at the Champions for Children Theater.

High school and middle school students from Highlands County schools are invited each year to attend the retreat were the students are educated on the consequences of drug abuse and are involved with providing input on ways to improve prevention efforts in our community.

SFSC’s PYP students took part in DFH planning process for the strategic plan that addresses the concerns of the community in regards to drug abuse each year. Drug Free Highlands mission is to organize, inform, educate, and unite the community in its efforts to reduce substance abuse among youth.

The Drug Free Highlands retreat was a team-building work day spent educating coalition members about the substance abuse response guide (SARG) process. The first part of the day was spent conducting logic models which help identify problems in the county and why they exist, the members then analyzed how our environment may support the behavior, and then the coalition located data to support the findings.

The second part of the day was spent on environmental strategies and DFH’s action plan. This time was dedicated to looking at already existing resources or finding new resources that change social norms, deter risky behaviors, and support healthy choices for all. The group then revised and updated the action plan to reflect the coalition goals. Within the action plan, the strategies, responsible parties, and timeline were all documented. The action plan is then used as a guideline to eradicate substance abuse in our community and enhance the lives of our residents and beyond.

“Students involvement and creativity in addressing the issues our community face day to day in regards to drug abuse is the best and most effective way to reach our youth,” said Eddie Cuencas, PYP coordinator at SFSC. “The goal of the coalition and its partners is to work together as a team for the community and the future of our youth.”

SFSC’s PYP program is a federally funded workforce program that offers services to students ages 16-21 that help them gain skills to obtain employment. The services include academic support; financial aid and financial literacy advising; career development assistance; personal, academic and career counseling; job shadowing; and employability skills workshops. The program also works in conjunction with agencies such as the Health Department, Drug-Free Highlands, the Teenage Pregnancy Prevention Alliance, Ridge Area Arc, and the Career Source Heartland to provide students instruction on topics such as health awareness, drug and pregnancy prevention, table etiquette, job interviewing and resume skills, as well as volunteer and job shadowing opportunities.

For more information on SFSC’s PYP, visit www.southflorida.edu/pantheryouth or call Cuencas at 863-784-7161 or Eddie.Cuencas@southflorida.edu.