We’ve heard this line echoed many times from many people. We need “somethin’ for the kids to do” to keep them off drugs, to keep them out of trouble, and to help show them their community cares about them. Unfortunately, too often we stop at the statement of need and don’t take the next step to figure out the “what” and the “how”. It’s time for that next step.
The Icelandic Prevention Model
In the late 1990s, the nation of Iceland came to the realization that their young people were abusing drugs and alcohol at an alarming rate. To address the problem, they brought their best researchers together to figure out a solution. And guess what they figured out that they needed? That’s right…somethin’ for the kids to do! It’s obviously not that simple, but at its core, that’s the answer. Put the young people in the driver’s seat, bring the community to the table, and figure out what the kids in each LOCAL community need to keep them engaged. Then each community comes together to provide what’s needed for their youth and keep it sustained. In the nearly 30 years since Iceland changed the way they engage their youth, substance abuse has plummeted.
Iceland takes the show on the road.
They were so successful with their model, Iceland packaged it and made it available to other communities around the world, calling it Planet Youth (planetyouth.org). Planet Youth provides a framework to follow in order to achieve the same results they have seen in Iceland. It is flexible and each community can adapt their activities to meet their own needs. In Estill County, we are well on our way to adopting the Icelandic model and getting involved with Planet Youth.
Estill Pathfinder Initiative Coalition
An ancient North to South trail called the Warriors’ Path goes through Estill County, and we have been working on developing the path in much the same way Boone’s Trace and the Wilderness Road have been. The Warriors' Path, as an organization, is advocating for and supporting communities in the adoption of the Icelandic Prevention Model, calling it the Pathfinder Initiative, in Eastern Kentucky. Another community along the path, Olive Hill in Carter County, has begun the process of adopting the Icelandic model and are the folks who have introduced us to it. Our friends have named their effort Olive Hill Pathfinder Initiative Coalition (OHPIC), and we have followed suit because EPIC is a great name! After an initial gathering, we are putting the structure in place to get the ball rolling. We are setting up EPIC as an operating division of Estill Development Alliance, with its own board and checking account, but with the cost savings and network that come with being part of an established nonprofit.
Why do we need a new organization?
The Icelandic model has a particular structure that has already been proven to work. This includes a coalition representing 12 sectors of the community, with the youth being in the prime slot. There is also funding available through the Drug-free Communities program, led by the CDC. Its requirements mirror those of Planet Youth, and the funding is substantial enough to help us run our program for up to 10 years. In short, we need an organization that is specifically set up to meet these requirements.
Who can be involved?
Anyone with an interest in Estill County’s youth has a seat at the table. Our goal is to be inclusive, so there will be no dues to participate. Also, to manage expectations, we are setting three tiers of membership. Active members plan to be “all in” by attending all meetings, gatherings, and other programming. They can vote on the board of the coalition as well as hold those board positions. Collaborating members will attend some meetings and events, but they know they can’t commit to all. They will not hold board positions, but they vote in board elections. Supporting members, while still invited to all meetings and events, do not plan to attend often. However, they are still interested in the success of the initiative, want to stay informed, and want to be available if their specific skills or network are needed.
How will our young people be involved?
This is the most important piece of the puzzle. We have begun working on the structure for a youth advisory council that serves the entire community. While serving as the youth component of EPIC, it will also serve as a “think tank” for our young people to tackle issues affecting them. Ultimately, we hope that our local governments and organizations will utilize the council to assist them in decision-making for community issues. This council will operate outside of the school district, but it will work closely with school groups and clubs to identify young people who are interested in serving their community in this way. We will also have a special focus on reaching out to those who aren’t already engaged in other activities.
What is EPIC actually going to do?
We are going to use data, which Planet Youth will help us collect, to inform decisions we need to make for our community’s young people while ensuring our young people are part of making those decisions. Whether it’s learning opportunities for groups of our kids (think fiddle lessons or trail-building classes or filmmaking seminars), recreational spaces (think youth rec center or parks), or organized activities (think youth-focused festivals or new sports leagues or gaming competitions), we will work together as a community to focus on what we’re going to do and then find the funding and do it. This is not one-size-fits-all with one solution to engage all the youth at once. We will work to support small groups with specific interests and keep working to reach as many of those small groups as possible.
Okay, I’m sold. What’s next?
An important tenet of EPIC is that it is a long-term solution. We didn’t get to our current situation overnight, and we won’t solve it overnight. That said, we are ready to get started. Head over to estill.org/epic and read up on what’s happening. When you’re ready, go ahead and decide which level of membership is right for you and sign the corresponding letter of commitment. We will be holding an organizational meeting in the next couple months. This fall, we will be hosting a larger informational session for the entire community. The Drug-free Communities application is due next April. (You must be established for 6 months to apply, which is why we’re not applying this year.) That means we have less than a year to get everything started and organized how we feel is best for Estill County. We’ve talked about getting “somethin’ for the kids to do” for far too long. Are you ready to make it happen?
If you'd like to officially become part of this effort, we ask that you sign a letter on behalf of yourself or the organization you represent. In order to manage expectations and be inclusive, we have three levels of commitment for you to consider. You can download the corresponding letters below.
Active members are "all in." They plan to attend most meetings and events planned and put on by EPIC. Active members are eligible to serve on the Board of Directors, and they vote in board elections.
Collaborating members plan to be heavily involved, but circumstances will keep them from being as involved as Active members. They plan to attend some functions of EPIC, but they cannot commit to the bulk of them. While not eligible to serve on the Board of Directors, Collaborating members may still vote in board elections.
Supporting members are passionate about this initiative, but circumstances will keep them from being very involved. They still want to stay informed about EPIC and lend help when they can. And while still invited to all functions, they are not expected to attend. Supporting members are not eligible to serve on the Board of Directors or vote in board elections.
If, at any time, a member wishes to change their level of membership, all they have to do is sign a new letter and submit it. Easy as that. Our hope is that giving people a choice to formally declare their level of involvement, it will reduce stress and possible resentment. Our circumstances in life change regularly, and we shouldn't have to "hide" if we don't have the time to take on additional responsibilities. Likewise, when the opportunity to get more involved presents itself, we shouldn't have to "drop hints" to be asked to step up our level of involvement. Let's work together to build our community, no matter our individual level of available time!
Please click below on the letter you'd like to sign to download it in .pdf format. Once you have filled it out, you may mail it to EPIC, PO Box 421, Irvine, KY 40336 or you may scan and email it as an attachment to Joe@Estill.org.