Homer Alaska - Opinion

Story last updated at 4:25 PM on Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Here's why those surveys matter

By Sharon Whytal and Paul Story

Throughout 2009, many local organizations worked together to conduct a community health assessment on the southern Kenai Peninsula through "MAPP" (Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnership). We found that residents identified substance abuse as one of their top issues of concern. Student leaders also told us that youth get mixed messages from adults about alcohol use.

Yet we realized we had little local data to define the problem or to identify its causes locally. The Risk and Protective Factor Model of Prevention is based on the simple premise that to prevent a problem from happening, we need to identify the factors that increase the risk of that problem developing and then find ways to reduce the risks.

Parents may recall signing permission slips for their students, both this year and last school year, so that schools could implement risk surveys. We'd like to thank the community for participating in this important endeavor and to share a few preliminary results. We are also engaging University of Alaska Anchorage interns for further data analysis, to give us more "take-home messages" by this fall.

Homer is remarkable in offering its citizens and its youth a plethora of activities within a supportive environment. These are the kinds of assets, or "protective factors," that make Homer an outstanding place to live and that are critical in nurturing our young people into healthy, productive adults. In one of our two high school surveys, we found that Homer youth scored high, in fact, on these important protective factors. This is good news, in that it buffers against the risk they reported in the area of alcohol use in the past 30 days and binge drinking in the past 30 days, both of which were more than 40 percent higher than the state average. While we wish for our children that there were not risks presented to them, we can build on the strengths that they recognized and acknowledged having in their homes, schools and in our community. This includes, for example, that youth say they have opportunities to actively contribute, the skills to successfully contribute and recognition for their efforts and accomplishments. Homer's youth actually reported more protective factors overall than the nation-wide database for this study; this is cause for celebration — and why many of us live here.

Some of the questions we might ask from this and other results include, "Which risk factors are of greatest concern in our community?" and "What are the current norms in our community?" By asking ourselves these questions, we can guide community planning and interventions to identify key objectives that will help our community achieve its prevention goals.

The community identified a vision after our 2009 health assessment: "Proactive, resilient, innovative community." The recognition that we do have a real challenge facing our community and also that we can build on these important strengths, suggests we can indeed reach our vision.

One new resource is the Homer Prevention Project, which, with your help, will further clarify what we care about and how to make a lasting difference in this unique community we call home. Homer has an opportunity right now to do something about it. We need to be "all in."

For more info on the surveys or to get involved, contact Sharon on the MAPP Workgroup at 235-8857 or Esther on the Homer Prevention Project at 235-0570.

Paul Story is with the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District; Sharon Whytal is part of the MAPP Workgroup.