Thursday, March 22, 2012

By Yael Goldman
Saratoga Today

SARATOGA SPRINGS – When the Saratoga Springs City Police Department cut its D.A.R.E. program in 2010, the steadfast Alcohol and Substance Abuse Prevention Council was there to fill in the gap.

This week, the Prevention Council celebrated its 30th year of providing a wide range of vital programs and services that get the community involved in equipping young people with the skills they need to choose healthy behaviors.  A well-attended open house celebration on Tuesday, March 20, at the council’s 36 Phila Street headquarters commemorated this milestone. Guests representing a cross section of our community – from public safety officials to superintendents and parents – came out to show their support, and it’s obvious why.

Through initiatives like Too Good For Drugs (TGFD), an evidence-based program installed in all county public schools within the past five years, the council has greatly reduced the prevalence of substance abuse, bullying and violence in our community by getting everyone involved.

“There is this misperception that if there is an issue with kids it’s up to the school to prevent it, but really drugs, alcohol, cyber-bullying, sexting are a community issue,” said Heather Kisselback, the council’s executive director.

“It is critical that we have the community on board. It takes everyone – youth, parents, business owners, community members, police and schools – to all be on the same page, sending the same no-use


This “holistic” approach to prevention has changed the way our community views prevention.

“Thirty years ago, society was just waking up to the fact that drugs and underage drinking were a big problem,” Kisselback said.

In the late 1970s, substance abuse was at an all-time high, yet there was no coordination of services to promote prevention and provide support. So in 1981, a handful of forward-thinking locals, including council founder Judy Ekman, brought together school districts and human service agencies to begin addressing the problem.

Now, in 2012, the council has successfully expanded its programs and outreach, establishing partnerships with area business owners and agencies, reaching out to tens of thousands of students.

The council conducts an annual student survey to learn which risky behavior and issues are prevalent in each district.

“We encourage the schools to publish the findings to the entire community to get the entire community involved,” said Kisselback.

While the findings certainly serve as a reminder for parents, business owners and everyone else, they also help the council determine what issues they need to focus on in individual schools.

“If [the findings from] one school came back heavier on the violence side and there is a lot of bullying going on, we’ll focus the programming on bullying prevention,” Kisselback said.

And the surveys show that TGFD is working.

In the past 10 years, the percentage of Saratoga Springs 12th graders that regularly use alcohol has dropped from 64 to 49 percent and the percentage of eighth graders smoking cigarettes has dropped from 14.6 to 6.5. However, the findings also show that there is a lot of work to do in curbing the amount of marijuana use, as more than 20 percent of 12th graders admit to using the drug.

Kisselback said the council has been in “programming mode” since day one, and that the next step is spreading the word, especially to parents.

“It’s a holistic approach and we need everyone on board to send the prevention message; it needs to come from multiple sources and [we are] now focused on making sure that parents know we are here too,” she said.

This week’s anniversary open house reinforced what the council has accomplished over the past 30 years, and, if anything, proves that there is plenty of work ahead in the future. But as our culture continues to evolve – introducing new challenge, pressures and issues to our youth – so will the prevention council.

“We work on providing youth the skills to overcome the obstacles they face every day,” Kisselback said.

For more information about the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Prevention Council of Saratoga County, visit or call (518) 581-1230.