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Guia: Providing guidance away from drugs, alcohol

WILLMAR -- A new program is being launched that will help Hispanic and Latino youth in a four-county area who struggle with drug and alcohol use.

Funded with a four-year, $1.1 million state grant, the program will fund unique intervention efforts for youth, ages 14-22, their families and community mentors.

Called "Guia," which means "guide," the program will provide intervention for youth experimenting with drugs and alcohol and assistance to those who have addictions and have participated in treatment.

The program will provide support to families and contains a component involving mentors who will provide a "talking circle" of support to help the youth stay on track to reach their goals, said Debb Sheehan, director of the PACT 4 Families Collaborative.

PACT 4 has partnered with the West Central Integration Collaborative to obtain the grant.

There are no other programs like this in the area, said Sheehan.

The grant will provide $292,000 each year for four years to target Hispanic and Latino youth.

That does not mean Hispanic and Latino youth have a higher incidence of chemical abuse than any other population group, said Sheehan during an interview this week. But the grant application required that a certain population be targeted.

Because of those parameters, only youth who are Hispanic or Latino can be served with this grant, said Sheehan.

"We are so thrilled about this grant. I just think there's a lot of possibilities," said Sheehan.

The Guia program is one of five grants funded by the state Department of Human Services that are for a specific population.

The other programs awarded grants that will target adults who are American Indian, Laotian or Southeast Asian, and the elderly of any race.

The Guia program is one of just two not based in a metro community.

The grant will be used to help Hispanic and Latino youth in Kandiyohi, Meeker, Renville and Yellow Medicine counties.

Since being notified of the grant late this summer, three bilingual individuals have been hired for the program and another will be added, Sheehan said.

Gwenn Garcia, an intervention specialist with the West Central Integration Collaborative, will spend most of her time in the Willmar Senior High School and Alternative Learning Center.

Alex Espinoza, an intervention specialist and coach with PACT 4, will focus on youth in the Renville County West and BOLD school districts.

Those school districts were identified because of the number of Hispanic and Latino youth, said Sheehan, but the program is available throughout the four counties that are under the PACT 4 umbrella.

Alvaro Patino is the Guia grant coordinator. During a recent presentation to the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners, Patino said the post-treatment component of the program will help "break the cycle" of drug and alcohol abuse and will foster "responsible behavior."

One-on-one interaction with the coaches will help the youth identify their "individual goals," recognize the long-term risks of damaging those goals if drugs and alcohol are abused and guide them to make decisions that will avoid roadblocks to those goals while "remaining drug-free," said Sheehan.

Besides classroom settings, the curriculum also involves "creating lasting family connections" by working with families of the youth.

Community volunteers are also being sought to serve as mentors.

Referrals have already started arriving from school and county agencies as the program is being launched, said Sheehan.

Because participation is voluntary, Sheehan said she expects the program to have great success.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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