Nonprofit Fights Teenage Substance Abuse

by Kayce Wilson
Delta Digital News Service

JONESBORO – Active in this community since 2008, the Craighead Out of The Dark Coalition plans to jump-start the organization.

CODC’s executive board attended the Arkansas Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Summit in Hot Springs. CODC received a $175,000 Drug-Free Communities grant to apply to its goals. Efforts to receive the grant started five years ago.

“I started out as a community volunteer and was contacted by the board because they had heard that I was running another youth state program,” President Noelle Richardson said. “Last spring we wrote for the DFC grant through Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and we found out in the last week of September that we were awarded the grant.”

The DFC grant will provide CODC with full-time and part-time staff. The grant assists communities in connecting with 12 different sectors, from government to education.

Meeting the Community

Noelle’s husband and CODC chair Kevin Richardson thanked attendees of the November meeting at the NEA Food Bank for their support.

“Even though you haven’t heard a lot from us, a lot has been going on,” he said.

CODC challenged Craighead County fourth-graders to create drug-free posters. The top contestants attended the meeting and displayed their posters; Cason Kifer of Buffalo Island Central West Elementary won the competition. His poster can be seen on billboards throughout the city.

The Prevention Squad held its Christmas party at Lost Pizza Co. (back row, l. to r.) Melissa Ayers, Noelle Richardson, Zavier Roberts, Mia Goodrich, Lauren Lewis; (front row, l. to r.) Jackie Sosa, Rylie Fanning, Abigail Pausch. Photo by Kevin Richardson.

The Prevention Squad, made up of six high school students from the area, gave a rundown of the events held within the last year. The Prevention Squad hosted a Back 2 School Bash and the “Leave Your Mark” rally in October. It also participated in the Mud Ball Tournament, which benefits the St. Bernards’ NICU.

The CODC’s chapters curently include the Bay, Brookland, Buffalo Island Central, Nettleton, Riverside, Valley View and Westside school districts. Seventeen school chapters exist across Craighead County alone, as well as more than 250 students who attended a five-hour leadership training course put on by CODC. Noelle Richardson said she believes they will have a chapter in every school within the next year.

“People should be on the lookout for Out of The Dark,” Noelle Richardson said.

Benton police department Cpt. Kevin Russell from the Coalition for Safer Arkansas Communities showed a video created by a Colorado-based group, Smart Colorado that provided information on the negative effects of marijuana in Colorado since they legalized recreational marijuana use.

Russell said youths need to be taught the importance of the word “yes.”

“They not only need to say ‘no’ to drugs but ‘yes’ to life, which is a life free of drugs,” Russell said.

CODC also participated in the Arkansas Rx Drug Take Back, which collected over 60 pounds of old prescriptions during the four-hour period.