May 2014
Youth Matters

4-H Extension Corner: 4-H PROSPERS

Henry County PROSPER team  

Henry County Program Making an Impact on Youth

The PROSPER program is making an impact on the youth of Henry County through 4-H in a big way.

PROSPER stands for Promoting School-Community-University Partnerships to Enhance Resilience in our communities throughout Alabama.

PROSPER uses a parent, youth and family skills-building curriculum to: 1) prevent teen substance abuse and other risky behavior; 2) strengthen parenting skills in adults and coping skills in youth; and 3) build on family strengths and the family unit.

The Henry County PROSPER team chose two evidence-based programs – Strengthening Families and PROSPER ALL Stars – targeted toward families of middle school students (sixth and seventh grades).

Students and their families met outside of school grounds where trained professionals teach from educational modules. The first year, the program is voluntary. But when seventh grade rolls around, it becomes a part of their regular curriculum.

Headland Middle School has participated in PROSPER for 4 years and Abbeville Schools for the last 2 years. PROSPER is funded in Henry County by Auburn University Outreach.

I really believe in this program. The curriculum is grounded in 20 years of research-based information, and the training provided for both team members and facilitators is outstanding, thus enabling us to teach these programs and effectively make a difference in the lives of our youth.

There are challenges in every school and community that present tremendous obstacles for the county teams.

We have prescription drugs in our home cabinets and alcohol that can be easily obtained in the communities. PROSPER teaches our youth there are ways to abstain from using these substances, and how not to give in to peer pressure.

Headland Middle School encourages young people to stay in school and focus more on learning.

"If we can start the PROSPER program in the sixth grade, we can help stop risky behavior," Headland Middle School Guidance Counsellor Roger Mixson said.

"Better behavior and better grades make for a higher retention rate and a higher graduation rate, and that builds stronger youth and schools."

Mixson also sees the difference PROSPER makes on family members. "The program is building stronger youth and families because they learn to communicate and trust each other more," Mixson added.

Through encouragement and support, we also can make a difference. Knowing people in the community support them means a lot to young people and their families.

Donya Flowers, a Strengthening Families facilitator and Henry County Juvenile Courts officer, agrees that PROSPER has made a difference in the courtroom.

"Where PROSPER programs have been put in place, there is up to a 10 percent reduction in Juvenile Court cases," she said.

The Children’s Policy Council of Henry County agrees with Flowers. They have funded portions of the Henry County PROSPER program in Abbeville and Headland for the last 2 years.

The Henry County PROSPER team has graduated 62 families from the Strengthening Families Program and 227 seventh grade students from the PROSPER ALL Stars.

Both programs discourage drug and alcohol use, premarital sex and bullying. Abstaining from the use of tobacco products is also addressed in the seventh grade program at both Headland and Abbeville schools.

The middle schoolers are surveyed three times during the program. Ninety percent of the students surveyed in PROSPER report they choose to refrain from risky behaviors.

I feel that if the PROSPER program can keep one student from trying alcohol during their middle school years, that student is five times less likely to be an alcoholic when he or she becomes an adult.

With the continued help of the community, the school system and the county, we are truly beginning to prosper.

Jimmy Jones is a county Extension coordinator for Henry County and the PROSPER team leader.