Grant money from marijuana taxes is flowing back into the community to help youths and families in need of mentorship and guidance.
The Piñon Project received about $26,000 to help fund its mentorship program and $33,600 for its Incredible Years program, which focuses on families with children up to 8 years old. The money was distributed through the Tony Grampsas Youth Services Program.
“It’s the first time that our organization has started to see that money flow back into the community,” said Kellie Willis, the executive director of the Pinon Project.
Mentors are one effective way to help kids avoid risky behavior such as drug use and underage sex, by increasing self-esteem, connectedness to school and problem-solving, said Kelli Unrein, the youth program director.
Alcohol and marijuana use is fairly common among Montezuma County teens. A behavioral health-needs assessment of youths in Montezuma and Dolores counties found about a third of all youths had used alcohol, tobacco products or marijuana within the last 30 days during a survey completed in 2013-14. About 30 percent had used alcohol. While about 20 percent of those surveyed had used marijuana and it is a growing problem in the county, Unrein said.
“It’s becoming the biggest risk factor, without a whole lot of resources toward prevention,” she said.
There is also an attitude within the community, since marijuana was legalized, that marijuana is safe.
“There is such a mindset that it’s not damaging,” Willis said.
However, studies show that teens’ regular use of marijuana can change the way their brains develop. It can also double the risk of being diagnosed with schizophrenia or reporting psychotic symptoms in adulthood, according to a paper by Wayne Hall, an adviser to the World Health Organization.
Although the Piñon Project has attracted interested students to the program through referrals, finding mentors has proved far more difficult.
The nonprofit currently has 43 children waiting to be matched with an adult mentor. Only nine students in the program currently have a mentor. The program has been most successful attracting students in grades three through seven.
The nonprofit has tried recruiting through booths at events, talking with people in coffee shops, the marquee sign at Four Corners Community Bank, and newspaper advertisements, Unrein said.
Adults who are interested in becoming mentors go through a long screening process that includes a background check and training.
They also need to commit to at least a year of working with the same student and meeting with them once a week.
More information about the mentorship program can be found at http://www.pinonproject.org/youth-empowerment.html.