A unique collaboration is taking place in Peoria. PACES, or Peoria Area Community and Educational Services, is a partnership between District 150, community stakeholders, and the Heart of Illinois United Way, who, through the United Way grant process, will establish a full-service substance abuse and mental health program for students in kindergarten through high school. This collaborative innovation in student services will not only foster student success, but will transform the community it serves.

In October 2005, District 150 volunteers surveyed the Manual High School area for community input, asking 471 residents (both students and parents) which issues they believe keep students from being successful in school. The #1 answer was drugs (31 percent of respondents) and the #2 answer was crime (13 percent). The PACES program brings together diverse groups to be a part of the solution. Targeting three schools, Garfield Primary, Trewyn Middle, and Manual High, the program will focus on drug and alcohol abuse among students which often result in violence, anger, and physical or mental abuse. These issues accompany students to school and interfere with the classroom environment.

Because schools can’t do it alone, collaboration is key to having a substantive long-term impact. As the lead agency, District 150 will work with the Heart of Illinois United Way agencies to bring on-site, direct services which address substance abuse and mental health issues to students who attend the three targeted schools. This will be accomplished through three major components: strengthening families through outreach and mentoring, forming a round-table advisory group to allow the community an equal voice in addressing solutions to these issues, and collaborating with United Way agencies to provide prevention and intervention support to teach life skills.

Several Heart of Illinois United Way agencies are a part of this collaboration, including Counseling and Family Services, who will work with Garfield Primary School on measures to address at-risk youth through crisis intervention, home visits with parents and guardians, consultations with school staff, and referrals. The Center for Prevention of Abuse will work with Trewyn Middle School and Manual High School on early intervention measures which will provide ongoing support to school personnel, students, and families through counseling.

Tazwood Mental Health Center will provide direct intervention services for substance abuse at Trewyn and Manual, along with a continuing care group after school. The Human Service Center, which has operated a successful abeyance program at East Peoria Community High School for more than five years, will implement a District 150 program to confront substance use within the school. The agency will provide faculty training to identify students who may need help for substance abuse and mental health issues.

More than just a fundraiser, the Heart of Illinois United Way is dedicated to uniting our efforts to build a stronger, safer community for our youth and families. The PACES program at District 150 is just one more example of a collaborative effort that proves we can accomplish more working together than we can alone. IBI