An innovative collaboration began last fall between the Heart of Illinois United Way, its partner agencies and Peoria School District 150. Peoria Area Community and Educational Services (PACES), has been at work this past year offering full-service substance abuse and mental health programs for students in kindergarten through high school.

Garfield Primary School, Trewyn Middle School and Manual High School have been part of this pilot year. PACES focuses on drug and alcohol use and abuse among students, which results in violence, anger and physical and mental abuse and interferes with learning. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, at least one in 10 youth has a mental health disorder. Several HOI United Way agencies are part of this collaboration: Counseling and Family Services (CFS), the Center for Prevention of Abuse (CPA), Tazwood Mental Health Center (TMHC) and the Human Service Center (HSC).

At Garfield, CFS works with students and teachers on preventative measures, addressing at-risk youth through crisis intervention at the school, home visits with parents/guardians, consultations with school staff, individual and group counseling and mentors for students and families.

At Trewyn and Manual, the CPA provides support to school personnel, students and families through counseling which addresses substance, physical and sexual abuse, anger management and mentoring. TMHC provides intervention services for substance abuse at Trewyn and Manual, along with facilitating Issuesa continuing care group after school.

In grades five to 12 throughout District 150, the HSC, which has successfully operated an abeyance program in East Peoria for several years, is helping District 150 with a program which confronts substance use within the school with consequences and treatment. The agency provides training on how to identify students who need help.

In just the first few months of the PACES program, hundreds of students have received help to address substance abuse, violence and mental health issues. At Garfield, students and their families have received individual counseling support and more than 200 students have received prevention education in social skills, anger management and appropriate responses to conflict. At Trewyn, more than 200 students have received education through bullying prevention curriculum and more than 50 students are being monitored for mental health services. At Manual, more than 20 students are receiving direct mental health services at the school, and one student was diverted from a suicide attempt.

Future plans for the PACES program include continuing the abeyance program, expanding services for prevention and early intervention, establishing community roundtables with parents, diversifying funding and expanding to additional high schools.

The HOI United Way is dedicated to building a stronger, safer community for our youth and families. This program at District 150 is just one more example of collaborative efforts which prove we can accomplish more working together than we can achieve alone. IBI