County teen program faces uncertain future

Posted Aug. 14, 2009, at 7:07 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:43 a.m.

CARIBOU, Maine — For 22 years, the Aroostook Teen Leadership Camp has been a compass helping to guide Aroostook County youth along paths to a successful life.

Now, however, ATLC officials are working to get past a financial roadblock that has made the future of the camp uncertain.

Sponsored by Aroostook Mental Health Services Inc., the ATLC initiative is a countywide leadership and drug prevention program that helps shape teen leaders. The annual five-day residential summer camp is held at the Maine School of Science and Mathematics in Limestone. The camp works to deter students in grades six though nine from using tobacco, drugs and alcohol.

During the camp, staffers give youth knowledge, skills and training to make positive decisions about their lives and teach campers how to share what they have learned with their peers. During camp, students typically hear motivational speakers and participate in talks on topics such as alcohol use, building self-esteem, conflict resolution, stress management and making choices.

Staff work with students at the camp and engage them in follow-up activities during the school year. Between 150 and 225 students are helped each year by the program, ATLC program coordinator Jack Foster said Friday afternoon.

The ATLC has received significant funding from the state Office of Substance Abuse since the early 1990s, according to Foster, and up to now the allocation has been growing. The program is in the final year of a three-year OSA grant of $37,000 a year. But that looks to be the final allocation from the state office, Foster said.

Foster said OSA used to accept proposals for grant funding from any prevention program, but added that the agency shifted focus last year and is looking to fund just evidence-based prevention programs. Such programs have a strategy based on a well-defined theory or model and, through studies, have documented evidence of effectiveness and sustained benefits to participants and society.

Although OSA officials were not available for comment on the decision Friday, the move toward funding evidenced-based programs appears to be in line with a national trend geared toward investing money in programs that have sufficient research behind them showcasing widespread effectiveness.

The ATLC would not be able to meet those criteria, Foster said Friday.

The Maine Office of Substance Abuse is responsible for the planning, development, implementation, regulation and evaluation of substance abuse services. It works to enhance the health and safety of Maine residents by reducing the overall impact of substance use, abuse and dependency.

Foster said there is hope for the camp as he continues to make local, state and federal grant applications and is waiting to hear on applications he already has submitted. The ATLC recently received a $2,500 grant from the Maine Community Foundation’s Pine Tree Fund for Aroostook County.

Foster also is considering a major fundraiser to replace the $37,000 funding loss by January.

“We will do the best we can to keep going,” he said Friday.

Donations may be sent to the Aroostook Teen Leadership Camp Program, P.O. Box 1018, Caribou 04736. For information on the camp, go to www.atlccamp.tripod.com.

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