CHOICES meeting produces ideas

About 16 people gathered last Saturday to begin mapping out a pan for Avalon’s youth anti-substance abuse program known as CHOICES.

About 16 people gathered last Saturday to begin mapping out a pan for Avalon’s youth anti-substance abuse program known as CHOICES.

With the loss of a major annual donation of about $40,000, the program has been struggling to stay afloat and keep offering the services it provides.  

According to Rhonda Kalish, the mostly volunteer program’s only paid employee, the strategic planning session on March 6 turned up some possible solutions to the program’s current financial crisis.

One of the first things the group addressed was refining its goals and mission “to encourage community involvement in helping Island youth make responsible decisions about alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.”

While that goal could apply to just about any community in the United States, it is even more of a challenge in resort towns such as Avalon, where children grow up being constantly exposed to adults imbibing alcohol and often behaving in often less than mature manners. What might be a temporary dalliance for people visiting the Island, might seem to many impressionable youths to be normal behavior.

“In resort communities, children are exposed to a much higher percentage of substance abuse and drug and alcoholic behavior,” Kalish said. “That is why it’s so important to provide drug and alcohol free alternatives.”

CHOICES has been trying to provide such alternatives as well as interacting with troubled Island youth to get back on a straight life course.  

At times it has helped keep Avalon youths who have strayed beyond the law to avoid jail and from becoming repeat offenders.

Such good Samaritan and effective work does not usually function well without the money to make it happen. That is why a portion of the meeting focused on ways to generate funding for CHOICES.

“Everyone got into groups and brainstormed on how we could get funding,” Kalish, a continuing care specialist said.  

One idea was to hire a grant writer who could ring in corporate and other donations. To that end the group designated Dawn Sampson to lead a fundraising team.

“We also thought of some kind of tax per drink sold in Avalon to compensate all these kids exposed to this drunken behavior,” Kalish said. “The statistics show that in Avalon some kids start drinking regularly at age 10.”

While the funding has dropped off Kalish said CHOICES is carrying on as best it can.  

“We are still doing a lot of the things to educate the community and schools and do some parent training and teaching,” Kalish said.

Kalish said CHOICES used to offer an annual course in server training for restaurants, hotels and others that serve alcohol.

“We work with an early intervention program and some of the Red Ribbon week activities at the schools,” Kalish said. “I think that people who have influence in our community could be helping to ensure that the program continues, but it won’t be able to without the resources for these young kids.”

Kalish said she has been contacted by many people who were helped by the CHOICES program in their youth who now credit it with helping them turn their lives around in a positive way.  

“We have so many success stories that have come to us,” Kalish said.  

At the meeting it was revealed that CHOICES’ funding has dwindled to $12,547.  

In 2012 its annual budget was $87,750 – about $7,312 per month. It expenses were about $20,229 more than its revenues last year.

In the meantime, Kalish said they are hoping for the best and carrying on as best they can.  

Kalish said they are open to welcoming any help they can get.  

To become involved, contact Kalish at (310) 848-4381. 


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