Creating Spaces for Idaho Youth to Thrive Substance-Free

At a glance

The Upriver Youth Leadership Council’s Youth Advisory Board is working to create safe community spaces for young people to gather and thrive substance free in Kamiah, Idaho.

Photo of two teen Youth Advisory Board members cleaning up and painting the walls at the skate park with rollers. Photo credit: Upriver Youth Leadership Council

Upriver Youth Leadership Council

The city of Kamiah, Idaho, is home to about 3,600 residents on the banks of the Clearwater River and the Upriver Youth Leadership Council (UYLC). UYLC is a coalition that receives funding from the Drug-Free Communities Support Program. Their Youth Advisory Board (YAB) was developed to be the youth-driven and adult-guided part of the UYLC coalition. YAB members are middle- and high school students who are closely mentored by UYLC adult board members to be the future substance use prevention leaders in Kamiah. They meet twice monthly to plan health promotion activities for their peers. During meetings and at community events, youth board members develop and practice leadership skills such as:

  • Prevention planning
  • Public speaking
  • Networking
  • Organization
  • Time management

Teen board members host Red Ribbon Week, a longstanding federal drug prevention awareness campaign, in their schools each year. YAB has grown from five founding members in 2017 to 21 in 2022. Approximately one in four members identify as American Indian. This helps to ensure that prevention activities and strategies are culturally relevant and tailored to the racial/ethnic groups in the area.

As residents of the community of Kamiah, the board's teen members were aware of the local challenges and risk factors for substance use, like limited recreational opportunities and spaces for youth to spend free time. In turn, they proposed the opening of a teen center to provide a safe place for young people to gather and thrive, a protective factor against youth substance use and other risky behaviors.1 YAB raised $10K to open the teen center – mainly through monthly lunch delivery events, basketball tournaments, and other events featuring community speakers. Through a separate grant, the UYLC coalition secured program funding for cooking, art, physical activity, and basic life skill classes; cultural programs; and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) activities. The popularity of the center in Kamiah inspired YAB to expand its efforts and open another teen center in neighboring Kooskia, Idaho.

Knowing the impact that safe community spaces can have as a protective factor for youth substance use, one of YAB's founders, Jace Sams, set a goal of opening a community skate park as part of his senior project in his entrepreneurship class. He worked closely with a nonprofit organization to draft the plans. Sharlene Johnson, an experienced grant writer and the UYLC executive director, mentored Jace through the grant process. He wrote op-eds, made community presentations, and surveyed the community for input on the park to support the Tony Hawk Skate Park Grant application. He was successful and was awarded $5,000. The group's annual community fundraiser breakfast brought in the remaining $10,000. The City of Kamiah agreed to be a partner in developing a skatepark at the city's Dupont Park after Jace made a presentation at a city council meeting. YAB members worked to clean up the area and park development is underway.

This kind of empowering mentorship that Jace experienced is the hallmark of the YAB program. UYLC operates according to a comprehensive strategic plan focusing on local solutions to local problems, including maintaining a robust positive social norming campaign that prominently features YAB members. In addition, UYLC has an evidence-based substance use and violence prevention program, Botvin LifeSkills Training, built into the school curricula, providing sustainable, practical support to Kamiah youth for years to come.1

UYLC works to bring the community together to provide a collaborative approach to preventing and reducing youth substance use. Surveys show that fewer young people in Kamiah are using substances2:

  • 50% fewer middle schoolers reported alcohol use in the past 30 days in 2020 than among the same age group in 2017, and past 30-day alcohol use decreased by 28% among high schoolers over the same time period.
  • Although reports of past 30-day use of tobacco and marijuana among middle schoolers increased slightly from 2017 to 2020, use of tobacco and marijuana decreased among the area's high school students.
  • Past 30-day misuse of prescription drugs decreased among all youth surveyed in Kamiah.

"I think our key takeaway is that we were able to decrease the use of almost every substance, including marijuana. Our local data indicated that addressing the root causes of use is of utmost importance." — Sharlene Johnson, UYLC Executive Director

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2023). Help Youth at Risk for ACEs. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  2. DFCme reporting system