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Media Release – August 29, 2018 –

Youth First, Inc. is helping the state of Indiana tackle the opioid epidemic and other drug problems by expanding its evidence-based model of prevention to more schools. Jim McClelland, the Governor’s Director of Drug Prevention, Treatment and Enforcement, announced the partnership Wednesday during a series of news conferences.

“Youth First is one of the state’s key allies in the battle against substance abuse,” said McClelland. “Indiana must attack the opioid epidemic on all fronts, not just through more treatment options and better law enforcement, but also by investing in long-term solutions that reduce drug use among young people.”

McClelland’s office awarded $811,901 to Youth First to grow prevention services in 15 additional Indiana schools across six counties. Partnering schools and private donors in each of the communities are also supporting the expansion.

“Youth First embeds master’s level social workers in schools to become specialized mentors for at-risk students and skilled prevention coaches for parents and teachers,” said Parri O. Black, President & CEO of Youth First, Inc.  “The state’s investment adds 10 more Youth First Social Workers and prevention programs to schools in Daviess, Monroe, Morgan, Orange, Posey and Warrick counties.”

Youth First Social Workers and prevention programs focus on building healthy relationships, fostering readiness to make positive changes, and developing resiliency and other life skills. Research shows that these are the keys to delaying and reducing youth substance use and related risky behaviors.

A decade of data collection and independent evaluations confirm that Youth First’s approach decreases stress and increases skills that help young people succeed in school and in life. The organization’s positive outcomes are driving growth with more schools seeking Youth First’s help to address the growing social and emotional needs of students.

Youth First’s programs and services are now accessible to over 38,000 young people, plus parents and teachers, in 75 schools and 10 counties, up from 58 schools in seven counties last year. The growth is also supported by another state grant through the Division of Mental Health and Addiction that increases services in Evansville-Vanderburgh, North Gibson, Mt. Vernon, and Warrick County schools. In addition, Youth First’s work relies on the investment of many community and private donors, including Lilly Endowment grants recently awarded to several schools.

Youth First Founder Dr. William Wooten was recently awarded one of Indiana’s highest honors. At the Emerald Gala celebrating Youth First’s 20th anniversary on April 21, 2018, Dr. Wooten was designated a Sagamore of the Wabash by Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb. 

Lt. Governor Suzanne Crouch announced the award in a video tribute, and it was then presented by Youth First President & CEO Parri O. Black and Youth First Board Member Carol Lynch. 

“Dr. Wooten has literally saved thousands of lives through the founding of Youth First. It was no easy task in a world searching for quick fixes, but he knew Youth First must be a coordinated, collaborative, comprehensive, regional and sustained effort in order to fight substance abuse and related concerns like suicide, self-harm, child abuse, violence and other traumatic childhood experiences,” said Lynch. 

A former family physician and director of a treatment center, Dr. Wooten founded Youth First in 1998 because he saw a growing number of young people with complex substance use and behavioral health disorders. Feeling there was a gap in prevention services in our area, he rallied community leaders and worked to positively address the problem and help young people succeed. 

Over the last 20 years, Dr. Wooten’s concern for young people and dream of a better approach to prevention has resulted in an organization that has become a trusted partner in Indiana and is now a model for the rest of the state. 

The Sagamore of the Wabash honorary award was created during the term of Governor Ralph F. Gates, who served as Indiana Governor from 1945 to 1949. Conferred upon Indiana citizens who have contributed greatly to Hoosier heritage, the award has been given to astronauts, presidents, ambassadors, musicians, scientists, politicians and others. 

About Youth First, Inc.:
Youth First’s mission is to strengthen youth and families through evidence-based programs that prevent substance abuse, promote healthy behaviors, and maximize student success. Youth First partners with 58 schools across 7 counties to provide 39 Master’s level social workers who assess needs, develop and implement prevention plans, and connect students and their families to community resources. Youth First also offers afterschool programs involving parents and caregivers to strengthen families. For more information about Youth First, please visit www.youthfirstinc.org or call 812-421-8336. 

Youth First, Inc. honored Lt. Governor Suzanne Crouch at its 10th Annual Breakfast of Champions event on Tuesday, October 17th at St. Vincent Manor in Evansville. Crouch received the Dr. William Wooten Champion of Youth First Award at the event, sponsored by German American. With over 300 attendees, the organization celebrated its hundreds of donors, supporters and volunteers in addition to recognizing Crouch. 

Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke proclaimed October 17, 2017, as “Suzanne Crouch, Champion of Youth First, Day.” 

Through her public service career and personal pursuits, Lt. Governor Crouch has focused on improving opportunities for Hoosiers. Having witnessed Youth First’s continued success strengthening youth and families, Suzanne became a champion for expanding the organization’s evidence-based prevention model. 

Breakfast of Champions attendees enjoyed remarks from Gov. Eric Holcomb, Youth First President & CEO Parri O. Black and Founder Dr. William Wooten, as well as friends and family of Lt. Gov. Crouch. 

“It’s all about investing in our future, and our young people are our future. They’re our greatest asset here in the state of Indiana, and Governor Holcomb and I want to work alongside Youth First to ensure that we are protecting and helping our young people so we can take Indiana to the next level,” said Crouch. 

About Youth First, Inc.:
Youth First’s mission is to strengthen youth and families through evidence-based programs that prevent substance abuse, promote healthy behaviors, and maximize student success. Youth First partners with 59 schools across 7 counties to provide 39 Master’s level social workers who assess needs, develop and implement prevention plans, and connect students and their families to community resources. Youth First also offers afterschool programs involving parents and caregivers to strengthen families. For more information about Youth First, please visit www.youthfirstinc.org or call 812-421-8336.