The Botetourt Rotary Club has received a $25,000 Neighborhood Assist Grant from State Farm to support the club’s efforts in addressing youth substance abuse, mental health, and juvenile delinquency issues. State Farm selected 200 grant applications for public consideration from among 4,000 grant submissions; 100 grants were chosen for funding based on public support through a nationwide voting process.
“Teens in Botetourt County and the surrounding areas battle significant substance abuse and mental health issues,” said Lethia Hammond, Botetourt Rotary Club president. “This grant provides the seed money to help us build a sustainable, long-term Youth-At-Risk program. Our goal is to develop a program that may be easily replicated in surrounding communities. By providing counseling and other opportunities for teenagers who are experiencing a difficult home life, grief, isolation, and many other situations that lead to depression, suicide, and drug use, we are demonstrating that there are viable, positive alternatives. By funding pro-social programs that divert at-risk teens from delinquent behavior, we are shifting the focus from self-destructive behaviors to activities that foster a sense of self-worth and bring value and support to the community. If one life is saved, the impact will be immeasurable and prevent the devastation a high school community experiences when a class mate passes away tragically,” Hammond concluded.
Rotary Area 6 Governor Don Nichols commented, “I am proud of the Botetourt Rotary Club for taking a leading role in addressing these needs. I look forward to watching this program develop into something that may be replicated in communities throughout our district.”
A survey of local high school students found that 32.6 percent of Botetourt County high school students reported feeling sad or hopeless every day for two weeks or more in a row. These same students stopped participating in their usual activities during the prior 12-month period. Among those students 12.8 percent reported planning a suicide attempt, and tragically, 7.9 percent of Botetourt students reported attempting suicide one or more times. With regard to hard drug use, 6.7 percent reported using cocaine as compared to 3.9 percent nationally, 2.4 percent reported using heroin compared to 1.8 percent of nationwide high school students, and 8.7 percent of area high school students reported abusing prescription pills to get high.
Botetourt County leaders, including Botetourt County Sheriff Matt Ward, Botetourt County Administrator Gary Larrowe, Botetourt School Board member Dana McCaleb, Botetourt Prevention Coalition President Sheila Lythgoe, and local business owner and State Farm Agent Brent Hershey, all expressed support for the Youth-At-Risk Project.
“As your sheriff, I am so proud of our community coming together. Your efforts in voting competitively and nationally among much larger metropolitan communities made this grant possible. This grant is significant for our size community and will have a lasting impact on our community for many years to come,”said Botetourt County Sheriff Matt Ward.
Botetourt County Administrator Gary Larrowe added, “Our teens are the next generation of Botetourt County leaders. This grant will help our young people remain healthy and develop their full potential so that they may contribute positively to our community.”
Sheila Lythgoe, Botetourt Prevention Coalition president, noted, “We can all help build a resilient community that supports positive youth development. By working collaboratively to reduce risk factors, we will make a positive impact in the lives of our youth and help reduce mental health and substance abuse issues. Congratulations to the Botetourt Rotary Club on this opportunity to enhance the lives of many of our youth in Botetourt!”
Dana McCaleb, Botetourt County School Board member, said, “I appreciate all of the work that went into obtaining this grant on behalf of our community. As a parent and a member of the Botetourt County School Board, I know that our students have significant unmet needs, and that a developing a Youth-At-Risk Program will, at long last, provide a much needed resource for our teachers, school counselors, school administrators, teens, and their families. I look forward to working with the Lethia Hammond, Botetourt Rotary Club president and Youth-At-Risk Project Coordinator, and the Botetourt Rotary Club to make the Youth-At-Risk project a permanent fixture in our community.”
Brent Hershey, local State Farm agent and a member of the Botetourt Rotary Club, concluded, “I want to thank everyone who voted and helped make this grant a reality for Botetourt County. I am proud to own a business in Botetourt County and pleased to support our community in this effort. Lethia Hammond, our club president and a former Juvenile and Domestic Relations prosecutor and Department of Social Services attorney for Botetourt County, first brought the need for a regional Youth-At-Risk program to the club’s attention, and she has persistently pursued this goal. Lethia has assisted numerous Botetourt County teens and their families and recognizes the importance of addressing teen substance abuse, mental health, and delinquency. We need to make this program a permanent fixture in our community. To that end, I am pledging $500, and I challenge all of the business owners in Botetourt County to do the same.”
Once established, the Botetourt Rotary Youth-At-Risk program will provide funding, within the grant parameters, for mental health and substance abuse counseling, suicide prevention training, and extracurricular activities designed to encourage positive social and community engagement.