Penn State $5.7 Million Grant to Help Families and Youth Avoid Substance Abuse Problems

UNIVERSITY PARK – Penn State has received a $5.7 million federal grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to continue the development of community partnerships that strengthen families and help young people avoid substance abuse and behavioral problems.

The new award will support PROSPER — PROmoting School-community-university Partnerships to Enhance Resilience — for an additional five years. The total award to Penn State and its partner, Iowa State University, is $11.6 million.

Since 2002, in collaboration with Iowa State and through partnerships established with local communities and assisted by Penn State Cooperative Extension, the Penn State Prevention Research Center (PRC) has been conducting research to promote capable and healthy youths, adults and families. PROSPER seeks to strengthen families and communities, promote positive youth development, and reduce youth substance use and other problem behavior — literally helping families and their communities “prosper” through various intervention methods recommended by Penn State researchers.

“The rates of youth substance abuse and related problems in both rural and urban areas continue to be high,” said Penn State researcher and PRC Director Mark Greenberg, who also directs PROSPER. “Although there are now skill-building and family-strengthening programs proven to address these problems, they continue to be underutilized. NIDA’s ongoing support for our project is an indication they believe our partnership model is a promising strategy for supporting the long-term, quality delivery of scientifically validated prevention programs.”

The initial phase of the PROSPER project involved more than 6,000 youth in 14 Pennsylvania communities and more than 6,000 youth in Iowa communities. Richard Spoth, director of the Partnerships in Prevention Science Institute, and his team at Iowa State, collaborated with Penn State in implementing the project in 14 Iowa communities. The PROSPER project has now reached more than 12,000 youths in the two states.

Researchers have shown positive outcomes from the first phase of the project through a number of studies published in professional journals, documenting improvements in family functioning and lower levels of adolescent substance use where programs have been delivered. Their results also have shown effective community partnership mobilization, successful local recruitment of community families for the program, high-quality delivery of validated prevention programs, and successful community fundraising to sustain the community programs.

“PROSPER can make a difference in the lives of Pennsylvania youth, families and communities,” Greenberg said. “The project helps give families and youth the skills to promote the development of young people into healthy adults.”

PROSPER is intended to be a model for a national network of partnerships, Greenberg added. The project also will examine ways to sustain the local programs after grant funding has ended.

“Children and youth are our nation’s most valuable resource,” said Daney Jackson, director of Penn State Cooperative Extension. “Unfortunately, a significant number are at risk because of substance use and other social problems. Schools alone can’t solve these complex problems. What can make a difference are partnerships involving University Extension staff, schools, families and other concerned local citizens — like the ones we have established through this program.”

Graham B. Spanier, president of Penn State, said, “I consider PROSPER to be a very innovative project that is bringing together research faculty and extension staff to show the true engagement of the University with schools and communities.”

The leaders of the PROSPER project in Pennsylvania are Mark Greenberg, PRC director; Mark Feinberg and Janet Welsh, PRC research associates; and Daniel Perkins and Claudia Mincemoyer, College of Agricultural Sciences.

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