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New Mexico State University

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NMSU 4-H Program Teaches Albuquerque Youth to Steer Clear of Drugs

ALBUQUERQUE - More than 200 kids have been planting flowerbeds and vegetable gardens at community centers and elementary schools in Albuquerque's Trumbull Village and La Mesa neighborhoods as part of New Mexico State University's new 4-H Share/Care program.



Planting vegetable and flower gardens as part of new 4-H program.

The program, run by NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service, uses after-school activities to teach at-risk kids to say no to drugs and alcohol but yes to community spirit and teamwork.

"Our view on substance abuse prevention is not just to go in and teach kids what the names of drugs are and how to avoid them," said Justin Trager, 4-H Share/Care coordinator with the Bernalillo County Extension office.

"Instead, we try to build their self-esteem through games and activities that help them communicate better with their friends and that encourage them to do positive things in their neighborhoods. These activities help the kids develop skills to make good decisions about their lives, including issues regarding substance abuse, and that's what the La Mesa/Trumbull program is all about. Planting flower beds and vegetable gardens as part of new 4-H program. (Click for downloadable image)

" 4-H Share/Care began in fall 1999 in response to the state's high rates of substance abuse and the need to empower local kids with skills to resist drugs and alcohol. New Mexico youth are generally at greater risk of exposure to narcotics than in other states. Eighteen percent of eighth graders in the state reported using illegal drugs in a 1999 survey by the Children's Defense Fund, compared with only 12 percent nationally. In some areas of New Mexico, up to 35 percent of eighth graders reported using drugs.Kids with a lot of unsupervised leisure time are particularly at risk, Trager said, especially "latchkey" children who come home from school to empty houses. In New Mexico, an estimated 200,000 kids have no adult supervision after school.

In response, 4-H Share/Care provides fun, wholesome after-school activities and offers substance abuse prevention education.

"We're trying to take the components of 4-H- including community service, citizenship, leadership skills and hands-on activities- and introduce them to kids in neighborhoods like La Mesa and Trumbull Village where the 4-H program has not had much of a presence," Trager said.

The U.S. Department of Justice approved a $150,000 grant for the program in 1999. Extension kicked in another $100,000, allowing Share/Care activities to be held in targeted communities in 10 counties around the state during the 1999-2000 school year.

Since fall 1999, about 1,900 kids have participated in Share/Care activities throughout the state, according to Linda Schultz, Extension 4-H youth specialist and director of the 4-H Share/Care program.

In Trumbull Village and La Mesa neighborhoods- once considered the heart of Albuquerque's "war zone"- more than 200 kids from 6 to 15 years old have benefited. About 25 students from Emerson and La Mesa elementary schools participated in two six-week after-school programs in April and May. Over the summer, about 185 kids enrolled in three Share/Care programs that Trager directed at the Cesar Chavez and Mesa Verde community centers, and at the Albuquerque Indian Center.

Group games and discussions emphasize teamwork.
(Click for downloadable image)

All of the programs have included group games and discussions that emphasize teamwork and collective decision making, Trager said. Lessons on life skills, setting goals and building self esteem were included to improve kids' ability to make healthy choices.

The centerpiece of the program, however, is community gardening, including ornamental flower planting and cultivating vegetable patches.

"Gardening is great for building self-esteem because it gives the kids a sense of pride and ownership while allowing them to contribute something positive to their communities," Trager said.

At the two elementary schools, kids decorated the grounds with flowers, while at the Mesa Verde Community Center, they planted special ornamental arrangements in a row of flower beds.

At Cesar Chavez and the Albuquerque Indian Center, the kids tilled 200-square-foot vegetable gardens, growing crops such as squash, green beans, corn, tomatoes, and chile peppers.

"When the kids harvest the vegetables in the fall, they'll take some of it home to share the fruits of their labor with their families," Trager said. "But the plan is to have a community meal at each center where the kids and their parents will cook the produce and share it with the community."

The 4-H Share/Care program will spread to more elementary schools and to some La Mesa and Trumbull middle schools during the 2000-2001 school year. The long-term goal is to extend Share/Care to many more neighborhoods around Albuquerque.

"The focus of this program is to promote teamwork and community spirit in urban areas, beginning with Trumbull Village and La Mesa neighborhoods," said Anita Blanton, Bernalillo County Extension director. "As the program takes root, hopefully we'll be able to extend it to other parts of the city as well."