As New York State Budget negotiations grapple with revenue shortfalls and multi-billion-dollar deficits, state leaders in Albany are facing a question similar to one faced by New Yorkers and their families across the Empire State every day: Is this item in our budget a Want or a Need?
As we weigh the many programs funded by the State Budget, one program that stands firmly in our eyes as a Need is the YES Safe Choices drug and alcohol prevention program, which celebrates its 30th year in our community this year.
Founded in 1989, YES Safe Choices is a first-of-its-kind, widely successful and highly-regarded youth leadership program that has served hundreds of thousands of local students spanning two generations across Broome, Tioga, Chenango and Delaware Counties.
For 30 years, YES has stood as a shining example of the power of preventative substance abuse education through its unique, peer-based approach. YES gets high school students actively involved as peer leaders in our community’s middle and high schools. These “YES LEADers” go into local middle schools to educate elementary students before these choices and temptations arise, and also serve as role models to their peers for making safe and responsible choices each and every day of their high school careers.
Originally formed as a partnership with Lourdes Hospital and the late Senator Tom Libous, the YES Safe Choices has continued to evolve to meet the needs of the community it serves. Across 17 school districts, YES Safe Choices currently reaches over 6,000 students every year. Senator Fred Akshar was proud to continue this partnership with Lourdes Hospital and refocus it to further combat the opioid epidemic and tackle the emergence of underage nicotine vaping in our middle and high schools, which has been referred to by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as an “epidemic.”
Our communities, our state and our nation need effective school-based programs like YES Safe Choices, because any money spent on the front-end preventing substance use, abuse and addiction is money saved on other side of addiction through treatment, recovery and enforcement.
This isn’t conjecture, it’s a fact.
Decades of fact-based evidence and federal studies from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration show that every dollar we invest in prevention saves at least $18 in related human services costs (source: https://www.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/cost-benefits-prevention.pdf).
Our community’s children need and deserve alternatives to drugs and alcohol. They need and deserve programming that builds personal character and supportive relationships with their peers.
Our community’s parents need more help than ever protecting their children from the dangers of bad choices.
Our community’s teachers are asked to fulfill so many more roles in our children’s lives than any generation before, and they need additional support services and programming that will allow them to focus on what they do best – teach.
Our state government needs to make smart investments and multiply our citizen’s hard earned tax dollars in service to the families and communities we represent.
For the 52nd Senate District, YES Safe Choices is a Need, and frankly, more communities across our state would benefit from the model YES Safe Choices has built.
Lourdes Hospital has been an excellent local partner in administering this program and is committed to continuing this partnership, but for the YES Safe Choices program to continue, New York needs to include enough funding for it in this year’s State Budget.
Senator Akshar has personally requested that Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins include enough funding for the YES Safe Choices program to not only survive, but thrive in the 52nd Senate District, because providing our community’s children with opportunities to succeed through smart, responsible choices isn’t a Republican or Democrat issue, and it isn’t a Want. It’s a Need.