Winooski Youth attend National Forum on Substance Use Prevention in D.C.


A group of Winooski High School students traveled down to Washington D.C. the first week of February to join more than 3,000 substance abuse prevention advocates, including close to 500 youth, from throughout the country for CADCA’s (Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America’s) 30th Annual National Leadership Forum.

The students – Lukas Zweeres, Stephie Siki and Savion Thibou – are all involved in Winooski Partnership for Prevention’s (WPP) after school program Above the Influence (ATI), educating their peers about the risks of youth substance use.

“I’m grateful members of the WPP coalition, including parents and students, had the opportunity to attend this national forum, where we can see that we are working in tandem with passionate people from all over the country, making a difference together,” said Kate Nugent, WPP’s Executive Director.

“At the Leadership Forum, we learned new ways to effectively grow our coalition, support youth to be strong community leaders and address substance abuse,” said Elaine Ezerins, WPP’s Communications and Development Manager. “We are coming back reenergized to help make Winooski a safer, healthier community for all.”

During the forum, the students attended sessions on the youth vaping crisis, networking and public speaking, cultural competency, and more. “My biggest takeaway from CADCA is that just making a change in one person can make a change in the whole community,” said Savion.

The students utilized their public speaking skills, honed during ATI and the Leadership Forum, to address Vermont lawmakers at Capitol Hill mid-week. WPP joined other Vermont coalitions, more than 60 people strong, to speak with U.S. Representative Peter Welch and the staffers of U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy about youth substance use rates in their communities, local prevention successes and challenges.

Stephie spoke up about her efforts to expand ATI at Winooski High School and invited lawmakers to attend WPP’s upcoming Winooski Youth Wellness & Substance Use Prevention Forum on March 18, where youth will take on leadership roles. 

In 2017, a quarter of Winooski High School students thought there was little to no risk from binge drinking every weekend and half thought similarly about regular marijuana use, which are both proven to negatively impact young people’s developing brains.

WPP, along with the Winooski School District, City of Winooski and Chittenden County Opioid Alliance, are inviting community members to come together and discuss how we can ensure all students get the support they need to make healthy choices.

The event’s program includes presentations on substance use prevention and local data, facilitated small group discussions, and identifying action-oriented next steps for the community.

Lukas and Stephie said they are looking forward to using the skills they learned at the national forum back in Winooski as youth leaders.