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One doesn’t have to look far to see or hear about the devastation that drug use has caused kids and families. Faith communities are often viewed as strong, dependable pillars in a community. Because of this, faith communities tend to be the first place people turn to for help when hardships occur.

Faith leaders want to be able to help those going through a crisis, especially those who reach out, but sometimes it can be overwhelming to know all of the resources in a community and how to best help those in need.

Knowing that the faith community plays an integral part in support for families, Youth Connections is aiming to help faith leaders to be better equipped to handle the crises that arise by providing them with additional knowledge and resources. The REAL Community project embodies the acronym that stands for Referrals, Education, Action, Love.

The Referral piece of REAL is informing faith leaders about a resource in Montana called the CONNECT Electronic Referral System. This system allows registered users to make multiple referrals across service sectors to different organizations through one online application. It also helps reduce the stress on the individuals or families because the organization follows up directly with those needing help. CONNECT has increased connection rates to services from 13 percent to more than 85 percent. By using this system, faith leaders will be confident that the referrals they make will connect people to services.

E stands for Education. The Take REAL Action Forum is Thursday, Jan. 31, from 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. in All Saints Hall at Carroll College. National speaker, Andy Duran, will share what is being done in other communities, specifically faith communities, to prevent drug abuse. Chaplain Chris Haughee will speak on how toxic stress and trauma affect people and how faith leaders can use that information to be more effective.

A panel of local experts will share how drugs are affecting the Helena community and what strategies and programs are working. A resource fair will be available during breaks for attendees to become familiar with additional programs and service providers in the community. For a full agenda, look on the Youth Connections website www.youthconnectionscoalition.org/REAL.

While the forum is geared toward leaders, staff, and volunteers from all faiths, community members will also find it informative. All are welcome to attend. There will be no proselytizing, but prevention within faith communities will be addressed. The cost is $20/person if registered by Jan. 23, increasing to $25 after that. This includes lunch and snacks.

The A is for Action. All the education in the world will not bring about change if there’s no action. Youth Connections is hosting a community-wide volunteer fair on Saturday, March 2, from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at Our Redeemer’s Lutheran Church, 3580 N. Benton Ave., in the Great Room.

The Take REAL Action Volunteer Fair is an opportunity for the community to identify volunteer opportunities with area agencies and nonprofit organizations that they are passionate about. Through this event, individuals can improve the community and make it a healthier and safer place for kids and families, while feeling great about actually doing something and making REAL change.

The L in REAL stands for love. Love is integral to many faith traditions, and it was important to honor that while also explaining the purpose and methods of this project. Love is not a step of the project; instead, it embodies the whole thing. Everything that is done through the REAL Community Project is to be done in love.

The REAL Community Project is not meant to be a one year program, with these being the only pieces. It is designed to continually engage a vital component in substance abuse prevention and mental health supports – the faith community. 

More information about the REAL Community Project can be found at www.youthconnectionscoalition.org/REAL and questions can be emailed to Rachel at Rachel@youthconnectionscoalition.org.

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Rachel Dober is an AmeriCorps VISTA serving through the Prevention Resource Center with Youth Connections Coalition. She hails from Michigan (Go Blue!) but is loving her time experiencing all that Montana has to offer. When she’s not working, you might find Rachel enjoying a cup of coffee and good conversation with friends, reading a book, hiking Mount Helena, or sobbing while watching “This Is Us.”

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