State News

Vermont’s DREAM program receives $1.25 million to mentor youth affected by opioid and drug addiction

Dept. of Justice funding will expand reach in rural communities

Senator Patrick Leahy announced on Oct. 30 Vermont’s DREAM program will receive a three-year, $1.25 million grant from the Department of Justice (DOJ) to support peer mentoring for elementary-aged youths in rural communities whose lives have been affected by the opioid epidemic.

This is the second such award made to Vermont mentoring programs since Leahy, as vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, worked to expand the program’s eligibility to include rural states that have been hard hit by drug addiction.  The change was first made in the fiscal year 2019 Consolidated Appropriations Act.

Leahy said,  “We know mentoring works, it can literally change lives.  For a young person whose family life has been upended by the opioid epidemic, this kind of one-on-one connection can be a lifeline.  It’s even more critical now, as we see the increase in rural isolation brought on by the Covid pandemic.”

The Youth Initiative grant, administered by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), will help match high school mentors and elementary-aged mentees from rural communities across Vermont.  DREAM, which works to close the opportunity gap that exists for many of Vermont’s young people, seeks to boost educational expectations, grow personal aspirations and build trusting relationships through its mentor pairings.  The program also works to provide supportive social environments that will reduce the likelihood of youths engaging in high-risk behaviors, including substance misuse.

“Through inequitable and often racialized systems, there is a growing socio-economic chasm in resources, life experiences and access to adult mentors for youth in low-income households,” said Michael Foote, DREAM’s executive director.

Leahy, a longtime champion of youth mentoring programs, credited Vermont’s strong network of mentor providers for the state’s success in capturing these highly competitive grants.  Last year, Vermont’s Department of Children and Families, in partnership with MENTOR Vermont, was also awarded a three-year, $1.25 million DOJ grant to support mentoring in communities challenged by opioid use disorders.

Leahy said, “These programs are reaching our most vulnerable young people, who are often living in underserved rural communities.  I’m proud of the work being done in Vermont.  We know how critical these social connections are during normal times, but they are even more critical now as our country, and the world, faces down a deadly pandemic.”

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