“YAK has created something special,” said Michaela Eastham, Ocean Beach School District’s Prevention Interventionist. “They make substance abuse awareness and prevention cool.
“You could talk to nearly any kid in the school about YAK Night and they would rave about how much fun they have whenever they go,” said Eastham. Eastham has been providing substance abuse intervention and treatment services for youth in the community for two years, but also took on the role of advisor during the past school year.
Youth Action Klub, or YAK, is a prevention club at Ilwaco High School (IHS). They host a range of events, trainings, and even policy work to improve student wellness.
“I see my YAK members regularly promoting healthy habits and warning their peers about the dangers of drugs and alcohol,” said Eastham. “Peer support and awareness is huge when working with youth.
Participation in the YAK yields new skills in its members and a sense of inclusiveness in the student body. Part of YAK’s initiatives include Sources of Strength, an evidence-based suicide prevention program that promotes the use of peer support networks.
“We put on a lot of assemblies as part of Sources of Strength,” said Ebby McMullen, IHS junior and YAK vice president. “It really helps with public speaking and talking in front of so many of my peers. We have to get up and talk about the hard stuff, like suicide, and that has really helped me get more comfortable with talking in front of large groups.”
YAK Night also gains a lot of its regard and good will with the students. This bi-annual event encourages students to engage in pro-social activities in a fun, substance-free environment. These events also encourage students to learn more about YAK and making connections with positive peer groups.
“It’s a big hit,” said Emma Stark, IHS junior and treasurer. “The idea of it is to encourage students to come hang out with their friends instead of doing drugs & alcohol. Youth are more inclined to listen to their friends than they are adults.
“I have seen positive changes in specific students more so than the student body overall this year. YAK has accepted some new members in the last year who have been great at promoting YAK events, as well as offering support to others. YAK events allows the student body to learn more about the meaning of YAK, while having fun and finding new positive peer groups for them to spend time with.”
YAK members and the community are looking forward to the annual 5K Color Run with the aim to promote mental health awareness and help reduce the stigma surrounding it. On June 2nd, students and community members alike will take to the trail around Black Lake to “color the lake,” as environmentally-sensitive colored corn starch is thrown on participants, in the style of the Holi Festival in India.
“The Color Run last year was the first one we ever did, and this year we want to go even bigger and better than last year!” said Stark. “We have done a good job engaging with people to get them to go to YAK Night and the Color Run. I think we are a very friendly club and everyone knows who we are and we try to get everyone as engaged as possible.”
“It’s not very often you can go from peer group to peer group and ask about one universal topic and receive positive feedback from each one,” said Michaela Eastman. “My YAK kids are fantastic when it comes to including everyone and making all the students feel welcome, I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
For more info about the Color Run and to register, visit: https://colorthelakeilwaco.eventbrite.c