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  Free To Grow
  Mailman School
  of Public Health
  Columbia University
  722 West 168th Street,
  8th Floor
  New York, NY 10032

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NOTE: as of April 17, 2007, the Free to Grow program has closed.
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Antidrug program shows early success
Free To Grow aims to improve families' homes, lives

When Wausau launched its Free to Grow community outreach program two years ago, the goal was to prevent or delay substance abuse among children by improving young families' living conditions.

Although it might be too early to measure how well the program is combating substance abuse, improvements are apparent in the targeted neighborhoods. They range from a newly painted porch to a mother's renewed confidence in her parenting skills.

"What's so unique about this approach is, rather than treating the child or the individual, it looks at the environment that the child grows up in," said Kathy Marks, who coordinates the program through Marathon County's Head Start agency.

Wausau is one of 15 cities nationwide participating in the program, which kicked off in June 2001. After a year of planning, Marks and other organizers started putting the plans to work in the east-side neighborhoods from Bridge Street to McDonald Street. This past year's efforts culminated Saturday with a beautification project and block party in the neighborhood bordered by Bridge, Fifth and Hamilton streets and the Wisconsin River.

Volunteers raked yards, picked up rubbish and performed minor home repairs around the neighborhood. At Tara Janda's home at the corner of Second and Dekalb streets, they planted flowers, tore down a deteriorating porch, painted doors, washed the house's siding and got rid of junk lying around the yard.

"I like it because they're willing to help people who are incapable to do stuff," said Janda, 30. "It's hard when you got kids that like to get into stuff."
She has two sons and two daughters, ages 2 through 10, and she appreciates the advice and information that program organizers have provided her and her husband on a variety of parenting subjects, from attention-deficit (hyperactivity) disorder and child discipline to the community programs and activities available for children in the area.

These neighborhoods were chosen because they have a high percentage of blighted rental properties, Marks said.

City Council member Kathy Anderson of 504 Franklin St. applauds the effort.

"It's an excellent program," Anderson said. She, too, thinks the deteriorating rental properties make the neighborhoods ripe for this kind of outreach.

Wausau receives annual grants of $80,000 from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation for the four years of the program, and the city must kick in an additional $50,000 a year, Marks said.

An independent group has begun evaluating the program in Wausau and will compare the results with programs in the other cities, she said. The information will be used to assess how effective Free to Grow is in deterring alcohol and substance abuse in children. 

(Written by David Paulsen, June 25, 2003 and reprinted with the permission of the Wausau Daily Herald)


copyright 2008 Free To Grow
Free To Grow is a national program supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation with direction and technical assistance provided by the Mailman School of Public Health of Columbia University.