An area resident has been selected to lead a new drug prevention program focusing on the middle and high school students in Polk County as well as building a stronger Polk Against Drugs coalition of community partners.

Georgia Prevention Project and Polk Against Drugs named Vann Blankenship to lead the U.S. Centers for Disease Control Drug-Free Communities prevention project in Polk County in late November. The grant is a five-year, $1.8 million dollar project that places strong emphasis on strengthening collaboration among community stakeholders to address youth substance use.

The role of GPP in partnership with Polk Against Drugs is to utilize their prevention expertise and statewide reach to strengthen local efforts in Polk County. Kaitlin Merchen, executive director of GPP, partnered with Polk County Family Connection Executive Director Rhonda Heuer to write the DFC grant because of her strong belief in the good work already happening locally in Polk.

Blankenship, a 2008 graduate of Haralson County High School and 25-year resident of the area, has been working in the substance use and recovery field since 2017 after experiencing his own challenges with substance use and mental health.

Since joining the field, Vann has managed, restructured, and developed several grant funded programs within Polk County.

“He brings valuable insight into our work, both from a personal and professional perspective. Vann’s passion and dedication to the community is palpable and his knowledge of Polk County and the strong relationships he possess places him as the ideal person to lead prevention efforts,” Merchen said. “We are thrilled to work alongside Vann and appreciate his leadership in further strengthening the Polk Against Drugs coalition.”

The Polk Against Drugs coalition will reinstate regular monthly coalition and board meetings at the beginning of 2022 with Vann’s leadership and guidance.

“I am very excited to begin a new era with our Polk Against Drugs Coalition! I so much appreciate all of the hard work of so many partners over the past 10+ years and all that’s already been accomplished,” Heuer said. “With our newly funded position of a program coordinator, Vann Blankenship, and his extensive expertise and background, we envision stronger partnerships and increased collaboration across this community over the next five years.”

Heuer said along with the foundation of partners already connected with recovery and drug prevention initiatives in the community, this program will continue to seek solutions to help prevent substance misuse with our youth and help to educate our community on its detrimental effects.

For questions or anyone who wants to join the coalition, please reach out through the Polk Against Drugs Facebook page or email vblankenship@georgiapreventionproject.org.

The Georgia Prevention Project first partnered alongside Polk Against Drugs when both groups focused primarily on reducing meth use in Georgia. As the Georgia Meth Project, the organization trained local leaders as certified community trainers — with individuals in PAD becoming GMP trainers.

GPP evolved from the Georgia Meth Project, riding the momentum of the successful “Not Even Once” meth prevention campaign, expanding their focus to general substance misuse prevention in 2014.

“Polk Against Drugs is a strong coalition that has been serving the county for many years. Even while relying solely on volunteer support, and no official staff, the coalition has successfully planned and implemented prevention activities to create a healthier community.” Merchen stated.

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