As a public health professional in Milwaukee, I’ve had the pleasure of working with Children’s Health Education Center in some capacity over the last decade. I recently transitioned to the private, nonprofit sector and serve as director of Health & Life Skills for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee.

One of my primary functions is to assess needs and develop health programming for more than 30,000 youth members. The Health & Life Skills department is one of five core service areas that educates youth about key issues that affect our community. We cover topics such as childhood obesity, teen pregnancy prevention/sexually transmitted infection, substance abuse awareness and healthy relationships. The majority of interventions are provided to youth via traditional instruction, such as classroom lectures, small group style facilitation, hands-on activities and service learning. I’m an avid fan of technology and incorporating innovative tools such as iPads, social networking and video messaging to increase teaching efficiency.

I quickly realized one issue that impacts our department’s ability to reach our youth is how we use technology. We needed to make our health messages relevant and engaging. I found the solution to my dilemma at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction Best Practice conference.

The staff from Children’s Health Education Center conducted an interactive session about the e-learning programs. I was very impressed with the interface and ease of use of the program from the adult perspective. Shortly after the presentation, I met with Bridget Clementi and Clay Anton to explore opportunities for our club members and We decided It’s UR Choice youth substance abuse prevention model was the best fit for a pilot, because it neatly fit into an existing substance abuse prevention program we were offering called Smart Choices.

Mr. Jamar Wills, Milwaukee Reality Check Coalition coordinator, organized and facilitated the Smart Choices program, which includes peer education and positive peer modeling. The Boys & Girls Club has received funding from MillerCoors to provide the Smart Choices program to youth members with this program, they have demonstrated increased resistance to drugs and alcohol, greater abuse awareness and positively changing social norms of substance use.

Currently, It’s UR Choice is being piloted at three club sites in the urban area. Our goal is to enable 20 youth members per site to complete the entire program. Use of It’s UR Choice for middle school students has been well received. I am very impressed with the pilot’s progress to date. It is our intent, once the pilot has been successfully completed, to expand access to It’s UR Choice, to all youth in the Smart Choices program.

~ Jeanette Kowalik, MPH, Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee

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