Project COPE (Communities Organizing for Prevention and Empowerment) is an HIV and substance abuse prevention program in the city of Paterson. We are supported by a five-year federal grant awarded to Montclair State University and funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP). Our program targets underserved racial and ethnic minority youth between the ages of 12 and 17 in the city of Paterson.
Paterson is the third largest city in New Jersey and has one of the highest rates in the state for both substance abuse and HIV/AIDS infection among African American and Hispanic/Latino residents. Focus-group interviews conducted with key community stakeholders conveyed that the scarcity of prevention programs and gaps in service delivery have exacerbated the social problems experienced by Paterson youth.
As a collaborative effort between Montclair State University, the Paterson Public Schools, the Paterson Police Department and numerous social service agencies, Project COPE has helped transform the way the community is served by increasing the capacity of local community-based organizations. With the support of our partners, our prevention team has provided direct, family-centered prevention services that target such risk-taking behaviors as substance abuse, sexual risk, gang involvement, youth violence and juvenile delinquency. Additionally, we strive to improve communication between program participants and their families and actively engage parents with other systems involved in their children’s lives, such as schools and social service programs.
Project COPE has successfully implemented model substance abuse and HIV/AIDS prevention protocols (i.e., Keepin’ It Real, Be Proud! Be Responsible! and CASASTART) with proven effectiveness. An independent outcome evaluation conducted by the College of Public Health, University of Iowa, concluded that youth participating in our program exhibited significant reductions in alcohol- and drug-use behaviors and marked increases in social support, family cohesiveness and community involvement.