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“SAFEMINDS” Brings Hope to Youth Struggling with Substance Abuse

RADFORD -- A pilot program in Radford University’s Waldron College of Health and Human Services and the Department of Psychology is offering hope and help to families who must deal with the reality that substance abuse is affecting the lives of children 14 to 18 years old.

safe minds
Linda Ely and Valerie Leake will help provide counseling and health services to area youth.

SAFEMINDS, an initiative funded through RU Grants and Internal Programs, is a free intensive outpatient program under the direction of School of Nursing Instructor Linda Ely and Department of Psychology Assistant Professor and licensed clinical psychologist Valerie Leake. Carilion Clinic has contributed the services of a psychiatrist for medical management and collaborates in the planning of the SAFEMINDS program. The project partners with the 27th District Court Services and New River Valley Community Services to identify adolescents suffering from substance abuse in a region which is designated as a health professional shortage area of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

There is importance in being a Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) designated underserved area in mental health provision, Ely says, adding that HRSA is a federal agency with a goal of increasing access to health care nationwide. This is important because efforts such as the SAFEMINDS program are federal grant eligible.

“There are few affordable programs for youth who need help with their addictive patterns and often the parents are in denial of the problem,” says Ely. "Teenagers are developmentally experimenting with high-risk behaviors. Unfortunately, some develop enduring habits of use that compromise normal development. Protective factors are healthy relationships with family, academic success, pro-social acceptance among peers and community involvement. SAFEMINDS will focus on strengthening these protective factors."

It requires committed and emotional strength for families to deal with substance abuse issues in a teen’s life, Ely says, and it requires a willingness to get the problem solved, keep communication open and seek out advice on how to get the child into counseling.

The SAFEMINDS grant will provide services to approximately 12 youth who have demonstrated patterns of substance abuse, are transitioning back into the home after treatment or have been referred to the court system for legal consequences related to abuse. The program includes psychiatric and psychological assessments, medicine management for dual diagnoses, a 12-week recovery stage with six hours a week of therapy, and a 12-week relapse prevention treatment plan.

Leake is experienced in couples and family counseling and counseling psychology and is actively engaged in research on many of the aspects of substance abuse in youth that the SAFEMINDS program will address. “There are a whole host of issues that are contributing factors and there are too few practitioners in this region. I really see the value of building our ties to the community through programs like this. Radford University has something to offer with this program,” says Leake.

“I have a passion for a population that is so underserved and has such great need,” Ely said. “RU’s School of Nursing is becoming a contributing factor to communities, providing research-based programs to our citizens. We have a history of doing that and we want it to continue. The SAFEMINDS program provides an alternative program for helping youth with substance abuse. We want them to know they can have a better life and get into college.”

Initial screenings include the adolescent and parent(s) and are held at the Adult and Child-Family Counseling Center, 125 Broad St., Dublin. The recovery stage program is Tuesdays and Thursdays, 5 to 8 p.m., at Trinity Lutheran Church, 5th and Washington Streets, Pulaski. The relapse prevention program includes socialization and employment skill-building with adult mentors from service clubs including the Ruritan, Rotary and Lions Club.

To learn more, call (540) 674-4506 or e-mail Ely at or Leake at

December 9, 2010
Bonnie Roberts Erickson; 540-831-5804

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