Similar job, different office, another funding source.
That about sums it up for Rose Cheff, who continues her work in substance abuse prevention. She still works as program director for the Custer County Coalition but wears a second hat in the effort to combat drug and alcohol abuse as a community health worker for Challis Area Health Center. Cheff’s office is in the remodeled ambulance barn behind the clinic.
Cheff meets with between 15 and 20 Challis junior high students each Monday for “lunch and learn,” an ongoing coalition program funded by a grant from the Idaho Office of Drug Policy. It is designed to reduce alcohol, tobacco and drug use and violence among young people while supporting social and emotional development.
“This teaches them to make good decisions and choices and to know drugs are bad,” said Cheff. “It helps them be more comfortable with themselves. I tell them, ‘Be comfortable in your own skin.’”
The students help decide the subject matter. A recent example was learning to cook so they can become more independent. The students meet with Cheff in the high school home economics room, so access to a kitchen wasn’t a problem. Other topics include bullying at school and family issues, such as how to get along with and talk to siblings.
“I’ve been pretty impressed with them,” said Cheff. “This is a sharp bunch.”
During the holiday season, students worked with senior citizens at the Challis assisted living facility on Christmas craft projects. They sang songs and shared stories. Community service projects serve a dual purpose, said Cheff — students learn some life skills and help others.
This is the third year Custer County Coalition has been awarded the life skills grant to combat substance abuse, and Cheff plans to apply for renewal for a fourth year. The program doesn’t take a “just say no” approach but helps students make good decisions and positive lifestyle choices, which help them avoid peer pressure and substance abuse problems.
Although Cheff gives pop quizzes to students after she presents facts and figures about alcohol and drug abuse, it’s not a graded class. Specific topics include the opiate epidemic, marijuana and alcohol. Students who answer all questions correctly win some tasty treats, such as certificates for milkshakes.
“I don’t care how I get them here,” Cheff said, adding that she’s not above such bribery if it gets them to show up. It serves a larger purpose, she said of helping youths build the self-esteem needed to avoid peer pressure to abuse drugs and alcohol.
Challis Area Health Center funds Cheff’s position as community health worker from its federal Health Resources and Services Administration grant. While the coalition focuses on youth, Cheff works with patients of all ages at the Challis clinic.
“My job is to make sure patients have the resources they need to lead better and healthier lives,” said Cheff. That might involve her helping people find access to education or specific health care programs, helping enroll in Medicare or Medicaid or a private health insurance program or helping patients make the transition from treatment by a health care provider to home health care.
Cheff implements all sorts of programs in her efforts. Recently, she, students, health care providers and family members participated in a “sticker shock” program that provided paper bags to the local liquor store which listed the health dangers of alcohol and drug abuse.
The coalition has changed its organizational structure. The board of directors has been replaced by a steering committee. Members include Cheff, CAHC Executive Director Steve Rembelski, CAHC Administrator of Grants and Special Projects Kate Taylor, social worker Gay Miremont, paramedic Dawn Rae, Challis Junior-Senior High School Principal Kari Alexander, Challis School District Superintendent Lani Rembelski, Custer County Probation Officer Aletia Straub Workman, County Coroner Chad Workman and Jolie Turek, executive director of Custer Economic Development Association.
Cheff was a “natural fit” to help the health center treat patients with substance abuse disorders and help them find the resources they need to succeed, Steve Rembelski said. She was already familiar with what’s available in Idaho through her work with the anti-drug coalition.
For Cheff, substance abuse prevention is not just a job. She’s done it on a volunteer basis when funding ran short.
“For me, it’s a calling,” said Cheff. “I’m just lucky to get paid for it.” Cheff’s daughter, Bethany, died a couple years ago after years of fighting drug and alcohol addiction. Cheff and her husband, Ray, have raised their grandson, Lance.
“We need to continue to provide substance abuse education and prevention,” Cheff said, to save lives. The Challis community has embraced Cheff and her family and she just wants to pay back some of the hospitality.