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The History of SCoSA

SCoSA emerged during early 1999 as a series of round table discussions at the former Venice Foundation (now Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice), to find ways to provide sustained and effective substance abuse prevention and intervention programs.  The death of several teenagers in alcohol related crashes the previous year created the spark that mobilized the community.  In September 1999, the Venice group resolved to develop into a community force as a strong coalition, facilitated by the Human Services Planning Association of Sarasota County and startup funding from The Venice Foundation.

Several hundred community leaders and ordinary citizens searched for an answer to the question, "What is effective substance abuse prevention and how does a community bring it about?" National leaders led seminars which pointed to the need for a sustainable Coalition that would carry out year-round prevention promotion.  This Coalition should follow a strategic plan addressing key local risk factors, filling gaps in protective factors and targeting youth as well as adults.  For this purpose, the organization employed the Communities That Care ® operating system of planning and program development.  In November, 2000, the new Coalition issued Better Futures 2000Plus, a data based report that identified ten top substance abuse related priorities for action over the next three years.  At that point the Coalition emerged as a self-governing organization with its own by-laws.

The Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition of Sarasota County was incorporated in March 2001 and received its 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status in June 2001. Later that year, in October, the Coalition received its first federal Drug Free Communities grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention with a renewal option of up to five years. During the winter of 2001, the organization formed committees to work on action plans to implement the identified priorities. These committees set in motion a number of community changes, projects, and collaborations. In March 2002, the organization changed its named to the current Sarasota Coalition on Substance Abuse, Inc.

With a combination of local, state, and federal funds, the Coalition had a budget of over $250,000 in its first year (2001-2002), $350,000 in its second year (2002-2003), and $275,000 in its third year (2003-2004), and $285,000 in its fourth year (2004-2005). In addition to grants and contracts, the organization received in-kind contributions from an array of agencies and individuals.


In 2005, the Coalition hired its third Executive Director, Curtis "Curt" Lavarello.  Curt brought his vast experience in non-profit management to the Coalition and immediately began to seek ways to sustain the Coalition long-term.  Curt partnered with the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office in the design of a localized responsible vendor training program and created "Project AIM" (Alcohol Impaired Measure) designed to provide local vendors of issues and concerns surrounding alcohol in Sarasota County.  In 2008, with the growing concern of prescription drug overdose deaths, the Coalition led the awareness efforts through a series of prescription drug town-hall and televised meetings that brought together other community leaders and led to local ordinances being passed to reduce prescription drug related deaths.

Also in 2005, Curt created "Sarasota Shining Stars", a county-wide luncheon designed to recognize both the Coalitions efforts, but also individual efforts that made positive impacts to reduce substance abuse in Sarasota County.  Curt brought in nationally known speakers such as CNN's William Moyer, U.S. Dept. of Education's Asst. Deputy Secretary William Modzeleski and Florida State Seminole Head Football Coach Bobby Bowden (and more).  The event continues today as one of Sarasota's most recognized events addressing the ills of substance abuse.

In 2008, the Coalition (in partnership with the Sarasota County School Board) applied for and received a 3-year grant to address underage alcohol consumption by teens. The grant focuses on education and changing community norms as they relate to underage alcohol.

SCoSA partnered with Jewish Family and Children Services (JFCS) to implement Project Pride at Booker Middle School from 2012 thru 2015.  The three year grant promoted substance abuse awareness and included a violence reduction curriculum.  After completing the Second Step curriculum students reported approximately a 50 % reduction in underage alcohol consumption, use of marijuana, and unauthorized prescription medication.  Students reported that their knowledge of techniques to reduce or avoid violence increased by more than 90%.  We are proud of the difference this program made in the lives of so many children and grateful for the collaboration with JFCS. 


In 2013 SCoSA hired its fourth Executive Director, Paul Sutton.  Paul served the Sarasota Police Department for 30 years, serving as the Interim Chief of Police and retiring at the rank of Captain.  Paul’s experience with substance abuse efforts ranged from commanding the Vice / Narcotics Unit to being the coordinator for Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) and Gang Resistance Education and Training (GREAT).


Paul has been active in community; his service includes serving on the boards of: Sarasota Community Alliance, Juvenile Justice, The Salvation Army, Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness, Behavioral Health Stakeholders, and numerous other boards and committees. 


Paul added two new committees to SCoSA; Drug Free Youth (D-FY) and recovery. Drug Free Youth has impacted the lives of more than 2,200 Sarasota county students.  The students pledge to be drug free and voluntarily submit to drug screening.  Individuals in Recovery offer a great opportunity to share information about the hazards of drug / alcohol addiction, and the benefits of sobriety.  


In 2014 the Sarasota County School District, in collaboration with SCoSA received federal funding for the Sarasota Against ViolencE (SAVE) grant!  As one of only 23 nationally awarded grants, SCoSA along with its collaborating partners are honored to enact this five year initiative to reduce violence and build community in the New Town area.


The SAVE grant application listed more community partners than any of the other Project Prevent grant recipients (35 partnering organizations and we continue to add additional partners). The collaboration of community partners is a large part of the reason that Sarasota was awarded the grant and the contributions of the partners is what will make our efforts successful.


The SAVE grant specifically targets Booker Middle School.  Of the 23 grants awarded nationwide, SAVE is the only recipient that included funding for a Parent Liaison.  We believe that engaging parents will reduce violence and improve academic performance of the children.  The success of the SAVE efforts could serve as a model for other programs throughout the district and the nation. 


SCoSA's staff will provide anti-violence curriculum and training for teachers on violence screening in order to refer students and families to support services. SCoSA's new parent liaison will work closely with students and families to ensure better communication between home and school.


Substance Abuse continues to be a community-wide concern is Sarasota.  Heroin overdoses and deaths have increased dramatically; designer and emerging drugs pose a threat that endangers many of our most vulnerable citizens.  The Sarasota Coalition on Substance Abuse will continue to collaborate with our community partners to increase awareness and promote substance abuse resistance within Sarasota County.

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