NRPA Launches New Initiative Aimed at Assisting Youth Impacted by Opioid Epidemic in Rural Central Appalachia

(September 19, 2019)

Funding provided by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, a component of the Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice

Ashburn, Va. (Sept. 19, 2019) — The National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) is proud to launch a new initiative dedicated to developing and implementing a mentorship program for youth impacted by opioids in rural Central Appalachia. Funding for this three-year program (grant #2018-JU-FX-0036) is provided by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), a component of the Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.

Through this grant, NRPA will work in local park and recreation agencies to reduce and prevent opioid use among Central Appalachian youth through the implementation and expansion of evidence-based mentoring practices. In addition, NRPA will work to build the capacity of local park and recreation agencies by:

  • Developing a tailored, innovative youth-mentoring framework that leverages local park and recreation assets
  • Increasing staff resources and training
  • Recruiting relevant and compassionate mentors
  • Engaging high-risk youth mentees
  • Assessing other related needs

“As community-based providers of health and wellness services, local park and recreation agencies serve a critical role in the lives of youth and families,” said Kristine Stratton, NRPA president and CEO. “Park and recreation professionals are critical mentors and often serve as the ‘one caring adult’ for children who experience adversity and trauma in their households or community. Providing practical solutions through parks and recreation is a key step to interrupting the opioid epidemic impacting youth in rural Central Appalachia and creating a meaningful opportunity for children to thrive socially, emotionally and physically.”

The opioid epidemic is at an all-time high in our nation. Approximately 78 people die every day from an opioid-related overdose[i] and one infant is born every 15 minutes with withdrawal symptoms after being exposed to opioids before birth.[ii] While opioids are a nation-wide epidemic, Central Appalachia has the highest rate of opioid abuse, addiction and overdose per capita. According to the Appalachian Regional Commission, people living in the Appalachian Region are 55 percent more likely to die from a drug overdose than other U.S. residents.

“Mentors can be a valuable and consistent thread in a critical, caring web of support and cannot be left to chance, especially for young people and families facing the potential stigma and isolation of opioid misuse,” said Elizabeth Santiago, Chief Program Officer at MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership. “MENTOR is proud to be working with NRPA and local communities to meet people where they are, share best practices and develop strategies that put young people at the center and help adults be empathetic and effective mentors.”

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention awarded this grant through the Mentoring Opportunities for Youth Initiative. This program furthers the OJJDP’s mission by supporting mentoring programs to reduce juvenile delinquency, drug abuse (especially opioid abuse), victimization, and problem and high-risk behaviors such as truancy. MENTOR and the NORC Walsh Center for Rural Health Analysis are serving as consultants on the project.

To learn more about NRPA, visit  


About the National Recreation and Park Association

The National Recreation and Park Association is a national not-for-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all Americans have access to parks and recreation for health, conservation and social equity. Through its network of 60,000 recreation and park professionals and advocates, NRPA encourages the promotion of healthy and active lifestyles, conservation initiatives and equitable access to parks and public space. For more information, visit For digital access to NRPA’s flagship publication, Parks & Recreation, visit

[i]U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Health Statistics. (2017, August). Provisional Counts of Drug Overdose Deaths.

[ii]Winkelman, T., Villapiano, N., Kozhimannil, K., Davis, M., Patrick S. (2018, March). Incidence and Costs of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome Among Infants with Medicaid: 2004–2014. Pediatrics.