Aug. 5—As the project coordinator for the Youth Services Alliance (YSA) and head of the Local Coordinating Council (LCC) for the nonprofit Partners for a Drug Free Cass County, Nikki Malott keeps busy.
Whether it be organizing events to help raise awareness about the impact of drugs or helping host training to educate families in the county, her passion has always been to enhance the community she's grown up in.
The Pharos-Tribune sat down with Malott to talk about the YSA and DFC and her roles in those organizations.
How did you get involved with these organizations?
I've been with YSA since 2016. I was hired previously for another grant through them and then we got the drug-free communities grant in 2021, so I was able to continue on with them. Then with the LCC, I've been the coordinator since September 2018.
I've always enjoyed volunteering and being part of the community and doing things. At the time, I was a foster parent, and I actually had a foster care specialist who was the same as my (current) boss's foster care specialist.
She suggested me for a role that he said he was getting ready to hire for. She said that I was a perfect fit because of what I like to do in the community and always help them with different activities, volunteer for things, and how I was really passionate about working with youth and families. It just felt like it was almost like a volunteer position that I was being paid for. So it was awesome.
As for YSA, I was attending meetings when the coordinator decided to step down and I was nominated for coordinator and basically elected by the board. So that's how I fell under that.
Healthy Kids Day is set to return this year on August 6. What are some changes you've made compared to last year's event?
Last year was the first year that we partnered. We got the drug-free communities grant in 2021, so what we really want to do with that is partner with people in the community on what they're already doing, and just enhance it.
The YMCA has done Healthy Kids Day for years (and) they're already a member of our coalition, so it was a perfect fit. We're working on prevention, trying to keep kids from using substances, and giving them something healthy and fun to do.
It's always only been two hours long. This year is going to be four hours long and we have moved it to Riverside Park because we wanted it to be huge. We're really trying to bring in a lot of different nonprofits. We invited them to set up to share the resources but also do activities with the kids. We also had a couple of organizations put in money, so we have the miniature golf for the whole four hours. The carousel is going to be free to the community. We're going to have a bounce house. I think I have some youth volunteers to do face painting, so they'll be doing that. We're going to have people there playing pickleball and teaching the kids how to play it — same with basketball and soccer demos, hopefully.
We're also going to have Healthy Communities of Clinton County (come to the event). They have a trailer they bring in called "Not in my room" that will be open to the parents. There's not any youth allowed in it. It's set up like a bedroom and it's going to educate parents on like maybe different things that their kids could be using or doing and how they hide it. So it's like an educational piece of that whole thing.
What are some other future projects you're looking forward to?
We have our drug-free communities coalition, which is growing in number and getting even bigger. We wanted to reach out and have a coalition directly for the youth so they can come to the table and tell us what they want to see what they want to do, what works, and what doesn't. We want to hear from them (about) what they need from us so we can rally behind them and support that.
DFC has also brought in many trainings already, and we have a couple more. Like I mentioned the trailer (is) one, but also we're gonna have a tobacco and vaping training for parents and the community. It's going to be geared toward parents, teachers and administrators because obviously the vaping epidemic is huge right now and the kids all seem to be picking that up. We're always bringing trainings in. One of our main goals is to train and teach our community the different risks that the kids are facing. So that's definitely one thing that we're working towards is providing that service.
What is a goal you want to achieve?
I think, ideally, we would like to have some kind of youth mentorship. Where older youth are displaying and showing the younger youth the positive ways to act, to stay away from the substances that might lead them down paths that are not so good. But we need our older youth to kind of step into that role and mentor young youth, so definitely having some sort of mentorship program.
I would like to see a youth center — that's my dream and my goal. And that's more of a personal goal for myself. I envisioned someplace that kids can go either before or after school or maybe for kids that are not in school.
(I want) someplace for them to go that they're not just sitting at home by themselves getting bored, or roaming the streets, having nothing to do. So we need someplace they can just go hang out (with) maybe like foosball tables, pool tables, just stuff kids like to do. They can tell us. The primary focus would be just giving the kids something to do (and) help the parents that can't afford to send their kids to a daycare or send their kids to maybe the YMCA or a program that you have to pay for.
It needs to be free and able to be used by the youth. I feel like there are key players in Logansport that could help even just fund little pieces of the project. I feel like it can happen. I've heard a lot of negativity about it being impossible, but I'm passionate about it.
What else do you think is important for people to know?
If any of the youth or parents have a kid that they think would be a good fit for the youth coalition feel free to reach out. We're looking at probably about that 13 (years old) and up range.
I know one sector we struggle with right now is the business sector. A lot of people don't understand that prevention is more than just saying, "Don't do drugs." It's way more than that. I feel like having more of those businesses at the table with us will be extremely helpful for not only us but them too because it is an issue. If we can prevent it from happening, then we won't be seeing all the issues that we are now. We need a lot of people at the table. We need people with fresh, new ideas and people that are passionate about helping our youth become those leaders.
Anybody that's interested in joining can reach out to me either through the website or they can email me. We are always looking to build our coalition and make it even bigger. Anybody with a passion or an interest, even if they just want to find out who we are and what we're about, is welcome to join.