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RISK Sonoma addresses substance abuse for teens

Making a difference for parents in the Valley
RISK Sonoma addresses substance abuse for teens
Listening session groups made up of people in the community.Source: Leslie Nicholson

By Mia Epstein

Leslie Nicholson, a Sonoma local, founded Resources, Information, Support and Knowledge (RISK) Sonoma, a parent support network, about eight years ago. Teen issues covered include binge drinking, social media, opioids, e-cigarettes, and the impact of marijuana on the teenage brain, helping parents understand possible areas of conflict as they navigate advising and supporting their young adult child.

Nicholson understands the difficulty of raising a child and wanted to provide other parents with the resources necessary to help their children with substance abuse, bullying, and other social issues before it becomes too late. This understanding stems from her personal experiences raising her son.

Nicholson underwent difficulty as her son turned to drugs, causing a major strain on her whole family. There were times when she felt helpless and wished there was a parenting guide she could turn to or a number she could call for advice. It was challenging to start at square one in the middle of a crisis, but if she had had some guidance in advance, the crisis would not have felt so overwhelming.

Nicholson made a vow that once things settled down with her son and they figured out a plan that worked for her family, she would set up the resourses she desperately needed so that other parents would not have to figure it out on their own. When the vow came to fruition, RISK Sonoma was born, offering tools to local parents so they do not feel isolated, judged, and alone.

In addition to helping parents, some of the RISK Sonoma programming is for teens. The RISK board, composed of five women, plans workshops and events to educate the Sonoma community. Nicholson hopes that the organization will eventually reach other areas in Sonoma County, but there has been high demand in Sonoma alone. While most of the workshops and events are in Sonoma, Nicholson shares her phone number on the RISK website, acting as a hotline for anyone in need of advice in the greater Sonoma County.

One example of a successful event held by RISK Sonoma took place on March 5 of this year, where the organization co-hosted a community listening session with Hanna Boys Center. Over 70 people from Sonoma came together to listen and discuss the need for more mental health services in Sonoma Valley.

“The community members that attended the forum were all ages, ethnicities, professions, and included representation from 10 local nonprofits,” said Nicholson. “We have already held our first Wellness Café for Teens, something that was a high priority as a follow-up to the community forum in March. We are busy planning more Wellness Cafés and groups for parents that we plan to roll out to the community as part of our continuing mental health initiatives.”

Other recent forums included one on social media use, also in March, and one focused on mental health and teens held in April. RISK Sonoma also participates in parent forums and collaborations with other groups in the Valley, such as the Vaping and Teens Forum and collaborations with Sonoma Valley Community Health Center, Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance, G3, and others.

To learn more about projects led by RISK Sonoma or to reach Nicholson, visit