by Pondo Vleisides
Community Outreach Alliance (COA) is a collaborative organization born and built to serve the promising youth population of San Clemente. It has been an incredible year, watching COA grow in its reach and impact, becoming a recognizable asset in our incredible community.
Over the past two years the organization has been blessed to build a brand and program that fits the needs of the community, offering the best in healthy and enriching activities for teens and young adults.
This venture was started to help re-direct young people away from choices that lead to alcohol and drug abuse toward activities that enrich their lives. As the San Clemente community has reluctantly come to realize, we are experiencing an epidemic of drug overdoses and substance abuse. And as my childhood friend, Mark Lesneski of Lesneski Mortuary, can attest, I presided over seven overdose funerals associated with Lesneski Mortuary in 2014 alone, all from the San Clemente High School classes of 2008-2010.
As a native San Clemente resident and 30-year youth activist, coach, pastor and CEO of TLC School Programs, I knew I had to step into the world of prevention and recovery.
Often hearing, “there is nothing to do” from our San Clemente young people. COA has changed that with over ten professional volunteers heading up our various activities. The organization’s board members are all well-known business and community leaders and medical professionals in San Clemente, and together they are providing programs for the benefit of our local youth.
Our activity program calendar exists because the community has stepped up to the plate, offering time and treasure to make the COA vision —to give our young people something healthy to do—become a reality.
To that end, COA provides a safe place and professional instruction for video gaming, fishing, tennis lessons, yoga classes, guitar lessons, art lessons, dance lessons, outdoor rock climbing, hiking, a mountain bike club, comedy and Improv classes, a running club, food support, concerts, information clinics regarding the dangers of drug and alcohol use, and awesome music.
The Outlets July 8th event showcased an example of the monthly Jam Night for youth, with professional bands performing at the new COA Venue. All of these activities have a professional volunteer from the particular field at the helm.
As the Founder and Executive Director of COA I have witnessed a variety of positive signs, some small, some large, showing that our organization is on the right track. When my secretary told me one morning that Vicky Vargas from NBC News LA was on line one, I realized our fledgling community project was gaining notoriety. And last summer when COA hosted the National Day of Remembrance, honoring families who had lost a child to addiction or suicide, the event was covered by several newscasts including K-Cal Channel 9 News and CBS, who did their remote broadcasts to Los Angeles and Orange counties directly from our San Clemente COA Venue.
Currently, my biggest concern for San Clemente’s young people is the possible legalization of marijuana, come this November. Presently, 17% of admissions to drug treatment centers are for marijuana abuse and addiction. We have been proactive at COA for the possibility of legalization by offering a seven-week discipline course for teens who experiment with, abuse or become addicted to marijuana. This program, as with all of our activities, has an underlying mantra of “healthy living” at its core.
Our website is an important one-stop information hub, offering support resource and recovery meetings. We host the largest Heroin Anonymous meeting in Orange County with over 125 attending every week. Los Angeles recognizes we have something special going on, and San Clemente is now answering their call to collaborate with us.
Our 2nd annual Night of Remembrance will take place at the COA Venue on August 28th and will feature guest authors and speakers David E. Stanley, the step-brother of Elvis Presley, and Tanya Brown, the sister of Nicole Brown Simpson.
Each and every misdirected child has a family that is brokenhearted after losing them to drug addiction. We at COA chose to be part of the solution, not the problem, and hope that you will join us in this honorable effort to save lives.
On behalf of my Program and Marketing Director, Teri Steel, we thank all our program volunteers, activity teaching pros and the community for all the support and enthusiasm provided COA and our local youth. When it comes to doing the right thing for our young people, in the face of so many cultural challenges and insidious, deadly drugs out there, it truly does take a village.