In Puerto Rican Community, Families Help Others Combat Drug Abuse Through Head Start

Free to Grow: Head Start Partnerships to Promote Substance-Free Communities

From 1994 to 2001, Aspira de Puerto Rico developed a family-to-family peer mentoring model of substance abuse prevention based on the Latino concept of compadres (godparents).

Under the project, 44 carefully selected and trained "strong" families—compays—were assigned as peer counselors to 69 Head Start families in San Isidro who were substance abusers or at risk of substance abuse.

The project was part of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's (RWJF) national program, Free to Grow: Head Start Partnerships to Promote Substance-Free Communities.

Key Results:

  • Compay families emerged as leaders who worked in partnership with community schools, municipal officials, substance abuse prevention and education programs, police and local recreational organizations to improve their neighborhood environments.
  • Community-strengthening activities functioned through neighborhood-based groups, a community association and a leader's group.
  • Resident-led efforts resulted in:
    • The development of the community's first day camp
    • The creation of a community library with after-school tutoring services
    • Increased police surveillance
    • Improved lighting and garbage collection
    • The preservation of the community's only elementary school after it was damaged in a hurricane.

Evaluation Findings: Researchers from Mathematica Policy Research examined the Aspira project as part of an evaluation of the Free to Grow national program.

The researchers concluded that:

  • Aspira had developed a sound and promising strategy for intervening with at-risk Head Start families.
  • The compay family-to-family peer-counseling and support component was well articulated and well implemented.