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Employer Spotlight: PreventionFIRST! Addresses Substance Abuse

Founded in 1996, PreventionFIRST! (formerly known as the Coalition for a Drug-Free Greater Cincinnati), was instituted as a comprehensive effort to address youth substance abuse.  The organization serves the population of the tristate region where Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky converge. The organization’s mission encompasses the promotion of healthy behaviors through sparking and sustaining community change. PreventionFIRST! places a high value on staff members that hold the CHES® or MCHES® certification, and currently employs three CHES® and one MCHES®.

"PreventionFIRST! is dedicated to connecting Certified Health Education Specialists to evidence-based strategies and information for substance use/misuse prevention,” says Nicole Schiesler, MCHES® and President/CEO of the organization.  “We do this by offering NCHEC hours at all trainings that we provide.  The intersection of public health and prevention is key to understanding the root cause of substance abuse."  

In addition to recognizing the growing need for adding CHES® to the professional workforce, PreventionFIRST! has been an NCHEC-approved provider of continuing education credits for nearly a decade. The organization saw the need to build the capacity of training offerings within the state of Ohio, northern Kentucky, and southeastern Indiana.  Offering NCHEC Category I hours has attracted a variety of public health professionals and allowed for partnership building within the region’s health departments, as well as provided locally obtained and accessible Category I credits. 

PreventionFIRST! maintains a strong partnership with the College of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services through the University of Cincinnati.  The University’s health education students are required to do a 400-hour internship for an undergraduate degree that must be supervised by a CHES®.  Having four CHES® on staff allows the organization to take on multiple interns per year.  This generates a free, full-time employee for the organization per semester.  The interns are treated like staff and are given public speaking opportunities as well as professional development. 

According to Nicole, “My favorite part of having an intern is to watch them apply what they have learned in the classroom to their internship role, such as understanding how a nonprofit is funded, assessing a community, and accommodating programs to meet the needs of various audiences.  I was the first CHES® on staff, and since 2010, we have been able to dedicate time to teaching future health educators about who we are, what we do, and how their profession is valued.”

Sarah Sawmiller is CHES®-certified and functions as a program manager for the organization. According to Sarah, "Individuals who are certified health education specialists are skilled at assessing the community with a comprehensive view of factors that affect overall health.  Certified Health Education Specialists are able to develop goals and objectives, design community strategies, and create instruments to collect data such as program training evaluations.  CHES® professionals can demonstrate leadership in all sectors of a community.  Hiring CHES® individuals strengthens our work and mission." 

Other CHES® employed by PreventionFIRST! include Amanda Conn Starner, Director of Community Engagement; and Abby Beausir, Manager of Community Outreach. For more information about the organization’s mission, values, and services, please visit

Posted by Jessica Wessner at 06:00

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