MCYAF director leaving after decade deterring teen substance abuse
NAME: Margaret Polovchak
BEST KNOWN AS: Director of operations for the Maine Community Youth Assistance Foundation
HOMETOWN: Des Plaines
Updated: September 3, 2012 12:29PM
PARK RIDGE — In the past decade Margaret Polovchak has become the face of the Maine Community Youth Assistance Foundation and a leader in the group’s efforts to deter teenagers from using alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs.
But Polovchak is now looking to a life beyond MCYAF as she joins Omni Youth Services, a youth-development, counseling and treatment organization based in Buffalo Grove.
“I’m really honored to have been part of this initiative and to do such important work in my own community,” said Polovchak, MCYAF’s director of operations. “It’s really been an outstanding experience.”
Under Polovchak’s leadership MCYAF adopted a number of initiatives aimed at preventing drinking, smoking and drug use among teenagers in Park Ridge, Niles, Morton Grove, Glenview and Des Plaines. Using results from the Illinois Youth Survey answered by Maine Township high school students, MCYAF launched the Social Norms Campaign, which promotes positive data from the surveys in an attempt to curb underage drinking, smoking and drug use. The campaign led to the creation of school and community posters with messages stating that most teenagers choose not to drink, smoke or use drugs.
Polovchak, of Des Plaines, was also involved in the creation of MCYAF’s “Sticker Shock” campaign across Park Ridge, Des Plaines and Niles, for which local teenagers volunteer each year to visit grocery and liquor stores, placing stickers on packaged alcohol warning buyers that it is illegal to provide alcohol to minors. In addition MCYAF partnered with the Park Ridge and Des Plaines police departments to create “Text-A-Tip,” an anonymous way for teenagers, as well as adults, to report underage-drinking parties and other suspected criminal activity.
Most recently Polovchak provided the Park Ridge City Council and Community Health Commission with recommendations for how to best handle cases involving underage drinking and encourage youths to take part in assessment and counseling programs. The recommendations under consideration by aldermen include reporting to the Illinois Secretary of State’s Office anyone younger than 21 who has been charged with an underage-drinking offense and admits guilt before a Park Ridge adjudication-hearing judge. Suspension of the individual’s drivers license will then occur.
In her role as an advocate, Polovchak has also urged state legislators to reject a bill legalizing medical marijuana in Illinois. Polovchak believes legalization of marijuana, as included in the bill, will only make it easier for people without medical issues to obtain it.
“We’ve been able to stave off that initiative here in Illinois, but we’ve had to work very hard,” she said. “We’ve had to work with a statewide coalition, be part of that leadership and make sure our legislators know the risks involved in the bill as it’s currently written and the impact on our young people it will have.”
Polovchak was one of the founding members of MCYAF, which began in 2002 as a task force represented by township organizations and citizens who were concerned about alcohol, tobacco and drug-use rates. At the time Polovchak was involved in a grant project called Project Success, which partially focused on substance-abuse prevention.
“It really grew from a 10-hour-a-week job to a full-time job with five employees and an organization that is considered a leader in the state and nation in what we do because of the positive and measurable outcomes we’ve been able to achieve,” Polovchak said.
Through the answers local teenagers provide on the Illinois Youth Survey, the group is seeing “a reduction in teen alcohol use and tobacco use, which has been the primary focus of the campaign,” Polovchak said.
Before MCYAF, Polovchak held management positions within the insurance and retail industries.
“I come from a business background so it’s been a nice transition to take those management skills and apply them to an area where I can improve the health and safety of our community. It’s been a real honor,” she said.
At Omni Youth Services, Polovchak will be involved in development programs and building corporate sponsorships to help fund this programming.
“They have an amazing success record” when it comes to intervention services and treatment of teenagers with substance abuse issues, Polovchak said of Omni.
MCYAF is now searching for a new director of operations and hopes to have someone on board by October, said Polovchak, who acknowledges that leaving the organization will be difficult.
“I’ve really made some amazing new friends through this experience,” she said. “(The staff) are all dedicated within the community and passionate about what we do. I’m so grateful they give their time, energy and dedication and that’s the hard part for me — leaving those who trusted me to lead them.”