Skip to main content

WVU launches prevention program to support at-risk youth, young adults

Regional Transition Navigator Program Manager Sam Wilkinson sits at a desk with computer monitors behind him. He is bald and is wearing a blue hooded sweatshirt.

Sam Wilkinson, Regional Transition Navigator program manager, and his team connect at-risk youth and young adults throughout West Virginia to resources that will help them develop independent living skills, create and cultivate natural supports, access and participate in treatment and recovery services, and thrive in their independence. The new program at West Virginia University is funded by an award from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration through the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources. (WVU Photo/Davidson Chan)

Download full-size

Research shows prevention programs are effective at reducing risk of substance use and addiction, and the prevalence of drug use increases rapidly during adolescence and the transition to young adulthood. To support this population through these critical development years, West Virginia University has launched Regional Transition Navigator services.

Under the guidance of Lesley Cottrell, director of the Center for Excellence in Disabilities and professor in the Schools of Medicine and Public Health, the program is funded by a $432,000 award from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration through the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.

The new program is designed to connect West Virginia’s youth and young adults, ages 14-25, who are experiencing, have experienced or are at risk of experiencing serious emotional disturbance, mental illness and/or substance use disorders with needed resources. Currently, an emphasis is placed on those experiencing homelessness, aging out of foster care or juvenile detention, or at risk for human trafficking.

There are many biological and environmental factors that can lead to drug use, but no single factor can predict whether an individual will become addicted.

“Addiction is an equal opportunity opponent,” Sam Wilkinson, program manager, said. “Lives are lived not in blacks and whites, but in shades of gray. Our long-term desired outcomes are to help folks into better situations than the ones they are currently in, no matter what that situation might be.”

Wilkinson is one of six navigators across the state in locations including Barboursville, Martinsburg, Morgantown, Mount Hope and Oak Hill. The team works with participants in their communities to identify needs, assess skills levels and develop a network of support and services to improve their health outcomes as they gain independence and transition into adulthood.

“The program aims to be as malleable as possible when working with its clients,” Wilkinson explained. “What works for one client will not necessarily work for another, and our goal is maximized flexibility that allows us to respond to individual needs. As a result, response is tailored on a case-by-case, or perhaps more accurately, a situation-by-situation basis. Our goal is working to solve the immediate challenges as part of a longer-term strategy of teaching problem-solving skills useful throughout one’s life.”

Regional Transition Navigator team members will connect participants with resources for housing, transportation, utilities, food, violence prevention and support, education, health care, medication, communication skills to advocate for themselves, life skills and knowing who to contact for help depending on their individual circumstance.

To enroll, individuals can be referred to the program by anyone – including themselves.

“We rely upon those who have an awareness and knowledge of their own communities – health care professionals, front-line staffers, social workers, counselors, teachers, coaches – and our partners throughout the state,” Wilkinson said. “We have enrolled roughly 30 participants and would like to connect with more.

“Reaching younger folks can serve as an intervention before decision-making calcifies into bone-deep habits,” Wilkinson said. “We want to do supportive work that helps individuals choose healthier paths. Through the provision of direct, personalized connection, we are hopeful to benefit both them and their communities.”

Regional Transition Navigator services are supported by grant funding (G210977) from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources Bureau for Behavioral Health with joint funding from the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant and the Community Mental Health Services Block Grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

(Note: This is one in a series of new stories released during National Recovery Month that highlights initiatives at West Virginia University to combat the overdose epidemic. Additional stories can be found at



Communications Officer
WVU Center for Excellence in Disabilities

Call 1-855-WVU-NEWS for the latest West Virginia University news and information from WVUToday.

Follow @WVUToday on Twitter.