Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

North Jersey Community Research Initiative: Project WOW! Youth Center

Project WOW! Youth Center is an educational and counseling program targeting high-risk lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) adolescents and young adults (ages 13 – 24) of color in the greater Newark area. The program aims to prevent and reduce the occurrence of sexually transmitted infections and substance abuse and its consequences, namely, the number of new incidents of HIV infection among African American men who have sex with men. Project WOW! helps LGBTQ youth work together to create an enjoyable, memorable, safe, and value-filled experience.

At intake, young adults are screened to identify factors and social determinants of health that increase their risk for both HIV and substance use. Depending on the level of risk identified, the young adult is referred to one of two service plans: an HIV-related education and risk reduction program or substance abuse prevention services. If it is determined that substantial risk factors are present for substance abuse, the young adult is referred to the effective behavioral intervention, Street Smart, where she or he may meet with a substance abuse prevention counselor weekly or monthly. General substance abuse education and skills-building workshops are also provided as an ongoing activity in Project WOW!.

Providing both group- and individual-level services, along with internal and external referrals, Project WOW! takes a more holistic approach when serving LGBTQ youth.  By implementing interventions such as Comprehensive Risk Counseling Services, Many Men Many Voices, Street Smart, and Mpowerment, Project WOW! is able to identify particular contributing factors to high risk behaviors and counter such factors with appropriate programming. For example, abandonment and sexual and physical abuse are some of the traumatic experiences that many of the youth served have faced.  Such trauma is countered through conventional and alternative (i.e., artistic, creative) therapeutic endeavors that provide LGBTQ youth with a space for expression as well as the opportunity to learn different coping techniques.

With funding from SAMHSA’s Service to Science Subcontract to Build Evaluation Capacity of Evidence-based Interventions, Project WOW! will make the following enhancements to its capacity to gather, analyze, report, and use evaluation data to inform the continued development and implementation of client-centered programs:

  • Provide a two-hour program evaluation training to the youth advisory board, the community advisory board, and program staff members
  • Develop a concept map of the program’s critical components by following a mixed-methods approach involving focus groups, sorting and rating, and multivariate statistical analysis (see Kane & Trochim, 2007)
  • Implement mixed qualitative and quantitative data collection methods to identify the critical components of the current program and the substance use and HIV risk behaviors outcomes that these components seem to be impacting.
  • Develop and pilot-test (after securing IRB approval) an online pre- and post-intervention survey that includes measures of substance use as well as risk factors for substance use and HIV


Bob Baxter
North Jersey Community Research Initiative
393 Central Avenue
Newark, New Jersey 07103
Phone: (973) 483-3444