Caring for Teens: Tackling Substance Use Before It Leads to Crisis

For the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, making a difference means getting ahead of the curve. To combat the growing trend of substance use and risky sexual behavior among teens, the Hilton Foundation provided a grant to the CDC Foundation to support Teens Linked to Care, a three-year pilot initiative. The initiative is a collaboration between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the CDC Foundation with pilot sites in Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio.

“The overarching goal of the project is to both prevent substance use and intervene early on when young people are becoming involved with alcohol and drugs,” said Alexa Eggleston, senior program officer for the Hilton Foundation. “It’s about creating an early warning and early detection system before a crisis hits.”

Through the pilot initiative, CDC is providing a school-centered approach in three communities in Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio to educate teens on the dangers of substance use and collaborated with local health departments to offer health screenings to identify those teens most at risk for HIV, sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancy and high-risk substance misuse. Through both youth and community advisory boards, the initiative is helping implement new health education curricula, identifying and promoting youth-friendly health service providers, and producing anti-bullying and anti-opioid campaigns.

“This was a unique opportunity to partner with an organization like the CDC Foundation to explore a new area,” said Eggleston. “We know there are connections between sexual health and substance use among young people, so this initiative allowed us to explore a community-level response to addressing those two issues jointly.”

Prevention is difficult because you really need multi-pronged approaches at the community level to see success. What’s exciting about CDC’s work is that they have achieved that from the start.

Alexa Eggleston, Senior Program Officer, Hilton Foundation

As the largest philanthropic funder of youth substance use prevention projects in the United States, the Hilton Foundation currently has six strategic initiatives, from homelessness and safe water to support for transition aged youth in foster care. The Teens Linked to Care initiative is part of a broader Hilton Foundation effort that has screened more than 73,000 youth for substance use and trained more than 34,000 health providers. Having awarded more than 75 health-related grants since 2013, Eggleston said, the Hilton Foundation knew it needed a strong partner to make the Teens Linked to Care pilot work. “The affiliation with CDC brings with it a level of credibility and visibility,” Eggleston said. “Partnering with CDC through the CDC Foundation provides access to the best and brightest minds in public health.”

Critical to the initiative’s success, Eggleston said, were partners’ abilities to work closely with local communities, training local health providers and leveraging local resources to raise awareness about substance use.

“Prevention is difficult because you really need multi-pronged approaches at the community level to see success,” Eggleston said. “What’s exciting about CDC’s work is that they have achieved that from the start. This project has had that very strong community lens to it.”

As the opioid overdose epidemic has garnered significant national attention in recent years, government, the private sector and nonprofit organizations are all working to tackle the crisis. By collaborating with the CDC Foundation and others, the Hilton Foundation is addressing issues of substance use and risky sexual behavior before they reach crisis level, where an ounce of prevention now is worth a pound of cure later.

“For us the idea of partnership is really core to how we do our work,” Eggleston said. “It is very much relationship driven, working together to achieve goals, and that is the role that philanthropy can play.”


Teens Linked to Care (TLC) is a three-year pilot initiative in three communities in Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio conducted by CDC with a grant from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation to the CDC Foundation. The pilot initiative, which began in 2016 and remains underway in 2019 thanks to a program extension, assesses rural communities’ ability to integrate substance use prevention and sexual risk prevention program activities in school-based settings. The pilot will inform future TLC efforts to protect youth from high-risk substance abuse. Learn more.