Coalitions in Action: The Wilmington Coalition for a Healthy Community Pays It Forward to Teens & Adults

“Teens are our greatest asset,” says the Wilmington Coalition for a Healthy Community’s Project Coordinator, Deborah Tomey. “Our CAT (Community Action Team) is made up of teens from Wilmington who are committed to remaining substance use free so they can be examples to others.”

Indeed, the Wilmington Coalition’s teen-focused approach is making a positive impact on the incidence of underage drinking, marijuana and other drug misuse. The Wilmington Coalition, located along the famous Route 66, is about 50 miles south of Chicago, Illinois. It is a small rural, blue collar/farm community of 6,000 people.

“We realized a number of years ago that we didn’t have a solid platform where we could talk with our community about underage drinking and other drugs, coupled with the fact that we don’t have a lot of resources to address these issues,” says Tomey. “After extensive meetings with the school system, we affirmed that we needed to start educating our children before they reached high school, and engaging teen leaders to do the educating was the ideal approach.”

This focused strategy began with teen participation in the Cebrin Teen Leadership Institute (CGTI) in 2011. CAT students created a Strategic Prevention Framework (SPF), and the SPF has driven activities ever since. With 12 high school students serving in leadership roles, the CAT crew:

  • Continues to participate in CGTI training
  • Helps to plan and implement an underage drinking prevention town hall
  • Participates in Red Ribbon Week, an anti-bullying campaign and Prevention Week
  • Recorded and disseminated radio spots focusing on the consequences of tobacco, alcohol, heroin and marijuana abuse  
  • Volunteers in the “Your Actions Matter” campaign designed to reduce the number of adults who purchase alcohol for minors
  • Assists the school district in updating its tobacco policy to include e-cigarettes
  • Leads a successful effort to designate certain parks in Wilmington as being smoke-free
  • Promotes counseling services for children aged two through adult

“We’re proud of our students and the outcomes that have been achieved,” says Tomey. “We now have a closer relationship with our school district, a more engaged community and a higher level of communication with our police department and all other sectors.”

The data speaks for itself. Among Wilmington’s 12th graders there has been a: 

  • Decrease in substance use rates for any substance used in the past year
  • Ten percent decrease in past 30-day drinking (between 2012 and 2016 per the Illinois Youth Survey and other data)
  • Ten percent gain in the number of students who reported that their parents thought it was wrong or very wrong for them to drink beer, wine or hard liquor regularly (at least once or twice a month)
  • Twelve percent gain in the number of students who reported that other adults in their neighborhood think it was wrong or very wrong for them to drink beer, wine or hard liquor regularly

“Our approach is holistic, emphasizing connections across mind, body and spirit, and we believe that placing our teens front and center provides important opportunities to pay it forward to the next generation and the adults in our community who support them,” concludes Tomey.