Coalitions in Action: Coalition Changing the Landscape of a Border Town
When the Community Prevention Coalition found out that everything seemed to be working against residents of a rural area in their Arizona county of Pima, they started working for and with the residents for environmental change, literally.
The sparsely-populated community of Amado, situated near the Mexican border, is divided on many levels. Half of the town is in Pima County and the other half in Santa Cruz County. Interstate I-19 cuts right through the small community landscape, creating yet another division. The area sits in what is known as the “drug smuggling corridor” 25 miles north of the Mexican border and 45 miles south of the county seat of Tucson.
The residents of Amado, due to their geographic location, face many risks. In addition, the area lacks available employment, has high poverty rates coupled with minimal educational levels and has very few community services. The community has long been lacking a central and safe place for youth to congregate.
While the small elementary school has been a strong cohesive community force, the closest high school is almost a two hour bus ride, limiting the opportunity for teen youth to be involved in afterschool activities due to transportation issues. Many of these factors seem to contribute to an increased dropout rate among Amado teens. Recently, some coalition members learned that a few Amado youth began forming unofficial “fight clubs” simply for “something to do.”
Something had to be done.
Using the power of the Strategic Prevention Framework coalition model, project director Amy Bass didn’t take “no” for an answer when her two grant applications to local funders to assist the Amado community were declined. Building on the capacity established through the Drug Free Communities project, she rallied coalition members, Amado’s parents, youth, business owners, anyone who would listen, including county supervisor Sharon Bronson, to engage the town in its own rebirth.
The community came together and coordinated a three-stage presentation to the county officials presenting both the need and community capacity to get things done. The hard work of the community members paid off. Shortly thereafter, the coalition received an award from the county for $10,000, and with the permission of the owner, renovated a small abandoned storefront property. As the community worked together many people took notice of what was going on and stepped up to support the need for youth in this border community. They received both monetary and “in kind” donations for supplies and services, and now have a prosperous youth center.
The community donated whatever they had, even if it was just their time. Before Bass knew it, old office supplies, crafting items, computers, furniture and odds and ends were landing on the youth center doorstep. Others helped get power and plumbing installed. One resident who owns a trash company cleaned up the dilapidated yard, while another group painted.
The residents of the Green Valley retirement community are leveraging their own resources and contributing funds for additional programs. One retired property owner donated an additional $10,000 for a basketball court and community garden. Many of these same retirees regularly spend time at the center helping the children with their homework and serving as mentors.
Others in the community donate their time to teach martial arts, public speaking, and making healthy choices. Other times, kids can watch movies and get some rest from school. The seniors have become like adopted grandparents, even making soup for the youth recently and took up a collection for items the center needed.
“It is like the community is making something out of nothing, like the stone soup story,” Bass said. “We have harnessed the community readiness, are leveraging community resources, and are ready to keep building on the successes.”
Soon, Bass hopes to expand the new youth center to also provide prevention education for local parents. As the Drug Free Communities project continues to implement strategies for drug and alcohol prevention in the area, a new excitement has brought many additional resources to the project.
“We are changing the physical environment and are leveraging resources in a town where things once seemed pretty bleak for youth. What the community has come together and done for its youth is so rewarding. Together they are creating new opportunities. It’s wonderful, and it’s so much work at the same time, threading it all together,” Bass said. “Things come in little parts and pieces and it’s really about what a coalition in a small, underdeveloped area can do when they all come together. Bass is content with having a safe place for the kids to flourish. The community members themselves did this; It wasn’t us.”
Bass, is not only the Project Director of the Community Prevention Coalition, but is the Director of Prevention for Compass Behavioral Health Care, Inc.
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