Coalitions in Action: A New Jersey Coalition Reaches Milestone in Reducing Underage Drinking
Bringing their experiences from their past lives working in the corporate world to the prevention field, two New Jersey women have proven there is no “I” in team. When Lesley Gabel’s coalition involvement called for an additional staff member, it was a natural choice to call her neighbor and friend Peggy Dowd. The pair and their coalition, Hunterdon County Safe Communities Coalition serving Hunterdon County, N.J., were selected for CADCA’s 2012 GOTOUTCOMES! Coalition of Excellence award in the “Milestones” category.
Sponsored by CADCA’s National Coalition Institute, the GOT OUTCOMES! Coalition of Excellence Awards program gives coalitions across the country the opportunity to receive national recognition for their contributions to community-level substance abuse and/or substance abuse-related outcomes. The “Milestones” category recognizes younger coalitions, or those with a newer initiative, that demonstrate progress toward meeting long-term outcomes (reductions in substance abuse or substance abuse-related problems) as indicated by measurable, community-level changes intermediate outcomes.
The coalition received their award onstage during the Awards Luncheon at CADCA’s 2013 National Leadership Forum earlier this month. They also presented their award-winning strategies to other interested coalitions at the Forum’s Ideas Fair and GOT OUTCOMES! workshop.
“When we started as a coalition four years ago, we both came from a business background so we operate our coalition like a business,” Gabel, HPR, Associate Executive Director, Safe Communities Coalition Project Director, said. “We knew underage drinking was a community problem, but we knew that our community was not ready to hear about that.”
The community was interested in prescription drug abuse, so the coalition tackled that and underage drinking simultaneously. Although the coalition received the Milestones award for their efforts on underage drinking last month, two years ago, they received CADCA’s Dose of Prevention award for prescription and over-the-counter drug abuse prevention efforts such as establishing a permanent drop box.
To address underage drinking, the coalition implemented a comprehensive set of strategies that included successfully advocating for the enactment of local ordinances in the county that impose fines and driver license suspensions for youth who possess or consume alcohol on private property without parental presence or consent (enactment increased by 25 percent). The coalition also implemented a sticker shock campaign to educate parents and adults about the social hosting laws and blocked off the area under the bleachers so youth could not gather there during football games. In addition to social access, the coalition also identified and addressed local conditions contributing to the root causes of perception of harm of underage drinking and parental approval.
Gabel and Dowd believe their coalition’s success can be attributed to innovative ideas such as how well they build capacity and leverage resources. Their coalition meetings always begin with an ice-breaker. Their Forum Ideas Fair presentation highlighted the way they run their Town Hall meetings, featuring a table for each sector, having the right people in the room, and mixing the participants up into small groups to generate solutions for local problems and share them during the event.
What also helped was investing the time and effort to get the community to understand and accept the issues they were facing – before they implemented local ordinances or policy issues.
“Until you have the awareness and readiness, you can't make sustainable change. We really don't stay still,” Gabel said.
Dowd agreed, “People want to be a part of our coalition because it’s always moving forward.” To see a video of this coalition in action, click here.
Read more about all about current and past winners at www.cadca.org/gotoutcomes.