The New Face of Coalition Development and Outreach at CADCA

Following the success of our first-ever Virtual Mid-Year Training Institute, CADCA is implementing the feedback we’re hearing from our prevention advocates on working during the COVID-19 pandemic. As we listen to your success stories, one major theme has emerged: no coalition can work alone in the fight against substance use and misuse. That’s why we brought on Joy Sweeney, Ph.D., our newest Deputy Director of Training, Coalition Development TA & Outreach.

Sweeney’s job is to ensure that all CADCA coalitions have access to our resources, trainings and support when they need it. She’s particularly well-suited for this role, as she spent the last 11 years working as the Executive Director of the Council for Drug-Free Youth in Jefferson City, Missouri. Having experienced the day-to-day realities of community coalition work, Sweeney knows how important it is for coalitions to feel connected.

“In 2013, my coalition took on the process of applying for a Drug-Free Communities (DFC) grant,” said Sweeney. “I was one person, working part-time, and I was responsible for the entire application process. It felt like an insurmountable challenge, until I attended ONDCP’s DFC New Applicant Workshop at CADCA’s National Leadership Forum and learned about how other coalitions had successfully applied for and received DFC funding. After that, I kept tapping into more people that I met through CADCA and my application was successful.”

Sweeney says receiving the DFC grant and utilizing her connections with other community prevention advocates was the turning point for her coalition. “I was able to start working full-time, hire a project coordinator, bring more people in and start building capacity for the organization… this was the catalyst for everything.”

In her new role with CADCA, Sweeney hopes to bring the same feeling of connected, unified work to others. “I want to guide our coalitions on how they can be empowered to make changes and impact their community in a positive way,” said Sweeney. “I think a lot of us face the challenge of working in silos. We’re all attacking the same issues, but we’re not working collaboratively. Having a resource like CADCA to bring these entities together and provide resources to effectively address these issues is invaluable. I would love to play a role in being the impetus for that change.” 

As we seek to bring community prevention advocates together, we recognize the challenge that the global COVID-19 pandemic poses to this goal. However, we also realize that our work may be more vital now than ever before. “Sometimes it takes a set of really terrible circumstances to show us the opportunities we weren’t taking advantage of in our work,” said Sweeney. “We’re now seeing coalitions utilize technology to find the interested groups in their communities and empower these people to become prevention advocates. We’re able to reach more people than ever before, and we’re seeing engagement in our work increase as a result. Despite the necessity of physical distance, our field feels more unified than ever.”

“At the same time, the isolation and stress of this pandemic is causing more mental health and substance use and misuse issues,” said Sweeney. “Those challenges show us where we need to step up our game and figure out how to create the sense of community and belonging, even in this challenging environment.” 

For Sweeney, despite the often-overwhelming nature of prevention work, the opportunity to create change and improve lives continues to spark her passion for this cause. “It is hard work and we’re not always going to get a win,” said Sweeney. “Sometimes you get a report and your immediate response is to think ‘we worked so hard and things are getting worse, how is that possible?’ It’s important to realize that in this field there are external factors, out of our control, that drive trends, but our work does make a difference. Even when it feels like we’re taking two steps forward and one step back, we’re still moving forward. And each of those steps translates to a life that has been positively impacted by our contribution.”

Contact Joy Sweeney by email at jsweeney@cadca.org for information on coalition development, technical assistance and CADCA training opportunities.