Beech Grove Comprehensive Drug-Free Coalition (Beech Grove CDFC), rooted in Marion County, Indianapolis, emerged in 2016 in response to the harrowing impact of the Opioid epidemic, mirroring the experiences of numerous communities across the United States. As residents approached Mayor Dennis Buckley of Marion County, a native of Beech Grove, sharing heartbreaking stories of losing loved ones to overdose, he felt compelled to seek a resolution. A core team of twelve community members was assembled, and a faith-based roundtable formed to collectively explore effective programs aimed at catalyzing change.
Beech Grove is a unique community, because it is a smaller city set inside the larger city of Indianapolis. As it is surrounded by interstates and wrapped around by wooded areas and Lick Creek, this city has become a generational hotspot for drug trafficking and underage substance use. Those evading law enforcement are easily able to cross city lines by traversing the creek, making it more difficult to police. With these local conditions in mind, the small committee which would later turn into the Beech Grove CDFC, began to evaluate what could be done to limit use in this area.
“We were finding syringes, not only in parking lots and restaurant bathrooms, but more and more in public spaces – including school bus stops. School suspension rates related to substance use were on the rise and drug trafficking was increasing in the area, so that’s when we knew we needed to identify a solution to this problem,” said Diana Hendricks, Community Health Educator at Beech Grove CDFC.
Over the course of a few months, the small committee grew to 45 members, and in just under a year, Beech Grove CDFC received 501c(3) status. Their motto, “It takes a community to keep a community healthy, for the future of our youth,” united efforts from each of the twelve sectors to identify and determine what steps could be taken to turn the tides in their community and create a safe and healthy environment for its youth.
Given the geographic circumstances of Beech Grove, one opportunity for environmental change was in addressing the wooded area around the creek that make it easy for substance related activities to occur. Coincidentally, Diana was also part of a committee that planned to transform that area into a new community attraction: the Franciscan Trail. Due to a combination of creating this trail and the Beech Grove CDFC’s efforts to educate community members, Beech Grove has seen significant positive outcomes and a reduction in substance use.
The Franciscan Trail reformed a difficult to monitor, substance use hotspot for youth and adults alike, to a community asset. By clearing out the wooded areas and creating a more visible and neighborhood-friendly pathway, what once was a hotspot for substance use is now a hotspot for youth and families to get outdoors and interact with others. Additionally, through a grant with a local partner, Beech Grove CDFC was able to purchase two e-bikes for law enforcement to use on the trails, so that they can easily and better monitor the area.
“Prior to the trail, there were fewer opportunities for community members to have positive interactions with law enforcement officers. Now, the officers are able to pass by on their e-bikes and accumulate far more positive interactions. They can stop and play basketball in the park with local youth, get off and walk their bike alongside someone and chat with them on the trail. So what we didn’t anticipate, but have found to be one of the greatest outcomes, is how this effort has helped to bridge the gap between law enforcement and the community,” noted Diana.
As the trail was being constructed, which took nearly a year and a half to complete, Beech Grove CDFC took that time as an opportunity to educate parents on social host laws and visit schools to educate youth. They also started a Neighborhood Watch Program to increase surveillance. Some of the most notable outcomes include:
- 6% decrease in the number of Beech Grove youth in grades 7th -12th reporting that they would not get caught by police if they drank in their neighborhood
- Over 200% increase in surveillance along Lick Creek, adjoining neighborhoods, and the park
- 15% increase of adults reporting they knew about social host laws
In just under seven years, Beech Grove CDFC has established itself as a pillar and resource within the community. Their efforts to keep Beech Grove safe, healthy and drug-free, can set an example for all who hope to apply the Seven Strategies, Strategic Prevention Framework and CADCA Community Coalition Model to their community’s plan to prevent substance use.