May 30, 2019

Coalitions in Action— Coalition for a Drug Free Muskegon County Helps Students Ride with Pride


Tell me about your community and the communities that your coalition serves. When was the coalition formed?

The Coalition for a Drug Free Muskegon County was formed in 2004 with a mission to reduce substance use disorder in Muskegon County, Michigan through education, prevention, and treatment. The coalition acts as one organizing body for over 50 community organizations and 90 active members. The coalition serves as a backbone to many sub-committees that focus on interacting with the community to achieve success.


What unique issues is your coalition facing?

“Muskegon County was once known as ‘Beer Tent Capital of Michigan,’” said Community Health Improvement Coordinator Rachel McCoy. “Summer celebrations, community events, and outdoor concerts allowed more access to alcohol and opportunities for drunk drivers and over-serving. In 2007, Muskegon’s student youth data showed 28% of high school juniors reported binge drinking in the past 30 days. Muskegon County also suffered from a significant number of alcohol-related car crashes involving youth. In December 2007, three teens were involved in a triple fatal car accident. They were able to purchase alcohol, underage, at a local alcohol retailer. Within a month, the community organized a town hall meeting on alcohol and later obtained a Strategic Prevention Framework (SPF) grant to reduce youth alcohol use in Muskegon County.” 

“Since then, it has been the Muskegon Alcohol Liability Initiative’s (ALI) mission to reduce youth alcohol access, educate on the social, health, and legal consequences of alcohol use, and decrease alcohol-related car crashes in Muskegon. ALI established a plan through the SPF planning process to use data to drive action within the community. They relaunched their alcohol task force with new law enforcement members, new branding and a new name, the Muskegon Alcohol Liability Initiative.”  


What activity or program is your coalition most proud of and/or what activity would you like us to spotlight?

“Our student data highlighted youth perceptions of risk for alcohol and tobacco use were very low, and that most youth were receiving incorrect information about the law and consequences of underage drinking from their peers,” said McCoy. “Since 2010, several successful initiatives have been implemented to combat these issues, such as retailer education, compliance checks, the FaceTheBook Campaign, and the Community College “Binge Effects” Campaigns.”

“While these initiatives continually hammered the message home about the safety, health and legal consequences of alcohol use, members began to discuss a different approach that would align with the school’s multi-tiered system of support as well as reinforce positive behaviors. Muskegon ALI members asked to implement the Ride with Pride student pledge along with the Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS) culture and climate program. In 2012, Mona Shores School District, the Norton Shores Police Department and Muskegon ALI launched their first Ride with Pride program. In the beginning of the year, the students are asked to sign a positive behavior pledge, which consists of positive behavior and choices the student needs to follow in order to be entered to win a car at the end of the year.”

“We learn that positive behavior is what motivates people to do the right thing, instead of always using the negative punishment side,” said Chief Jon Gale of the Norton Shores Police Department. “We need to be proactive and be involved with the schools to help educate kids and help them do the right thing.”

“The current initiative serves 4,800 students among seven high schools and middle schools, and hopes to expand to expand to 8,587 high and middle school students among an additional five school districts,” said McCoy. “This individual school-based approach engages community members on underage drinking, builds the capacity of communities to improve alcohol-related issues, and has a dramatic effect on local school climate and culture, including drops in violence and bullying, and students building positive relationships with teachers, administrators, and law enforcement.”


How did you get there, and what are your outcomes?

“Since 2012, Mona Shores High School saw a 51% decrease in school suspensions and in-school referrals for alcohol or other drugs,” said McCoy. “Mona Shores recently reported that this positive school climate has now impacted reading comprehension scores, which were up 13% in 2018.” 

In the past 10 years, due to the efforts of the Muskegon ALI and the Ride with Pride Program, Muskegon County has seen:

  • a 20% reduction in students reporting they ever drank alcohol since 2010
  • a 37% decline in recent alcohol use
  • a 48% reduction of binge drinking among youth 
  • a 61% reduction of youth riding with someone who had been drinking  


What advice would you give to other coalitions that may be addressing some of the same issues?

“Muskegon ALI and Ride with Pride are proud of our accomplishments and encourage this kind of prevention work in other counties,” said McCoy. “The best advice our coalition can give is collaboration. Collaboration with other community partners has been the key to this coalition’s success. Without the capacity of other partners, Ride with Pride would not where it is today.”

“Inviting key stakeholders to the table is also very important, especially when trying to develop ways to reach our youth. For example, developing relationships with school boards, principals, and school resource officers has been integral. Connecting with these individuals is a great way to get local schools invested in this program.”

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