In Middlesex County, New Jersey, the Coalition for Healthy Communities (CHC) has implemented programs that not only lead to youth change on a personal level, but changes in the overall school climate.
Founded in 2003, the coalition was originally called the Middlesex County Substance Abuse Coalition. Two years later, when the Drug Free Communities (DFC) grant was awarded to the coalition, the name changed to the Coalition for Healthy Communities. The coalition serves the second largest county in New Jersey, with an estimated population of 837,073.
“In early 2005, medicine take-back started in a few municipalities in Middlesex County. Police stations throughout the county agreed to have one day when they would collect unused or expired medications. Due to the success of medicine take-back day, permanent drop boxes are now a staple in 15 of the 25 municipalities in the county,” said Mara Carlin, Coalition Coordinator at CHC.
In addition, the coalition focused on youth engagement through their Young Women’s Conference (YWC), Our Journey Our Voice. “Since 2004, we have reached over 2,300 students representing 90 percent of the public parochial, and private high schools in Middlesex County.”
Collaborations with the hospital system, government officials, treatment agencies, recovery specialists, community members and youth make programs like the YWC possible. Students attend the conference in teams of eight, with a chaperone. They are expected to take the information they learned at the event and assume a leadership role educating and inspiring fellow students in their schools. In response to survey questions, attendees have said:
- “I loved this experience, I learned many new things and have become more educated and informed on new topics.”
- “I really enjoyed switching of workshops and different speakers with real experiences.”
- “Being able to be properly informed on topics that will benefit me in the future was the best part of today.”
As a result of attendance, there has been a community change within schools. Motivated by what they learned at the YWC, one group of students formed a G.A.L.S. (Girls Against Low Self-Esteem) support group. The implementation of this program, and similar groups, has led to a change in the student’s personal lives, and has fostered a positive change in the overall school climate.
“We have found that collaboration is the key to our success,” said Carlin. “We work with multiple partners from the community with similar goals. We realize that many people around the table wear many hats and we try and utilize the strengths and connections that each of us have.”