July 9, 2020

Coalitions in Action – Monadnock Youth Coalition Increases Membership During COVID-19

“Our coalition was founded in September 2018 after a number of incidents that involved teens in substance use and misuse situations culminated in the passing of a high school student due to a drug overdose,” said Coalition Coordinator Meghan Marcucci. “It was at this point that members of our community came together and established our coalition to prevent the use of alcohol and tobacco is youth ages 11-17. Our coalition serves two very distinct communities, Keene is the county seat with a population of 22,949. Swanzey is the neighboring rural town with a population of 7,144. Keene is a college town with Keene State College and Antioch New England. This means that there is a higher alcohol outlet density and young adults modeling drinking behavior for younger youth. Swanzey is a former mill town and now a bedroom community with only three businesses and the school district employing just over 40 people.  In comparison with both state and county data, both towns have a higher percentage of families with children who are below the poverty level (10 and 12%).”

“According to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, Keene and Swanzey students rank second highest in the state for drinking before age 13,” said Marcucci. “They are the highest in the state for reporting easy access to alcohol. They are the second lowest in the state who have talked to their parents about the risk of substance use.”

“Our coalition has been working to approach the COVID-19 pandemic head on,” said Marcucci. “We have been working with our youth group to have discussions about the pandemic, discussing what safety looked like before vs now. We have also discussed what their values were before the pandemic vs now. Our youth group meetings have moved to Zoom, and we have started holding two a week in order to have an official meeting as well as a ‘hangout’ meeting for members to have a chance to talk to their friends. To increase engagement, we hosted a Netflix Party Movie Night and started a program called Rock your Resilience, offering a prize to members of the community if they paint a rock with a message of resilience and place it in a public park. We have also attended seminars on mindfulness, working toward your future and advocacy with our youth group.”

“During quarantine, we have also hosted a free online mindfulness class with integrated Star Wars clips for all members of the community, and we worked with IndieFlix and our local YMCA to bring the movie ‘Angst’ to the community,” said Marcucci. “This will allow 500 people to watch the film and gain insight on anxiety. After the film we plan to host an active discussion group with educators and medical professionals. We have worked to create a social media presence in our community, as well as starting the beginning steps in bringing our website into existence. We created a massive toolkit that we put out to schools and community members with resources for coping with anxiety, staying busy during the stay at home order and free resources that families can access.”

“We have also continued the coalition work of capacity building, holding coalition meetings, committee meetings and interviews by Zoom,” said Marcucci. “Our coalition has been engaged in logic model and data gathering exercises remotely and we continue to engage new partners in our community work. Overall, we have been incredibly productive since this pandemic started, and we are trying every day to put the message out to our communities that we are here to help.”

“Since the pandemic started, we have seen a difference in engagement in different aspects of our coalition,” said Marcucci. “First, we saw a difference in our youth group. We have been able to get a solid group of members together since they have been able to access our meetings through Zoom. This has taken away this issue of transportation for many members, allowing them to join from the comfort of their homes. We have fully embraced this surge in membership and worked to keep them engaged and enjoying their experience. We hope that our group continues to grow.” 

“Our adult members have been more difficult to keep engaged,” said Marcucci. “However, we have combatted this with sending them emails to update them on what our youth group is doing in order to keep them thinking positively. We have also been able to hold a couple of adult Zoom meetings.”

“During this time, we have seen increased membership in both our youth and adult groups and an increase of awareness in the community that we are here,” said Marcucci. “Our coalition is relatively new, starting most of its work in November 2019. Through this pandemic we have been able to partner with our local YMCA and school districts on many programs. In this way we are helping the community but also making them aware of our existence.”

“We have had more people reaching out with needs and more people expressing that they feel the community could use certain things due to the uncertainness’ of the pandemic,” said Marcucci. “Because of this we have been working in overdrive to put out what the community needs. We have also been working to research what other coalitions have been doing to see if we can find any creative ideas that match the needs of our community.”

“To other coalitions that are just getting started during this time, I would say to always be doing research and engagement in the CADCA Community and with CADCA’s webinars,” said Marcucci. “I have taken so many ideas from the webinars and active community comments. It is so helpful to see what other coalitions across the country have been doing to combat this pandemic. I think trying to do this job alone with no help would be impossible. The CADCA Community is an incredible resource, definitely make use of this. Also, remember that this is new and uncharted territory for everyone and we are all on a learning curve. Stay positive, we will get through this!”

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