April 2, 2015

Coalitions in Action: New Coalition Prevents Crime with Youth Prevention Strategies

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. This old adage worked for the Troy Drug Free Community Coalition in Troy, New York. The “Collar City,” near the state’s Capitol, had experienced a surge of criminal and gang activity, and the last straw was a local problem with synthetic marijuana. A neighborhood action committee was formed. They sought Drug-Free Communities Support Program funding. Twice rejected, the coalition submitted their application again and are now successfully implementing their initiatives as a Year One DFC grantee.

For Davia Collington, ‎a Community Prevention Specialist at Rensselaer County Department of Mental Health, and coalition coordinator, the work has become a family affair. Her husband is a community police officer involved with the coalition’s work, and their daughter manages its social media.

But the rejection was a positive for the coalition, Collington explained.

“We started looking at other things that prevented our community from being healthy and in the process, this helped build our coalition and make it even stronger,” she said.

Among the coalition’s first steps was to gain the community’s trust and engage more members of the community in their efforts. To do that, the coalition began knocking on doors to recruit new coalition members and educate youth and adults about its drug prevention initiatives.

Collington said this door-to-door community building approach has helped the coalition grow and have a better understanding of the issues and concerns of local citizens.

“I am so blessed to have such determined, dedicated people who really care about the community,” she said.

The coalition also takes part in a unique crime and gang prevention initiative run by the United States Attorney, Richard S. Hartunian’s office, that brings federal, state and local law enforcement agents to 5th grade classrooms in Troy school district.

“The LEADership – Legal Education and Decision-making – Project teaches students legal education and decision-making skills to help them to avoid gangs, drugs and violence and lead productive, law abiding lives,” Hartunian said in a news release. 

When this program was conducted in nearby Albany, 84 percent of the fifth grade students said it was very important to them to have help to stay away from gangs because gang involvement was “knocking at their door” at that age.

Another crime prevention strategy for the coalition is to utilize its own fiscal agent, TRIP, as a resource. TRIP, or the Troy Rehabilitation and Improvement Program, assists low- and moderate-income families in Troy to find affordable housing. This gives the coalition an additional sector in which to provide education and advocacy on issues important to these residents.

The coalition is also working to educate local residents about the dangers of youth marijuana use. For example, later this month they are hosting a ‘conversation’ about recreational marijuana at a forum that includes a young person in recovery and an assemblyman who is also a pharmacist. Both serve as coalition members. Collington said the goal is to hear parents’ concerns about youth marijuana use and to have a frank discussion about marijuana-related issues in the community.

To address the area’s prescription drug abuse problem, the coalition is planning a prescription drug take back event to coincide with Troy’s Earth Day celebration this month.

Using her professional background in youth development, Collington is assembling the youth coalition and positive youth alternative internships for middle and high school students this summer. Many of these students are also participating in the coalition’s pre-prom and graduation underage drinking prevention initiatives and have deployed Sticker Shock and liquor store compliance checks, recognizing merchants who do not sell alcohol to minors.

Regardless of the issue, the coalition is ready to tackle their community’s problems head on, thanks to the growing network of committed individuals who have joined their coalition.

“We are here to do the work that the community needs us to do,” Collington concluded.

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