Located in Kankakee County, Illinois, the Pledge for Life Partnership coalition is the 2017 Dose of Prevention winner. CADCA urges coalitions to help raise awareness about the dangers of prescription and over-the-counter medicine abuse by taking part in National Medicine Abuse Awareness Month, held in October annually. The campaign serves an ideal launching pad for medicine abuse prevention efforts.
A cornerstone of the NMAAM campaign is the Dose of Prevention Challenge, an initiative designed to challenge coalitions to get medicine abuse on the radar screens of parents and others by holding an educational event or activity in their communities. In 2017, the Pledge for Life Partnership looked for who/what was being overlooked and turn them into prevention champions.
The coalition implemented creative campaigns and initiatives to engage with all sectors of the community. Pledge for Life Partnership serves 35 public schools, including kindergarten through 12th grades, seven non-public schools and one alternative school. In a billboard design competition, 187 5th grade students participated, promoting three key messages: only taking the prescribed amount of medicine, do not share medicines, and only take medicines from parents or trusted adults. The county clerk partnered with the coalition for this initiative and engineered a real-life election using voting machines to select the winning billboard.
The state attorney was the champion for an art competition where youth showed their prevention strategies via art pieces. The Youth Advisory Council came together and created campaigns, including a presence at local farmers markets and school events. The coalition held a Rolling Out the Red Carpet event, including lights and a real carpet! Prevention all-stars included the state attorney and county clerks; 86 individuals from the community participated. During Red Ribbon Week, people were encouraged to wear red and post photos. The coalition also created newsletters for parents and teachers that went out to 31 schools.
In October 2017, 2,457 students visited the Life Education Center (LEC). Started in 1989 by the Junior League of Women, the LEC served as the vehicle to get prevention programs into the county. With the “stop them before they start” approach, the LEC serves kindergarten to high school students, who are encouraged to teach what they learned to their parents at home. The LEC supports parents with “Kan-I-help.org,” putting parent involvement as a priority and hosting parent nights to answer questions and share best practices. LEC makes it fun for youth of all ages to learn about substance abuse prevention at any age – thanks to help from their mascot, Harold the Giraffe! High school students remember Harold as a fond memory of their youth and students recently took to Twitter to share memories of Harold and LEC with the hashtag “rememberwhen.”
Brenda Wetzel, Director of Life Education Programs, stated: “Work together, collaboration is key. We can’t do it alone, we have to do it together.”
Kankakee County serves 113,000 individuals, populated in 677 square miles. “It’s a mosaic of cultures, rural and urban, with unique flavors from the metropolitan area to corn fields,” said Kate Reed, Drug Free Communities Project Coordinator, Pledge for Life Partnership.
Pledge for Life Partnership touts the importance of partnership through diverse connections, collaboration with sectors, such as law enforcement, schools, and parents and hosting forums with community leaders, such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
When asked what advice she would share with fellow coalition members, Reed said: “The importance of celebration – our prevention advocates, they are in the trenches. In Kankakee county, we had 56 overdoses. The people that are our partners, they feel it. Anything we can do to celebrate what others are doing to make a difference and encourage others to follow their examples.”