April 25, 2019

Coalitions in Action— Roanoke Prevention Alliance is on the Path to Resilience


Tell me about your community and the communities that your coalition serves – its population and unique features. When was the coalition formed?

The Roanoke Prevention Alliance (RPA) serves the city of Roanoke, in Roanoke, Virginia. Roanoke is the seventh largest city in Virginia with an estimated 99,837 residents in 2017. Roanoke is a mountain city and hub for innovation, offering award-winning outdoor amenities, endless trails, friendly neighborhoods with character, public art, the famous Roanoke Star, museums, one-of-a-kind shops, restaurants, and historical attractions. RPA focuses on the Southeast (SE) neighborhood of Roanoke City. The southeast section is unique as there are three neighborhoods contained in the area, and it includes some of the oldest communities in Roanoke. The RPA began in 1997 to develop youth substance misuse prevention plans to identify gaps in services for the city of Roanoke. The RPA became a 501(c)3 in 2015 and is currently in year three of five of a Drug-Free Communities Grant. The RPA focuses their efforts on the substances of alcohol and marijuana, as these are the main drugs used by youth in the city of Roanoke. The RPA, as of May 2017, is the backbone organization for the Resiliency Collective (RC). The RC is committed to reducing the exposure to and impact of trauma by increasing resiliency of youth and families in the city of Roanoke. This group consists of more than 20 youth and family serving organizations in Roanoke, who all believe that instilling resiliency will decrease substance use and build a stronger community.


What unique issues is your coalition facing?

“Our city is booming with craft beer breweries, which makes youth alcohol prevention a bit daunting at times,” said RPA Director Melanie Morris. “I am sure many coalitions are faced with the normalcy of marijuana and how to convince folks that it’s not good for the developing brain. We are not an exception. With states legalizing marijuana, the perception of harm is decreasing, therefore the usage is increasing. The RPA, therefore, continues to share alcohol and marijuana prevention messaging that encourages parents to talk to their kids. Our media subcommittee, along with our marketing firm mpiTOO, designed the creatives for all of our prevention campaigns: alcohol, marijuana, and our soon to be released resiliency campaign.”


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

“The Resiliency Collective (RC) is the current initiative that the coalition is most proud of,” said Morris. “The coalition’s professional education committee has been developing a resiliency awareness toolkit for professionals. This toolkit includes information that will enable agencies to train their staff regarding resiliency awareness, and move to make policy changes in their organization, as well. The toolkit also offers resiliency building activities and evaluations for the staff to use with the clients and families they serve on a daily basis. The Path to Resilience program has already been presented to two groups, and was very well received. The first step to being successful with a prevention initiative is to have the community stand behind you and support your message. The RPA and the RC are lucky to have such support as we roll this program out city-wide in the coming months. To ensure the community as a whole becomes more resilient, the RC is launching a campaign this summer to educate the community about resilience. This is just the first step in building a more resilient, healthy community where substance use will no longer be our biggest issue.”


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

“The Resiliency Collective is running by the collective impact model,” said Morris. “By having the group as a whole make the decisions of how to approach topics, how to educate, how to bring about awareness, it keeps the members engaged and they are proud of the work being done. As a result, 50% of our partners in the collective will have received training to be trainers of The Path to Resilience program by this summer, and by fall, 25% of those partners will have trained their staff members. These are our short-term goals. We also have long-term goals planned such as creating policy change, continuing to decrease substance use in the youth population, and addressing poverty and homelessness, but those will take time.”


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

“I would advise other coalitions that want to try an innovative approach to prevention to just do it,” said Morris. “Do not be afraid. Be passionate and help your stakeholders to become just as passionate as you are. Prevention of substance use is difficult but desperately needed. If something wasn’t working before, then try a new approach. You will never know if you don’t try.”


Will you be attending the 2019 Mid-Year Training Institute and, if so, what lessons do you hope to take back to your coalition from the event?

“Yes, two RPA members and I will be in Dallas in July for Mid-Year,” said Morris. “We really hope to bring back some exciting new approaches in building capacity, engaging our members, approaching diverse populations, and strategies that other coalitions have implemented that worked for them.”


Feel free to add anything else that you think is important for other coalitions to know about your progress, journey etc.

“Members of RPA attend local events to highlight the work we do and to continue to spread the message of substance misuse prevention in the youth population,” said Morris. “These events include the monthly Southeast Action Neighborhood Forum, the SE Trunk or Treat, New Year’s at Noon, and Virginia Family Expo, sponsored by Growing Up In The Valley magazine. Our youth leaders have also demonstrated their knowledge of prevention by developing a professionally printed newsletter that was mailed to all of the SE community. They love volunteering for these events and they work hard on developing their leadership skills.”

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