July 27, 2023

Coalitions in Action – Sparking Conversations

SAMHSA’s “Talk. They Hear You.” campaign aims to raise awareness about the importance of speaking to young people about the risks of substance use. Many resources are available to help adults initiate and navigate these honest conversations – and one coalition, Power of Putnam, has even leveraged the campaign’s materials to create a unique spin on how they facilitate these conversations within their own community.

“One of the coolest things we’ve created from this campaign are our ‘conversation jars’,” explained Morgan Tate, Power of Putnam’s Youth Coordinator. At coalition events, multi-colored jars contain a variety of questions that fall into four categories: blue is conversation starters, pink is kids ask parents, yellow pertains to feelings and dreams, green is parents ask kids.

“Setting it up this way makes it feel more like a game. We bring a wheel to our events that the youth can spin to land on a color and start the conversation. If there happens to be a youth that comes without a caregiver, I’ll step in as the ‘big sister’ role so that no one feels left out, and also because it is ultimately our goal is to ensure that each youth has a trusted adult in their life that they can have this open dialogue with.”

“The conversation jars have been really great in helping parents, grandparents and non-traditional caregivers have difficult conversations with their youth. Some of the questions include, ‘what are some ways that you can refuse drugs and alcohol?’ and ‘if you were to use substances, how would that impact your goals for the future?’ By sprinkling these important questions into the format of a game, it makes these tough conversations a little easier.”

After participating in this activity, families can take pictures in front of a photo backdrop provided by the coalition and take back a polaroid labeled with the hashtag, #WeTalked, to hang up in their car or home as a reminder to keep the conversation going. Each participant also leaves with packets of “Talk. They Hear You.” materials and a QR code that leads to the campaign’s app.

Power of Putnam also employs the conversation jars at the end of their four-week long vaping intervention class, which they host in partnership with Putnam County Health Department and Putnam County Schools. Upon completing the activity, students graduating from the class are also encouraged to sign a contract agreeing to go to their trusted adult should they ever find themselves in a bad situation in the future.

Currently, Power of Putnam is in the process of collaborating with a media partner to create a set of conversation starter playing cards, to make this game even more compact and easier to distribute. In the meantime, they continue to use their conversation jars at events and highlight the campaign on their social media channels to widen the reach to their community members.

“If I could give advice to another youth coordinator, I would say to be present in schools and to celebrate and utilize the various prevention campaigns that are out there, like National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week, Red Ribbon Week, National Prevention Week, etc. There are a lot of resources available and opportunities that you can take advantage of to reach the youth, and SAMHSA’s ‘Talk. They Hear You.’ campaign is one of them,” said Morgan. “Don’t feel the need to reinvent the wheel, but instead use the materials in the way that you think will best engage your community.”

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