July 25, 2019

Coalitions in Action— The Coalition Puts Trust and Ownership in Youth

The Coalition, Inc. is a group of concerned citizens and parents working together to eliminate substance misuse in East Texas and is one of the oldest community coalitions in Texas. It was formed in 1988 by local school superintendents and the district attorney in Angelina County. “We serve a diverse but very rural community that faces unique challenges regarding substance misuse,” said The Coalition’s Executive Director Sharon Kruk. “We recently have expanded our service area to include two additional rural counties (San Augustine and Polk County). Our service area also includes the Alabama-Coushatta Indian Reservation, which requires different cultural competency than our other communities.”

“The Coalition serves a large, rural area of land where underage drinking parties occur outside of the city limits,” said Kruk. “This special circumstance makes social hosting ordinances that are focused on city limits not as appealing to law enforcement and other agencies. We also partner with a community college that is commuter-based with students within a large age range. This can be difficult as we focus on finding relevant information that fits that large range.”

“We are most proud of our youth-focused programs,” said Kruk. “The Coalition’s Drug-Free All Star program for high school seniors has been in existence since 1993 and has trained over 1,400 youth in Angelina County who are passionate about sharing their drug-free message. The All Stars are the face of The Coalition and volunteer for community events and other activities in order to share the importance of a drug-free life with as many people as possible. They frequently visit their younger peers to encourage them to maintain a drug-free lifestyle and talk with local and state representatives about policy changes that will improve their community.”  

“Our newest youth program has had phenomenal growth over the past four years,” said Kruk. “The Coalition’s Say What! (Students Adults and Youth Working Hard Against Tobacco) program is a student-led group that meets at area schools in order to promote a tobacco-free life for youth. For Kick Butts Day, area students collaborated to organize our first ever ‘Color Obstacle Challenge.’ Participants worked through the obstacle course, learning important tobacco prevention information and getting doused with color powder along the way. Two of our Say What! students were recently recognized for their advocacy and prevention efforts. Kellen Kruk was recognized as a Regional Youth Advocate of the Year by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids for his tireless work in promoting the Texas Tobacco 21 law, which will take effect September 1, 2019. Not only is he the founder of his school’s tobacco prevention club, Timberwolves Against Tobacco, but Kellen is also a Texas Teen Ambassador for Say What! In addition, Alex Sanchez was named as a Truth Initiative Ambassador in recognition of his passion for a tobacco-free community. Alex served as a member of Texans Standing Tall’s Youth Leadership Council and taught prevention lessons in his hometown, as well as serving on the Texas Tobacco 21 youth coalition.”

“We didn’t get here overnight,” said Kruk. “The Coalition has worked hard in our community for over 30 years, cultivating relationships, building trust and helping to coordinate resources. Prevention work is incremental and often moves at a snail’s pace, but each step along the way is important and valuable.”

“Our best advice is to put a lot of trust and ownership in the youth,” said Kruk. “They are more than capable and we have found that other youth will listen to their peers more than adult presenters. Cultivating relationships at different schools will open up opportunities to discover passionate youth while also gaining trust with school officials for repeat visits to campus. Youth voices are important and having youth involved when talking to local businesses and representatives is instrumental when discussing changes that would affect them.”

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