September 15, 2016

Coalitions in Action: The Kent County “A-Team” Bands Together for Underage Drinking Prevention


It’s unusual that a coalition uses a hit 20th century TV program to reflect the spirit of its work, but the Kent County Prevention Coalition (KCPC) is certainly the exception.

“We liken ourselves to a modern day A-Team,” explains Denise Herbert, Prevention Coordinator, describing their connection to the 1970’s and 1980’s TV show. “The KCPC is a coalition of people and organizations who have shifted from being ‘lone ranger’ problem-solvers to a collaborative team.”

Since its inception in 2006, one of KCPC’s problem-solving goals has been to prevent and reduce underage drinking in its service area – Kent County, Michigan. With its population of nearly 640,000, it is the fourth largest county in the state. The area is a unique mixture of urban, suburban, and rural communities. Grand Rapids is the largest city, and has the unique distinction of being one the fastest-growing, poor cities among the nation’s 95 largest metropolitan areas.

The Coalition was extremely concerned about the early onset and continued use of alcohol among its youth, with statistics indicating that 17 percent of students in the 7th, 9th and 11th grades had used alcohol over a 30-day period. Additional data also showed that:

  • 10 percent of high schools students surveyed had ridden in a vehicle driven by someone who had been drinking
  • 1 out of every 6 Kent County teens have tried alcohol over a 30-day period
  • The average age for first use among African American and Hispanic teens was 13 and age 14 for Caucasian youth

“Curiously, another big factor was that Grand Rapids – also known as Beer City USA – was thought to be a ‘family’ city, and people believed that underage drinking didn’t happen here,” continues Herbert. “So we knew we had to change public perception.”

To affect that change, KCPC’s village-like framework of 25+ member organizations banded together to alter community conditions, norms, systems, and policies in a variety of innovative ways. Chief among them has been the mobilization of thousands of community youth via the creation of the Above-the-Influence-Kent County movement. This initiative celebrates the choice Kent County youth make daily to live above the negative influences around them. KCPC’s work includes:

  • A 30-minute documentary, Above-the-Influence-Kent County, stylistically geared for teenagers, emphasizing and celebrating youth making positive choices;
  • Public service announcements (PSAs) on teenagers making positive choices;
  • Collaboration with Celebration Cinema, which owns 98 percent of the movie theaters in their region and county, to:
    • Show the documentary at a special event
    • Show the PSAs during primetime previews during films rated G or R in all its theaters
    • Host other KCPC Above-the-Influence activities
  • Use of social media to disseminate KCPC’s messaging
  • Health promotion initiatives like Project Sticker Shock, Red Ribbon Week, ATI Artprize exhibits, and social-norming projects with Rivertown Mall
  • Annual KCPC Youth Summit, with increased participation each year
  • Annual billboard & MEME campaigns 
  • Strategic use of art, music, technology, and pop culture to engage and transform the topic of health for Generations Y and Z youth

“Taking prevention to culture, the KCPC empowers youth to use their life experiences and voice to influence peers, public policy, and advance the health and wellness of community youth,” says Herbert.  

As a result of its work, KCPC reports major strides in a variety of areas, such as:

  • An increase in attendance at the annual Youth Summit attendance from 670 in 2012 to 1560 in 2016
  • Decrease in number of youth consuming alcohol at another person’s home over a 30-day period from 100 percent to 61 percent
  • Decrease in ease of access (retail availability/social availability) from 69.5 percent to 57.3 percent
  • Increase from 87.5 percent to 96 percent of youth reporting that their parents felt regular alcohol use among teens was wrong
  • Increase in the average alcohol onset of youth from age 13.3 to 13.7.
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