In the northeast corner of New Jersey, the Vernon Coalition is making waves in prevention through a successful, effective partnership with the local school district. The relationship has served to strengthen and enhance all programs, including those that work directly with youth.
“Relationship building is the most important thing we do every day,” said Rebecca Dorney, Vernon Coalition Coordinator. “As prevention staff, how often have we been frustrated that our message is not being heard? The feeling goes both ways – if we fail to understand that all of those sectors we are seeking partnership from needs us to ‘hear their message’ as well – then we cannot possibly be building sustainable relationships.”
With both rural and suburban characteristics, approximately 22,000 residents call Vernon home. Unfortunately, the population has seen a decline (23 percent) in the last 10 years impacting home vacancies and putting businesses at risk. Approximately 63 percent of parents commute an average of 40 minutes each way, which negatively impacts the level of youth supervision.
The greatest champion of the Vernon Coalition is the Vernon Township School District. The Vernon Coalition office is housed in the VTSD Board of Education Building, which affords them office furniture, equipment, technical services and access to all levels of school staff. The partnership has helped programs flourish, such as the Above The Influence Youth Group that serves three schools for grades five through 12. This effort has grown through the participation and efforts of youth, who are beginning to integrate “Rising Above” negative influences in all of the other programs and activities they enjoy with their peers and parents.
Through consistent use of the Strategic Prevention Framework, the coalition community has been able to build capacity and work together to identify which local issues should be focused upon. By paying close attention to the data that is continuously collected, the Vernon Coalition plans to implement appropriate strategies and remain flexible to make changes where needed. A few outcomes it has achieved to date include decreasing 30 day use and perceived availability with alcohol and marijuana, while increasing the perception of harm, perception of parents and friends’ disapproval for both substances as well.
“The best advice we ever received is that every effort made helps plant seeds – even if it didn’t go so well!” said Dorney. “Those seeds may have reached one person that will now become a committed coalition enthusiast.”