June 30, 2022

Coalitions in Action – Warren Coalition – “Rock & Stroll” Community Event

“Rock & Stroll is a piece of a larger initiative called ‘We See You, Warren County.’ It’s about bringing the community together and creating connections and a feeling of safety,” says Christa Shifflet, Executive Director of Warren Coalition in Front Royal, Virginia. This May, during SAMHSA’s National Prevention Week, Warren Coalition held their second annual Rock & Stroll event at a local high school to promote healthy living to K-12 students and families.

“We started Rock & Stroll in May of 2021 because we wanted to bring the community together and educate everyone in an interactive way. When we were brainstorming the activities we would hold at each station, we knew that we wanted to focus on messaging about resiliency, because with ACEs, it’s important to teach ways to heal and recover from trauma to prevent them from turning to substance use in the future.”

Activities ranged from bubble blowing to obstacle courses to balloon popping and more, each with a learning lesson tied in, that would lead to a constructive conversation. “At the bubble blowing station, we would tell the kids, ‘We want you to think of the bubbles as your dreams, and we want you to chase them and catch as many of them as you can and try to count how many you caught.’ When they came back, we’d talk about how, while you might not catch all of your dreams right away, it’s still important to always keep trying to reach for more.”

“We also set up obstacle courses and spoke about how life presents obstacles to all of us. We explained that there can be different ways to get around them; sometimes we go over them, sometimes we go under them and sometimes we run around them, but we all try to overcome things in our own way. Also, we added that sometimes it’s good to ask for advice if you can’t figure something out on your own.”

“We also had a healthy snack station, where you could choose to put mixes in and make healthy foods. As people left, we asked them to complete an evaluation of the event and, in exchange, the family would get a free, healthy meal to go.”

“Some of the things we heard back after our first event was that participants wanted more organized games for the kids and to have music playing in the background, so, this year, we incorporated a dodgeball tournament and dance breaks throughout the event. We also upgraded our obstacle course from a homemade one to a giant inflatable one with double race lanes. It was a big hit not only with our younger kids, but with the high schoolers too.”

“Additionally, last year we handed out bagged lunches, but this year we were able to provide a hot meal. One of the local groups in town offered to grill for us, so participants had the option of either a hamburger or a black bean burger. That went really well and was really appreciated by the families, especially since food costs are so high.”

“After each event we hold, we always have a sit-down to discuss what went well and what we could improve. That was where we first pitched the idea of taking this Rock & Stroll event on the road and hosting it at every school in the area. Everyone was completely on board, so I started calling around, and every school I’ve spoken to has signed on for us to conduct a Rock & Stroll event for them in the upcoming schoolyear. That means we will be able to share our resilience message with 5,000 kids instead of the few hundred that attended our initial events, so we’re really looking forward to that expansion.”

“My advice to anyone looking to hold an event in their communities is to always check first that the coalition is willing to support it. We had 45 volunteers at our last event, and we needed each and every one of them. I also think people become more involved when it’s their idea being put into practice, so we really encourage everyone to share their ideas and work together when planning for the events.”

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