Each week, CADCA has the opportunity to spotlight Coalitions in Action. Youth2Youth 4 Change, located in Beloit, Wisconsin, is another example of excellent work that is – as their tagline connotes – “making a difference for generations to come.”
“The communities that we serve – 34,000 people in Beloit and 161,448 in Rock County – present unique challenges,” says the Coalition’s Director, Debbie Fischer. “For example, while Beloit is home to some of the largest national headquarters for many large businesses, we have one of the highest unemployment rates in the state. Additionally, Beloit is in the direct path of high drug and gang activity. In March 2010, the Office of National Drug Control Policy added Rock County to the Milwaukee High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area resulting from concerns about an increase in drug related arrests, heroin overdose deaths and violent crime.”
The community that Youth2Youth 4 Change serves is urban and rural, and Beloit is one of Wisconsin’s four most diverse communities.
“Our coalition recently celebrated 25 years of service, and among our successes, we are very proud of our work with youth,” says Fischer. “We have had over 5,000 young people act as youth advocates since 1995 when the youth program was developed, and every year over 200 teens serve in this capacity, educating 6,000 elementary through high school students about the dangers of drug misuse and abuse.”
These youth advocates utilize evidence-based, age-appropriate and interactive approaches which resonate with students. While the coalition is involved in many issues including tobacco control, alcohol and prescription drugs, one of its major concerns is youth marijuana use. The youth advocates have embraced this challenge and have implemented a training program that is making an impact.
For over a year, student advocates have been training middle and high school students about marijuana, not just about the dangers associated with its use, but about the industry of marijuana production and how it compares to the big business of tobacco.
“Through the coalition’s training efforts, students know that tobacco use can cause cancer and how the industry hid that fact from the public. They know that some of the same toxins and carcinogens found in cigarette smoke are also present in marijuana smoke,” reiterates Fischer.
As a result of their efforts, from 2014-2016, there has been an 8 percent decrease in marijuana use among Beloit’s high school students. Data also points to the fact that there has been an increase in marijuana use among middle schoolers.
“While this information is disheartening, we know that data drives our efforts, not the other way around,” says Fischer. “We will be launching our marijuana education program to our elementary school students so by the time these students reach middle school, they will be well-prepared for the decisions they may face.”
Such activities could be not achieved without community support and a strong foundation. Indeed, Youth2Youth 4 Change is proud of the fact that all sectors are represented and engaged; there are strong youth/adult partnerships; and coalition goals and activities are achievable, action-oriented and evaluated. As a result of these strategies, there has been:
- A reduction in youth substance misuse
- An increase in tobacco and alcohol compliance in Rock County and Beloit
- Passage of community smoke-free air ordinances, and the coalition is assisting with the implementation of the Wisconsin Smokefree Ordinance
- Passage of multiple e-cigarette regulations for Rock County schools and communities
- Passage of a Beloit Township social host ordinance
Fischer has advice for coalitions doing similar work, given its 25-year history. Include your youth in all aspects of your coalition – they know how to talk to their peers and younger youth, and they have a voice that can and does, get heard.