Coalitions in Action — Be the Influence Coalition Makes the Most of “Coping During COVID”

“The Be the Influence (BTI) coalition formed in 2013,” said the coalition’s Project Director Laura Morris. “Located on the outskirts of Portland, Maine in the lakeside communities of Windham and Raymond, the coalition serves a population of 24,000, in a community that houses more marijuana dispensaries per capita than the city of Portland. With access to route 302, which runs through Windham/Raymond directly up to New Hampshire, access to substances run high and perception of harm runs low. While vaping and marijuana saw an increase of youth use before COVID-19, social distancing and isolation has created a greater spike in self-medication and behavioral health needs in general. In an effort to meet these needs, BTI has reached out with education, youth engagement and resources to local schools and community members.”

“Due to the pandemic, BTI had to cancel our annual trip to Maine’s capitol with 130 youth to speak to their legislators about vaping prevention,” said Morris. “However, that didn’t stop our momentum in keeping youth and our community educated and safe. Students adjusted their efforts virtually and submitted vaping PSAs that got sent to their county representatives, as well as being shared through social media and the BTI website.”

“Windham High School students joined a regional youth advisory council for SEED (Students Empowered to End Dependency) to create a regional PSA Contest on coping skills during the pandemic,” said Morris. “BTI hosted a COVID-19 safe Family Fun Fitness and Film Festival, including yoga on the beach, mindfulness around the firepit, team games and scavenger hunts along with a resource fair for prevention and recovery. The coalition’s Opiate Task Force adjusted their NARCAN training to hospitality vendors and community members through virtual venues offering ongoing classes. Our coalition also partnered with the Windham Police Department and the Sebago Lakes Rotary to distribute a one panel brochure on CDC suggestions for reducing stress, safe storage of prescription drugs and local/regional resources for education and help through the school backpack program and take-out food vendors.”

“Local newspapers took advantage of this time to highlight Be the Influence with articles on what we are doing to combat the increase of substance misuse and youth engagement during this difficult time,” said Morris. “Our coalition received press coverage of a campaign targeted at the elderly through senior citizen newsletters and other venues encouraged safe storage and tips on prevention with youth. An Arts in Prevention Series was implemented at a local high school and a skateboard mural was completed through our local parks and recreation department. New task force groups were created to meet in smaller Zoom groups and online training/webinars increased coalition engagement. In short, despite these difficult times, the prevention efforts of this coalition have brought a silver lining to our community.”