Coalitions in Action: The Benefits of Mentorship in Affecting Change

How can emerging coalitions seek guidance on how to make an impact? Become a Drug Free Communities Mentee Coalition of the Alliance of Coalitions for Healthy Communities, like the Genesee County Prevention Coalition (GCPC). As a mentee coalition, GCPC had access to resources and training, including CADCA’s National Coalition Academy. This opportunity came at a critical time in the coalition’s planning process utilizing the Strategic Prevention Framework.

“Having spent a significant amount of time collecting data with the guidance of our evaluator, the GCPC convened a Community Epidemiological Workgroup (CEW) to review the data and determine which local conditions influenced our priority problems of underage drinking, youth marijuana use and prescription drug misuse,” said Lisa Fockler, Program Director at Genesee County Prevention Coalition. “This process provided us with the direction needed to prioritize our resources and efforts to more effectively address these issues in Genesee County.”

Genesee County, located in lower southeast Michigan, is the fifth most populous county in Michigan and comprised of 33 separate units of local government (villages, cities, and townships) and 21 School Districts. The City of Flint is the county seat and urban center of the county, surrounded by smaller suburban and rural communities. 

Genesee County’s current population of 425,790 includes a racial composition of 74.5 percent white, 20.7 percent African-American, and 3.0 percent Hispanic/Latino individuals. From 2008 to 2013, the county’s population has decreased by over 20,000 residents. While nearly 200,000 people once lived within the city of Flint during its peak in the 1960s and 1970s, the 2016 estimated population is only 97,386, a majority being African-American (56.6 percent).

Today, Genesee County remains a “community in recovery” due to historical economic shifts in the auto industry which continue to contribute to the current unemployment rate of 9.7 percent and growing generational poverty.  The impact of the Flint Water Crisis still remains a significant public health problem with many families still not having access to safe drinking water in their homes.

Despite these challenges, Genesee County remains a family-friendly community rooted in strong, mid-west, working-class values. There are many opportunities for outdoor recreation with 11,000 acres of woods, water, trails and beaches.

To kick-off the workgroup, the coalition began by coordinating with an evaluator, Dr. Darren Lubbers, to collect and analyze community-level data from various sources. Once the data was compiled, key community stakeholders were identified and invited them to participate in the CEW. The workgroup consisted of six three-hour long sessions, each spanning six weeks. Each session focused on a specific topic including substance abuse and misuse, community health disparities, and a community readiness overview.

There was an average of 20 participants each week, including representatives from law enforcement, public health, schools, parents, faith-based and youth serving organizations. In addition, outside experts were brought in to present local data from our hospital’s Community Health Needs Assessment, a behavioral health study done by Michigan State University, and data collected from a mapping project done by University of Michigan – Flint.

“The outcome from this workgroup created the basis of our strategic prevention action plan including logic models for each of our three priority problem behaviors. The timing and completion of this work put us in a good position to submit an application for the 2018 Drug Free Communities Grant,” said Fockler. “The outcome of the DFC grant application is still to be determined, but we already feel that we have accomplished so much in building our coalition’s capacity with or without the DFC grant.”

When asked what advice she would give to fellow coalitions, Fockler stated: “Utilize your local, state and national resources to help build your coalition’s capacity. If there is a DFC-funded coalition in your area, approach them about becoming a DFC Mentor/Mentee coalition. Utilize the Strategic Prevention Framework as your guide in working through the process of identifying priority problem behaviors and local conditions that can be impacted to improve and promote healthy outcomes for youth and families in your community. Most importantly, build relationships with people from all sectors of your community and celebrate your small successes along the way.”