Coalitions in Action—Camden County Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, Inc. Prioritizes Virtual Partnerships During COVID-19

“Camden County Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, Inc. was established in 1991 and our coalition was formed in 2000,” said the coalition’s Program Director Robert Chew. “Over the years, with and without funding, we have morphed to a more comprehensive coalition adding the priorities of underage drinking, illicit drugs and now prescription drugs. Our coalition serves Camden, New Jersey, with a population of nearly 79,000 people. The unique thing about Camden is the diverse populations that work and reside in the city. There is a thriving waterfront that recently received close to $1 billion in tax incentives for new companies to move their operations to Camden. In light of that, our coalition works closely with numerous partners to bring help and hope to youth and their families in the form of collaborations, drug prevention resources and programming, policy change and more. In doing so, we hope to have a lasting impact for a healthier and safer community for years to come.”

“Just like everyone else around the country, COVID-19 has changed our way of being able to do things in person like our coalition has for the past 29 years,” said Chew. “In light of that, with the support of our staff and coalition, we have reinvented our efforts and outreach to the community we serve. In-person meetings and events are now done via Zoom and are productive with a high rate of attendance. In addition, the creativity of our staff and coalition members has fostered many new ideas and opportunities to successfully complete our goals and objectives in a timely manner. One area worth mentioning is our website, digital newsletters and social media. As our primary method of communication, we recognized the importance of maintaining our online presence and staying in the forefront of prevention, education and resources.”

“Our coalition is most proud of our annual drug prevention conference,” said Chew. “Although our topics and presentations change from year to year depending on trends and community needs, our attendees look to this event for up to date information, trends, connections and resources they can bring back to their respective schools, workplaces and communities. Having a successful track record of hosting this event for 29 years, this was the first time our agency had to do our annual summit/conference remotely. It went very well, with over 111 coalition members and friends being able to attend the event. We also were able to allow them to view the trainings and other webinars at different times following the event.”  

“Over the past year, our coalition has promoted community change through several billboards on prevention topics that were created by students within the community,” said Chew. “We created weekly messages on social media where we let the public, parents and youth know where they could go to get more information regarding these topics and provided brochures at community events. We also enhanced our coalition members' skills by providing free workshops and trainings, provided signage in local parks in Camden and throughout Camden County, partnered with the Camden County Metro Police to provide trainings, and increased our partnership with Rutgers University by providing over 600 Deterra bags for dissemination through the health and wellness center and establishing a prescription drop box on campus.”

“My advice to other coalitions is to get more involved in your community,” said Chew. “Go to other coalition’s meetings, mentor students and invite others to your meetings. Provide free trainings, create social media announcements and create billboards so the community can see what you are doing and that you are willing to be part of the solution. Building healthy and lasting relationships is the key to a healthy and productive coalition. This step may take time, but start where you already have established roots and when organizations and community members see that you are authentic and truly listen to their concerns, needs and plans, they see you as a valued partner and are willing to join forces, contribute and collaborate to create change together.”