Coalitions in Action – Coalition for Healthy & Safe Communities Finds a Community Solution for Underage Drinking

“The Coalition for Healthy & Safe Communities serves communities throughout Sussex County,” said the coalition’s Executive Director Becky Carlson. “Sussex County is unique because it is an all-rural area, made up of 142,000 people in 24 municipalities, 26 school districts and 11 police departments. The Sussex County Coalition for Healthy & Safe Communities was founded by concerned local citizens in 1998 to support healthy youth development and protect against problem behaviors in adolescence by reducing risk factors and enhancing protective factors in children’s lives. In its 20+ years of existence, the coalition has become a well-recognized resource for schools, parents, students, community members and the media looking for information and programs about alcohol and other drugs; including signs, symptoms, effects, current local trends and prevention tools.”

“One of the main priorities the Coalition for Healthy & Safe Communities focuses on is underage drinking,” said Carlson. “Alcohol is the number one substance used among adolescents in our community, and underage drinking prevention efforts are part of our coalition’s larger substance use prevention efforts. It is important to ensure underage drinking prevention does not become lost and remains at the top of our prevention agenda.”

“One activity that remains a constant in our underage drinking prevention efforts is in April for Alcohol Awareness Month (AAM),” said Carlson. “There are many elements that contribute to the success of Alcohol Awareness Month, and one of these events is our annual town hall meeting.”  

“Every year leading up to AAM we sponsor our annual underage drinking awareness PSA contest for youth,” said Carlson. “Each year we pick a new theme the youth use to develop a PSA to submit. At the AAM town hall meeting the contest winners, whose entries range from posters to radio and videos PSAs, are honored. All the parents and families in the county are invited to attend the town hall meeting. Along with presentations from our youth in the community on underage drinking, other coalition members are invited to present, along with presentations from our county prosecutor, local law enforcement and senator.”

“The coalition’s prevention initiatives – including our Alcohol Awareness Month town hall meeting – point to a finding known as the ‘15-5-21’ rule, drawn from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services report,” said Carlson. “The rule states that youth who drink before age 15 are five to seven times more likely than those who start drinking after age 21 to develop alcohol problems such as binge drinking or alcohol dependence.”

“Often, meaningful results take time,” said Carlson. “While we started our town hall meetings in 2008, it wasn’t until 2015 when we started to see a significant decrease in underage drinking. What our statistics can’t portray is that more prevention efforts and conversations are taking place as a result of the town hall meetings.”

“Several members of our coalition attended CADCA’s National Leadership Forum this year,” said Carlson. “We brought back new strategies and interventions to our community to help prevent underage drinking. As trends are constantly changing, it is important to make sure we are up to date with the latest information to aim towards successful implementation.”

“Keeping up with the trends and resources in your community is always important,” said Carlson. “This allows us to speak clearly to the community about the issues we are seeing throughout the county. Utilizing the Strategic Prevention Framework helps us to stay on track and make sure we are executing our strategies in the best possible way. Relationships are what drive our work, making sure to connect with various sectors, supporting existing and nurturing new coalition members empowers each of them to be able to sustain healthy communities. A community problem needs a community solution and in our county the Coalition for Healthy and Safe Communities is a positive force.”