Coalitions in Action— Drug Free Cecil Youth Coalition Puts the Power of Prevention in the Hands of Youth

 

Cecil County is in the northeast corner of Maryland, bounded on the north and east by Pennsylvania and Delaware. It is primarily rural (about 70%) farmland, with denser development around the county seat of Elkton. There has been a 42% increase in population over the past 20 years (approximately 103,000 in 2017). The county is bisected by Interstate 95, a major artery for traffic that is often used for drug trafficking, increasing access to drugs within the county. As a result of the drug challenges, the Cecil County Drug Free Communities Coalition (CCDFCC) was formed. After four years in existence, the youth sector leaders attended last year’s CADCA Mid-Year Training Institute in Orlando, Florida and came back determined to form a youth coalition with representative leadership from all six of the county’s high schools. As a result, Drug Free Cecil Youth Coalition (DFCYC) was born.

The DFCYC is sponsored by Youth Empowerment Source (YES), a non-profit agency dedicated to providing critical support to children, youth and families. DFCYC is the youth-serving sector of the CCDFCC. This partnership and collaborative efforts have provided the DFCYC vital support to fund its capacity building plans and activities. The youth coalition currently has 12 youth leaders that meet after school to plan both community and school-based activities. Each of the six high schools has a “prevention club” that is led by a DFCYC student leader. The Cecil County School of Tech (CCST) has already implemented the plan with more than 60 students attending the first prevention club meeting last month.

“The DFCYC has so much to be proud of,” said CCDFCC Coordinator Virgil Boysaw, “including producing PSAs and billboards; presenting to both the town and county councils; having a seat at the Opioid Intervention Team (OIT) and Tobacco Task Force (TTF) tables; and training 5th and 6th graders on the Over-the-Counter Medicine Safety Project. But the event that we are most proud of is the DFCYC Prevention Rally. Held on Saturday, May 11th at the Milburn Stone Theater at Cecil College, the youth leaders and youth members from all six high schools premiered their new PSA’s and shared how prevention is working in Cecil County. Over 200 people attended, including state representatives and county government officials. SAMHSA’s production team Vanguard Communications, Inc. filmed the event. One of our student leaders, Kelsey Meis, a junior at Bohemia Manor High School was selected to present on SAMHSA’s webinar on June 25th.” 

“DFCYC is the by-product of the Cecil County Youth Leadership Summit that is held at North Bay Adventure, a 97-acre retreat facility within Elk Neck Park in Cecil County,” said Boysaw. “Each year during the first week in November, between 60-70 students are selected from all six high schools to attend an intensive three-day, two-night retreat that is focused on environmental education, leadership and character development. The students are tasked to create PSAs and billboards to be broadcast by Comcast Spotlight across the county and to help change social norms both in their schools and communities.”  

“A core group of nine students were then selected to attend both CADCA Forum and CADCA Mid-Year to learn additional capacity building skills,” said Boysaw. “After their CADCA experience, the group decided to form the DFCYC. The group began meeting once a month and even managed to attract sponsorship by way of the Youth Empowerment Source (YES) organization. After only four months in existence, DFCYC has created a prevention club in one of the six high schools, with an average of 40 students attending each of the meetings. This club will be the model for additional clubs created after the next summit. Each school has also created their PSAs and billboards that are now being televised and displayed across Cecil County with a total of 1,071,019 campaign impressions. Finally, more than 200 people attended the 1st Annual Drug Free Cecil Youth Prevention Rally. The major strategies for DFCYC’s success are simple: increase collaborations and engage youth.”

“I would advise other coalitions struggling with the same issues not to be afraid of growth,” said Boysaw. “Collaboration is the key to growing and expanding your coalition. However, collaboration must be real. Our Cecil County Drug Free Communities Coalition will be bringing a total of five adults and nine youth leaders of the DFCYC to the 2019 CADCA Mid-Year Training Institute, in order to gain expertise in coalition development, sustainability and leadership.”