Coalitions in Action—Hale YMCA Prevention Coalition Sustains Coalition Work Through Funding Lapses

“The Partnership to Reduce the Influence of Drugs for Everyone (PRIDE) was established in 2006, as a result of a community response to youth issues involving juvenile delinquency and a higher than normal drop-out rate,” said the coalition’s Prevention Program Director Romeo Blackmar. “In 2006 the Putnam Community Planning and Prevention Council (PPPC) changed the name to Putnam PRIDE and applied for their first five-year Drug Free Communities (DFC) Grant.”

“In April 2018, the sector representative from the Hale YMCA Youth and Family Center informed the executive director that PRIDE would no longer be receiving funding from the federal government as of October 1, 2018, and suggested the YMCA adopt the prevention mission as part of the YMCA program in Putnam,” said Blackmar. “Negotiations began with the Greater Hartford YMCA, the town of Putnam and PRIDE to integrate and expand the reach of the coalition to the several towns that the YMCA served. This expansion of prevention would now serve over 50,000 community members, including 16 schools in the region.”

“The coalition was just starting to make progress on initiatives that had been established by a working/planning committee when the pandemic diverted our focus,” said Blackmar. “Many of the health/medical sector representatives were now focused on a response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the committee was unable to meet in person. The YMCA was closed for several weeks until the building had been cleaned and sanitized. Even after this was accomplished, several more restrictions were put in place that curtailed the use of the facility for several months. Furloughs and layoffs contributed to an almost total shut down of the coalition. Some of the planned initiatives were put on hold, including the April Drug Take Back Day.”

“In October, we conducted the semi-annual Drug Take Back Day with the Putnam Police Department, following all COVID-19 protocols established by the state of Connecticut,” said Blackmar. “Our efforts resulted in 125 lbs. of unused, expired or unwanted medications collected. One of the other programs the coalition participated in was the annual Woodstock Academy Leadership Conference, where a virtual program was established to address middle and high school classes.” 

“Working with our Regional Action Committee, coalition members attended several virtual trainings, educational programs and webinars,” said Blackmar. “The coalition also worked with partners that did a presentation on vaping. This was a central focus for some of the area schools prior to going into hybrid learning. Vaping has become the number one concern of the health care professionals and we’re looking to provide more training and informational sessions for parents and guardians concerning the use of vaping products.“

“Our very first effort to connect with the community was sponsoring an Opioid Discussion Panel that involved area high school students,” said Blackmar. “It was only one month after the coalition was adopted by the YMCA. The program included two recovery speakers, a mother who lost her daughter to a drug overdose and the YMCA youth program director, who was also a sector representative on the coalition. This was an educational program that included information on substance use disorders and how the YMCA was working with other local health and prevention groups to help stop the cycle of substance misuse and opioid use disorders before they start.”

“Sustainability should be of concern to every coalition,” said Blackmar. “It should become a priority before DFC funding runs out. We were fortunate that our dedicated core members continued to meet for two years without DFC funding and used the time without a DFC grant to continue several initiatives and campaigns that took very little to no funding.” 

“It is imperative that coalitions look for alternatives to federal funding after the DFC grant concludes,” said Blackmar. “In our situation, most coalitions would have given up applying after not receiving funding for two years. Our coalition was able to remain intact without a DFC Grant with the assistance of our partnership with another organization that helped carry us through the two-year period without a paid coordinator position. We continued to meet and carry out the initiatives that were started in previous years. We applied for and received a STOP ACT grant in 2012 and then in 2015 we applied for and were awarded a Mentoring Grant. From 2015-2016, we were the only DFC coalition in the state of Connecticut to have all three DFC prevention grants in place.”