Coalitions in Action— Healthy Choices Caring Communities Focus on Youth-led Prevention
“Healthy Choices Caring Communities (HC3) was formed in 2007 by a group of professionals who were concerned with health assessment data demonstrating a high binge drinking rate for our young people,” said Program Director Beth Thomas. “We were awarded DFC funding in 2009 and are currently finishing our final year of funding.”
“Our coalition serves Fulton County, population 42,000, a mostly rural community which borders an urban community to our east and the state of Michigan to our north,” said Thomas. “We serve seven unique communities and six school districts. Each school district, reflective of its community, has unique and culturally different atmospheres. In every community, the school is viewed as the ‘hub’ of the community and the center of many social and community activities. Extracurricular school activities, especially high school sports, are attended by most county residents.”
“Our community is facing many of the same issues other communities address: an increase in youth use of vape products, decreased perception of harm of marijuana use by youth and adults, increased access to marijuana through legalization, and increasing atmosphere of youth being stressed out, displaying anxiety and depression due to intense pressure to ‘perform,’” said Thomas.
“We would like to highlight our youth led prevention initiative known as YAC: Youth Advisory Council. YAC was developed in 2010 as a ‘stand alone’ youth coalition with connections to our adult coalition through our adult ally advisors,” said Thomas. “We began with 12 young women and currently have 50 high school youth who meet twice monthly to engage in the strategic planning process to determine a problem of focus, identify root causes and local conditions, and choose evidence-based strategies to address those conditions, all while having lots of fun and serving the community! Our young people participate in Ohio’s We are the Majority Rally, Legislative Day, Youth 2 Youth Conference, Ohio’s Youth Summit, an overnight retreat, and host a Stomping Grounds Event for middle school youth at our county fair. This year, YAC members chose to focus on the issue of youth vaping. They developed and presented to area school boards to provide data about the issue and encouraged them to implement a comprehensive response to the vaping issue. To correct the misperception that ‘everyone vapes’ in our community, they created a social norms campaign featuring youth relevant memes to be run as ads in our local theatre.”
“Youth led prevention is an evidence-based strategy falling under community-based processes,” said Thomas. “Our youth are empowered to become community change agents. Our youth led initiative is grounded in both the Strategic Prevention Framework and the Youth Empowerment Conceptual Framework.”
“Engaging your community to address the issues as they see them is critical to this work,” said Thomas. “As coalition staff, there may be pressure or you may feel pressure to ‘do the work,’ but engaging the coalition members, as well as the community, is essential not only to address the issues at hand but for long term sustainability for the work of the coalition. Share the outstanding training you have received as part of the DFC program to engage and empower your coalition, both youth and adults, so they can make the changes they wish to see in the world.”
“Our coalition has always attended CADCA’s Mid-Year Training Institute,” said Thomas. “It is crucial that coalitions, both staff and members, have the opportunity to learn about the most recent and innovative strategies to address issues within the community. The opportunity to connect and network with coalitions across the nation and the world serves to rejuvenate your brain and your soul for the work that we do.”