Coalitions in Action – ITAC Coalition Makes Celebrating the Class of 2020 a Community Collaboration

“Henry Ford said, ‘Coming together is a beginning; staying together is progress; and working together is success.’ This quote describes our journey and how collaboration and the support of our partners paved the path to who we are today,” said coalition Project Coordinator Bette Dehr.

“In 2009, a small group of concerned educators came together in response to a series of substance-use related deaths of former Iroquois Central School District students in the Elma, Marilla and Wales community, just outside of Buffalo, New York,” said Dehr. “The goal of early discussions was to strategize a response to these deaths and the substance use issues that contributed to them. The group found instances of increased underage drinking and marijuana use in the community, coinciding with the start of the prescription opioid epidemic. As a result of these initial meetings, a task force that became known as ITAC (It Takes a Community) was formed in May 2010. By 2011, ITAC grew into a formal substance misuse prevention coalition.”

“I do not believe our issues are unique,” said Dehr, “but capacity building and enlisting volunteers to move the coalition forward is an ongoing struggle. Encouraging members to step up and take on a steering committee role is a challenge. We have plenty of folks around the table, but when it comes to making a commitment for trainings and leadership roles, it proves to be a difficult sell for the program director and project coordinator.”

“ITAC has taken on many activities that we are proud of, but one of the initiatives we are most proud of is our youth-focused billboards,” said Dehr. “The Youth Ambassador billboard was such fun to develop and create with our kids. The Iroquois yearbook advisor worked with us to take pictures and had lots of great ideas on how best to capture the kids. The billboard went up March 14th and was not taken down until late May, due to the pandemic. ITAC was quite fortunate to receive so much exposure on this billboard in two different locations, and the kids loved seeing themselves and their peers with the youth ambassador message.”

“We also created a Celebration of the Class of 2020 Billboard,” said Dehr. “When it came time in April to design the June billboard, we were in the middle of lockdown and kids were overwhelmed with learning online and had little time (or desire) to zoom together to work on an idea. Typically, in June ITAC promotes a messaging campaign centered on making good choices because of prom and graduation season. However, our members did not feel that the theme was appropriate, considering what the Class of 2020 was experiencing at this time. So, the decision was made to celebrate the class of 2020 in some way instead.”

“ITAC wanted to unveil this billboard in grand fashion for the seniors and the community,” said Dehr. “We partnered with a few of the high school club advisors, the Iroquois Foundations (a community group) and the local Boys’ and Girls’ Club to put together a parade to unveil the message. The turnout, despite the rainy day, was huge- over 120 cars participated. Our partners paid for customized car magnets and the school board president and superintendent participated, in addition to NY state troopers, Erie County Sheriff escorts and representatives from all six of our local fire companies. The parade started at the high school campus and proceeded about 15 minutes to the location of the billboard. Everyone maintained their distance and wore masks when they were outside their vehicles. The route to the billboard was lined with Iroquois staff, teachers, neighbors, parents and other students. What was so important to ITAC was celebrating the class of 2020, partnering with the community, networking with so many folks to make this happen, and the huge smiles on so many faces.  This event captured the essence of capacity building.”

“The event was such a success that we decided to continue the project by creating an ITAC Class of 2020 traveling billboard bus,” said Dehr. “Partnering with the chamber of commerce, we found a local business to make a banner of the billboard. The Iroquois transportation manager came up with the idea to secure the banner to a new school bus, since the buses were not being used this summer, and make the bus a traveling billboard. For the months of June, July and August the bus is being ‘showcased’ at area businesses, fire departments, schools, churches, town halls, etc. This was a great, free way to partner with our community sectors and a win-win situation for ITAC. Our logo is now being exposed for three months around the community and the businesses we partnered with get exposure on social media and in the local papers.”

“In the community, we have seen a new awareness of what and who ITAC is and what our mission is,” said Dehr. “Networking and connecting makes all the difference. The Iroquois Central School District has been our source of support and we could not have accomplished all that we have without their belief in our coalition. Teamwork and collaborating with local coalitions have helped us move forward as well. We have been honored by the Iroquois Board of Education, and recently received an award from a local law firm, showing that there is excellence in collaboration.”