Coalitions in Action: Lower Township Healthy Youth Coalition Participate in Upcoming DEA360 Strategy Summit

Coalition-PIER-Leaders of the Southern Cape is Cape Assist Coalition’s middle school youth team, a title chosen by youth as a unique name that connects to their proximity to the sea. PIER stands for Positivity, Influence, Education and Respect. On April 28, 2018, the PIER-Leaders of the Southern Cape will be teaching peers at the DEA 360 Strategy Youth and Family Summit. 

“This youth-driven coalition focuses on bringing the area youth forward to help steer their community in a positive direction that reflects the youths’ vision for their community,” said Temerity Berry, Director of Prevention Services. “The youth are planning to speak in front of town council in regards to marijuana legalization in New Jersey, to teach peer to peer workshops, and organize community programs such as sticker shock and family events, like an annual trunk or treat event.”

This DEA360 Summit is open to all nine southern counties in New Jersey and Cape Assist’s youth coalition is the only middle school youth group teaching a workshop.  Members of the youth sector will be teaching a peer-to-peer lesson on goal setting.  With the use of vision boards, the youth sector will be providing a lesson on the importance of setting goals and how implementing goals can help prevent people from going down the path of substance abuse. 

The second project the coalition is extremely proud of is a collaboration with the Lower Township Police Department (LTPD) and local government to begin a Lower Township Youth Community Camp. This camp was designed to foster healthy interactions between police and at-risk youth.  The participants begin each day with an educational lesson that focuses on life skills derived from the Botvin’s Life Skills curriculum.  Attendees then are instructed by members of the LTPD on various aspects of first responder responsibilities.  Field trips to the zoo, the waterpark and the Coast Guard Base are also part of the curriculum.  While interacting with police and participating in these fun activities coalition staff is right alongside reinforcing the life skill of the day and being positive role models for the youth.

“The coalition is excited about its direction now, but for the past three years the coalition was struggling with a lack of youth involvement. During a planning session last year, a coalition member asked the group, “What is preventing the coalition from getting more youth involved?”” said Berry.

The group wanted to move beyond checking boxes in the action plan and really make a difference in the community.  The coalition knows that with youth involvement comes parent involvement, two areas the coalition struggled with in the past.  From this conversation, the school district offered to host the coalition meetings in the school to enable access to the youth and teachers.  Once this move occurred, the formation of the youth coalition was much easier.  With buy-in from the school administrators the youth coalition is allowed to meet during school hours and attend the morning meetings of the coalition to report on their happenings and projects. This support from school officials came naturally because the coalition has had a strong working relationship for the past three years.  The school resource officer, principal, vice principal, guidance counselor and superintendent attend the coalition meetings and the coalition offers the school support when needed in forms of TA, fund raising efforts, educational workshops among other things.  A few of our outcomes include: the formation of the PIER-Leaders of the Southern Cape, expanding the youth summer camp for at-risk youth and administering the PRIDE survey in the middle and high school. 

“Training has been a huge asset to the LTYHC’s success. Taking advantage of all the trainings and conferences that CADCA offers was very important to build understanding and bonds between the sector members,” said Berry. “CADCA trainings have been essential to the coalition’s progress and will continue to be a significant part of its future.  Many community members wanted instant results when the coalition was formed in 2013. Teaching the coalition members that results take time was tough.  The community is seeing results and the coalition members are excited to be a part of the outreach.  We have learned that this process takes time; patience and persistence are vital.  Our youth sector is a perfect testament to this statement; it has taken time to get off the ground but is now a significant part of our coalition. The sky is the limit for this group of youth.”