Coalitions in Action: Minnesota Rural Coalition Brings the Coalition to the People

The Working Together: A Coalition for Safe and Healthy Communities has taken the words “working together” literally. The Minnesota coalition, headquartered in Pine River, Minn., decided to change its approach to collaboration and has increased its capacity and even after losing its Drug Free Communities funding, has implemented strategies for its sustainability.

Several years ago, the well-established coalition, then called The Pine River‐Backus Violence Prevention Council, after seeing evidence of a decrease in substance abuse use among its youth, changed its name and started working together with other rural coalitions. The coalition decided to expand the effort to the Walker­-Hackensack‐Akeley and Northland Community School Districts, the two school districts directly to the North of the Pine River‐Backus School District.

So, the coalition is really three, small coalitions under the umbrella of one. The Coalition Coordinator, Kelly Felton, said this strategy has helped their coalition three-fold.

The neighboring coalitions are all in the same county, which could take half a day to cross back and forth to attend a meeting. So, in a way, Felton said, the coalition actually came to the people.

“We even have some members calling in to meetings,” she said.

The power of three has helped the coalitions to better affect community change. Through its “Be Inspiring” campaign, hosting a National Night Out event, participating in Project Sticker Shock, conducting responsible beverage sales and service trainings, implementing school curricula, and working on reducing problems associated with alcohol at special events, the Working Together: A Coalition for Safe and Healthy Communities has reduced binge and underage drinking in their county. Next, they are working on tackling marijuana prevention. Minnesota recently legalized marijuana for medicinal use.

Felton arrived at the coalition as a former probation and parole officer. She said she has learned a lot about prevention since then and so have her fellow officers in the law enforcement sector.

“Now, the Cass County Sheriff’s Department has been instrumental in bringing our message out in a positive and proactive manner. They continue to support and implement many of our environmental strategies and work proactively, rather than reactively. This partnership is one of the reasons that we have been so successful,” she said.

How did the coalition do that? They decided to tweak their messaging to each sector with the premise ‘This is why we should care about our kids.’

“It was a risk-and-protective factor approach,” the coalition leader said.

It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.

“We used to have a ‘you go, girl, keep doing what you’re doing,’ and now we have a ‘how can I help’ from our community members. We are able to articulate to our coalition partners what their role is in prevention to keep our kids safe and healthy is the best strategy for capacity building,” Felton added.

The coalition was able to present the problem to each sector, but when they realized how to leverage their resources and explain in a very simple way that the solution is in the community, there was a buy-in.

The coalition created paper cards that market the reasons why each sector of their community would want to join the coalition.

For example, to appeal to the sector of state, local, and tribal government, the coalition actually writes a summary of what the representative would do, what the coalitions’ specific needs are from this sector, and then a few bullet points are specified that state what past sector reps have contributed. For the schools sector, the coalition appeals to the very heart of academic achievement to engage these stakeholders: Academic achievement is linked to students who do not drink and use drugs.

The coalitions’ successes shows in other measurable ways.

In 2010 the Coalition was awarded “Minnesota Coalition of the Year” from the Minnesota Prevention Resource Center. In 2012 the Coalition was chosen by the MN National Prevention Network representative to be the pilot site for SAMHSA’s National Prevention Week and continues to be involved in the initiative.

To read more about the coalition, click here.