Coalitions in Action—The Partnership for Drug-Free St. Joseph County – Lights, Camera, Youth in Action!

“Choose to stay strong, choose to have hope and choose to be drug-free.” This was the prompt given to middle and high school students for a Youth Prevention Video Contest held by the Partnership for Drug-Free St. Joseph County based in Indiana. To celebrate the winners in May, they rolled out the red carpet, invited a local anchor to MC the event and turned the winning video into an ad that will be airing throughout the summer on their local NBC affiliate station.

Before the celebration could get started, Janet Whitfield-Hyduk, Drug-Free Communities Grant Coordinator of the Partnership for Drug-Free St. Joseph County, admitted there were certainly moments of doubt as to whether it would be as successful as she hoped.

Janet first got the idea to hold the Youth Prevention Video Contest after attending a CADCA Mid-Year session held by the Nashua Prevention Coalition. “At first, I didn’t really know what a contest would entail, but after listening in on their workshop, I thought, oh, we can do that here! Nobody else [in our area] is doing that. There are a lot of youth organizations around here, but nobody is doing that kind of thing.”

One obstacle she considered when bringing this idea to the Coalitions Council was how they would be able to pull this event off despite the obstacles presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. “That was one of the things that was kind of hard, figuring out how we could access youth when the schools had transitioned into virtual learning.” They began by mailing letters to every school principal, vice principal, school counselor, church and youth organization in their area, but their response rate was initially much lower than they expected.

When beginning this contest in November, the coalition initially planned to have all submissions in by January, “but we weren’t really hearing anything, so I’m like, well, we can push it back, right?”

Concerned about their lack of participation, Janet reached out to Nashua Prevention Coalition for advice. “They said the first time they ever held their contest, it was slow… and now, especially during COVID, [their submission rates] weren’t as high as they usually were and it just had to do with all of that… And that did make me feel a lot better.’”

Finally, they got their breakthrough. After the word about the contest got out to the right people, in this case, media class teachers and librarians, they began to see their submission rate rise. Janet explained, “I would get so excited each time. I would be like, ‘Look, we got another application! That’s great.’”

Ultimately, the community came together to create a special event for the youth applicants. The event space was decked out in Oscar-themed décor, including a red carpet, photo booth and table settings. Goodie bags were handed out, donated gift cards were given as prizes during the event’s trivia contest and winners were awarded with engraved Oscar-themed trophies.

“We had a lot of good things that came out of this event. Four of the youth that participated in the contest want to work with us as youth reps now,” Janet added. Recently, Janet was also able to share word about the contest on the local TV station’s “What’s Good in Our Community?” segment, and soon the youth winners of the contest will also be featured to talk about their experience.

The theme, ‘Choose to stay strong, choose to have hope, and choose to be drug-free’ was inspired by the hardships incurred by the pandemic. “And while we were kind of bummed into thinking it wouldn’t be successful, it turned out well in the end. So, it was nice that even throughout all of this, we felt like we could do something fun. That was the thing – the kids were so down because of everything with COVID- we just wanted to do something fun and positive, so this seemed to be great,” Janet remarked.

Reflecting on the success of this event, Janet was grateful to the coalition that not only sparked her idea for the contest but continued to support her in periods of doubt. “We took what Nashua Prevention Coalition did and we kind of made it our own. We were able to take the basics of it… and they were so nice. They shared their application and instructions with us, so we used what they had as a template. That was really helpful.”

Despite the difficulty to connect with others this past year, the Partnership for Drug-Free St. Joseph County proved it was possible to test out new ways to engage youth in the prevention discussion and get inspired by the work of fellow coalitions. With the combined effort of a great committee and community partners, their Youth Prevention Video Contest had a successful start and is something they look forward to continuing annually in the future.

If you are interested in checking out the videos submitted to this year’s contest, check out their YouTube channel here.