Coalitions in Action — Rhode Island Regional Coalitions get Creative with COVID-19 Programs

“The Rhode Island Regional Coalitions came into existence four years ago,” said Regional Coordinator Heidi Driscoll. “We work under the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals. We serve two of the seven regions in the state, Kent County and South County.”

“Kent County is a very diverse region of the state with rural, urban and suburban areas set geographically next to each other,” said Driscoll. “Also included in Kent County is one of the wealthiest communities in Rhode Island, set near one of the most economically challenged. South County borders the ocean, making it a beautiful resort area with an influx of thousands of tourists each year to local beaches. But when the season is over, South County is also home to the University of Rhode Island, which brings in college students, many who live off campus. Both the tourists and college students bring their own set of challenges that our coalitions face daily.”

“Rhode Island has one of the highest rates of COVID-19 infections right now,” said Driscoll. “We are a small state, and many residents have had COVID-19 or know someone who is struggling with the disease. Our coalitions usually meet at least monthly and do as many as three or four outreach events every month. We have strong relationships with state leaders and community partners. However, due to our state’s high rate of COVID-19 infections, we went into lockdown in March. We have not had any in-person community events, conferences or meetings since then.”

“Our coalitions quickly moved to the use of Zoom, and we purchased licenses for each of our coalition coordinators, enabling us to meet virtually,” said Driscoll. “This technology allowed us to plan how we would pivot our work and continue to support youth, parents and the community with prevention education and empower them with the skills they need to help their teens make healthy and safe choices.”

“We also have a solid presence on social media, which we used to create posts under the hashtag #Chancetochat,” said Driscoll. “These posts serve as daily conversation starters for families and keep folks connected during this time of isolation. We also printed lawn signs with positive messaging, which we distributed throughout both our regions. The hope was to validate feelings and spread positivity within the community.” 

“We have also created a virtual ‘Hidden in Plain Sight’ resource, which offers parents and caregivers an easy opportunity to learn about the substances a youth might misuse and the ways those substances can be easily concealed in a bedroom,” said Driscoll. “This program is something we normally set up at our coalitions’ open houses, but with COVID-19 we knew that was not going to be possible this year. Instead, we decided to create a virtual bedroom that parents could explore on their own. Each item has a link to describe what it is and what it is used for. There are also resources linked to the page, so if and when a parent finds one of these items, they know what the next step should be. The link to this program has been sent to parents in both regions so they can navigate it from the convenience of their homes. To date, more than 2,200 people have visited and used the tool.”

“My advice to other coalitions is to try to be as creative and flexible as possible during this time of COVID-19,” said Driscoll. “We also need to understand that teachers and school administrators are under tremendous pressure. Try to rely on other partners to help get the word out about the work you are doing. We are always trying to make new connections and create new ways to deliver programs and media to our community. Our coalitions have used this unprecedented time as an opportunity to try out new ideas and ways to help support teens and families.”