Coalitions in Action – Riverhead CAP Continues Community Influence Throughout the COVID-19 Pandemic

“The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many organizations to re-evaluate their business model, and Riverhead Community Awareness Program (CAP) is no exception,” said the coalition’s Community Prevention Specialist Kelly Miloski. “As a result, CAP staff and coalition partners have successfully implemented innovative approaches to prevent and reduce youth substance use.”

“The pandemic created unique challenges for each sector in our community,” said Miloski. “Riverhead CAP and Riverhead Community Coalition for Safe and Drug-Free Youth (RCC) continue to engage our partners to promote a safe, healthy and drug-free community. Since the New York State of Emergency began in March, we successfully implemented 30 community changes and served over 2,400 individuals. We also generated 419 volunteer hours and over 129,000 media impressions.” 

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, Riverhead Youth Coalition (RYC) continues to hold virtual general meetings several times a month,” said Miloski. “Members also meet in committees to work on remote projects. In a campaign entitled, ‘My Best Life,’ they created photos and videos demonstrating why they choose to live substance-free. They also participated in creating video messages for the Riverhead Police Department.”

“RYC members also wrote and recorded two remote Public Service Announcements (PSAs),” said Miloski. “The PSAs focused on preventing prescription drug misuse and underage drinking. In addition, they conducted a virtual orientation for the fourth grade Peacemakers and Roanoke’s Student Council. The orientation provided fourth graders with information on their transition to Pulaski Street Elementary School.”

“RYC seniors were highlighted by our coalition as June Members of the Month,” said Miloski. “These seniors are also the founding members of the youth coalition. Adult coalition members participate in monthly virtual meetings since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Members participate in surveys to ensure meetings and activities are effective. In lieu of our annual Meet and Greet event, coalition members began a project that focuses on the ‘6 R’s to Participation.’ This project will identify additional ways to recruit and retain members.”

“CAP Executive Director Felicia Scocozza and I recently partnered with Epiphany Community Services to provide two webinars for coalition members and other coalitions across the country,” said Miloski. “NY National Guard Counterdrug Task Force representatives delivered a public health webinar for coalition members. They also conducted community scans to determine the impact of the pandemic on local vaping and marijuana advertising.”

“CAP Peer Leaders have also become more involved in prevention strategies since the COVID-19 school closure,” said Miloski. “Virtual meetings are being held weekly with eighth grade and high school Peer Leaders to provide coalition support and plan projects. One of these projects provided encouraging messages to fifth and sixth grade students at Pulaski Street Elementary School. These students participate in a monthly Life Skills Training program delivered by Peer Leaders and adult volunteers.”

“For the first time this year, Peer Leaders participated in the program’s recruitment strategy,” said Miloski. “High school Peer Leaders developed quotes that demonstrate the benefits of joining our program. The quotes were included in infographics and a White Board video. Peer Leaders also participated in National Prevention Week. They created Virtual High Fives showcased on Riverhead CAP’s Facebook page.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to close, and interrupted CAP’s school-based programs,” said Miloski. “As a result, CAP developed an innovative plan to continue the Life Skills Training program momentum through Google Classrooms. CAP staff created learning packets that focus on preventing youth alcohol, marijuana and prescription drug use. They also focus on communication and coping with stress. These packets were made available to over 850 students who participated in the program.”

“CAP also continued its annual essay contest for Pulaski students,” said Miloski. “We received 125 essays this year. High school Peer Leaders created a video announcing the fifth and sixth grade winners of the contest. We concluded this year’s program by participating in the Sixth Grade Moving Up Parade, giving drug-free t-shirts to the students. CAP social workers continue to provide counseling services during the pandemic to Riverhead students.”

“At the end of the school year, the coalition partnered with local businesses to launch its Class of 2020 Healthy Choices Sticker Campaign,” said Miloski. “The stickers encourage graduates to celebrate safely and avoid the pitfalls of underage drinking and drug use. The coalition distributed approximately 10,000 stickers to 15 businesses.”

“We continue to connect with the community through social media,” said Miloski. “White Board Wednesdays, an educational video series, was launched during the pandemic. Some topics include: Coping with Stress During COVID-19 for Teens, Calming Finger Activity for Parents and Children, and Tips for Working from Home. We use our Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Vimeo pages to provide information about substance use, coping with stress and other resources.”

“As we continue to navigate through COVID-19, Riverhead CAP and RCC will provide effective, safe and innovative approaches to prevent and reduce youth substance use,” said Miloski. “Coalition members play a key role in providing many of these effective strategies.”