Coalitions in Action – Safe Harbor Cohasset Coalition Sees Spike in Youth Involvement

“Incorporated in 1770, Cohasset, home to 8,065 residents, is a 10 square mile coastal town, 20 miles south of Boston,” said the coalition’s Program Director Nicole Balaschi. “A typical New England town, it is set among colonial homes and spectacular ocean vistas. Cohasset has retained much of its small-town character because the ledge and marshland make it difficult to develop the land. The town is well known for its historic town common, quaint village shopping area, gourmet restaurants and breathtaking vistas along its rocky shoreline. Cohasset has an active community, Senior and Arts Centers, three museums, the South Shore Music Circus, a swim club, sailing club and yacht club. The town sports three beaches and multiple recreational parks. Dining and boating facilities dot the shoreline of Cohasset Harbor.”

 

“Safe Harbor Cohasset Coalition was established as a grassroots collaborative community effort to address underage drinking acceptance and other emerging issues,” said Balaschi. “Since July 2014, Safe Harbor Cohasset Coalition has been working to promote awareness and implement resources to help make an impact on substance use in the community. In September 2017, Safe Harbor was awarded a federal Drug-Free Communities (DFC) Support Program grant, which focuses on preventing substance use among youth ages 12-17. Since then, the group has worked to foster a strong and inclusive community that allows youth to strive and encourages healthy, educated and responsible choices about drug and alcohol use. The mission is supported by evidenced-based, prevention focused, sustainable policies and youth-focused programs, such as Ground Level Café and the Safe Harbor Youth Ambassador Program.”

 

“Despite Cohasset’s affluent stature and breath-taking shoreline views, the community is not without problems,” said Balaschi. “Unfortunately, much of the community has a ‘not in my backyard’ mindset, which makes culture change very challenging. Cohasset, MA is where the social host law came to fruition. Due to a 1996 graduation party where parents allowed underage youth to consume alcohol in the basement of a home, the death of a 19-year-old Marshfield boy who left the party with a BAC of .19 resulted in the social host law in 2000. Permissive parental attitudes surrounding alcohol and marijuana are prevalent. However, the coalition efforts have persevered and a reduction in youth substance use has been seen when comparing percentages between the 2017 and 2019 Cohasset Wellness Survey data.”

 

“Outcomes include reduced 30-day use of alcohol by teens 14-17 from 33% to 29%, reduced 30-day marijuana use by teens 14-17 from 20% to 19% (despite legalization), and reduced 30-day use of non-personally prescribed drugs by teens 14-17 from 3% to 2%,” said Balaschi. “Although positive impacts have been made, substance use and mental health issues continue to affect the Cohasset community. Specifically, data shows significant increases amongst grades 9-12 from 2017 to 2019 in vape usage from 18% to 26%, with about one in five reporting having difficulty stopping vape use. There were also increases in the percentage of students who reported significant depression from 20% to 25% and seriously considering suicide from 10% to 13%. Students who reported feeling often or very often stressed at school increased from 54% to 60%, and the rate of students who reported feeling often or very often stressed outside school increased from 29% to 39%. The percentage of students who reported riding with a driver who had been drinking alcohol remained at 12%, where the percentage of those who reported riding with a driver who had used marijuana increased from 21% to 23%. Lastly, among students who reported driving, there was an increase from 51% to 59% in students who reported ever texting when driving. These data mark areas of concern where many efforts should be targeted.”

 

“When the coalition received DFC funding, there were only two active youth members,” said Balaschi. “Since then, the coalition has developed strategies to recruit and retain youth members, increasing from two active youth in 2018 to 28 active youth members in 2020. We refer to our youth coalition as the Youth Ambassador Program, a group of students from grades 7-12 coming together to improve their advocacy skills, public speaking skills and addressing issues in their community through various projects.”  

 

“Since the launch of the Youth Ambassador Program in 2018, the students have completed four sticker shocks at our local liquor store, presented to the 5th graders on multiple occasions during Red Ribbon Week and on Healthy Coping Skills, have presented “Samantha Skunk” to grades preK-2, completed a substance-related litter clean up and presented the findings to the Board of Selectman, just to name a few things,” said Balaschi. “With the help of our four youth leaders, who facilitate the weekly meetings, we have built relationships with local businesses to incentivize the work and involvement of the youth ambassadors and their impact on the community.” 

 

“We have developed a youth ambassador ID that participating students receive after signing a form that shows agreement that ‘they take on the responsibility of role-modeling and promoting a healthy, educated, responsible lifestyle to their peers and community,’” said Balaschi. “It is expected that they’ll attend at least 75% of weekly meetings throughout the school year and/or communicate absences in a timely manner, dress appropriately and professionally when representing the organization at specific events and that they will not engage in any alcohol, tobacco or marijuana use, or any other illegal drug use. When they show this ID card at local businesses, they get anywhere from a percentage off, to a free food item, etc. This has helped increase our coalition member base in the business sector. We use strategies such as educational forums, presenting to the freshmen wellness classes, attending community events and presenting to local youth organizations to recruit. We retain youth with ongoing trainings for all interested youth.”

 

“We plan on attending this July’s CADCA Mid-Year Training Institute with four middle school youth ambassadors, two adult chaperones and one staff member,” said Balaschi. “The goal is to have all four youth attend the Key Essentials track to build upon their current knowledge on coalition work. With this refreshed motivation and extra knowledge, they will bring this back to their peers and adult coalition members. They will present at the first Fall Open Coalition Meeting with what they have learned and how they plan to use what they have learned in future projects that impact the Cohasset community.”