Coalitions in Action — Stand Strong Coalition Increases Community Collaboration During COVID-19

“Stand Strong Coalition is a community coalition dedicated to the prevention of underage drinking and drug use for youth (ages 12-18) in Illinois School District 125 and the surrounding middle schools,” said the coalition’s Interim Director Lauren Hansen. “We serve the communities of Lincolnshire, Long Grove and Prairie View and portions of several other northern suburbs of Chicago. Stand Strong Coalition was created in 2014 by concerned parents Jamie Epstein and Debbie Stern. In 2015, Stand Strong Coalition was awarded the Drug-Free Communities Grant from the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Our partner youth coalition, Catalyst, is a substance misuse prevention club at Adlai E. Stevenson High School, comprised of over 150 students. We are very proud of Catalyst, as they have effectively advocated with us for the age to buy tobacco to be raised from 18 to 21 in Illinois in July 2019. Our youth coalition president spoke at CADCA's National Leadership Forum last February and several of our members serve as CADCA youth trainers. Our work targets the substances of alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and prescription drugs. We are grateful for our coalition members from all 12 sectors in our community.”

“Our coalition moved swiftly to accommodate the new virtual reality due to COVID-19, but it definitely was an adjustment,” said Hansen. “Many of our summer goals included being part of community festivals and parades, but all of the events were cancelled this year. Instead, we invested into the digital environment for many of our activities—webinars, online trainings and social media outreach. Our committees moved their meetings to Zoom and our Executive Board did the same. This fall, schools have continued e-learning, so our programs with students are all online as well. We have a Catalyst Middle School Program where we nominate students from our five sender schools to join us once per month at the local high school for prevention training. Because schools are remote, we moved all of this online as well. We hosted a virtual training with the students in August and have held monthly meetings virtually. Our middle school students have been planning for their school's Red Ribbon Week and are now preparing presentations for their health classes. We have had to modify some of our goals, but we are coming up with new strategies to achieve them.”

“I'm sure many coalitions are implementing similar methodologies,” said Hansen. “I am grateful our coalition adapted so quickly to the digital environment because we really capitalized on the audience while they were in their homes this past spring. Instead of scratching our plans entirely, we came up with alternative ways to achieve our objectives. I would encourage coalitions to experiment during this season. This is a time to innovate, think creatively and develop new ways to reach students, parents and stakeholders in our community.”

“We were very pleased by the success of our ‘Making the Transition to Stevenson High School’ panel for incoming freshmen, although we almost decided to cancel it,” said Hansen. “Instead, over 400 people joined us that evening. We equipped parents with tools to recognize and deter substance use among their teens and ways to help their students successfully transition into high school. Simultaneously, we equipped students in a separate panel with ways to manage anxiety and stress, as well as refusal skills at parties. Our Catalyst youth coalition and the director of student activities of the high school hosted the student panel, while the principal of Stevenson High School hosted the parent panel (along with panelists from the school, a school resource officer, Stand Strong Coalition members, our substance misuse coordinator and alumni). This event traditionally yields 100 in-person attendees, so we were thrilled with the outcome (400+). We received excellent feedback from attendees on our post-event survey. We were grateful for the collaboration from the local high school and middle schools, who helped advertise the event on their websites, in e-mails, in principal newsletters and who served as panelists.”

“We've also hosted online webinars and our coalition has partnered with the Rx Abuse Leadership Initiative (RALI Illinois) to distribute free Deterra Drug Deactivation and Disposal Pouches for unused medications in homes,” said Hansen. “This program was led by our Rx Drug Committee volunteers and involved the parent and government sectors. The target audience was community members who have been influenced by COVID-19. We have currently distributed 375 pouches and began the program in July. We have promoted this program through the Village of Lincolnshire publications and on our social media platforms, e-mail and website. This is an ongoing program and we have 3,000 pouches we plan to distribute to our communities. We're currently placing them in police departments, fire stations, senior living residences, dental and doctor offices. Because people could not take their unused prescriptions to public disposal places during the COVID-19 shelter-in-place, we implemented this alternative. In October, the Lake Zurich Police Department passed out our Deterra pouches during their DEA Take Back Day at the local Walmart.”

“Most recently, we hosted a Virtual Red Ribbon Week Competition between five of our local middle schools,” said Hansen. “Traditionally, we host Red Ribbon Week activities at each school, but because schools are remote this year, we adopted a virtual strategy instead. The competition ran from October 26-30, 2020. Activities included personalized Red Ribbon Week virtual backgrounds, Kahoot education competitions, a virtual bookmark coloring contest, Spirit Days, virtual drug-free pledges and more! We were excited to have 3,055 students from five middle schools participate virtually this year.”

“We use the Strategic Prevention Framework (SPF) and the Seven Strategies to affect community change as we create and implement our goals,” said Hansen. “As a result, our high school 30-day alcohol use rate dropped from 21% in 2016 to 16% in 2020, 30-day marijuana use dropped from 10% to 7% and we have increased community collaboration through our youth coalition efforts and our collaboration with RALI Illinois.”

“We will be attending CADCA’s Virtual National Leadership Forum this February, and we are so excited,” said Hansen. “Many of our coalition members attended the Mid-Year Training Institute this summer and we were really pleased with all of the opportunities to learn. We hope to take back more strategies to engage the community during this remote season.”

“In this challenging time, our work becomes more important than ever,” said Hansen. “Students who experience isolation and mental health challenges may look to substances to relieve their pain. We are grateful for the opportunity to equip and prepare parents as we face these new difficulties together. We are also very grateful for our neighboring coalitions and community partners.”