Coalitions in Action – Steppin’ It Up Coalition Safely Continues In-Person Events During COVID-19

“Steppin’ It Up Coalition was formed in September 2007 in an effort to bring more community collaboration to substance use and misuse prevention efforts in Pickens County, South Carolina,” said the coalition’s Director of Prevention Services Cathy Breazeale. “With a population of approximately 124,937, Pickens County is a smaller county located in the upstate of South Carolina, nestled between beautiful mountains, historical sites and tourist attractions. It is considered an urban county overall, although some parts are very rural. Best known as the home of Clemson University, located between Charlotte, NC and Atlanta, GA, Pickens County is a great place to live or visit.”

“One issue in our community is that the corridor of highway that runs from the states where high volumes of drugs are transported puts Pickens County at the center of much illegal drug activity,” said Breazeale. “Like the majority of coalitions during these times of COVID-19, the Steppin’ It Up Coalition has also experienced many set-backs. Due to so many residents having to use social platforms on a daily basis to communicate with their school, employer and family, it has been very difficult to re-engage residents in virtual activities.”

“This summer we held Virtual Membership Recruitment Presentations and a series of monthly presentations on vaping, alcohol and opioid abuse via Zoom,” said Breazeale. “We also held several on-site training events, including the Virtual CADCA Mid-Year. This was hosted at a local church for 10 people, including the county coroner, two local mayors, coalition chairperson, our religious sector chair and the prevention staff. Being able to host CADCA Mid-Year in a group setting, following COVID guidelines, allowed for our coalition to develop stronger relationships with the attendees. Because of this event we now have the Pickens County coroner and the mayor of Six Mile (a neighboring city) sitting on our coalition.”

“Also held during the week of CADCA Mid-Year, the school district was an integral part in hosting another on-site event, DITEP (drug impairment training for educator professionals),” said Breazeale. “This 19-person group consisted of school resource officers and social workers. Another on-site conference, Road to Recovery Through Christ, spearheaded by the religious sector, was held in August at a local faith-based university. Special speakers included two people who are now in recovery from substance use disorder, speaking about their faith and progress in educating others. The audience was approximately 60 people, housed in a space that could hold about 400. We followed COVID-19 guidelines by providing masks, socially distancing and taking temperatures of participants. Lunch was provided by a food truck outside. Decisions to follow strict COVID guidelines did not take away from the value or success of the event, and all attendees agreed to be a part of the coalition for at least one year.”

“The advice I would give to other coalitions working through the COVID-19 pandemic is to persevere,” said Breazeale. “Hard times come and go. We will get through this, but we must make the best of what we have. If there’s a will there is a way, just keep working at it every day and you will find your way. Don’t worry about the attendance numbers at events hosted by your coalition, even if they are lower than usual. Instead, stay focused and go with your instincts when planning. Business as usual is not what we are looking at. Think of yourselves as being essential to helping your community combat substance misuse and spread awareness. Isolation has really affected communities as a whole. Get advice from your local healthcare facilities and other environmental agencies. Be safe while being creative.”

“Our coalition will most definitely be attending CADCA’s virtual Forum this February,” said Breazeale. “I have attended for the past seven years and have brought back many ideas that have been utilized in our community. As project director, I have tried to insist upon taking someone from each sector to experience the vast education opportunities for coalition building. This event will serve to assist in building our future sustainability plans.”