Coalitions in Action – United Prevention (UP!) Coalition Works on Virtual Engagement During COVID-19

“In response to COVID-19, the United Prevention (UP!) Coalition of Lewis County has revised some of our strategies and initiatives,” said Coalition Coordinator Cassie Forbus. “New York State began to close down in late March, and before then the coalition coordinator and project assistant were already working from home and making plans. April is Alcohol Awareness month, so it has been our chance to expand our online presence. For every day in April, the UP! Coalition has a theme, ranging from Statistical Sunday, to Motivational Monday, all the way to Social Norm Challenge Saturday, with a fun contest open to youth, parents, and community members for gift cards. We have had a Facebook and Instagram page for a while, with meager followings that we have been working to build during this time. We have also started a TikTok, and a YouTube channel to reach youth and parents.”

“One of the most engaging days of the week has been ‘Taco Bout it Tuesday,’” said Forbus. “While we haven’t been able to share real tacos due to social distancing, we have invited coalition members, agencies, parents and youth to speak live on Facebook and YouTube. This month has been alcohol and COVID-19 focused, and we will expand the series into next month as the quarantine continues. Those that we interview are then invited to film a TikTok!”

“We, like many other coalitions, have moved our meetings for both subcommittees and the full coalition to the Zoom platform,” said Forbus. “We are continuing our ‘Don’t be a Zombie’ PSA campaign, asking students to film 30-60 second commercials to (hopefully) be used this fall for our 2nd Annual Zombie Run for Drug Prevention. We are also working on a Virtual Prom idea, should the need arise, and the schools remain closed. We also hosted our first ever youth sector Zoom meeting as well!”

“We still have the ability to impact our youth and community in personal ways as well,” said Forbus. “We have partnered with the Lewis County Office for the Aging to have over 200 Deterra Medication Disposal Bags delivered to seniors receiving at-home meal delivery. It is important with the postponement of the DEA Drug Take Back Day to get these bags to our senior population and ensure medications are being disposed of properly. Plans are also underway to place these bags in areas where people may still be going, including pharmacies, the department of social security and other locations, as possible.”

“Last year we distributed 310 SSWAG Bags (Sweet Stuff With A Goal) to our high school seniors in partnership with local businesses,” said Forbus. “The bags included fun items as well as information about underage drinking and the dangers of drinking and driving. The bags were distributed around prom and graduation season to every graduating senior in the five school districts, where coalition members and school staff personally handed them out. We wanted to remind them how much the community cares about them, and that we wanted to see them through the graduation season, healthy and happy. This year, the activity will continue, it will just look a little different. The UP! Coalition will take on full financial responsibility to alleviate the stress some of our small businesses may be feeling. We will reach out to those small businesses to purchase the items locally this year. We will pack the bags from a socially responsible distance and work with school officials to get the bags in the hands of each of our seniors. We may not be able to see them all personally this year, but the senior class of 2020 will know how much Lewis County cares about them!”

“We continue to adjust as the times require,” said Forbus, “and we are committed to helping all residents of Lewis County be happier, healthier and the best versions of themselves, even during the time of isolation and COVID-19.”