Coalitions in Action— Wilmington Coalition for a Healthy Community Creates Space for Youth Advocates
Tell me about your community and the communities that your coalition serves – its population and unique features. When was the coalition formed?
The Wilmington Coalition for a Healthy Community started in 2006 as a grassroots organization formed by a group of parents because of growing concern about the presence of heroin in the community. Wilmington is a small rural community of about 6,000 people. The town is about 50 miles south of Chicago, and is known as “island city,” because it is actually an island in the middle of the Kankakee river.
What unique issues is your coalition facing?
“It can sometimes be a struggle for us to access the resources needed to continue to fight against substance abuse issues in our community and surrounding communities,” said Program Director and Coordinator Deborah Tomey. “We can offer prevention, education, and training, but if we don’t have resources in place it won’t make a difference. We now partner with counseling service to help grade school, middle, and high school students. Families used to travel 25 minutes away from town to see a counselor, but this partnership brought counselors directly into our coalition’s office,” said Tomey.
What activity or program is your coalition most proud of and / or what activity would you like us to spotlight?
“We are extremely proud of the success we’ve had with our youth programs,” said Tomey. “In a small town like Wilmington, our high school only has 460 students in total, and 30 of those students are on our community action team.”
“We also have a program for 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students called Tobacco Free Teens. These students do all the research, planning, etc. for tobacco campaigns targeted at their own peers. It has been a great experience for them to advocate to their own peers, and they have more influence than we would,” said Tomey.
How did you get there, and what are your outcomes?
Each year, Illinois 8th, 10th, and 12th grade students take the Illinois Youth Survey. Results from this year’s survey show that Wilmington has seen a decline in both 30 day and year use for all substances. In addition, student’s use of alcohol percentage has dropped by 12% since 2014, and use of illicit drugs and marijuana has also dropped.
What advice would you give to other coalitions that may be addressing some of the same issues?
“Don’t give up,” said Tomey. “At one time our coalition had a rough patch 5 years in. We didn’t know if we would make it after year 6, but we did. We started rebuilding our youth groups, and working with the youth has created noticeable change in our schools.”
“There were a lot of days where we struggled. It’s hard to do coalition work, hearing about more teenagers passing away in town each weekend. It makes the work difficult, but seeing success stories of students who overcome is what keeps us going.”