Coalitions in Action—Woodbury-Bethlehem Advocates for Substance Abuse Prevention – Using Libraries to Start Conversations with Youth

Woodbury-Bethlehem Advocates for Substance Abuse Prevention (WB-ASAP), based in Woodbury, Connecticut, is a nonprofit community-based organization focused on reducing substance misuse by promoting healthy lifestyles through education and prevention. The WB-ASAP Addiction & Recovery Resource Center at the Woodbury Public Library includes a variety of titles, biographies, non-fiction, and graphic novels. “The library began through the Woodbury-Bethlehem Parent Connection, which was started to help parents in our community deal with members of their family who were dealing with substance use disorders,” said Project Director and Co-Chair of WB-ASAP, Jeff McKenna. “A lot of times, parents are looking for support to share their feelings and stories with others and not feel alone. Upon having discussions about what books and movies members of the Connection were watching and how it helped them, momentum picked up to the point where the Coalition had so many similar resources in hand that they wanted to share them with a larger audience. This started about six years ago.  Along with the books, the Addiction & Recovery Resource Center offers a wide variety of materials on drug prevention including tips for teens and information for parents, and a selection of DVDs.  We reached out to our local library, where we initially got a small space to display these resources. During the pandemic, given our supply of resources and the demand the community had to get books and movies that can help address substance use, we were able to expand the size of our display to almost 16 feet, tripling it in size.  Having these valuable resources "at the ready" during the pandemic proved invaluable to residents who were facing all sorts of new challenges - some for the first time. While the libraries were shuttered during the early months of the pandemic, resources were made available for "curbside take out" restaurant-style! Once the public libraries were allowed to have restricted openings to the public, the Resource Centers proved to be a popular feature. We had resources on every substance and trend affecting our community. You name it and it’s on that display right now. We also set it up in a place in the library that provides safety and confidentiality.  Based on the success of this initiative, we expanded to multiple libraries in multiple cities in Connecticut.  We were even able to display these resources at various community events, thus giving us even more engagement and outreach in the community.”

“These library resources have been a huge benefit to our youth.  A lot of the times, youth are fed so much mis-information on platforms like social media that it’s important to provide them facts on the actual risks of substances like marijuana and alcohol. It also provides them an avenue of information and answers when they have a family member of their own who is suffering from a substance use disorder. They are able to be more confident in doing their own research and becoming more educated.  We are currently in Year 4 of our DFC grant, so we have been able to leverage a lot from this work into the impacts we are making in the community.”

“Early on there was a lot of feedback from parents in the community that these resources weren’t needed, because many felt that substance use wasn’t a threat locally.  We conducted a youth survey that actually spelled out the reality of what we were dealing with. Perception of harm among youth was staggeringly low, so we knew we needed to take action.  People think that small towns don’t have issues with substance use, but often times it’s the complete opposite.”

“One of the biggest lessons we learned from this work was that we needed to meet our youth where they are.  Your best resource for how to reach youth is to actually speak to them about what they’re experiencing and seeing in their daily lives.  Our youth give us some outstanding ideas and we are known for thinking outside-the-box.  Wherever their comfort zone is, is where we must be.”

“The Resource Center was created in memory of the passing of one of our local youth, Cristina Gomez. Cristina’s story is one that many communities across the country have either experienced or can relate to.  We decided to create the Resource Center in her honor, so that we can create something positive out of a tragic event.”

“I cannot thank our coalition members enough for the time, effort and dedication they put into this initiative.  We are moving the needle in the positive direction.  I would tell other coalitions to just keep at it with their work.  Think outside-the-box, listen to your youth and throw whatever you can at the wall and see what sticks! You’ll be surprised as to what can come from new ideas.”