The message is simple - stay clean and stay safe.But the delivery, especially when it comes to adults relating to teens, is far from simple.
The members of the Braidwood Area Healthy Communities Coalition have worked in recent years to engage the public in the effort to fight the illegal use of drugs and alcohol by area youth. Over the past several months, the group has picked up steam, adding to its membership, creating by-laws and working on long term plans.
The effort has earned the coalition a grant for creating prevention strategies within Braidwood. But as easy as it may sound, prevention is a multi-faceted beast that takes time and effort to implement, even in a small community.In order to engage in prevention techniques that are effective for the community, BAHCC members first had to learn what prevention even means. While it sounds obvious, the strategies for prevention, particularly within the framework of the grant - $75,000 from the Illinois Department of Human Services Division of Community Health and Prevention, which was awarded back in August - need to be specific and on point.
On Nov. 12, about 10 members of the BAHCC competed a one-hour training session entitled "Prevention 101," the first step in creating an effective drug prevention program within Braidwood and its surrounding communities.
Chestnut Health Systems is a member organization of the BAHCC, and is the faction of the BAHCC which oversees the distribution of the grant money. The non-profit organization is charged with the technical training for group members, and helping choose how the money can be spent both within the limits of the grant as well as in the most effective way for the community.
Chestnut Services organizer Tim Cramer held the training seminar this week, explaining that there needs to be specific focus on prevention. Cramer said that while most people are familiar with prevention programs such as "Just Say No," "This is your brain on drugs," and healthy alternative appeals, prevention needs to be more comprehensive than encouraging people to stay clean."
If it's done in isolation without the other skill building things we know are important, it will not work," Cramer noted. "A good substance abuse curriculum has an element of what drugs are, how they affect you. There is a part for skills, refusal skills, setting goals, those kinds of things. But these attempts were done in isolation, that's why they didn't work."
Cramer noted that in terms of the grant money provided to the BAHCC, the coalition has to stick to prevention strategies, as opposed to treatment and recovery. While that does not mean that the coalition will turn down anyone looking for help who is already dealing with drug use or addiction, the bulk of the coalition's activities are limited, for now, to prevention education.
Cramer said that when you look at prevention from a community approach, you can see real change happen. With that in mind, the coalition can bring people together, identify problems, develop and implement strategies, then eventually reach goals.
"What other place in the community is there where you have the health department, the fire department, treatment provider, all these people, the library, the municipal government, community volunteers, sitting around the table focusing their efforts on a single problem? It's pretty powerful when you can get that to happen," Cramer said.
"We know this, from the research, it creates sustainability, there's a greater likelihood of real world solutions, and since we're all bringing different ideas to the table, each piece of our system can have an impact. Efforts can be integrated into ongoing operations."
Cramer noted that when the coalition gets involved, the effort to fight drug and alcohol use and abuse is no longer just a problem for parents, schools, or the police. Instead, prevention becomes a community responsibility.
As far as where to go from this point, Cramer said the coalition will focus on planning that is already research-based, which means the strategies are backed up by research to be effective.
One effective strategy is using the grant funds to engage in "social norms" marketing. Cramer said that the coalition can show the public how something that is often socially acceptable, such as adults providing alcohol for teenage parties, no longer have to be allowed.
"They see it as a rite of passage and parents provide alcohol, they think it's okay if they -take their keys away and don't let them drive," Cramer said. "That [creates] acceptance of underage drinking. But you can do a communication campaign around changing that norm. That parents shouldn't do it and they shouldn't provide.
"You do this, kids and parents start hearing it from all systems and sectors in the community, saying the same message," Cramer continued. "It becomes a norm, parents then can look at other parents and not feel like they're the only ones not letting their kids drink, that there's actually more parents out there than you can even imagine who don't give in."
Another strategy the coalition will work on for prevention is to develop a mentoring program.
"Mentoring is very powerful," Cramer noted. "A kid can be exposed to multiple risk factors... but if they have one person in their corner that believes in them and believes that they can achieve and inspire, and they bond to that person, that is a very strong buffer from the negative."
Members of the coalition said they were excited to get moving on the effort to fight illegal and underage drug and alcohol abuse in the Braidwood area. Braidwood Mayor Bill Rulien even suggested that the city may be able to help fund some of the coalition's efforts to reach the younger set.
"I can't think of a better use of our police department's drug forfeiture fund than for something like this," Rulien said.
The city's drug forfeiture fund contains money the city receives from drug busts and other seizures. The money is federally mandated to be used only for activities which benefit the fight against illegal drug use. Rulien said he would work with Police Chief Rich Girot to see if any of those funds could be made available to aid the coalition in efforts to reach youth, such as establishing a social media presence.
The BAHCC will offer the training session to interested members of the community in the future. Membership to the coalition is free and open to any interested party in the area who wishes to make a difference in the lives of local youth.
The coalition's next meeting is Monday, Dec. 10 at 4:30 p.m. The BAHCC has moved its regular meeting from the library to the training room at the Braidwood Fire Department's firehouse on Main Street. The public is encouraged to attend all meetings.