The problems related to teenage drug and alcohol use and abuse is not limited to big city kids. For the past several years, members of the Braidwood Area Healthy Community Coalition (BAHCC) have been working to educate both children and their parents on the dangers of illegal drugs and drinking, and providing resources for how families can deal with the issues that are prevalent in most towns, including Braidwood. Now, the small but active organization has gotten a boost from the Illinois Department of Human Services Division of Community Health and Prevention.
This week, Chestnut Health Systems, a member organization of the BAHCC, was awarded $75,000 in the form of a state grant to conduct community assessment and planning around youth substance abuse, especially underage drinking, in the Braidwood area. The funds are a subgrant of the Strategic Prevention Framework (SPF) program, developed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
SPF is a structured planning process that can be used with communities to help them identify their most pressing substance abuse issues and guide them to implement proven strategies that are tailored to local conditions.
The grant awardees are each members of eligible coalitions in southern Will County. The grant award means that Chestnut staff members will be able to continue offering services to the BAHCC, which otherwise has to operate fully on volunteer workers and funds.
Coalition members were happy to hear the good news."I think anything that will help the coalition to grow is great," said Tim Ricketts, principal at Reed-Custer High School and a member of the BAHCC since its inception. "We have grown in numbers which has been nice, but if the money will help us to expand our programs which in turn will make a greater impact on reducing the number of kids using drugs or alcohol that is our ultimate goal."
The BAHCC holds monthly meetings with the agenda of public awareness and promotion of prevention programs. But the group is also active in a variety of other endeavors locally.
Last spring, the coalition sponsored the first "Family Celebration" at the library in Braidwood. The afternoon celebration provided services from local groups associated with the BAHCC, such as fingerprinting of children by the Braidwood Police Department and information from area civic and community groups on drug and alcohol prevention.
Attendees also got to participate in SIDNE (Simulated Impaired DriviNg Experience), sponsored by the Will County Sheriff's Department. The hands on experience allowed people to drive go-cart type cars, where the steering and braking are delayed to simulate an altered response like what would happen when a person is driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
In addition to the Celebration, the BAHCC sponsors the Illinois Youth Survey, which is administered every other year to high school students. The survey is an anonymous survey on drug and alcohol abuse that allows kids to honestly describe their experiences with drugs and alcohol, letting the BAHCC and Chestnut track trends and develop strategies to fight the problems.
The latest results of the Illinois Youth Survey are expected to be available to the public in the next few months.
The BAHCC also continues to work with the Reed-Custer school district on the Safe Homes campaign.
Safe Homes is a community-wide network of parents. That network is listed in a pledge-based directory of students and their families. In that directory, parents pledge to supervise gatherings of youth at their homes, to set appropriate expectations and consequences for their children, to know where their children are and who they are with, and most importantly to pledge to provide a drug and alcohol free environment for children.
Once the pledge is signed, the names are added to the directory, which is published twice a year. The directory empowers parents to take a stand with their kids at a time when children are striving to be independent but still need direction. The directory also gives parents an added tool when confronted with decisions about where, when and with whom their children associate.
While the BAHCC members work to find solutions to drug and alcohol abuse and encourage kids to just say no, members said there's always more work to be done.
"I still would like to see more parents and community members get involved and would encourage parents to join the Safe Home network through the BAHCC," Ricketts said.
Upcoming events for the coalition include Family Day in September. The coalition is the local sponsor of "National Family Day" on Sept. 24, an effort encouraging families to eat together and talk on that day. The BAHCC is sponsoring a contest for children ages pre-school through high school to design a place mat depicting a fun family memory of family meal time. The winning entries will be copied and distributed to local restaurants.
Chestnut Health Systems, based in Bloomington, offers substance abuse prevention services in Will, Kendall, and Grundy counties. Chestnut has been in operation for more than 35 years, offering addiction treatment and prevention services, mental health counseling and housing, credit counseling, substance abuse related research, training, and publications, and employee assistance and workplace services.
The BAHCC was formed in 2008 to create a safe and drug-free environment in the Braidwood area. Its primary goals are to reduce youth substance abuse and increase family communication and involvement.