Coalitions in Action: Building from the Beginning
It’s a familiar feeling for coalitions just starting out in their communities to feel a mix of emotions; while feeling enthusiastic and optimistic for the positive impact they will be able to create, it can likewise, at times, feel overwhelming when figuring out where to begin. Creating relationships with each of the twelve sectors, generating ideas and learning how to best execute them in a way that’s suitable for the community being served and understanding how to best meet people where they are at is no small or speedy task. The Youth CAN Coalition, based in Claremont and Newport, New Hampshire, is currently in Year 2 of their Drug Free Communities (DFC) grant. Scott Blewitt, Youth CAN’s Prevention Coordinator and recent National Coalition Academy graduate has recently experienced this range of emotions as a new preventionist in the field. However, with training and opportunities to connect with peers at CADCA’s signature training events, Youth CAN has been able to establish strong partnerships with key sectors in their community, hold successful Drug Take Back Days, implement compliance checks, work with their schools regarding justice policy changes and more.
“Newport is my hometown, so I have great love for the people and places I represent. This is more than just a job for me – this town is my childhood, so I love that I can give back to these communities in my role,” explained Scott. “There can be times I struggle with feeling I’m not doing enough, and I want to be more aggressive with our strategies, but I know that these changes will take time, one step at a time. It’s cliché, but I think the line ‘it takes a village’ is truly the case in this aspect, and for that reason, I’m really grateful for the partnerships I have with various sectors.”
“This spring, I’m really excited about an event we have coming up because it’s provided an opportunity to create new partnerships, which will allow us to spread a bigger message. With the aid of the local school district, the Chamber of Commerce and the Newport Opera House Association, we’ll be able to cast an even wider net to the families in our community. On April 20, we will be hosting a speaker from the Choose Love Movement to speak about courage, gratitude, forgiveness and compassion, in addition to featuring a musical performance from Recycled Percussion. The two share a similar purpose and mission to encourage a healthy and compassionate lifestyle.”
“I’ve spent a lot of time at smaller events, handing out swag and educational prevention resources to community members, but I think this event will make a significant impact within Newport. The community has been struggling the past few decades, but I think this has the potential to create a buzz and have a positive, uplifting effect. I think we could really use a boost of inspiration and education to break some negative cycles and social norms in the two communities we represent.”
One component that was also critical to Scott and Youth CAN’s partners, was to make this event free and accessible to all. “We don’t want to it be the case of the haves and have-nots, with the have-nots being excluded from this opportunity because of the cost associated with it,” shared Scott. In order to make this happen, everyone worked together towards the goal of raising $25,000 by allocating grant funding and launching a letter campaign to local businesses. With only a few thousand dollars left to generate, they are optimistic that they will reach their goal.
“Overall, we’re just excited to celebrate and bring an awareness to the good things that are happening in Claremont and Newport. We want to meet people where they are at; if people are using, we want them to use less. If they’re not using, we want to celebrate that and provide healthy and fun activities for them to participate in, which is what this event is all about.”
Although the work of prevention can sometimes feel like taking a thousand small steps to create the impact desired, these worthwhile efforts have the ability to create a brighter future for communities across the world. “This DFC grant will help to sustain our efforts for five years, with a possible extension for another five years. My goal is to, within ten years, really create a substantial difference in lives of our community members.” Though every community coalition face new and recurring obstacles each year, with persistence and collaboration, every coalition has the ability to make their goals a reality.