Coalitions in Action—Fairfield Youth Coalitions Prioritize Peer Mental Health Outreach

“The Fairfield Prevention Coalition was formed in 2005 in Butler County, Ohio,” said Coalition Director Joe Markiewicz. “The coalition’s target population are students and families within the city of Fairfield, Ohio, however we also sponsor events and activities throughout Butler County in partnership with the Butler County Coalition. With a focus on primary and universal prevention strategies, our coalition quickly formed multiple youth coalitions in the Fairfield City School District. In total, more than 110 students are involved in prevention training and event planning for their schools and community in the prevention of substance use onset, misuse and healthy lifestyle decision-making. Students are trained in the summer months prior to the beginning of the school year and meet twice a month with coalition staff to develop student action plans for prevention activities.”

“With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the student coalitions continued to meet virtually to continue to plan events and activities for all students in grades 6-12,” said Markiewicz. “Our student coordinator facilitated a combination of in-person and virtual meetings to keep the students moving forward. In addition to virtual meetings, the students stayed in contact with each other through the GroupMe app, which allowed them to communicate and upload documents on their phones, iPads and laptop computers. Awareness campaigns were developed to connect students who attended school virtually to still be a part of the student body, even though they were not physically attending school.”  

“As a result of the pandemic, coalition members and student leaders decided it was necessary to develop a positive messaging campaign for students who were displaying signs of isolation and lack of hope for the future because of all the negative consequences associated with the pandemic,” said Markiewicz. “The campaign was designed to target all students, their families and the community in general. Following the 40 Developmental Asset Framework, students prioritized the following assets to focus on for the remainder of the 2021 school year:

  • Asset #40- Young person has a positive view of their personal future
  • Asset #39- Young person feels their life has purpose
  • Asset #38- Young person reports having a high self-esteem
  • Asset #14- Parent/s and other adults model responsible behavior”

“A positive messaging campaign kick-off was officially enacted on January 6, 2021 at a community call-to-action facilitated by the coalition,” said Markiewicz. “At the kick-off, representatives were recruited from many sectors of the Fairfield community to support and expand the campaign.  Some of these sectors included law enforcement, schools, businesses, faith organizations, youth-serving agencies, government and civic organizations, students, parents and the media. The campaign started with positive posters in schools and around the community and will also include large billboards in high traffic areas around Butler County and a virtual community toolbox that includes instructions for community members to promote the positive theme of the month, along with information about the 40 Developmental Assets.” 

“Community members were asked to promote the message on their signage and social media outlets,” said Markiewicz. “Following the campaign, students will be surveyed about their feelings surrounding hope and connectedness with their classmates and community. Community members will also be surveyed about their personal misperceptions about young people. One of the goals of the project is to clear up misperceptions about young people by sharing the positive data from local school surveys and create a positive social norm about substance use onset and misuse. For example, 95% of our community’s students do not engage in binge drinking.”

“For coalitions who wish to develop a similar campaign, it is highly recommended that many sectors of the community get involved in the planning of the campaign to create buy-in for support and expansion of the project,” said Markiewicz. “Also, it serves to connect the dots for non-traditional organizations on how they can get involved in local prevention activities.  Most importantly, young people need to be involved in the planning from the very beginning.  Their feedback and ideas are critical to the success of projects that target them and their peers!”