Coalitions in Action: Listening to Your Community
Since Volition Franklin, a coalition based in suburban Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, was created in the early 2000s, its approach to prevention efforts has evolved in response to feedback from their community, growing partnerships, and training experiences to include the National Coalition Academy and CADCA’s signature training events. Currently in Year 7 of their Drug Free Communities (DFC) grant, Volition has built a solid foundation of youth engagement and learned how to become in-tune with meeting members of their community where they are at.
“Our major substance of focus is alcohol, since our state has a very unique culture surrounding drinking. After receiving our DFC funding, we also now focus on prescription medication misuse, tobacco and vaping prevention,” explained Ellen Henry, Volition’s Project Director. “Prior to our DFC funding, we were coming from an old-school approach to prevention, which leaned towards focusing on negative trends in our community as opposed to what was going right. Soon after we became a DFC grantee, we sort of flipped a switch, especially with our youth engagement. We invite youth to learn how to be a positive peer influence in their community, and become a leader and advocate for prevention, which really spurred an increase in involvement from our youth.”
Another major learning point for Volition was increasing their focus on building genuine relationships with partners and people within the community. “Having conversations with community members, leaders, residents - truly everyone across the board - has taken us very far. It provides us the opportunity to learn about them and how we can collaborate on future projects, as well as brings an awareness to the work that we do and gets our name out there,” said Lauren Gottlieb, Volition’s former Coalition Coordinator and current Health Officer with the Franklin Health Department.
In an effort to build these relationships to meet people where they are at, Volition has found creative ways to cast a wide net in spreading the message of prevention. Over the summer, in a recent collaboration with the health department, Volition partnered on a series of Music in the Park events. Since these events typically draw in a large senior citizen audience, Volition was able to share resources relevant to a demographic of their community that they had fewer opportunities to reach previously.
Another seemingly unconventional partnership is Volition’s recent collaboration with the community’s Environmental Commission. “From a substance use perspective, people might not feel passionate about properly disposing of medications to prevent youth substance use, but after reviewing some key informant interviews and results from surveys and focus groups, we recognized that our community members feel strongly about environmental issues,” shared Ellen.
“We’re based close to Lake Michigan, so we discovered that when we reframed the message to, ‘properly dispose of your medications to keep our lakes clean,’ our community members bought into it significantly more. During the Annual Arbor Day celebration, we focused on spreading this message and distributing resources like Deterra at-home disposal pouches and medication lock boxes. Ultimately, we found that we can make a stronger impact when we align our work with what our community is passionate about,” said Ellen.
“The data collection piece is critical to becoming a well-informed coalition. We really value listening to our community, so we conduct a lot of one-on-one meetings with community members, and Volition has a close partnership with the health department so we can mutually share data. Empowering a back-and-forth dialogue enables the people we serve to feel comfortable coming to Volition and pointing out gaps and community needs, so that we can collectively discuss and figure out a plan to address them,” added Lauren.
Megan Conway, Volition’s current Coalition Coordinator, added, “Although I’ve only been in this position for six months, it’s felt really easy to step into the role because of the strong relationships Lauren and Ellen were able to develop before I came on. I definitely think our openness to hearing and collaborating with a wide range of people has enabled our work to become even more effective.”
Volition has shown that sometimes listening is the most important activity a coalition can do to ensure they’re aware of what their community is looking for and what next steps are needed. Through their ongoing collaborative engagement initiatives, they are growing alongside their community, now and for years to come.