Coalitions in Action – Massac County Drug Awareness Coalition – "Be the Positive Influence"

Based in Superman’s hometown of Metropolis, Illinois, Massac County Drug Awareness Coalition (MCDAC) works to prevent and reduce substance use in their community with the support of their Youth Advisory Council. This past year, the council of roughly twenty high school students implemented an impactful positive messaging campaign with the tagline: “Be the Positive Influence.”

To start, they purchased advertising space on their school’s athletic fields and gym to display the message throughout the year to their peers. Additionally, they wrote out the message on their school’s fence using plastic cups and wrote drug facts and positive messages on the school sidewalks.

“At our high school, it’s popular to do a fundraiser where you pay one dollar to wear a hat in school for a day. We held this type of fundraiser twice, and each person that participated would get a sticker verifying that they paid. The stickers that we handed out included our message of ‘Be the Positive Influence’, as well as our coalition’s name. It turned out to be very popular and many of the students placed their stickers on their phones and other personal items,” explained Holly Windhorst, Program Director of MCDAC.

“The second time we held this fundraiser, we handed out phone pockets with our tagline instead. As the students walked into school that morning, they seemed really excited to get something extra like that, even though it was small.”

“Something else they were able to do last summer was create a billboard in response to marijuana recently being legalized in Illinois. Since a dispensary opened in our town, which increased positive attitudes towards the substance, we wanted to put the message out there that not all kids use marijuana, in fact, most do not. It ultimately received a lot of attention – both positive and negative – but the youth handled it well and stood firm in the message they shared.”

When brainstorming prevention efforts with the Youth Advisory Council, Holly shared that she functions under the “youth-led, adult-guided” model. “I started off the Youth Advisory Council meetings last year by handing out blank sheets of paper for the students to write out what they believed were the most pressing substance use issues among their peers. We gave them the opportunity to share their thoughts without having to say it in front of everyone, so they could feel more comfortable, and we could ensure that every voice was heard. It also ultimately helps me to guide them into activities that are relevant and interesting to them.”

In the past, MCDAC has recruited Youth Advisory Council members primarily through social media and word of mouth. By increasing visibility of the council through their positive messaging campaign this past year, they have also seen more students showing interest in joining their efforts.

This summer, the MCDAC has brainstormed a potential new strategy to increase youth participation in council activities by implementing a point system. “Essentially, the concept is that each activity a youth participates in would be associated with a certain number of points, with the more-involved activities being worth more. As students reach certain point levels, they would receive coalition ‘swag’ items, and the youth with the highest point total at the end of their senior year would receive a small college scholarship from the coalition. Our goal is to reward those who have put a lot of time and effort into the group, as well as encourage participation in more time-consuming events. Additionally, it helps to track which activities each person is involved in, especially when their senior year comes around and they start asking for letters of recommendation.”

While MCDAC continues to iron out their strategy for the upcoming school year, they look forward to continuing their work with the passionate youth prevention advocates who consistently serve as examples of their message: “Be the Positive Influence.”