The past year has been full of changes for a local community substance abuse prevention coalition — including a new name and a new coordinator.
The group formerly known as Drug Free Montcalm now bears the moniker YOUTHINK Montcalm, a play on words with a focus on local youth. The coalition is a branch of Cherry Street Health Services.
The group also has a relatively new coordinator, Amy Buckingham, who now has one year under her belt with the program.
The new job wasn’t something she planned. Buckingham, who is known for her gregarious personality, loved working as an intensive probation officer for youth until she lost her job due to a funding cut. Buckingham began searching for a new job, one that would still allow her to help others. She contacted a past employer for a reference.
Patti Warmington, the director of health promotion for Cherry Street Health Services, alerted Buckingham to the substance abuse coalition and its need for a coordinator.
“The idea of assisting people who valued youth and wanted to make changes in the community around them so it is easier for children to grow up alcohol-free and drug-free fit my beliefs,” Buckingham said. “I believe we’re all on this earth to take care of each other. I believe very much in service. I believe very much that we are all interconnected, what each of us does affects all others. Our actions speak louder than our words.”
Buckingham emphasized that YOUTHINK Montcalm different from other groups in that it is a community coalition in which the members provide the service.
“These members are to work within their own spheres of influence, which could be personal or professional, to further the mission of the coalition,” she said. “As the staff person, I am to support the members in their service, facilitate organization, find resources, including people with expertise, remove barriers and maintain documentation and write reports as required by funders or overseeing bodies.
YOUTHINK Montcalm covers all 720 square miles or so of Montcalm County, which includes a population of more than 63,000 people — 15,000 of them younger than age 18. The coalition specifically works to address the problems of alcohol, marijuana, prescription drugs and all forms of tobacco.
This year’s achievements
YOUTHINK Montcalm achieved several major accomplishments this year, including obtaining a technical assistant, Rhonda Ramsey Molina, who is the deputy director of outreach and innovation at the National Coalition Institute at CADCA, the national training and advocacy organization for the community coalition model.
Molina conducted a technical assistance session for the coalition, which attracted 51 participants from throughout the county. At that gathering, dubbed “Montcalm Communities Together,” Molina used the metaphor of ducks on a pond to explain the community coalition model.
“So often, we think of substance abuse prevention as primarily talking to kids or teaching parents,” Molina said. “The community coalition model not only reaches far more people than these individual-focused approaches, but it also leads to more long-lasting effects. Our kids, who are apt to use substances, are the scruffy, dirty ducks swimming in a mucky, dirty pond. The individual-focused approach would tell us to take a duck, or maybe a flock or two of ducks out of the pond, clean them up with skills and information, and send them back to their murky waters, where it will definitely be difficult for them to stay clean.
“The environmental, community coalition model teaches that people from all sectors of the community must clean the pond in their areas and with methods that affect the entire pond, so that it is easier for all of our ducks to grow up clean and stay that way,” Molina concluded.
This past year, YOUTHINK Montcalm also created two new substance abuse prevention brochures for caregivers of young children thanks to Great Start Collaborative of Montcalm County; informational literature listing resources for quitting tobacco created by staff at the Mid-Michigan District Health Department; targeted alcohol compliance checks overseen by the Michigan Liquor Control Commission; support for a youth summit for high school suicide prevention peer leaders; alternative activities for local high schools; and the installation of medication disposal drop boxes, which are overseen by police departments throughout the county.
Next year’s goals
Buckingham said goals for the coming year are currently being planned as part of a group process. She predicts some of the goals will be as follows:
• Address all four drugs identified as the primary problems for local youth (alcohol, marijuana, prescription drugs and all forms of tobacco).
• Address influences of children prenatally through adulthood.
• Address what youth experience in their lives in their communities.
• Seek out more people and organizations to join YOUTHINK Montcalm.
• Update the coalition’s website (dfmc.info).
• Support local youth groups and help them become connected to others.
• Create an active youth component for the coalition and meet with community members and school officials to discuss the idea of hosting a local youth summit.
• Determine a process to recognize the many helpful store owners who are “good neighbors” for local youth, as well as help those stories provide responsible seller education to employees.
• Provide accurate information about emerging drug trends, such as small cigars, e-cigarettes, prescription medication and medical marijuana.
• Inform more people about the longterm dangers of abusing alcohol, which is an overlooked drug, according to Buckingham.
“In short, we want to meet more people and groups and work together to do more,” exclaimed Buckingham, her bright smile beaming.
How to get involved
YOUTHINK Montcalm currently has 44 individual members and three group members.
“We look forward to including many more in our coalition network in the coming year,” Buckingham said. “The county is big, has many communities and there are many, many people out there with ideas of things that could be done. We need the ideas, expertise and actions of all.
“Anyone can be involved as long as they support our mission, which is to have safer and healthier communities where it’s easier for youth to grow up alcohol-free and drug-free,” she said.
John Kroneck, who works for Cherry Street Health Services, said the YOUTHINK Montcalm Coalition was an active but low-key organization when Buckingham came on board. In the past year, Kroneck said Buckingham has “reinvigorated” the coalition.
“Amy has been doing a great job by really focusing on what is necessary to have a successful community-driven coalition,” Kroneck said. “It is one thing for an agency to develop a program and then ask for community support. It is quite another to provide opportunities for people of any given community to be involved in creating what they see are real answers to the problems they are seeing in the community. Amy has a deep understanding that, if we are going to see significant change in the Montcalm County area, it must be led by the people of the community.
“We are delighted to have Amy on board and encourage anyone who would like to see a community better designed to support healthy environments within which young people live, to call Amy,” he said. “You will find she is very interested in what people think and have to say.”
Call Buckingham at (989) 831-4591 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about how to get involved with the YOUTHINK Montcalm Coalition.