Janesville49.6°

Group invests in reducing substance abuse in youth

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ROCHELLE B. BIRKELO
March 3, 2009
— In 20 years, you learn a thing or two.

Partners in Prevention-Rock County this month is celebrating its 20th birthday. In two decades, the organization has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars—$1.5 million in the last eight years alone—fighting youth substance abuse.


But how it spends it's money has changed.


Over time, Partners discovered that a countywide approach didn't meet each community's needs because each doesn't have the same issues. Now, the coalition works with each community and its leaders, said Kate Baldwin, executive director.


That approach takes Partners in the right direction, said Brad Demrow.


He was hired by Partners last April through a three-year, $470,000 grant from the Wisconsin Partnership Program, administered through the UW School of Medicine and Public Health. The main focus of the grant is starting a parent-mentoring group in Edgerton. The group will help parents create positive experiences for children, making them less tempted to drink.


"We've put a lot of money in Edgerton," Baldwin said.


It has the greatest need due to alcohol consumption that is above and beyond county, state and national levels, she said.


That's based on the biannual Partners in Prevention survey of student attitudes and behaviors.


Demrow said the new approach already is working in Edgerton, where he's seeing more interest in prevention.


"We've seen the bureaucracies' approaches not having a lot of effects, so I think getting these coalitions together, having a community-based effort where these issues are being tackled from the ground up is a better route to go," he said.


"We're really having good success with that in Edgerton," he said. "That's why it's important to involve a variety of sectors of the community so all areas of the community are represented by the coalition work."


Edgerton is only the beginning.


Partners plans to meet with community leaders in Evansville in April and in Beloit this fall to develop local coalitions. The meetings will facilitate, coordinate and move each community toward coalition building.


Changing approach

Coalition building is part of Partners' evolving focus, drawing the organization from events for at-risk youth to changes in laws and community attitudes, Baldwin said.


The transition has been effective, community leaders said.


"One of the biggest things we've done is to change the social norm in raising the conscious level to think about underage drinking," said Fran Fruzen, coordinator for a Safe and Drug-Free Schools at the Beloit School District and Partners in Prevention board vice president.


"When I first came into the organization, since almost the beginning, there was no discussion in the county about underage drinking,'' he said.


"Now people are beginning to talk about underage drinking not being in the best interest of a healthy community," Fruzen said.


Janesville Police Department Deputy Chief David Moore said Partners, of which he is a past board member, is doing good work.


"What Partners is trying to do is change the culture of drinking in a community. That's always hard and a long endeavor to get to the core of the issue," he said.


Moore also said Partners' school surveys provide useful information to the police department about the significant amount of alcohol use by kids in the community. Police use a brochure developed by Partners and the district attorney's office that explains the legal ramifications of adults hosting an underage drinking party.


Many times, Moore said, the brochure helped police gain entrance or cooperation in an underage drinking investigation.


Funding

Partners funding comes from foundations, grants, United Way of North Rock County and the federal government. The federal dollars make up a little more than half of Partners' annual budget, which is nearly $375,000 this year, Baldwin said.


By working with local organizations, school districts, law enforcement agencies and county departments, Partners has used some of the money to:


-- Increase alcohol compliance checks.


-- Award mini grants for youth prevention programs.


-- Host family and community events focusing on emerging gangs.


-- Recognize asset builders and positive teens.


-- Establish a bus-token program that provided more than 11,000 Janesville youth with free and safe transportation to activities after school, a time that studies have shown to be the most dangerous hours for children.


-- Hired Amy Williams to coordinate the Sobering Truth on Preventing Underage Drinking program to work with school groups to reduce underage drinking.


-- Conduct town hall meetings on underage drinking.


The future

Although increased heroin use has surfaced in Rock County within the last year, Baldwin said Partners has no intention of emphasizing prevention with this drug.


Fewer than 5 percent of kids in the county use heroin because it is expensive and more difficult to get, she said.


"Users are more likely to be involved in more activity involving beer because it is easy for kids to get. The drug of choice and more prevalent is pot and even more dangerous is prescription drugs that are easily available in medicine cabinets," Baldwin said.


The biggest challenge for Partners is "the culture we live in,'' she said.


"People don't like to change. When we talk about underage drinking, they think we're asking them to evaluate their own use. But we're not," she said. "It's part of the (prevention) process."


If you go


Who: Partners in Prevention—Rock County.


What: 20th Anniversary breakfast celebration, "Past, Present, Future."


Keynote speaker: Julia Sherman, outreach specialist for the Wisconsin Clearinghouse for Prevention Resources.


When: 7:30 to 9 a.m. Friday, March 27.


Where: Rotary Gardens, 1455 Palmer Drive, Janesville.


For more information: Call (608) 758-1844.



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