When the Waconia HEROs (Helping Empower & Respect Others) Coalition was created in 2010, its goal was to help eliminate bullying by orchestrating community-wide efforts that empower youth to feel safe, respected, connected and equipped to engage in respectful interaction. By all accounts, the coalition is making strides towards that goal.
Activities have included a forum on bullying, activities held in Waconia schools during Random Acts of Kindness Week, a community-wide survey, and cross-community dialogues.
A recent anti-bullying T-shirt design contest at the high school recently attracted 70 entries. The shirt will be sold at BIG Athletics in Waconia with a portion of the proceeds being donated to HERO’s anti-bullying efforts.
The efforts are the work of 25 volunteer coalition members who hail from 12 different community sectors, including parents, business, youth, school, law enforcement, civic/volunteer groups, religious/fraternal organizations, and healthcare professionals.
“This is grassroots,” said Richard Scott, a member of the HEROs coalition. “People who care in the community coming together.”
As HEROs has grown, so has its vision. The coalition is now working to address the issue of underage drinking and illegal substance abuse in the community.
According to information provided by HEROs, the Drug Free Communities Support Program (DFC) is a federal grant program that provides funding from the Office of National Drug Control Policy to community-based coalitions that organize to prevent youth substance abuse. Over the past five years, DFC-funded communities have achieved significant reductions in youth alcohol, tobacco and marijuana use.
Established DFC-funded coalitions with documented success have the opportunity to partner with neighboring communities and apply for DFC Mentoring funds.
In 2011, the Minnetonka-based Tonka CARES coalition partnered with HEROs and a Wayzata coalition to apply for these funds. In October 2011, they were awarded a two-year $150,000 mentoring grant, which will provide HEROs and Wayzata with the necessary assistance and training to ensure that their coalitions will be effective in reducing underage substance abuse and become eligible to apply for DFC funding on their own.
“The grant has been very helpful in helping us focus on addressing the issue of underage drinking and illegal substance abuse,” said Scott, who noted that HEROs has used the grant to review the local results of the Minnesota Student Survey (MSS).
The MSS is administered every three years (last occurring in 2010) to 6th-, 9th- and 12th-grade students and also is offered to students in area learning centers and to youth in juvenile correctional facilities. Questions asked relate to both the home and school life of students; topics include family relationships, feelings about school, substance use, wellness activities, and more. Participation in the survey is voluntary, confidential and anonymous.
“The mentoring grant has afforded us to have very sophisticated analysis of the data,” said Scott, who noted that underage drinking seems to have a presence in Waconia. “Most kids are not using but we must be concerned about the risk factors and decisions that put them in harm’s way.”
Under the guidance of Tonka CARES, HEROs is reviewing the local MSS data and determining community norms to establish the most urgent needs and the most effective strategies for the Waconia community. HEROs members are also taking advantage of training opportunities whose lessons will ultimately benefit the community.
Kelly Schiffman, a member of the HEROs coalition, explained that the mentorship with Tonka CARES is preparing HEROs to apply for its own DFC grant.
“The next step in all our pre-requisite material is to hold focus groups to obtain important information that we’ll analyze to bring to the community,” she said. A focus group will be held for each of the 12 sectors, with key stakeholders in each hopefully taking part.
Scott said HEROs is on track to apply for the federal funds in March 2013 and hear by September 2013 if HEROs is selected for the grant, which would begin Oct. 1, 2013.
“(The federal funds) can be used to hire a full-time coordinator as well as build capacity to address the issue of underage drinking and illegal substance abuse in our community,” Scott said.
Funds could also provide additional resources, programming and training, all things that would help HEROs reach its goal of empowering youth to make sound decisions.
“At the end of the day, we just want our youth to make healthy choices and good decisions, not to mention stay safe,” Schiffman said. “We want them to be healthy in everything we do and the more we can do as adults, the better off they’ll be.”
“We really want to give our kids every opportunity to succeed and help them make smart choices,” Scott added. “It really takes all of us to invest in our youth.”
For more information on HEROs, visit www.waconia.new.rschooltoday.com/page/2592 or Waconia HEROs Coalition on Facebook, or email [email protected]
HEROs is planning the 2nd annual Community Forum on Preventing Underage Substance Abuse, which will be held at Waconia High School from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Nov. 10.
The keynote speaker is Michael K. Alle, MA, LADC, BCCR, who will provide a common sense approach to understanding the drug use in the community, signs and symptoms to look for in youth using substances, and where to turn to for support and help.
Alle is a national/international speaker for the Hazelden Foundation. He is a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor, board certified at the reciprocal level, and holds a Masters Degree (MA) in Counseling Psychology from National University, San Diego, Calif.
The Hazelden Foundation, which recently opened a youth facility in Chaska, is supporting HEROs by supplying Alle’s appearance at no cost to HEROs.
The forum also includes youth guest speaker Holly Wachlin, a performance by SADD from Waconia High School, and a panel of experts on the topic of substance abuse.
The event is suitable for children 5th grade and older. Attending the event will result in three hours of CEUs for professionals. For more information, contact HEROs at [email protected]