No one would deny that helping people in immediate need, particularly children, should be a priority in every community. But helping people understand and change the behavior that caused the need in the first place is even more important in the long run.
That is the mission of the Dayton Together Coalition for a Drug-free Community. And the good work done in Dayton over the past several years has earned it well-deserved recognition.
Equally significant, these efforts have been rewarded by renewal of a federal Drug Free Communities grant from the Office of National Drug Control Policy. What's more, the five-year grant, previously set at $100,000 per year, has been increased to $125,000.
Out of 417 cities across the country that applied or re-applied, only 161 were approved. Director Gil Kerlikowske, President Obama's "drug czar," commended the Dayton Coalition for "working tirelessly to prevent and reduce youth drug use."
The coalition is staffed by Project Coordinator Jaime Turley, who came on board in 2004, and Community Resource Specialist Lorrie Flores, who was hired in 2006. Their primary partner is the Dayton School District, whose administrators and faculty members play vital, ongoing roles in promoting the program and assisting with implementation.
Strategies to increase citizen participation across all sectors of the local population include connecting with parents about substance abuse, reinforcing family bonds, building communication skills and increasing the quality of services.
The coalition's "Be the Parent" campaign, Strengthening Families Program, Cultural Competency presentations, Wellness Town Hall meetings and in-school and after-school activities all contribute to achieving the desired results.
Environmental strategies focus on changing or eliminating conditions in the world around them that create an atmosphere conducive to youth substance abuse.
Turley said, "We're being pro-active. Our environmental strategies include "shoulder tapping," where youths approach adults about buying alcohol, then give a 'law reminder' card to those who agree and a 'thank you' card to those who turn them down.
"Our 'Sticker Shock' Campaign places sticker warnings on multi-packs of beer, wine coolers and other alcoholic products that might appeal to underage drinkers."
In addition, coalition members support OLCC undercover decoy stings where law enforcement cadets enter stores and attempt to purchase alcohol. A similar program is conducted for tobacco purchases.
They also advocate for stricter adult liability laws on the local level. Called social host ordinances, these provisions hold non-commercial individuals responsible for underage drinking on property they own, lease or otherwise control.
A most gratifying result of their efforts was recently announced by the state Department of Human Services.
The department's Addictions and Mental Health Division set a goal for schools across the state of demonstrating that at least 70 percent of their 8th graders were free of substance abuse over a 30-day period. And Dayton Junior High was the only participating Yamhill Valley school to achieve it.
As much as the Dayton Coalition takes pride in the accomplishment, it recognizes that it is only one step on a long journey.
Current statistics show that by 13 years of age, 33 percent of youths have drunk alcohol, 26 percent have smoked marijuana and 14 percent have sniffed inhalants. Those are "sobering" realities, to be sure, but ones the coalition is trying to meet head-on.
Though studies to determine the extent of prescription and over-the-counter drug abuse are still being conducted, that is a rapidly emerging concern.
Perhaps more than any other area of substance abuse, Turley and Flores consider clear and open communication between child and parent to be essential for prevention. "Perception of disapproval by parents is a powerful force," Turley said.
Prescription and OTC drugs are the least understood and most accessible to young people, yet are also the easiest for adults to control.
With assured funding, the coalition will be able to do long-term planning designed to most effectively target key problem areas, conduct ongoing programs, hold meetings, produce printed materials, enhance Internet presence and even buy advertising.
In August, its event marking the 5th annual National Night Out was so well attended it ran out of free hamburgers and hot dogs half way through.
During the past year, members have hired translators to make Spanish-speaking sessions a weekly part of their "Be the Parent" and "Strengthening Families" programs.
"Children of immigrant families often become the primary communicators," Flores said. "With this program, parents who don't speak English well appreciate being included and regaining some control over the situation."
Turley said, "I'm happy to say that the community is making great strides. People are becoming more aware of the issues and the potential consequences.
"They're concerned. They're watching out for one another and holding others accountable."
She said, "Lorrie and I are very passionate about the issues, but we're not prohibitionists. We just want parents to take responsibility and that means getting involved."
And that's what I found out while OUT and ABOUT - observing Dayton Together Coalition staff and supporters communicate an effective message to the local community.