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In 2001, crystal methamphetamine, or “ICE,” was creating a crisis across Hawaii Island, with dramatic increases in crime, violence and medical emergencies. That year, an International ICE Conference held at the Waikoloa Beach Marriott brought people together to address the issue, and to challenge Hawaii Islanders to take control of their own communities.
To find ways to reduce use of ICE or youth experimentation with this toxic drug, each community was asked to create its own CRI Team — a Community Response to ICE. Four CRI groups merged to form North Hawaii Drug-Free Coalition in 2003, representing North Kohala, Waimea, Waikoloa and Honokaa.
With Five Mountains Hawaii as a fiscal sponsor, NHDFC received federal funding from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, and a 10-year grant allocation from Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. FMH provided matching funding and the four communities provided in-kind/volunteer hours to support numerous programs island-wide, with a strong focus on youth prevention strategies.
In the past ten years, NHDFC has sponsored alternative activities for youth, consistent messaging in community newspapers and on radio for the last five years, and provided youth and adult scholarship opportunities for mainland national Community Anti-Drug Coalitions Association training. It also supported a bi-annual Youth Risk Behavior Survey to track four core measures of prevention progress.
The coalition structure was essential to produce the popular, youth-driven “Models Not Bottles” campaign, a project of the County of Hawaii Strategic Prevention Framework – State Incentive Grant. It also supported the documentary film by Holly Algood of North Kohala, “Perils and Pearls in Paradise - Hawaii Island Alcohol Stories & Facts.” The film featured interviews with local residents about their experience with alcohol and its dangerous consequences.
“My participation with NHDFC has deeply touched my life and those whom I love,” said Algood. “I’ve learned the tremendous cost to our island from excessive drinking and use of drugs in lives, municipal costs, health and healthcare costs. We have one of the highest drunk driving death rates in the country, costing needless loss of lives.”
“NHDFC has brought some of the newest research to the public through news stories, social media, public trainings, skill building offerings and healthy activities for youth,” said Algood. “It has changed my life and my choices and those of many others.”
“Quality-wise, everything we are sharing is wonderful,” said Farrah Marie Gomes of Gomes Consulting, who worked with NHDFC to compile data for the YRBS and track the coalition’s measurable prevention results. “But it doesn’t mean a lot without quantitative measures—percentages of change, raw numbers to indicate people changing attitudes, changing perceptions and changing behaviors.”
Gomes said that overall, from 2011 to 2013, the YRBS showed that perception of harm (from drug or alcohol use) is down, parental disapproval is down, and 30-day use is same or down.
“In the field of prevention, not being able to decrease use, but to have it stabilize, is a positive result,” she said. “Behavior change comes after attitude change.”
“The YBRS results this year show we have had some impact on changing attitudes, but there is still much work to do,” said Robin Mullin, FMH executive director.
After completing the NHDFC grant from SAMHSA, FMH will discontinue programs and close their Waimea office on Oct. 31. Prevention work will go on as strong member organizations continue to support each other, while currently seeking a new fiscal sponsor. Sustainable elements of the NHDFC include Ka Hana Noeau, continued development on the Skateparks in Kapaau and Waimea, County of Hawaii addressing laws about drinking in the parks, and many others.
“The last year we have focused on sustainability planning, and all of our programs will continue after we close,” said Mullin. “The NHDFC will be an all volunteer organization again until the new fiscal sponsor is in place. Additionally, FMH has mentored two new Drug Free Coalitions formed in 2013, with the support of the Office of the Mayor and Prosecuting Attorney Mitch Roth. The Lifeplan youth mentoring program, which has engaged over 1,000 youth in the past three years, will also continue, supported with a new Department of Education position proposed by Art Souza, West Hawaii Area Complex superintendent.”
“Not only are youth the focus of your work, they are your agents. They are the folks that should guide the decisions that you make,” said coalition member and Lifeplan youth mentor Kei-Lin Cerf. “As a recovering ‘control freak,’ this was not an easy thing for me to learn. But if you can simply be brave enough to put your trust in them, you will find outstanding work.”
“Prevention activism, like a wave, builds and peaks and then spreads out,” said coalition member Beth Mehau, executive director of The Pantry and its youth coalition, the Friday Night Crew, which grew from a Lifeplan youth leadership team. “As the wave spreads out we have apathy for a while—and then it builds again,” said Mehau, “And I think this time when that wave comes, we are going to have fireworks.”
Mehau said that because of lessons learned and knowledge gained through collaboration in the last ten years, prevention activism is better prepared when crisis comes to the community again.
“Please accept my expression of gratitude to the members of the North Hawaii Drug Free Coalition,” said Georgine Busch, treasurer of the Earl and Doris Bakken Foundation and secretary of the FMH board. “The volunteer hours spent developing strategies, implementing plans, and learning collaborative leadership and community-building skills have had a tremendous impact on our community. The relationships sustained and the skills learned through the coalition will be with us for our lifetimes, and the foundation of the knowledge will continue to support our community’s health long into the future.”
NHDFC, a project of Five Mountains Hawaii, is a regional volunteer organization committed to developing strong, sustaining relationships for Healthy Communities Choosing to Live Drug Free. The coalition would like to thank North Hawaii News and the community as a whole for their support. For more information, visit www.fivemountains.org/nhdfc or email firstname.lastname@example.org.