By JAMES DRAPER
Funded by the federal government and nurtured by the East Texas Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse for the past nine years, the Kilgore Together drug-free initiative will close its first decade in a year of transition as organizers pass the reigns to local advocates.
According to ETCADA chief Linda Oyer, the typically five-year drug-free community coalition grant was extended to 10 years for Kilgore To- gether because of the active involvement of the community in her organization’s efforts here. But with just one year of funding left, following a hard-fought but successful struggle for matching funds, the community will have to step forward and lead the program if it’s to continue after September 2013.
“They need to takeover and run this coalition so it sustains itself from here on out,” Oyer said Thursday. “It’s involving everyone to be part of a drug-free environment in your community.
In addition to her duties as CEO, in the 2012-2013 school year Oyer herself will be the point-of-contact for Kilgore Together from the ETCADA office in Longview.
The program’s litany of activities will continue, she said, evidence-based as always for a tailor-made drive that targets specific drugand alcohol-related issues relevant to Kilgore ISD students, from Shattered Dreams (simulating a fatal drunk-driving accident) to in-school presentations and the shoes and shirts lining hallways to represent lives lost to drugs.
An annual survey of the 12- through 18- year-olds at local campuses has revealed their ongoing – and ever-changing – attitudes on drugs, alcohol and tobacco. A portion of the program’s $125,000 in federal money funds an analysis of the survey results by Stephen F. Austin State University’s Dr. Robert Choate.
“When we get that survey back we create a strategy to address the issues,” Oyer explained. “What we’re going to be working on right away over the next few months is getting that survey to the students and getting that information back.”
Last year’s survey revealed a relaxed attitude on marijuana use and a prevailing attitude, among students and parents, that it was lessharmful than alcohol and other drugs, Oyer noted. Likewise, the analysis showed an increase in ‘social hosting’ – parents allowing their teens, and young friends, to drink in the home.
“When you get this information back, you target all your efforts, your campaigns – whether it’s assemblies, whether it’s a media campaign, whether it’s holding different events. You get information to the teachers, you give feedback to the school and as a community you respond.”
The media campaign has been, and will continue to be this year, an important factor in prevention and an essential funding aspect. The $125,000 in federal funds must be matched locally – print, radio and television outlets often make up a large portion of that, contributing valuable additional time and space to paid advertising by Kilgore Together.
Raising those matching funds and services was a “horrendous effort,” last year, especially after the requisite amount jumped from $150,000 to $187,500. Without the matching funds, ETCADA cannot pay the staff members that support Kilgore Together, the promotions, the activities, the materials and more.
“The economy tanked, we got cut from so many city budgets – it wasn’t anyone’s fault, it’s just happening all over the U.S.,” Oyer explained. “We did struggle in raising funds this year but we were extremely blessed by a $50,000 grant from the Rosa May Griffin Foundation that got us through this (past) year and will help us start off this next year. Kilgore is very special to them and we deeply appreciate the fact that they really came through for us.”
It’s a relief to have the final year funded, but Oyer is focused on building a foundation for the future of the program. While ETCADA will still be involved in Kilgore through curriculum-based initiatives and other activities – “You’re always going to see ETCADA in the school.” – administration and promotion will be passed on with the council filling a supporting role.
“That’s going to be a huge push this year. That’s our job – to develop that transition group of community citizens that will carry us forward,” she said. “We have several people that have been involved. What we are doing is trying to build a larger group.”
For example, Oyer added, youth groups at Kilgore churches can take up one activity or another and send representatives to monthly and quarterly meetings to spearhead the larger mission. month and once a quarter they all get together as one large group to continue to carry out that mission.
Also, “We are recommending the creation of a large steering committee made up of adult members that will map out different events; those groups will take on those different events and have different roles. In that manner, when one falters there’s many there to keep it going.”
Just as drugs, alcohol and tobacco cross all cultural boundaries, in every sector, penetrating society, so must the effort to curtail them.
“Statistics show that in a community where there is a drug-free community coalition the rates of drug abuse and initiation of drug use, the drug and alcohol use is decreased. It’s not just a program for a program’s sake. It is a life-saving, community-impacting program that meets some great needs in that community on a sustainable level,” Oyer said. “The more youth that we can get involved, the more adults we can get involved in the Kilgore community, the greater impact we will have.”
For more information on ETCADA and Kilgore Together, contact Oyer at 903-753- 7633.