NEW ULM — The coalition formed with the goal of changing the unwritten rules around teens and drug use in Brown County. To that end, they received a grant for $125,000 a year for five years, starting in 2008, from the federal government.
But the Brown County Underage Substance Abuse Coalition was unsuccessful in getting a second five-year grant, said Kim Janke, the program’s director.
She said they’re not sure why, like six of the eight Minnesota requests, they didn’t get renewed for another five years. They were told in July that the overall program would be focusing more on urban areas with higher minority populations.
The idea for the program started with the United Way of Brown County, which in 2006 analyzed the biggest social problems facing the county. They found the county’s youth abused drugs at a higher rate than the state average, and they decided to address that topic first. Janke and the United Way applied for the grant, authorized by former President Bill Clinton's Drug-Free Communities Act of 1997.
Janke said all the festivals thrown in Brown County reinforce a culture and a social norm of acceptance of alcohol use. The group also addressed tobacco, marijuana and prescriptions drugs.
“Our main goal has been trying to change that social norm,” she said.
Some of their successes have involved changing policies.
Some of the festivals now require wristbands to reduce the chances of underage drinking.
And they helped get social host ordinances passed in New Ulm, Springfield and Comfrey. These laws can hold an adult homeowner liable if underage drinking happens on their property.
“If you know there’s a party going on, you’ll be responsible for that,” Janke said.
The coalition did its work in a host of ways, from supporting other groups to doing work of its own. For example, they helped Healthy Communities/Healthy Youth of Brown County expand out of New Ulm into Sleepy Eye, Springfield and Comfrey.
They enlist students to do short skits and ask questions afterward.
The loss of the grant will cut short many of the coalition's activities, though they can still advocate for policy changes, hold board meetings and create a newsletter, among other tasks.
They were required by the grant to create a “sustainability plan” in case they didn’t get renewed. Recipients of this five-year grant can only get it twice, so it's not intended to be a stand-alone effort.
“Other organizations will have to step up,” Janke said.
They can reapply for the five-year grant every year, but they won’t hear if they were successful until September 2014.
“We’re going to continue kind of on the sidelines until we apply again,” she said.