Frequently, statistics are used to define us but rarely do they tell the whole story. There are so many events and circumstances in life that influence the statistics we are labeled with. The great thing about stats, though, is that they can be changed. We have the power to make them better. For me, it is all about our attitude and taking personal ownership today.
Recently the community of Hoquiam was selected to receive multi-year support from the Division of Behavioral Health &Recovery to reduce teen alcohol use and its negative consequences. Although this “award” goes to communities with the highest perceived need, it is a great opportunity for us to focus on what is right in our community and expand upon the good things.
In August of 2013 a coalition was convened in Hoquiam to address this issue. The members of this coalition include individuals from business, faith community, government, law enforcement, parents, schools, mental health, substance abuse treatment and the YMCA to name a few. We have all committed time to understanding the issues, talking about the issues and developing a strategic plan to address the issues.
We are still in the planning phase of this process and are on target to have a Strategic Plan developed by May of this year. One thing we have decided on, however, is our coalition name: My TOWN. This name was selected as being symbolic of people taking ownership in their own circumstances or destiny. TOWN is an acronym for: Transforming Our Wellness Now. Real community change happens when individuals care enough to make it happen. Wade Boggs once stated “a positive attitude causes a chain reaction of positive thoughts, events and outcomes. It is a catalyst and it sparks extraordinary results.” It doesn’t always take money to find the right resources to solve problems, but it does take caring, positive and proactive citizens — which is something the Harbor has an abundance of.
One of the first big steps for this coalition was to implement a community survey. About 740 adults took the time in November to complete an opinion survey about their views on teens and alcohol use. We were humbled by the overwhelming response and want to say “Thank You” for your participation. This gave us some tangible data and great perspective about what adults really think about teen alcohol and drug use. A summary of the results of this survey is available and can be viewed on our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/myTOWNcoalition.
Another part of our process was to look at school-level data on students and compare that data to state norms. What we found was that our kids were relatively the same as students from across the state in many health behaviors. However, we were noticeably higher (or worse) in these areas:
• 10th grade alcohol use
• Low grades in school
• Teen depression and suicide
• Truancy referrals
These issues are what we have elected to focus our long-term efforts on. Substance use has a profound influence on all of these behaviors, so we are primarily concerned with reducing substance use to improve the long-term outcomes and health of our youth.
We know there are things in our community that are working well to address these four target areas. We also know that there are needs and gaps that may never be filled, but how cool would it be if we, as a community that cares for the future of our youth, could come up with low or no cost interventions that addressed these very issues? I for one am excited about realizing our potential for community change!
With that in mind, I’d like to invite you to be part of the process. This week, we will be holding two community meetings to introduce ourselves to you, share some of our findings, and to ask for your help in discovering realistic strategies that will help transform the health of our community. These meetings will take place:
• Tuesday, March 4, 7:30 p.m. at Central Elementary School
• Thursday, March 6, 6:30 p.m. at Hoquiam Middle School
Childcare will be available and each meeting is estimated to be about an hour. I hope that you will be able to attend one of these interactive sessions.
Again, we intend to have this process completed by May and look forward to sharing our plan with you. You undoubtedly will be part of the solution and play a key role in transforming the negatives into positives.
Wherever you live in the Twin Harbors region, I challenge you to make the foundation of My TOWN, your TOWN, too. In the infamous words of Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Kurtis Dawson is the CEO of The YMCA of Grays Harbor. He is the chair-elect of My TOWN coalition and is a tireless supporter of Grays Harbor — a place he has chosen to live, work and raise his family.