August 10, 2011 Edition

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ATOD continues efforts to reduce
underage drinking, substance abuse

Several members of the Lawrence County ATOD Coalition traveled to Washington, D.C., earlier this year for the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America National Forum. Among those attending were (from left) Hoxie High School student Sarah Cullum, Walnut Ridge High School student Brooke Midgett and Sloan-Hendrix High School student Morgan Smith.

Gretchen Hunt

For more than a decade, community members have been working together to inform students and community members about the effects of alcohol and drugs in an effort to reduce underage drinking and substance abuse.

The ATOD (Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs) Coalition, which formed in 1999, received a major boost in its efforts when it was awarded a four-year Strategic Prevention Frameworks State Incentive Grant in 2007.

That grant cycle, which ended on June 30, provided funds for paid staff positions, as well as implementation of prevention programs.

Alison Oglesby Johnson has spent the past four years as project director for the coalition under the grant.

She said she feels like one of the coalition's biggest accomplishments during her time as project director was passage of the Social Host Ordinance in Lawrence County.

Coalition members were also proud to see major improvements in data collected in student surveys regarding alcohol use.

"We had set some goals at the beginning of the grant cycle, but we far exceeded them," Johnson said.

As a result of the grant, a Positive Action Program is now in place in all the schools in the county.

Amber Adams, who served as program coordinator, implemented the program, which will now be continued by the schools and volunteers.

She said she has enjoyed being in the schools and working with the community.

"I enjoyed being in the classroom and I enjoyed watching my students learn and that feeling of accomplishment," she said.

Another program that has been implemented is Youth in Action, which was coordinated by Rena Cullum. A Youth Advisory Board, made up of students from each school district, is now in place.

"We have been told this is one of only a handful of youth advisory boards in the state," Johnson said.

Adams said the most important part of the coalition's efforts is to simply increase awareness.

"People didn't talk about it - now they do," she said. "It has been somewhat accepted as 'that's what kids do,' but I think we raised awareness of the dangers of that."

Another major goal the coalition has accomplished is obtaining 501 (C) 3 status.

"That opens us up to a lot of opportunities that we didn't have before," Adams said.

Efforts continue

ATOD Coalition efforts continue, though at this time all work is being done on a volunteer basis. Hopes are that Drug Free Communities Grant, which was recently applied for, will be received to once again have paid positions.

The new grant, if received, would focus on youth marijuana use and underage drinking. Plans include training for law enforcement, community members, parents and teens, as well as work to change drug-testing policies in local schools to include the entire student body.

Several other grants have also been applied for with assistance from Lawrence County grant writer Emily Hathcock.

Adams said partnerships that have been formed through the coalition are a major asset. One such partner is the Lawrence County Sheriff's Department.

"A lot of counties don't have the support we have from law enforcement," Johnson said.

"We also have a good working relationship with the schools," Adams said. "We would like to see these partnerships continue to grow, as well as new partnerships develop."

Anyone who is interested in being a part of the coalition is encouraged to attend a meeting or contact current president Junior Briner. Johnson said representatives are needed from all aspects of the community.

"It's kind of the whole 'it take a village' philosophy," she said. "It's not just law enforcement, or it's not just the schools. It's everyone being a part of it and being accountable."

Though they continue to serve as volunteers with the coalition, Johnson and Adams have both taken the summer off to spend time with their families as they wait to see if funding will be available for paid staff positions again.

Johnson is married to Keith Johnson and has three sons, Kolton Oglesby, 10, Korwin Johnson, seven, and Asher Johnson, two.

Adams is married to Clint Adams, and they have a daughter, Kiryn, who is 18 months old. She is also a part-time employee of CASA, serving as an advocate coordinator.

Adams expressed gratitude to all who have helped with the coalition's efforts, a list she said is too long to name.

"We would never have gotten this far or made the positive changes we have made without the support of our volunteers, elected officials, schools and media - our entire community," she said.

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