In 2016, the Las Animas-Huerfano Counties District Health Department began a local coalition intent on organizing community members from all sectors and backgrounds to unite and build healthier communities. The model, called Communities That Care (CTC), has continued to garner support locally, much of it after organizing the Partners for a Drug Free Community group intent on tackling addiction locally. Recently, CTC released a state level impact report and CTC Facilitator and Coordinator Debbie Barry said it very much reflected the positive impact the program has had on the local region
“It is totally amazing because when this started four years ago, we had some people that were fairly skeptical as to how this could actually work,” said Barry. “Our participation rate is probably up 125 percent if not more, compared to what it used to be when we started in 2016.”
In the impact report, data showed that CTC fosters multi-sector communication and collaboration. This is made evident in Las Animas County, Barry explained, through the cooperation between the county and City of Trinidad.
“One of the most important factors is we’ve been able to bring county commissioners as well as the City of Trinidad into this coalition so that we’re building community capacity to provide a better community not just for youth but for everyone involved,” Barry said.
This collaboration has made advocating for change at the local level possible, the impact report stated and added, “many coalitions reported their belief that the passing of ordinances related to vaping and youth tobacco use was only possible due to the collaborative infrastructure developed with the support of CTC.”
Another major impact the report highlighted was the ability of CTC to engage youth in local community planning. In Trinidad, CTC partnered with the high school on their “Sources of Strength” program as well as their leadership program and is constantly, even now, working to give youth a platform in which their voices will be heard. Barry explained not only are they often not asked for their opinions, but also even when they are it’s often left by the wayside.
“Not only are they not asked but when they are asked, the adults don’t really listen,” said Barry. “One of the things I find that we do struggle with is having adults really accept the voice of youth and listen to what they have to say. If they did, what a better community we would have. We wouldn’t have so many youth going away waiting until whenever to come back or not coming back. If we could listen and provide them safe places to congregate that would be a huge step in the right direction.”
Right now, with students somewhat isolated, Barry said connecting with students has been difficult but CTC is working to begin meeting with them via videoconference sometime soon.
“Trying to get the information out to the students to be able to participate in an online meeting is difficult,” said Barry. “The school has to get permission from them and their parents for that to be able to happen, but it’s something that we’re working on. Before COVID-19, we had our meetings the third Thursday of every month at the high school and we had anywhere from seven to 15 youth participate. We’re still trying to get some voice from them because one of our strategies is to build public support for funding extracurricular activities and how can we do that without them?”
Another impact CTC has had in our community as well as across the state has been the way the coalition uses data collection to help inform science-based decisions and policy making. According to the report, the use of data to inform action is inherent in the CTC model.
Berry said they do compile local data received through the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey in both Huerfano and Las Animas Counties. The survey occurs every two years and the last survey having occurred last year, in 2019, Berry said they should have those results soon.
“They did one in 2017 and the last one was done last year so we should have that data any day now,” said Barry. “We have a specific data work group and we go in and look at all the information because Las Animas County is one of the few counties that had some questions added to the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey when we began CTC in 2016. So we have data from back in 2015, 2016, 2017, and now we’ll have data from 2019 which will give us trends and allow us to be able to forecast where things are headed as well.”
Berry also added that a lot of this data would definitely be used to help in developing the Partners for a Drug Free Community group, also established with the guidance of CTC and on track to become a 501(c)3 with the intent on providing assistance and resources for drug prevention in youth and adults.
The full impact report can be found at https://cspv.colorado.edu/what-we-do/initiatives/colorado-ctc/