Boots on the ground

By: 
Bri Brasher

21 Alliance tackles prevention in Weston County

 

Bri Brasher

NLJ Reporter

 

Changing the culture of a community is not an easy task, and it’s not a job that can be done by one person alone, according to Kristi Lipp, Weston County’s certified prevention specialist. And Lipp said she recognizes that effective change in a community must come from the community itself. While Weston County Health Services manages the county’s funding from the Wyoming Department of Health, Weston County needs “boots on the ground” to instill positive change, Lipp said.

A coalition of community members, now known as 21 Alliance, is focused on building a positive community culture and environment in Weston County, said Lipp, who leads and organizes the coalition. Piggybacking off a statewide change in prevention this past summer, 21 Alliance is taking a more holistic approach to prevention, she said.

“We thought it was a really good time to re-look at what we’ve been doing as a group and kind of update things,” Lipp said. “I think from my perspective, our main goal is to really build our coalition and get the wheels back on the bus.” 

The group, previously known as the Prevention Task Force, has been around for about 15 years and primarily focused on substance abuse and suicide prevention. While both will remain a high priority for the group, Lipp said, addressing the issues themselves is not sufficient — a culture change is necessary. In order to lead that change, the task force needed to regroup too, she said. 

“We really wanted to go with a new name for the organization that was more positive than ‘prevention,’” explained Bob Bonnar, president of 21 Alliance. “Because we are focused on improving community culture and can’t do that without getting the whole community on board, we really like the idea of our group forming ‘alliances’ in the community to make those improvements.” 

According to Bonnar, issues with the task force as of late stem from a statewide approach that did not blend well with localized issues. 

“Prevention in Weston County really has been crippled for the past half decade by far too much control in Cheyenne. Budgets, messaging and objectives were all set in the capital for everybody across the state, and we had no real ability to focus on the problems here and find solutions for them,” Bonnar said. “I’m really excited that the system was changed and allows us to use the resources provided to the community by the state to address the problems we think are most important here.

Lipp agreed, saying that the task force was made up of “a really active group for a number of years” before losing momentum over the past few years. According to Lipp, the organization’s initiatives were based not on community-driven prevention but on a top-down approach. Now, 21 Alliance is working to shift the lens back to the people of Weston County specifically, starting with the county’s youth, she said.

“The alliance is working with Weston County School District #1 in bringing Sources of Strength to the Newcastle community,” explained Lipp. “That’s something that the alliance and the district have gotten behind because we really feel like that program can address a lot of the issues we’re seeing, whether it’s substance abuse or mental health, or whatever it may be.”

Lipp said by implementing a positive culture with the kids, through the Sources of Strength program, change will then roll over into the community and the group will build momentum and capacity once again. The program got underway in December. According to Lipp, 21 Alliance trained adult and peer leaders at the end of November, and the first activity involving the high school was in December. While the focus on peer leaders is only at the high school level right now, the alliance is looking to add peer leaders in the middle school next year.

“Sources of Strength is a program that begins in the school with our teenagers and is specifically an attempt to help them improve the culture there,” Bonnar said. “The neat thing about it is that it allows community members from outside the school — not just teachers — to participate alongside the students. We hope they can help us then take Sources of Strength to the community to mirror the work our kids are doing in schools.”

Lipp added that the group is always looking for more boots on the group — people who have a passion to be involved. 21 Alliance is made up of a broad range of people involved on many levels, according to Lipp. She said some people are actively involved in coming to meetings and lending a hand, while others are more “quiet on the sidelines” by supporting and bringing ideas to the table, yet not as involved in the everyday happenings. 

Lipp said that variety is what makes the group work, creating a broad representation of 21 Alliance in the community. The alliance is made up of representatives from many community agencies, including the Department of Family Services, public health, the school district, law enforcement and the hospital. She said the group will also continue to provide resources for tobacco cessation, maintain its prescription and drug drop boxes and help with community events by offering resources for the safe consumption of alcohol.

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