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Chamber, Anti-drug coalition work to bring Christmas joy to at-risk youth

Posted on Tuesday, December 3, 2013 at 11:33 am

Staff Writer
John Coffelt

Thirty minutes in and a third Walmart shopping cart down, you realize just how much energy goes into large-scale charity Christmas shopping.Anti drug money_web

Recently, members of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce and the Coffee County Anti-Drug Coalition invited the Times along while they spent $4,320 in Christmas gift donations for some of the less fortunate involved in the Coalition’s MRT program and others in the area.

It was definitely a learning experience.

First of all the kid’s wish lists are far from what you’d expect.

“When you have kids asking for underwear, and if possible, make them boxers… kids asking for clothes so they won’t get made fun of at school, it really touches you,” said Chamber special events coordinator Margie Lowe.

There’s an art to finding that special toy that will light up a kid’s face on Christmas morning. Let’s face it most of us are pretty out of touch when it comes to figuring out what will be cool for the next five minutes. And that’s for our own lists, but last week’s shoppers did an excellent job playing Santa despite the logistical problems of shopping for over 40 children.

To help facilitate the process, Walmart offered a couple of associates as guides and a dedicated cashier to keep a running total. Carts were filled and brought to the cashier.

One team, including Lowe and Coalition prevention coordinator Christina Merino, handled clothes. My group, Chamber executive director Susie McEacharn and Coalition executive director, Kristina Clark, worked on toys. Then we met back for hygiene items, before splitting off to find books and sift the $5 DVD rack while Lowe and Merino looked for more clothes.

Find young adult fiction – check.

A book of poetry and model cars – not so easy.

Then, when it comes to picking DVDs for a younger audience, a film studies background, it seems, makes one superbly unsuited for the task. Or at lest in my case. Basically anything suggestion I would offer is a definite no-go gift, but fortunately for the youths in the MRT program, Clark has a better eye for children’s movies than I.

Without the donations made to the Chamber no gifts would have been possible.

“Thank you again,” McEacharn offers, “for helping us help these children smile this Christmas.”

Moral Reconation Therapy, a Coalition and Coffee County Drug Court’s tandem program, is cognitive-behavioral plan being implemented in the county school system to help at-risk kids improve moral reasoning.

Additionally, the Coalition has recently been named a Coalition of Excellence by the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA), the nation’s leading substance abuse prevention organization.

The coalition won the GOT OUTCOMES! Coalition in Focus award for their successes in the area of youth prescription drug abuse.

After their community data revealed that youth could easily access prescription drugs and that there was a lack of education for young people and caregivers about the long-term health effects of prescription drug abuse, the coalition implemented a number of strategies such as notMYkid and Are You Smarter Than the Influence?, worked with medical professionals on adopting a pervasive prescription drug campaign (Count It, Lock It, Drop It), and helped local law enforcement adopt DEA drug disposal policies for prescription drugs as well as the installation of permanent drug take back boxes at each police station.

Within a year, their member-driven efforts resulted in over 62 pharmacies and medical professionals implementing the Count it, Lock it, Drop it program in their offices and businesses. The program includes important policy and practice changes. In addition to distributing free lock boxes and disposal guides, doctors and pharmacists now discuss the importance of tracking, locking up, and disposing of medications with their clients. Today, the coalition proudly reports that more community members lock up and keep track of prescription medications at home and fewer students are selling or giving away prescription drugs to others. Access has decreased as more 6-12 graders report difficulty in obtaining prescription drugs, from 63 percent in 2009 to 77 percent in 2012, and fewer 6-12 graders have used prescription drugs in the past 30 days, dropping from 12 percent in 2009 to 6 percent in 2012.

“The Coffee County Anti-Drug Coalition is deeply honored to be recognized for the work our community is doing concerning preventing youth prescription drug abuse.  The fact that our community won for our work on preventing youth prescription abuse is a powerful sign to our community as the interventions implemented were truly based on all our partners coming together across Tullahoma City, Manchester City, and Coffee County.  We are a better coalition for going through the Got Outcomes process as it highlighted both our strengths and our weaknesses especially concerning evaluation and telling our comprehensive story,” said Clark.

The coalition will receive their award onstage during the Awards Luncheon at CADCA’s 2014 National Leadership Forum on Feb. 3-6 at the Gaylord National Hotel and Convention Center in National Harbor.