The first week of February, GUIDE’s Executive Director Jessica Andrews-Wilson represented GUIDE and the Gwinnett Coalition for Health and Human Services at the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) 25th Annual National Leadership Forum in National Harbor, Maryland. Jessica was one of over 2,500 community leaders from across the nation and 10 countries who took part in this week-long training event. This event was primarily for those involved in work funded by the Drug Free Communities (DFC) Support Program. The Gwinnett Coalition for Health and Human Services currently receives DFC funding and GUIDE serves as a crucial partner in implementing several of the DFC strategies.
According to CADCA, the National Leadership Forum is the nation’s largest premier training event for substance abuse prevention and treatment professionals and researchers. Training sessions addressed some of the most pressing issues facing communities today – from how to prevent prescription drug abuse and marijuana use among youth to how to reduce tobacco use and underage drinking.
Jessica was fortunate enough to attend several workshops including ones on working with the media in your community, making policy change, the role of infographics in prevention work and marijuana’s impact on the workplace. The workshops provided concrete tools and ideas that GUIDE and the Coalition can use as we work to reduce underage drinking, prescription drug abuse and marijuana use across Gwinnett County.
Kicking off the CADCA Forum was keynote speaker Michael Botticelli, Acting Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). A week after the Forum, Botticelli was officially confirmed by the Senate as the Director of ONDCP.
Botticelli, who just marked his 26th year in recovery, shared his thoughts about the importance of prevention with the crowd. “Substance abuse prevention must remain an integral part of education, policies and programs if we are to achieve our goals,” Botticelli told participants. “As coalition leaders… you have a powerful voice and are ideally positioned to bring good science, valid data and effective prevention strategies to implement local responses to local drug use issues.” He closed his remarks by reminding participants that “our work is not easy; it is not popular, but it makes a difference.”
Immediately following Botticelli’s kickoff, a panel of past ONDCP Directors discussed their thoughts on how drug issues have and continue to change over time, as well as their recommendations for leadership at the national, state and local levels. Dr. William Bennett, Dr. Lee P. Brown, General Barry McCaffrey and John P. Walters were joined by moderator Susan Page, Washington Bureau Chief for USA Today, as they offered their insights. Dr. Brown, who served under President Bill Clinton, offered what he believes is the solution to today’s teen drug use problem. “There is an answer [to the drug abuse problem] and the answer is communities working together at the local level… and that is what this organization [CADCA] has been doing for 25 years. I am a strong believer that if we mobilize our local resources, we can make a difference.” Other advice offered during this panel ranged from finding strategies to attack marijuana legalization and use issues, correcting misconceptions that marijuana is harmless and making sure community members are sending healthy messages to youth.
Jessica was also able to participate in SAMHSA’s 11th Annual Prevention Day in conjunction with the Forum. Prevention Day was held on the first day of the Forum and focused on “The Power of Prevention: Making Impact in a Time of Change.” On this day, Jessica attended workshops about strategies to prevent opioid drug abuse and underage drinking from SAMHSA leadership. This opportunity to network and connect with other leaders in the prevention field was invaluable as it provided a unique chance to expand our connections across the country.
Along with the excerpts above, you can read more about the Forum in CADCA’s article Nearly 2,700 Community Leaders Sharpen Prevention Skills at CADCA Forum.
Our highlight of the Forum, though, was Jessica’s opportunity to represent GUIDE in a meeting with David Mineta, Deputy Director of ONDCP. Jessica was invited to attend this meeting as a prevention provider through the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) with Travis Fretwell, the Assistant Executive Director at DBHDD, and Brian Le of the Center for Pan Asian Community Services (CPACS), another prevention provider. The three Georgia representatives spent time sharing with Mr. Mineta the challenges we are facing in our communities and how ONDCP could provide more support, access and resources to improve our work in the field. The meeting was a great opportunity to convey some of our successes while expressing the need for more national support and action in several areas.
Though the event ended a little over a week ago, Jessica has already begun to share her newfound knowledge and resources with GUIDE and Coalition staff and reached out to strengthen connections made during the Forum. One of the workshop facilitators led their group in an activity that summed up the Forum perfectly. Attendees were asked to repeatedly draw a circle in the air clockwise, gradually bringing their hands down to chest level. Upon looking down at their finger, attendees realized that their fingers were now drawing a counter-clockwise circle. The workshop facilitator expressed that this simple activity was intended to remind us that sometimes we just need a change in perspective to help us see clearly. Jessica’s opportunity to gain a new perspective on prevention across the country means valuable opportunities exist for enhancing the prevention work we are doing in Gwinnett.