By Bob Zientara
For the past decade, a $1 million Drug Free Communities Grant has helped Barron County to address the problems of teen pregnancy, underage alcohol and drug use, health problems such as obesity and diabetes, and other issues.
The grant expires at the end of September, but county officials say that the good work it has paid for will continue in the future.
Stacey Frolik, director, and Sarah Turner, public health specialist with the Barron County Department of Health and Human Services, talked about the program in a July 10, 2019 interview.
“The Barron County Community Coalition work has been primarily focused on this grant,” Frolik said.
The Barron County Safe & Stable Families Coalition is the ancestor of the Community Coalition. Its history goes back to 1989, when it was known as the Barron County Adolescent Health Council.
“The Tonight Show highlighted a teen pregnancy problem in Chetek,” Turner said. “At first, that’s what (the council) focused on.”
Substance abuse became part of the group’s efforts in later years, and, in 2001, it became known as the Barron County Safe & Stable Families Coalition.
The grant was acquired in 2009 from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Federal guidelines recommended the partners that should be drawn into the coalition to increase its effectiveness.
“We wanted representation from all these different places,” Frolik said. “The membership includes 80 to 90 (individuals and organizations).”
While the grant is coming to an end, the program will not.
“We will continue to focus on the teen population, but we do want to make a slight shift to methamphetamine,” Frolik said. In Barron County, “meth is an issue mainly with adults,” she added. “We have teens we know are using meth, but the number is much smaller than the adult population.
“We also want to focus on gateway (substances),” she added.
Underage drinking and teen pregnancy will continue to be emphasized as well.
The group monitors its effectiveness with in-school “youth behavior surveys.”
“We have done a survey every other year since 2008,” Turner said. “We focus specifically on reduction in alcohol, tobacco, and other substance use.”
Survey results are compiled and posted by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. Results of the 2018 survey will be available later this year, Frolik said.
The coalition also relies on the work of in-school police liaison officers. Barron County Sheriff’s Detective Dave Kuffel, who works in the Barron Area and Cameron school districts, is an example of that effort.
“Deputy Dave is a longstanding member of the coalition and has played a huge role,” Frolik said. “He keeps an eye on things in the schools, and he recruits youth for some of our efforts for alcohol and tobacco compliance checks.”
Teens began working with the coalition in 2009, and gained a more formal role the following year, 2010, when Safe Teens Offering Possibilities (STOP) was created.
Barron County’s high school students have made music videos and commercials, reminded adults not to serve alcohol to minors, organized youth forums and mock crash demonstrations for their classmates, and worked on alcohol and tobacco compliance checks in area retail stores.
As the Department of Health & Human Services prepares its 2020 budget, planners said that while the grant may be running out, the work will continue.
“The structure and oversight will not change,” Frolik said. “The coalition remains solid and consistent. We are going to see what we the community needs and (to) focus our efforts on those needs.”