In late September, Prevent Coalition’s Rural Network hosted its inaugural conference in Yakima, Washington, celebrating this year’s theme, “Connections and New Beginnings.” The Rural Network formed just before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the conference was the first time that the 71 participants, representing rural communities from across Washington state, were able to gather in person to connect with their prevention peers.
“It was so wonderful to be able to get together with other Rural Network members who I haven’t seen in-person in years, and folks I had never met,” said Sarah Meyers, a volunteer from Garfield County and Steering Committee Member. “I was so grateful for the opportunity, and it truly did feel like a ‘new beginning’. I can’t wait for what’s in store for us this year with the Rural Network!”
The Rural Network is comprised of a group of volunteers and leaders who work towards building resiliency and preventing youth substance misuse in rural communities across the state, and is comprised of a coalition of parents, educators, business owners, medical professionals, law enforcement, government and faith-based organizations, and concerned citizens. The Rural Network connects communities through monthly meetings, supports partners and coalitions through strategizing efforts and collaboration, develops resources for rural coalitions using an online toolkit, and works to change policies through advocacy work, and the promotion of rural equity.
During the conference, attendees collaborated on strategies for youth engagement, supporting rural schools, sustainability initiatives, and the Strategic Prevention Framework. They learned how organizations and volunteers can work together to create lasting community change, and how people can support their communities with positive interventions that offset population risks. Attendees were given the opportunity to map out their local community and identify resources, sources of resilience, and identify areas of concern where they could focus on future strategies and action plans.
Based on the success of the inaugural conference, the Rural Network plans to host another conference again in the future.
“This conference was a launching point for the rest of the work we do together,” said Christopher Belisle, Prevention and Youth Services Manager at ESD 112. “It inspired us for what’s to come and empowered us with amazing face-to-face connections and memories. Looking ahead, we’ll be updating several prevention campaigns with rural elements, and are eager to partner with rural youth groups to offer resources for advocacy and connect them to legislators for policy discussions.”
The Rural Network is an initiative of Prevent, funded by the Commercial Cannabis & Tobacco Prevention Program of the Washington State Department of Health, in addition to other state and federal grants. Support comes from the fiscal agent, Educational Service District 112 (ESD 112)
ABOUT PREVENT COALITION:
Supported by the fiscal agent ESD 112, Prevent Coalition is a community coalition formed in 2003 to increase collaboration, awareness, and reduce youth substance use in Southwest Washington. Prevent also implements initiatives for rural communities across Washington state. As a community mobilizer, we’re creating a culture promoting healthy choices; advocating for policies and regulations that protect, empower and nurture youth; and facilitating positive opportunities for youth to be involved and thrive. For more info, visit www.preventcoalition.org.