While 2020 has brought many challenges, it has also amplified our strengths.

During a typical year, we at the Union County Safe Communities Coalition would be holding the Seventh Grade Conference, Drug-Free Relay, town halls, teen movie nights, and supporting community events. But we were stalled to ensure the health and safety of the community. Despite these halts, we got savvy with Zoom, did some giveaways and partnered with the police department for another successful Drug Take-Back Day.

Although we haven’t been as active externally working in the community, our meetings have continued to be consistent and diligent as we discuss what challenges post-COVID will bring. At the Union County Safe Communities Coalition, we care about our community’s success and resilience and our youth, and truth be told, we are worried about our youth and the risks brought on as we try to cope with isolation and social changes.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, we continue to look at other major public health issues, such as suicides and increases in alcohol and substance use. At the beginning of the year, the UCSCC added a Suicide Prevention/Response Coalition branch to address mental and behavioral health gaps. Just in time, as COVID-19 is correlated with poor mental health. People cope in different ways when faced with stress and losses, and while some prove to be resilient, others may start using drugs and alcohol, including youth.

Data show that early initiation of drug use is a strong predictor of having problems with drug use as an adullt, and it can lead to adverse social, behavioral and health problems. It’s this data that keep the coalition banded to work toward positive youth development. We have strong support and partnerships with the school districts and other organizations, including La Grande Parks and Recreation. Our Youth Council has expressed concerns about vaping trends, so in 2021, we will continue to inform the community of harms and offer fun alternatives that promote wellness and drug-free living.

In this time of challenges, it’s important to reflect, practice gratitude and be thankful for the often-overlooked entities. We are so grateful for all of our community supporters. Where would we be without our media outlets updating the community daily on all the critical issues? The hospital and the Center for Human Development have worked relentlessly to keep up their services to meet the community’s needs and concerns. The schools, teachers and administrators provided so much care to the children, and they also deserve a big thanks.

COVID-19 has shown that when we find strength when we band together.

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Marce Martin is the coordinator for the Union County Safe Communities Coalition, which works for the prevention of youth alcohol, tobacco and marijuana use in Union County.

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