Islanders working to create a prevention coalition

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Orcas Island is part of a University of Washington initiative that helps communities address potential social problems before they develop. After two years of a rigorous process, the end result will be a prevention coalition to serve the island.

“The community is ready for a coalition. There is definitely a need,” said Alison Sanders, coordinator of the newly formed Orcas Island Community Partnership, the organization that is heading up the endeavor.

Julie Pinardi, a family advocate for the public school, and intervention specialist Trillium Swanson joined Sanders this past October for an introductory training with the UW Communities That Care model. The two-year process is a science-based, outcome-oriented way of looking at destructive behavior in youth and how to work on a daily level to reduce those behaviors. According to UW, many communities see dramatic reductions in levels of substance abuse, crime and violence after the process.

“Coalitions are always based on a system, and CTC was chosen because of its track record, it was local, had plenty of support and was very much data-driven and not program-driven,” said Sanders, who works with a coach in Seattle every two weeks.

Both Lopez and San Juan Island have prevention coalitions but Orcas has been without one for more than a decade. The Orcas Island Community Partnership is funded by the county’s designated marijuana account, which consists of tax money from marijuana sales. That fund also contributes financially to the Funhouse Commons mentor program and youth intervention services from Swanson, a licensed mental health counselor associate.

Communities That Care process

The first phase of CTC involves identifying key leaders and gathering a community’s risks and strengths via surveys. Based on this data, CTC can help communities implement prevention programs and amplify those already working. Orcas Middle and High School conduct a Healthy Youth Survey every two years, and the last one was in 2016. A new survey will be completed this fall by the public school and possibly the Orcas Christian School.

The next step is forming a board, which will oversee the coalition; writing a vision statement; and developing a timeline. The third phase involves reviewing survey data; identifying risk and protective factors; assessing current resources; and identifying gaps in existing programs. The fourth step is creating a community action plan for prevention work and selecting policies. The process is complete when the coalition is up and running but progress is tracked to ensure strategies are successful.

“The whole idea is that this will create a sustainable coalition and that if someone leaves, it still functions,” Sanders said.

How it works

Swanson, who is also the mentoring coordinator for the Funhouse, explained that communities can reduce multiple negative outcomes (like teen pregnancy, substance abuse and delinquency) by implementing just one protective factor, which is a strength or resource that helps people deal with stressful events more effectively. For example, she said research shows that a quality mentoring program that increases community connectedness leads to decreased abuse of alcohol and disengagement to school. However, if a program is not run well, it can have a detrimental effect on kids. For example, Swanson says the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program developed in the early 1980s often results in a slight uptick in drug use.

“Bad science is reproduced over and over again,” she said. “A coalition will help with quality control and accountability for local programs … I know that a mentoring program really can be impactful and positively affect youth and the community. However, a mentoring program not run by best practices does not have a positive impact. So I am excited about having this body of data and being able to further strengthen our programming.”

For more information or to be involved in the CTC process, contact Alison Sanders at