Back in the early 1980s, Chisago County’s Community Partnership with Youth and Families started the same way as other grassroots organizations get off the ground — with an idea and a handful of passionate participants.
“There were a couple of teenagers at Rush City High School, not married, the girl was pregnant, and some area service providers thought, ‘We should be able to provide some help to them some way. Let’s get together and see what we can do,’” Executive Director of Community Partnership Tom Koplitz said. “They started meeting every month, and it grew and grew.”
The organization, which focuses on promoting healthy lifestyles for young people, recently hit the 30-year mark and will be having a celebration to note that achievement this spring.
Koplitz explained Community Partnership has evolved over the years and now offers myriad programs and resources that help area youth by:
• Promoting responsible decision making.
• Encouraging emotional health and well-being.
• Developing youth leadership and self-esteem.
• Promoting healthy sexuality.
• Preventing alcohol and other drug use.
• Promoting healthy families.
Alcohol Action Team
Koplitz noted one of the stars of Community Partnership is its Alcohol Action Team, which also works on drug prevention.
Much of what Community Partnership does is done without grant funding, which hasn’t always been the case.
Koplitz said membership on the Alcohol Action Team has actually increased since the grant money stopped coming in.
“Our meetings are so well attended; sometimes we’re just baffled by people willing to leave their workplace and come here and talk about what we can do to prevent underage drinking,” he said. “That’s really the only way you can make a dent in this problem.”
Koplitz explained the team is composed of area leaders such as the North Branch and Lakes Area police chiefs, the county attorney, area school staff and others.
In addition to the Alcohol Action Team, Koplitz also noted Community Partnership has a program at five area schools called the Youth FIRST Club, which offers “a safe, structured place to hang out with adult volunteers after school until parents return home from work.”
According to information on the program, “Community Partnership staff facilitate a 15-minute anti-drug workshop at the start of each session, after which youth receive a healthy snack and sign up for a one-hour session with an adult volunteer. Sessions are designed and led by adult volunteers. Typical sessions are – arts and craft activities, scrapbooking, nail painting, sports and games, sports card collecting, snowmobile safety, a day in the life of a police officer, making healthy snacks, healthy lifestyles workshops and more. The program is offered at no cost to the over 250 youth participating in the program.”
Koplitz said the program is very popular, and at Lakeside Elementary in Chisago City, for example, there are often more than 100 kids participating on Fridays after school.
And the best part for Koplitz and others who are involved in Community Partership: There is quantifiable evidence that its initiatives are working.
Every year, Community Partnership receives the results of an annual survey it conducts with Chisago County students in sixth, ninth and 12th grades. The survey allows the students to remain anonymous; in it students answer questions about their use, attitudes and perception of risk about alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, meth and prescription drugs.
“Kids are honest (in this format),” Koplitz said. “There’s no reason for them not to be.”
There are peaks and valleys from year to year, and Community Partnership works with schools to address alcohol and drug trends. The survey has shown good news.
“In the mid-2000s, we reduced ninth-grade alcohol use in Chisago County by 12 percent – that’s unheard of in our business,” Koplitz said.
Koplitz said the Community Partnership office, located on the second level at Trinity Lutheran Church in North Branch, became the clearing house for the Minnesota Prevention Resource center in the past year, which is the state’s drug and alcohol resource center.
The office has loads of free information in the forms of pamphlets, DVDs and a website, mnprc.org, that people can utilize to learn about drugs and alcohol and prevention practices.
Readers can learn more about Community Partnership by visiting cpyf.org.