125,000 grant ending soon; prevention coalition in Milford desperate to find funds to continue its work
Despite 10-year history of success in substance use prevention, the end of federal funding for Milford Prevention Council leaves the local community at high risk
When you walk into a monthly meeting of the Milford Prevention Council (MPC), you notice attendees from diverse parts of the community. Churches, the school system, law enforcement, elected officials, local nonprofits, and more.
This group hopes to continue their highly successful, collaborative work to prevent substance use among local youth. Yet the federal grant that funds MPC runs out in less than a year, which puts this unique coalition's prospects on shaky ground.
"Milford was awarded a 10-year Drug-Free Communities grant in 2009," says Wendy Gibbons, program director of MPC. "It provides $125,000 per year to fund all of our programmings, from staff and planning to community awareness campaigns and resources for youth and parents."
That grant ends September 2020, which leaves the entire community scrambling to figure out a way to keep MPC's work going.
"We've made significant progress in reducing substance use in Milford, it's a model for other coalitions in our state," adds Gibbons. As an example, she highlights how MPC helped curb alcohol use among youth in Milford. In 2009, the percentage of Milford youth who said they drank alcohol in the past 30 days stood at 26%, compared to a state average of 18.5%. In 2017 – just 8 years later – the same data showed Milford at only 9% versus a state average of 11.4%.
Although MPC focused from day one on prevention initiatives that have long-term impact and viability, it was difficult to secure other funding when the initiative already had federal support.
Now that the federal grant is due to end, MPC is focusing on sustainability plans. It is rolling out a local awareness campaign over the coming months about the urgency of the situation.
"We've worked to secure smaller funding from local and state sources," says Lou LaVecchia, chairman of MPC. MPC recently secured a $50,000 one-time grant from the Community-Based Coalition Enhancement Grants to Address Local Drug Crisis (CARA) Program for a campaign focused on opioid use education. "We also receive small funding grants from United Way of Milford and the City of Milford. These may help for a few more months, yet unless we secure additional funding sources, our ability to keep MPC going will end in September 2020."
People who see MPC's impact are hoping that the local community can step up.
Board of Alderman member Raymond Vitali says that there is a genuine, two-fold risk to local communities and families if MPC goes away. "First, there will be nobody actively doing work to educate the community about the risks of substance use and spearhead community-wide prevention efforts. And second, all the successes that MPC has already accomplished are at risk of eroding quickly."
Since 2009, MPC has collected more than 3,100 pounds of medications for safe disposal during two annual Drug Take-Back Days and collected another 1,860 pounds through a medication drop box that was installed at the Milford Police Department. MPC has served more than 16,000 people through its school-based and community education programs. That includes more 7,000 high school freshman, high school seniors, and their parents during mandatory programs in Milford's two high schools that focus on substance use education and prevention.
"Our impact goes beyond statistics," Gibbons says. "MPC even worked with the Board of Alderman to advocate for and pass a local ordinance that raised the minimum purchase age to 21 for tobacco and vaping products."
When looking at all this great progress, Gibbons sees plenty of work still left, which heightens the need to find a funding solution. Youth use of e-cigarettes has risen dramatically, and Connecticut is once again on pace to set a record for the number of accidental overdose deaths within the state.
On top of that, Gibbons highlights the confusion around marijuana, with a push for legalization well under way in the state. "Alongside that is data that shows a clear link between marijuana use and negative impacts on brain development and cognition in youth. And people have questions about medical uses versus non-medical uses. Between vaping and marijuana alone, we have big education needs to address."
Between now and the end of 2019, Gibbons and other members of MPC are laser-focused on meeting with organizations and people who are interested in supporting substance use prevention. "We need to engage corporations, foundations, and individual people who want to make a real difference. It's an investment in Milford's future, an investment that enables the safety of our youth. Because that is what MPC does – it makes Milford a safer place to raise a family," adds LaVecchia.