The new director of Windham’s Be the Influence (BTI) Coalition is no stranger to substance abuse prevention work. With more than 15 years of experience in the field, Becky Ireland takes the reins to manage the Drug Free Communities (DFC) Grant awarded to the coalition in October.
Ireland began her career as a coordinator for a DFC grantee in NH, which gave her the foundation for DFC work. She is enthusiastic about the model, which brings many different sectors of the community together to look at their local issues and local solutions for those issues, she said. “It’s not a situation where you’ve got some outside governmental agency telling you what your community needs, it’s about your community partners coming together and talking about it,” she said.
For the past several years, Ireland has been a contractor for the state office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services. In that position, she helped develop programs to support communities across the state in addressing underage drinking.
Ireland said she’s impressed with the BTI leadership team and the work of the coalition. “It’s very strong in that the members are really engaged and are really partners, which is the true spirit of the grant program and the coalition,” said Ireland. “The staff people are really just a resource to the community to help them bring the grant alive.”
The BTI Coalition members did a strong community needs assessment, and after looking at root causes and factors that might be contributing to substance abuse, came up with a comprehensive plan, Ireland said. The overarching goal, she said, is to establish and strengthen community collaboration in support of local efforts to prevent youth substance use.
The coalition will strive to engage members of the community from a variety of sectors in the coalition and its activities as well as to increase community and coalition members’ awareness, knowledge and skills around the root causes of teen substance abuse and evidence-based prevention efforts. “We will do this through holding community forums, public awareness and education campaigns, and training for community partners,” said Ireland
BTI will also partner with community members to address young people’s access and factors that support or contribute to the issue, such as youth perceptions about community attitudes and norms.
Finally, according to Ireland, BTI will train and support youth to be peer leaders, educators, and mentors to help increase youth awareness about substance abuse prevention and the benefits of making positive choices.
Ireland started on December 4th. She said she’s excited by the energy that surrounds the work at the local level. She’s beginning to see people engaged in the work getting excited about the changes they are seeing, she said.
One of the things that Ireland appreciates about working in the field of substance abuse prevention is the collaboration she sees among coalitions across the state. “They understand that substance abuse isn’t an issue that’s unique to any one community,” she said.
Substance abuse prevention work needs to be comprehensive and coordinated, she said, to be sure all the issues are being addressed and there is consistent messaging across communities who are being served by DFC Coalitions. “The coalitions in the greater Portland area really have a great working relationship with each other in terms of sharing resources and finding a way that they can have some strength in numbers and efficiency by working together,” she said.
Her role as director is to support what the community wants and needs, she said. “I’m there to support them but at the end of the day it’s really going to be community driven, and it’s about what they see as the need. I’m just available as a staff person to provide some content expertise and to help make sure that we’re moving the coalition forward in our action plan and doing all I can to make sure the resources of the federal grant are used efficiently and effectively,” she said.