Public health coalition celebrates 20 years

  • The Communities That Care Coalition celebrates its 20th anniversary with a lunch at Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield. CONTRIBUTED




Staff Writer
Published: 11/1/2022 6:01:39 PM
Modified: 11/1/2022 6:01:21 PM

GREENFIELD — A local initiative that began as a group of community members seeking to curb alcohol, tobacco and drug use among local youths is celebrating 20 years of serving the region.

The Communities That Care Coalition, a program of the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, began in October 2002 with help from a Drug-Free Communities Support Program grant. Since then, the regional public health coalition has grown to include a roster of more than 500 people and stronger partnerships than ever before.

“It doesn’t feel like it’s been 20 years,” said Rachel Stoler, co-coordinator of the Communities That Care Coalition. “It’s gone by really fast.”

Reflecting on the last two decades, Stoler and others spoke to the success of the annual survey of middle and high school students in Franklin County and the North Quabbin region. This year, 1,600 students across nine public school districts participated in the Prevention Needs Assessment Survey. The 20th annual survey illustrated impacts on student mental health and the changes in norms around the use of cannabis.

“We’ve been able to get so much data and include our partners in developing questions,” Stoler said.

That focus on data gathering, according to South Deerfield resident Lucinda Brown, is what has always been one of the coalition’s greatest strengths. Brown retired several years ago from the Trial Court where she ran a restorative justice program and one of the region’s two drug courts. She was a longtime member of the Communities That Care Coalition.

“I certainly gained a lot of perspective about how we protect youth from the bad influences in our society like alcohol and drugs,” said Brown, who now sees herself as part of the coalition’s “fan club.” “I think what I value most is what they have been able to accomplish by working with the schools and collecting information, and getting the questionnaires accepted in the first place.”

Brown explained that school districts originally had concerns about confidentiality, as well as the time and resources needed to participate in the Prevention Needs Assessment Survey. The coalition persisted, however, and the youth health survey has since become a regular occurrence in school districts across Franklin County and the North Quabbin region.

“The emphasis on fact and evidence and listening to the voices of the children and youth, and passing that along to all organizations who may have an effect on the health of the community — to me, that’s really been the strength,” Brown said. “That focus on evidence and evidence sharing.”

Kat Allen, co-coordinator of the Communities That Care Coalition alongside Stoler, said the high level of community engagement is another achievement she’s witnessed since she joined in 2004.

“We’re also really proud of our racial justice work lately,” she said. “We’ve gotten a five-year grant for addressing racial justice in schools and we’re working with local school districts on how they could better move forward on advancing racial justice and racial climate in their schools, and improving equity.”

The coalition’s work has even been recognized nationally, according to Allen, which included an invitation to participate in a panel at the White House in 2011.

One significant change in the coalition since its inception is the shift in perspective on drug and alcohol use among youths, Stoler said. Rather than focusing solely on substance misuse and prevention, the coalition now looks at substance use as a symptom of something bigger — mental health issues, for example.

Looking forward, Allen and Stoler said they hope to see more youth and community engagement, as well as a continued focus on celebrating the community’s assets.

“Focusing on the positive doesn’t mean ignoring the things that are problems, but understanding young people have so much to offer our community,” Stoler said.

The coalition celebrated its anniversary in a hybrid format last month with a gathering on Zoom followed by a lunch, catered by Cocina Lupita, at Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center.

“It was just really fun and relaxing and festive,” Stoler commented. “It was nice to be all together.”

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne.


Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Greenfield Recorder, keeping Franklin County informed since 1792.

Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261


Copyright © 2021 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy