In rural Indiana, a long history of successful collaboration prepares the Scott County Partnership for addressing rising rates of prescription drug misuse.
About the Collaboration
In 2015, Indiana’s Scott County Partnership received Strategic Prevention Framework Partnerships for Success (SPF PFS) funding to address growing rates of prescription drug misuse in the county. The region had come to national attention earlier that year for its abnormally high rates of HIV infection, traced mainly to misuse of the prescription opiate, Opana. Like many rural American communities, Scott County residents experience higher rates of substance misuse, as well as lower than average rates of employment, educational attainment, and life expectancy, than the U.S. population overall.
To achieve the goals of its new SPF PFS grant, the Partnership will draw on a well-established network of community agencies, local leaders, and businesses. Originally formed in 1998 to address gaps in job training, the fledging Partnership soon recognized that the community’s needs ran far deeper. “Job training was just one piece of the puzzle,” explains Jene Bridgewater, who joined the Partnership in 2001 and has served as its Executive Director since 2010. “To make a real difference, we also needed to address other barriers to employment, like child care, lack of adequate education, and lack of family support. And providing family support led us directly to substance abuse. Everything is linked.”
Today, the Partnership is an engine for social change in Scott County, focusing its efforts on four priority areas: substance misuse, early education, family support, and job training. Supported by five staff coordinators, Bridgewater oversees an entirely volunteer, 28-member Board of Directors. Comprising local business leaders, social service agencies, faith leaders, and educational leaders, the Board serves as the Partnership’s “window into the community.” Each member serves on one or more ad-hoc subcommittees: these groups are the driving force behind Partnership program development and implementation.
All Partnership work begins with a shared understanding that individual needs exist within a broader social context, and that effective programming must engage multiple players working on multiple fronts. With almost two decades of longevity, the Scott County Partnership is a model of collaboration in action, offering a number of hard-won lessons for collaborations old and new.
Elements of Success
Get an Early “Win”
Soon after launching its initial job training program, the Partnership led a campaign to create a “one-stop shop” where residents could receive food assistance, clothing, and sign up for government-based aid. “Once people got a job, they needed clothing to wear to work,” explained Bridgewater. They also needed food, as families struggled to catch up on lost wages from years of unemployment. The campaign culminated in a “old-fashioned barn raising.” In less than 24 hours, community members built a free-standing food pantry and clothing depot that would be staffed by volunteers from multiple Scott County churches (churches that had, until that that time, provided these services independently). “That building was evidence of what we could do when we worked together,” says Bridgewater. “It energized the community.” Bridgewater draws on this lesson often in her role as Director of the Partnership, and points to PFS work as another area where an early win can build partnership momentum and set the stage for success.
Choose Strategic Partners
Bridgewater, like many talented coalition leaders, understands the importance of tapping the wide range of skills that community members possess. “We are lucky in that we always have a lot of folks who want to help. Part of my job is making sure we get the right people on the right projects,” she explains. To accomplish this goal, she is strategic about creating sub-committees that are well-matched to members’ interests and areas of expertise. For example, to drive its PFS work, the Partnership is working closely with the Coalition to End Abuse of Substances in Scott County (CEASe), the county’s local coordinating council and a long-standing Partnership collaborator. Dedicated exclusively to addressing substance abuse issues, CEASe produces an annual Comprehensive Community Plan that the Partnership will use to assess community needs and capacity to address prescription drug misuse.
Tap Community Strengths
Scott County is a tight-knit community that is deeply committed to helping one another. “I’ve never worked anywhere like this,” says Bridgewater, who moved to the area from Kansas City in 2001. “Anything you want to do, there are people lined up to help.” Bridgewater channels this energy into Partnership subgroups that operate with a good deal of autonomy. She has also worked hard to engage leaders from the county’s active faith community, which has traditionally played a large role in addressing substance misuse issues in the county. “We are all willing to lay down turf to work together,” she explains. “Every contribution is important.”
Make Meetings Count
When asked why the Partnership has been thriving for almost 20 years, Bridgewater pointed immediately to the group’s philosophy about meetings: “We’re very aware of not asking folks to waste their time with meetings that don’t matter.” To this end, open meetings of the entire Partnership are limited to every other month, the 11-menber executive board meets monthly, and only those subcommittees that are working on active projects are expected to meet more frequently. “No one wants to sit in a meeting that has no purpose,” says Bridgewater. “We’re always working to make sure that our meetings are called for a reason.”
Since its first successful “barn-raising” in 1998, the Scott County Partnership has always celebrated its successes. “We are acutely aware of the problems that our county faces—but we’re also proud of the work we do. Our successes are the community’s successes.” To increase awareness of Partnership activities, member organizations publicize their program successes, participate widely in community-wide events, and “make sure that everyone knows we are working toward our goals,” explains Bridgewater. “We don’t want to sugarcoat the situation here in Scott County but we are proud of the work we do and we celebrate our successes as they happen.”
Since its launch 18 years ago, the Scott County Partnership has evolved from a loosely knit group of service agencies focused exclusively on job training to a strong, community-wide network committed to improving the overall health and wellness of its residents. Initially funded through small sums from the City of Scottsburg, the Economic Development Corporation, and Scott County, the Partnership has transitioned to a foundation-based funding model that handles operating expenses and ensures stability for day-to-day activities. They procure health and wellness programmatic funding from a wide range of sources; from federal grant dollars like PFS, to grant funding from corporations and non-profits. Maintaining flexibility in program funding has allowed the Partnership to address Scott County’s health and wellness needs as they arise.
Lessons learned from its long tenure position the Partnership well for its current prevention efforts. “Our structure allows us to have community input for all our efforts,” says Bridgewater. “Grass roots involvement leads to good outcomes.” While facing Scott County’s significant prescription drug misuse issues will be challenging, Bridgewater is confident that Partnership efforts will be successful. “We have created a culture of collaboration,” she says. “Everybody in this community is invested in the health of Scott County.