News: Civil operations specialists help affect change in Calif. communities
Story by Spc. Brianne Roudebush
LOS ANGELES, Calif. – In cities across the state, civil operations specialists with the California National Guard Counterdrug Task Force are partnering with civilian-based coalitions dedicated to combating a serious issue in their communities: drug and alcohol abuse. The coalitions are made up of people from different organizations and backgrounds, who bring their individual experiences and expertise to the table in an effort to come up with effective ways to reduce abuse.
In the past, the National Guard Bureau and the Counterdrug Task Force have supported Red Ribbon Week, Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) and youth camps that promote healthy lifestyles. In recent years, the focus has been on working directly with coalitions to positively impact communities as a whole.
“There was not a lot of [empirical] information to support a correlation between youth programs and a reduction in drug and alcohol use,” Tech. Sgt. Isabel Savala, a civil operations specialist, said. “We switched to more evidence-based strategies that can show a clear change in the communities.”
Civil operations specialists attend coalition meetings, provide letters of support, train members about effective strategies and available resources and help come up with anti-drug and alcohol campaigns.
Recently, Savala helped plan a parenting workshop and translated the curriculum into Spanish for the Santa Ynez Valley Youth Coalition. She said they are now working towards partnering with law enforcement and school officials to host an open forum where parents can address their concerns regarding drugs and alcohol in the community and schools.
Savala said the feedback they have received is overwhelmingly positive.
“Interacting with the community and seeing the changes, specifically in these parents who now have a different outlook and approach, is very powerful,” Savala said. “Our hope is that each parent will have the opportunity to implement changes in their own family systems. That’s what the coalition wants to see.”
A little further south, Staff Sgt. Gabriel Sanchez works with coalitions in Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside counties.
Sanchez has been working with the Saving Lives Coalition in the San Fernando Valley to create signage to inform people that supplying alcohol to minors is illegal. The sign, which includes relevant state laws and codes, is translated into eight languages and had been hung in multiple alcohol retail locations in their area. The campaign has gained statewide recognition and the coalition is currently working with lawmakers to make the signage mandatory.
“Our goal here is to massively affect minors’ access to alcohol throughout the state,” the civil operations specialist said.
Another coalition he works with in Orange County is developing ways to raise awareness for prescription drug abuse among teenagers, as that is a problem their community faces.
“Every coalition is unique because every community is unique and has its own set of drug and alcohol-related issues to address,” Sanchez said.
He explained that the campaigns and strategies used in one community might not have the same impact in another.
The National Guard Counterdrug Task Force aims to help make the coalitions’ efforts successful by providing support, resources and training that they otherwise might not have access to.
“We want to work at the community-level rather than pushing policies down from the top,” he said. “We want the coalitions to establish ownership because it becomes a movement within themselves to develop policies and change their communities.”
Sanchez said he finds it very rewarding to be able to work in the areas where he grew up and see the tangible benefits of their efforts.
Savala, a licensed clinical social worker, echoed these sentiments, adding that her background and education has proven very beneficial to the teams and communities.
“I have personally seen what alcohol and drugs can do to families,” Savala said. “I know, first-hand, what the consequences are and I am really passionate about what I do.”