Future undecided for anti-drug coalition

It was funded while it lasted.

But the outlook of the PRoTECT Coalition - a group of community members advocating to keeps youths from the perils of substance abuse - is up in the air after losing federal grant dollars that created the organization.

In November, coalition members convened in a meeting room at The Lodge at Sherwood Village, with some members wondering aloud whether it would be the last PRoTECT meeting ever.

"The funding is gone, but the question is, 'What is this coalition's purpose?'" said Patra Boots, director of curriculum, technology and assessment for the Sequim School District.

For five years, the purpose was clear. Created in 2003 from a pool of $800,000 in Drug Free Communities federal grants to help reduce drug use in Washington state, the Parents and Resources of the East County Task Force received $99,600.

The program was created with four main goals: To build a self-sustaining coalition, to prevent substance use among schoolchildren and reduce use among existing student users, to reduce substance abuse and to change community and family norms about substance uses.

The coalition's creation came on the heels of a 2003 New Year's Day crash that killed three and injured three others. The driver of the vehicle in that crash, Mary Kniskern, pleaded guilty to three counts of vehicular homicide and, according to county officials, had twice the legal limit of alcohol content in her blood.

Since 2003, the PRoTECT

coalition - including representatives from several Sequim schools, the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Olympic Peninsula, the city of Sequim, law enforcement officials and others - has made its mark in the community.

The coalition, primarily through coordinators Annette Hanson and Gwen Cole, created and maintained school programs such as Project Success and Second Step to emphasize substance abuse-prevention curriculum, hosted drug-free, youth-oriented activities, worked through media sources to address substance abuse issues throughout the community, partnered with law enforcement to put on the Grim Reaper Program, hosted community-inclusive Town Hall meetings, helped the creation and leadership of the Sequim Boys & Girls Club Teen Center and more.

Each year since then, coalition leaders applied for and received the federal grant - until this year. Hanson, Sequim School Districts' resource and information coordinator in addition to her role as PRoTECT coordinator, said that all but two of the 2008-2009 federal grants went to brand new community groups.

Without the funding, Boots said, the future of the coalition is rather shapeless.

Coalition members who met in November agreed to meet at least once more - at 7 p.m. Jan. 15 at The Lodge at Sherwood Village - to figure out what they can do to keep the objectives and spirit of PRoTECT alive.

Boots said the group might consider the basics of becoming a nonprofit entity by setting goals and putting a board together.

"If PRoTECT doesn't stand as an entity, I don't know what grants (we can get)," Boots said.

Others wondered if partnering with PreventionWorks!, a county youth advocate group based in Port Angeles, would be worth trying.

"I see a lot of value being involved with PreventionWorks!" said Cynthia Martin, Parenting Matters Foundation president. "Their mission covers what our mission is. It does fit."

But, Martin noted, that group meets in Port Angeles, and if coalition members want to have a presence and partner with PreventionWorks! as they have in the past, someone needs to go to the meetings.

"If you're not at the table, you don't get the money," Martin said.

Hanson said while the federal grant money helped, it came with plenty of strings attached, such as requiring coordinators to go through training and quarterly reports needing to be filed. Without those restrictions, she said, the coalition might be free to do even more.

Bob Schilling, Boys & Girls Clubs of the Olympic Peninsula executive director, said he expects the organization he represents to be part of the PRoTECT future, if there is one.

"We will be here," Schilling said. "We will be represented."

For more information, contact Hanson at 582-3264.

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