Changing The Way We See The Community
Recently, four members from the Mille Lacs Area Partners for Prevention (MAPP) traveled to Big Sky, Montana for a training that would change the way they saw their community. Those attending the training included community members Geri Pohlkamp, Cyndy Rudolph and Bonnie Olmanson as well as MAPP Coordinator Shannon Frazier. The training, entitled “Montana Summer Institute”, was lead by a team of researchers and prevention specialists for the Center for Health and Safety Culture at Montana State University with a focus on Positive Community Norms (PCN).
People from all around the United States and Canada gathered at this four-day training seeking further understanding and guidance on prevention efforts such as transportation safety, suicide prevention, child maltreatment and substance abuse, to name a few. “Our focus, here in Upper Mille Lacs, is prevention of underage alcohol, tobacco and other drug use,” said Frazier.
Armed with the coalition’s vision of empowering everyone to make healthy and safe choices, the team of four from Upper Mille Lacs gained insight on how to begin. Pohlkamp explained, “The expertise and passion that the Montana Summer Institute has regarding PCN is impressive.” Rudolph added, “It was amazing to me how the notion of Positive Community Norms could be applied to such a broad variety of issues. The enthusiasm for and commitment to PCN was contagious. To me, their enthusiasm meant that PCN probably works!”
The Positive Community Norms approach balances concern for the issue with hope for the future. It focuses on what is good in the community and seeks to grow that goodness. “I really liked the idea of focusing on positive behaviors and encouraging the positive behavior of others to become the norm.” said Olmanson. “Most of our students are making good choices. We really need to shift our messages so that they a have a more positive twist, and we need to help students do so as well.”
Positive Community Norms is a complex initiative, but one that is adoptable by individuals, families and communities. It begins with the spirit of why the community is working on the issue, then focuses on the science of the issue by gathering community data that measures misperceptions, after that, a plan of action is implemented that tells a story of what’s really happening in the community. The difference is focusing on the positive data, rather than the negative. For instance, 32% of Onamia 9-12 grade students report that they drink alcohol once a month or more often. That means 68% of the students are NOT drinking monthly! The same survey indicates that 80% Onamia 9-12 graders THINK most of their friends ARE drinking monthly. “Once people realize that the ‘perceived’ is different from the ‘actual’, the community will be more likely to come together to solve the problem,” said Pohlkamp. “The trainers at Big Sky kept drilling home this idea that ‘the solution is in the community’ and that’s something we need to remember. We have the solutions right here!”
The Mille Lacs Area Partners for Prevention members came away energized, renewed and hopeful, really believing in the goodness that already exists in the community. Frazier summed it up well saying, “The Positive Community Norms framework provides a basis to organize prevention efforts by focusing on leadership, communication and integration. It is one of many strategies our communities will be implementing to reduce underage drinking. Utilizing multiple strategies, including Positive Community Norms, tends to be more effective and helps to mobilize support among diverse groups within the community.”
The Mille Lacs Area Partners for Prevention is funded through a grant from the Minnesota Department of Human Services, Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division. If you would like to find out more about the Coalition or perhaps become a member of the coalition, please contact Amber Kent at 320-532-6838.