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Commitment, cooperation earn Hall County anti-drug grant
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Judy Brownell talks about the Drug Free Communities work group.

A Hall County agency recently received a five-year federal grant to prevent substance abuse among teens.

Hall was selected for the grant not because its drug problem is any worse than in other counties, but because local agencies have shown a commitment to improving the situation.

"I believe one reason Hall received this grant is because we are a community where agencies work together," said Judy Brownell, chairwoman of the Hall County Commission for Children and Families’ Drug Free Communities work group.

The group has approximately 30 members representing schools, law enforcement, the juvenile justice system, mental health agencies, parents and students.

Last week, the Office of National Drug Control Policy announced about $24.4 million in new grants to 199 drug-free coalitions nationwide, including three in Georgia.

The Hall grant will provide $125,000 annually and is renewable for five years.

"We’ll be able to have a paid, full-time coordinator," Brownell said.

Carol Williams, senior vice president for community impact at the United Way of Hall County, said they’re already interviewing candidates for the position.

"We hope to have someone on board by Nov. 1," she said. "We’re also working on a new Web site, because that’s the best means for making contact with youth."

Brownell said the coordinator will have an office with the Hall County schools system, which is the fiscal agent for the grant because the Commission for Children and Families is not a registered nonprofit.

Brownell thinks the commission was chosen for the grant in part because applicants were able to use hard data to paint a clear picture of the situation in Hall.

"We looked at statistics, including the Healthy Hall report and the schools’ Student Health Survey," she said. "We decided to focus (our efforts) on alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and prescription drugs, because those seemed to be the biggest issues."

Brownell said when the grant application was written in March, the coalition had a key question in mind: "How do we reach youth, how do we reach parents with the prevention message?"

Research showed that kids and parents seemed to be living in two different versions of reality.

According to the 2007 Healthy Hall report, 66 percent of 10th-graders said it was easy to get alcohol, and 37 percent believe their friends would not disapprove of drinking. On the same survey, 48 percent of 12th-graders said they had used alcohol, and 23 percent had used marijuana.

Yet among the parents surveyed, 77 percent said they believed their kids were able to withstand peer pressure, and 82 percent said they didn’t worry about drugs and alcohol.

"There are some real discrepancies between what students are saying and what parents believe," said Williams.

Brownell said the grant will be used to develop "messaging" tailored to these two groups.

"We have to change youth perceptions. They think drinking is cool," she said. "And the parents, they say they don’t have a problem with it."

With the grant, Brownell said, the coalition will have the tools to correct those misperceptions.

"You can attack the problem better if all community sectors are working together," she said. "Certainly the schools will be involved, and we hope churches and civic groups as well. We’ve also had some technical assistance from the federal government."

Williams said the Hall coalition applied for the grant last year and didn’t make the cut, so coalition officials felt lucky to be chosen this year.

"We feel like this is a real boon for our community," she said.

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