Local youth coordinator inspires community towards positive change

For Jilian Reece, taking over the Carter County Drug Prevention coalition was not just about convincing adults to quit smoking or taking drugs. It was about changing a culture she says encourages and manipulates people into thinking these abuses are OK.

Reece is actually not the original founder of the adult coalition, which formed under Steve Burwick around 2008.

“He had a heart for people in this community,” Reece said.

Despite the title, she said the coalition was more of a “working group,” and when he died, the group died out for a while. That was until Angela Hagaman from ETSU took over in 2012.

Reece said she secured funding from the state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, which is where Reece came into the picture.

She said she had already started her own youth coalition with similar goals to CCDP, so when she was asked to take over the adult coalition in 2017, she merged the two branches under one roof.

“It was kind of a God thing for me,” she said. “I did not predict it. I have a communication degree.”

She said the youth branch of the coalition was vital to her due to their innate experience.

“They know more about the issues they are facing than I do,” she said.”I did not imagine it would be what it is today.”

Today, CCDP holds three different coalitions: a junior coalition for elementary school students, the well-known youth coalition for middle-school through high school students and an adult coalition. Each of them meet once a month to discuss outreach strategies, potential new research findings about drug abuse and more.

If that all sounds like a lot of work for one director to manage, that is where their steering committee comes into play.

“They are tremendously helpful,” Reece said.

As Director, Reece also serves to guide the youth coalitions towards manageable goals while providing as many opportunities to make meaningful change in their communities as well. For example, the Youth Coalition recently presented their recent experiences cleaning cigarette butts from city playgrounds to the county commission, and while Reece was there to support the coalition and give the commissioners context, it was youth coalition president Jocelyn Marr who organized it.

“It is pretty much the coolest thing I get to do,” Reece said. “They impact each other.”

This approach to promoting awareness and positive change feeds directly into the programs they sponsor and organize. While to outsiders it may seem like sessions on meditation or personality type quizzes may seem counter to CCDP’s goal of drug prevention, she said the coalition’s Implementation Plan demonstrates their desire to change culture as a whole, so the desire to abuse drugs and tobacco is less overall. For example, teaching forms of meditation provides people with ways of coping with hardship in their lives, which can overall reduce suicide rates.

This approach does not lack criticism, however.

“We believe everyone recovers differently,” Reece said. “Some people believe their way is the only way.”

CCDP has sponsored conversations about programs based on faith, medical research and much more. She said this more rounded approach ensures they can reach as many people as they can.

“We do a lot of behind-the-scenes work,” she said. “We are trying to change policies, change our community as a whole.”

As for whether this approach has been working, the coalition has received numerous federal or organizational grants over the years since Reece became director, many of which are new additions to CCDP’s resources.

“My hope is that we are creating a new generation of a coalition,” Reece said.

At the end of the day, she said watching her youth coalitions grow and evolve as both advocates and citizens is exciting.

“I love watching these kiddos grow,” she said. “I hope what I am doing is impactful to them. I want to be to them what I wish I had at that age.”

She said the youth she mentors and advises are absolutely vital to the work she does in Carter County.

“I cannot fight tobacco alone,” she said.

Those interested in becoming part of either coalition can simply attend one of their monthly meetings with no membership fees. The adult coalition meets every first Wednesday at 3 p.m. while the youth coalition meets every third Wednesday at the same time. CCDP is located at 546 East Elk Ave.

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