The Carroll County Substance Education Coalition (CCSEC) now has a physical location in downtown Mount Carroll at 114 W. Market St.
CCSEC is an organization comprised of local law enforcement agencies, community organizations, individuals, parents, youth, schools, media, religious and fraternal organizations that all work together to reduce substance abuse and underage drinking in Carroll County.
Carol Geary of Milledgeville coordinates the operation that is funded by grants through Partnership for Success.
"We now have a place where we can put out our resources. They are available to teachers, schools, parents, or kids that might have school projects on substance abuse," said Geary, gesturing to a multi-tiered shelf full of booklets, pamphlets and other resources geared toward several different age brackets.
She said the coalition also has information on bullying, anger, gambling and other issues facing today's youth.
Geary said she feels that establishing a highly visible residence will aid in the effort of CCSEC to form an independent identity.
"CCSEC has its own 501c3 (making it a stand-alone non-profit organization). It is its own entity," explained Geary, saying she feels that because the organization partners with so many other entities, there might be confusion that CCSEC is funded by some of its partners.
CCSEC has been independently funded through different grants since its inception in 2004.
"We are always applying for other grants and looking for ways to sustain the coalition," said Geary, adding that grants may not always be available to keep the operation up and running.
"Our main goal is to address substance abuse issues in our county by getting the community involved," said Geary.
"It's about mobilizing the whole community. Law enforcement, schools, parents, churches-they can't solve the problem alone. It takes everybody working together."
"I'm passionate about this because I've seen the harm substance abuse can do," said Geary, who worked as a prison mental health substance abuse counselor at one point in her career.
"Working with the inmates teaches you how big this problem is. Over 90 percent of inmates have a substance abuse issue, and we are all paying the cost of that," said Geary.
She said the community spends tax money on law enforcement, ambulance calls, jail costs, legal costs and much more to combat the effects of substance abuse that even includes issues like poor grades and poverty.
"And it is 100 percent preventable," said the coalition organizer, stressing that the key is to stop the problem before it starts.
Although the coalition deals with any type of substance abuse, the focus in Carroll County is placed on underage drinking because statistically it is a significant problem.
In fact, Carroll County is one of very few rural communities to receive the Partners for Success grant, which typically goes to urban areas. The county received the grant based on the high number of area young people who are involved in an underage-drinking situation in some way.
"It will continue to be a problem as long as people continue to see (underage drinking) as only a social issue," said Geary. "It is a health issue and a safety issue as well. Some people just don't see alcohol as a drug. Since it's not illegal we tend to think it is not harmful."
According to the CCSEC coordinator, Carroll County teens are getting alcohol first from parties, second from friends who might be over 21, and third from adults in their lives.
Geary is careful to say that underage drinking is not the result of bad parenting.
"It takes more than just the parents to solve this problem," she said, "but parents can help by asking those tough questions. Call up your child's friend's parents and ask them their policy on drinking before you let your child go there."
CCSEC's mascot is a little rubber duck often seen at Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) functions and throughout the community during different events.
"It's kind of a reminder that when our kids were little we did everything we could to protect them.," said Geary. "Even though they are teens, we need to do the same thing. Sometimes you have to be the one to say no."
The organization's latest campaign features the slogan, ‘Be the Wall,' meaning that adults and teens themselves can stand between someone and a dangerous situation.
The coalition works closely with SADD chapters in all three of Carroll County's high schools.
Recently students have signed a paper brick stating, "This is what I will look like to a friend that might try to drink. I'm the wall between my friends and alcohol." The bricks were hung on a Christmas tree.
"Bricks" were also available at the West Carroll girls' basketball game on Dec. 7 for parents to sign, pledging to stand between their kids and alcohol.
Freddie Preston, of Savanna, who worked the table at the girls' game, serves as a consultant for CCSEC, helping out when implementing projects.
"Four out of 10 drivers are driving under the influence at any given time of day," said Preston, citing official numbers gathered nationwide at sobriety checkpoints.
"We have a false sense of security if we think we are safe on county roads," added Preston.
Geary pointed out that an alarming number of Carroll County students indicated on the Illinois Youth Survey (IYS), that they are either driving after drinking or riding around with friends who have been drinking.
CCSEC officials said they have seen a positive development since the organization began, especially in the number of students who are reporting that their parents are now talking to them about alcohol when they hadn't done so before.
Organization officials are anxiously awaiting results of the next IYS to be conducted next spring, so they can determine where the program is being most effective and where future goals should be targeted.
The coalition is made up of different people throughout the county, all from different sectors.
Currently about 15 CCSEC members meet at 10 a.m. the first Thursday of the month to discuss ways to move their message forward.
Several subcommittees have been formed to deal specifically with issues such as government policy, social marketing, and prescription and over the counter drug abuse.
Coalition members receive formal training paid for through CCSEC. Anyone is invited to join the group.
"Our coalition reaches far beyond these 15 people," said Geary. "It includes businesses that are willing to put out information for us or hang a sign in their window and all the individuals willing to help."
Geary encourages everyone to get involved, saying that individuals can think about what they do every day in their jobs and see if there is a way that they can incorporate a message of standing against substance abuse.
Even simple steps can make a big difference, she noted.
"Thank the cashier at checkout for carding you or someone else," said Geary. "It sends a message that you're grateful that they are keeping our community safe."
She pointed out that people also can anonymously report information to Crime Stoppers if they see or hear of a party or some other situation that might involve underage drinking or substance abuse.
The CCSEC office in Mount Carroll is open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. and Monday and Fridays from 9-11 a.m. The office can be reached at 815-244-0063 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.