We’re interviewing Mary Jo O’Halloran, Communities That Care Coordinator in Alger County. Communities That Care (CTC) is a type of coalition focused on preventing youth problem behaviors. You can find your local CTC at www.UPprevention.org.
How long has CTC been going in Alger County?
I was trained in December 2013, and things really started to move forward in February 2014. We had a handful of youth deaths by drunk driving, and our community didn’t want to just sit by and watch it keep happening. We wanted to stand on our own feet, especially because we often get paired with Marquette—we wanted to make this happen ourselves.
What kind of goals does CTC have for your community?
Our vision is to see Alger County united and thriving, promoting a safe, healthy, and prosperous environment for all youth and adults. That has been our focus as we continue to look at the needs in our community, and develop solutions for problems, especially for our young and elderly populations. Our CTC has added an Adult Needs Work Group that encompasses everything from suicide prevention to transportation services for people with chronic or crisis medical needs and substance abuse treatment.
We do not have substance abuse treatment in our county except for Pathways, which people have to qualify for, and many don’t. That was why we chose to purchase AA and NA books, and NA workbooks, for the library in the local jail. We estimate that 80% of inmates are in for drug-related crimes. Community members go in and run AA and NA groups, and we’re hoping to involve peer recovery with this, too. What are the chances of staying sober if you only have the same old negative supports? People can get better when they have the resources they need. We try to cover a lot of bases.
What kind of events has your coalition held or participated in recently?
In June we did a Pub with a Purpose fundraiser with BBQ ribs, fixings, a singer—that brought in $2500. In August was Cooking w/the Carberry’s, who are located in the harbor in Munising with wood-fired pizza ovens. They gave us $3 of every pizza they sold, raising over $600. In September was All in the Barn, around 130 people came out and we raised about $7000.
Through this type of fundraising, we’ve been able to hire a Social Worker for the local schools to share, Monica Nordeen. She’s been a Social Worker for over 20 years, with a significant focus on youth, from mild to high mental health needs. Students don’t have to be referred to her, they can come in on their own. It’s made a big difference, but it’s also become evident that we need another Social Worker, due to the level of student need among the schools.
In September we also held The Ripple Effect documentary, which 143 people attended. Bobbi Ayotte did a tremendous amount of work for that, and we worked with the Marquette County Cares Coalition and the Marquette County Suicide Prevention Alliance. We had including Lynn Johnson from Pathways there, our school social worker Monica Nordeen, Jeff Olson from Do it for Daniel, Sarah Derwin from the Alliance, along with the HOPE therapy dogs. We opened at the end for questions—it was a good way to get people talking about suicide prevention.
What are you most excited about coming up next?
In October we’re hosting a portrait party at Valley Spur for our “Over 80 and Active Calendar” that we do every year and sell as a fundraiser. The participants come with their families, enjoy a small lunch—it’s really fun, and we introduce them by their month, like “Mr. January.” We use money for this to buy gas cards for people with chronic illness and substance abuse, and we’re hoping to add domestic violence victims to this list as well.
In November we’re doing a mini Community Board Orientation and Key Leader Training. This is a great chance for people to come by and see what we’re all about. We hope to bring The Ripple Effect back because it’s so powerful, we may have a partnership with 4-H on that. Moving forward, we’d like to see more of a focus on coping for youth, and for adults. We’d also like to do more adult education around watching for crisis in young people—what questions to ask, how to help them. It’s easy to forget how intense emotions are, especially in the teen years. We do yearly Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR) training in the schools, but we’d like to do more with adults to help them recognize the warning signs of suicide. The more people know what to watch for, the safer the whole community will be.
Alger County Community Collaborative is funded by NorthCare Network and coordinated by Child & Family Services. Alger County Community Collaborative is part of UP Coalition Network, an umbrella organization of the 14 CTCs covering all 15 counties of the UP.