Rapids Rising Receives 5-Year Drug-Free Communities Grant

January 15, 2021

GRIP Coalition and Rapids Rising members Grand Rapids High School (GRHS) and Robert J. Elkington Middle School (RJEMS) will receive a Drug-Free Communities (DFC) grant for $125,000 each year for the next five years. The grant will enable Rapids Rising and the GRIP Coalition to continue their work promoting positive community norms in our community.

Rapids Rising and the GRIP Coalition work to reduce and delay underage alcohol and substance use by empowering young people and correcting misperceptions about use. This work has been funded by a five-year Planning and Implementation (P&I) grant from the Minnesota Department of Human Services since the 2016-2017 school year.  Over the past five years, they have worked to help students make healthy choices about not using alcohol or illegal drugs. The group has also worked to educate parents on how to support their children in making those healthy choices.

“Over the past five years, it has been great to see our students take charge of the work we’re doing,” said GRIP Coalition Co-Chair and School Social Worker Angela Oelke. “They have created lasting alternatives to celebrations that had been associated with underage drinking – like the Homecoming Tailgate. We are creating empowered student leaders in our community.”

The work of Rapids Rising focuses on creating positive community norms. Social norms theory has shown that people tend to do or believe what they think their peers are doing or believing.

“We know that when kids believe their peers are drinking it becomes easier for them to say yes to alcohol consumption,” said Nick Adams, P&I Grant Coordinator. “We work to correct the misperceptions of our students, parents, and community. Our most recent student survey in 2019 shows that 88% of Grand Rapids students do not drink alcohol in a typical month, but 49% believe their peers do.”

Grand Rapids survey data has also shown that students who incorrectly perceive that most students in their school drink monthly or more often are nearly 12 times more likely to drink themselves. By correcting misperceptions, Rapids Rising is empowering and supporting students.

While the grant was awarded to GRHS and RJEMS, the training associated with the grant has enabled school staff to provide messaging and norming opportunities in the Bigfork Community as well.

The Drug-Free Communities program mobilizes communities to strengthen the infrastructure among local partners to create and sustain reductions in local substance use and is managed by the CDC. The grant was awarded to 201 community coalitions this year for a total of 733 DFC coalitions across the nation.

“I’m grateful that we will be able to continue this work,” said Rapids Rising Student Group Coordinator Zach Holsman. “Prior to the pandemic, we had nearly 200 students working in our youth group at RJEMS. This kind of interest indicates the opportunity to make lasting change in our community. Although we’re doing our best to keep kids interested and are reaching out regularly, I look forward to increasing our interaction with the kids after the pandemic is over.”

Survey data is from the 2019 Positive Community Norms survey of 1287 Grand Rapids students, funded by MN DHS Behavior Health Division. A copy of the results, along with previous surveys, is available at rapidsrising.com. Additional information about the DFC program is available at https://www.cdc.gov/injury/fundedprograms/drug-free-communities/index.html.