As a longtime Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) team member, it was my 15th year of 6:30 am staff meetings and grueling conference schedules. And yet, the amazing people that attended CADCA’s 23rd National Leadership Forum renewed my spirit and gave me even greater energy to help coalitions transform their communities and improve public health and safety.
From 43 states and as far away as Moscow and the island of Palau, 2,600 community and state leaders converged at the Gaylord National Hotel and Convention Center just outside of Washington, D.C. for four days in February for the Forum. Participants formed new partnerships and learned new strategies in the art and science of effective coalition building.
The CADCA Forum – the premier training conference for community prevention leaders, treatment professionals and researchers – kicked off Monday, February 4 with longtime federal partner the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) 9th Prevention Day.
The Forum featured more than 90 workshops aimed at helping CADCA’s network of 5,000 coalitions develop comprehensive evidence-based strategies to prevent the use of illicit drugs like marijuana, as well as underage and binge drinking, youth tobacco use, and the abuse of prescription and over-the-counter medicines in order to achieve community-level change.
Participants also had the opportunity to participate in “power sessions” with key leaders from federal agencies, such as SAMHSA, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), where they heard the latest research and policy updates.
“By preventing drug use, abuse and addiction, we are saving lives. The fact that we help young people live up to their potential and make communities safer and healthier is powerful,” CADCA’s Chairman and CEO, Gen. Arthur Dean told the packed ballroom at the opening plenary.
The Forum traditionally welcomes the ONDCP Director as a keynote and this year was no different. Director Gil Kerlikowske told participants that, “We need you—and prevention professionals across the country—to continue your work to prevent drug use and its related consequences. At the end of the day, prevention is the most powerful alternative to legalization or a ‘war on drugs’ in America.”
As critical as it is that we hear from our federal leaders, the event strives to bring in speakers that can give attendees inspiration and new tools. Keynote speaker Dorie Clark (@DorieClark), a branding expert and regular contributor to Forbes and the Harvard Business Review, gave us all a tutorial on messaging through social media.
The Forum is always in the Washington, D.C. area, providing an opportunity to coalesce as a national movement and connect with key policymakers all at one time. The audience heard directly from a record number of Members of Congress, including Senators Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Rob Portman (R-OH) and Reps. Karen Bass (D-37th/CA); Elijah Cummings (D-7th/MD); Michael Fitzpatrick (R-8th/PA); William Keating (D-10th/MA); Bill Johnson (R-6th/OH); Harold Rogers (R-5th/KY); and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-40th/CA).
Attendees also heard from former Congresswoman and new CADCA Board Member Mary Bono Mack, who received our 2013 National Leadership Award. “I am very honored to receive this award from CADCA. Their good work does a lot to raise the awareness of the epidemic of drug use and ultimately to save lives of countless people around our country. I look forward to our continued work together,” Bono Mack said.
During “Capitol Hill Day,” over a thousand participants took to the Hill to educate their U.S. Representatives and Senators about the effectiveness of community coalitions and the importance of substance abuse prevention. CADCA’s Public Policy Consultant Sue Thau, who has been with the organization since its inception 20 years ago, rallied the crowd noting “Funding for prevention is down 47.3 percent over the past seven years, and if we are to avoid a train wreck of drug use and underage drinking, we cannot afford to cut anymore.”
Asking the attendees to engage in some old-fashioned “pounding the pavement” for prevention, Thau reminded the audience, “You have very powerful stories of how you have kept kids and communities on track with your work.”
Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.), who met with 20 people from three coalitions in Michigan, noted on his Facebook page: “This week marked the 2013 National Leadership Forum of the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA). A number of Michigan-based coalitions came down to DC to share ideas on how to best reduce youth drug and alcohol use in their communities. The most impressive thing about this forum? Meeting the enthusiastic youth leaders who are creating positive change among their peers across Michigan.”
There was not a moment to rest at the event. Besides the traditional workshops, it featured numerous tobacco-free living strategy training sessions, early-morning first-timers’ and members’ breakfasts, a Monday night reception and Ideas Fair, special offerings in the Exhibit Hall throughout the week, and CADCA set aside time for state and territory meetings to help states strategize for Hill visits and state-level challenges. Ninety coalitions formally graduate from their year-long National Coalition Academy, a training initiative of CADCA’s national Coalition Institute. A special session hosted by CADCA offered more insights on the new Smart Approaches to Marijuana organization, being spearheaded by former Rep. Patrick Kennedy.
Bringing additional energy to the conference were over 250 youth who were part of CADCA’s National Youth Leadership Initiative (NYLI).
Lauren Foisy, from the Bucks Promise for Youth and Communities in Bucks County, PA, first attended the CADCA Forum when she was a fifth-grader. This time around the 18-year-old NYLI participant said it equipped her with helpful skills and ideas that she plans on putting into practice when she returns to her community.
“With the training I have received at CADCA, I feel like I have the tools to take back home and build something effective,” Foisy said.
Forum attendees will be able to view video recordings and training session PowerPoints on the Forum website in the coming weeks. Photos are available on CADCA’s Facebook page. CADCA now turns its attention to “Big Ideas for Social Change” in the Lone Star State, as Austin, TX is the site for the 11th annual CADCA Mid-Year Training Institute on July 22-25.
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