How the Award-Winning Futuro Latino Coalition Adapted Their Substance Use Prevention Efforts During the COVID-19 Pandemic

When something changes out of the blue, it may be challenging to retake control and adapt to a new situation. When you’re out of your comfort zone, you might feel invaded or insecure. However, new challenges also present an excellent opportunity to rethink, adapt, and change. A revolution makes its mark only when the results exceed expectations — so how did we as the Futuro Latino Coalition exceed our own expectations for adapting to the pandemic?

The Future Latino Coalition works with various organizations in the Latino community of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County, Virginia. We provide the community with resources about alcohol prevention and other substance use issues.

Healthy environments are free of substance use, and we spread that message through educational resources and activities.”

When the Coalition entered the CADCA Dose of Prevention Award, to be honest, we didn’t do it thinking that we were going to win the award. Finding out we won was a very emotional surprise for us. We were busy preparing to host a conversation with parents about the danger of over-the-counter (OTC) drug abuse. We were organizing visits to Latino stores to talk about National Medicine Abuse Awareness Month (NMAAM). We were also writing an article for the local newspaper about “The Safest Way to Keep Medicines Away from Children at Home,” and working with the local police department to organize a DEA Take-Back Day event. We were coordinating talks with youth to ask their opinions about the dangers of prescription drug abuse. All of our work was focused on the Latino community.

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly marked society worldwide. Humanity has had to adapt to new conditions in all arenas. Our work at the Coalition also needed to adapt, but we were motivated to continue our important work. For example, we tested hosting a session through Zoom and showed parents how to work their video and audio settings back when these technologies were new for most of us.

Public schools are one of the most critical partners for the Coalition, because our target population is high school students. Due to the pandemic and the closure of schools, it was necessary to rethink and focus energy toward other sectors and members. Futuro Latino first approached some Latino churches. We informed the leaders of these congregations about the dangers of having expired or unused medications at home, especially during a pandemic. We also explained the efforts of the Coalition and invited parents and young people to meet and get involved in our activities to educate and provide preventive resources.

One of the phrases we used during the last months of 2020, which encouraged us to continue hosting activities was, “What matters is the quality, not the quantity.” We focused on virtual and safe face-to-face activities, without worrying about the number of participants, since continuing to inform — and to help — was enough motivation to continue.

In addition to respecting and following all of the CDC guidelines by having small groups of people attend our events, we also facilitated online webinars, virtual meetings, conversations with parents, pizza night with youth, gatherings, raffles, lotería games, and more.

It’s important to find the positive side to each situation; I believe no matter how difficult circumstances seem, something good will emerge. There are no secret recipes to follow, and no magic wands to solve the biggest problems. But if you have the honest desire to change something in your environment — even just a little — that is enough to keep progress moving. It’s the sum of small efforts that create healthy conditions where the community can live, grow and play.

Onesimo Baltazar Corona is the coordinator for the Futuro Latino Coalition in Harrisonburg, Virgina. In this role, he supports efforts to improve the health and well-being of Latino youth by preventing the use and misuse of alcohol and drugs and educating the community.

He has collaborated with several community projects over the last two years, making a positive impact in the Hispanic community.

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