A 2018 study indicated that 25 percent of teens in Green County reported alcohol usage in the past 30 days, a statistic that has Green County leaders and community members concerned. To address this challenge, Green County and the University of Wisconsin-Madison UniverCity Year (UCY) program joined forces on this, as well as nearly 50 other community-based projects.
UCY is a three-year program that facilitates engagement between the UW–Madison learning community and localities, ultimately bringing faculty, students, and community members together to address some of the greatest challenges facing Wisconsin’s local governments. In this particular case, UCY partnered Green County public health officials with UW-Madison Master of Public Health deputy director Barbara Duerst and students from her Population Health Sciences 780, Public Health Principles and Practice course. Together, they developed promotional material and resources around the Teen Intervene program, which utilizes an evidence-based approach to substance use reduction and prevention for teens with mild to moderate alcohol and other drug use.
“When we connected with Green County, it was about finding something they could use on an ongoing basis,” said Duerst. “We’re about helping the community think outside of the box and utilizing evidence based material.”
Together, Duerst’s students and Green County leaders developed a toolkit and video to educate referral sources about the Teen Intervene program. Through the program, high-risk teens are able to meet with a prevention specialist to discuss coping skills and set goals for reduced substance abuse. For Duerst and her students, the main goal was to find ways to share this program with the staff at local schools, parents of teens, and those who would be most likely to recommend resources to struggling individuals. A secondary goal was to give Duerst’s students the opportunity to gain experience working on a community-based project.
“It was so unique to have the opportunity to make a deliverable product as a part of the program,” said Duerst’s student, Kimberly Breunig, who is working on her dual degree in the Master of Public Health and Master Physician Assistant programs at UW-Madison. “Rather than conducting a literature review, we had the opportunity to work on a project that was already being implemented. The main thing the experience taught me was that flexibility is so important when working in public health and that I need to be open-minded and flexible in order to make a difference.”
In addition to giving the students a unique experience, the UCY partnership also provided Green County leaders with the assistance and support they needed to bring the Teen Intervene program to the next level.
“It was really a wonderful experience working with UCY,” said Bob Gibson, Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse (AODA) supervisor for the Green County Human Services Department. “As it should be, and as is the case, our department is focused on practice and ensuring that resources are available to individuals in need. We are not marketing specialists, so while we have great programs, people don’t always know that they are available. Working with UCY provided the valuable assistance of letting people know about our services. It was also great to have the perspective of the students, who viewed things from a different angle.”
The Teen Intervene toolkit developed by Duerst’s class and Gibson can now be found on the Green County Human Services Department website along with a short video that provides a program overview and explains the referral process to access the program.
Moving forward, Duerst and Gibson said they believe Green County will benefit from this increased awareness and the use of Teen Intervene as well as advocacy around treatment for teen drug and alcohol use.
Gibson said, “To have a partnership like this where someone can come in and help us to do the research and promote the best practices is wonderful.”