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Working Together Coalition operating budget could run out around Christmas

Five more years of funding for the local Working Together Coalition (WTC) could have begun Oct. 1. Instead, a hunt for new funding began.

For the past five years, the WTC, which works to monitor and curb substance abuse in the Pine River-Backus and Walker-Hackensack-Akeley school districts, has been funded through the Drug Free Communities Support Grant. These are federal dollars awarded in five-year grants from the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Though the WTC applied for five more years of funding, it was not selected. Funding from the previous grant expired at the end of September.

"It's really subjective and not necessarily about need. Our school districts continue to be higher (in substance abuse) than the state average for a number of years," said Kelly Felton, WTC substance abuse prevention specialist. "We definitely have a need and it continues to be an issue among our youth. The way that they do this is called a peer review process. They pick people in the field of prevention across the nation. They have three people read your grant. Those three individuals score the grants from zero to 100 points. We don't know where we fell quite yet, but what we do know is that it has become a very competitive grant. It's a nationwide grant. There were several coalitions that also were not refunded last year."

The WTC still has an operating budget from fundraising, donations and work with the Cass County Sheriff's Office in alcohol compliance checks and beverage server training. That funding is limited, however, and expected to last approximately until Christmas.

Felton is seeking new sources of funding.

"We are really looking back to our community to help support this," Felton said. "We have approached Cass County and met with the Cass County Citizens' Budget Committee. Otherwise we have just started sending out requests to do presentations for our service clubs and organizations, our townships and even our faith communities."

The WTC began as the Pine River-Backus Violence Prevention Council in 1999, and became the WTC in 2008. It is unclear why the organization was overlooked for the latest grant. The organization has been recognized with awards and honors in recent years, including being asked to sit on the Department of Health's Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) committee for National Prevention Week in 2015.

In 2012, SAMHSA chose the WTC as the pilot site for prevention week. The organization was named Coalition of the Year for the Minnesota Prevention Resource Center in 2010.

Most important, the WTC has recorded successes locally.

"Our sixth-grade abuse has been cut in half in the time we've been doing our substance abuse prevention work. Even last year's survey indicated we have seen a decrease in substance abuse among our seniors, which is amazing. Generally, most time we see that continue to increase. We're doing some awesome work that's showing great success. The more we can show that to our community, the better," Felton said.