The Beginning
In 2008, the San Clemente Collaborative was established as an association for non-profit groups, government, health organizations, school and other community leaders to brainstorm social service and community needs in San Clemente.  Mission Hospital and the St. Joseph Foundation provided the original staffing and impetus to evaluate community needs and to assist with their regular 3-year health needs assessment. Within 5 years, several groups coalesced out of the Collaborative, one of them was the Wellness & Prevention Coalition (WPC).

The City of San Clemente has a Human Affairs Committee which provides the conduit on social needs from the community to the city leaders.  In 2008, the local hospital emergency room was becoming inundated with homeless and a growing number of overdose victims.  The San Clemente Collaborative established a Health Committee and a sub-committee was formed focusing on mental health and substance abuse.  This committee branched out to from a group that specifically addressed the issue of youth substance use and then formed the coalition in January of 2012.

In February 2012, the Wellness & Prevention Coalition started meeting in the basement of a church in response to the growing reports of alcohol and other drug use among our high school students. The Wellness & Prevention Foundation (lead agency for the Wellness & Prevention Coalition) was formed and established non-profit status in 2015 to raise funds for activities to raise awareness of the problem and provide professional services to help San Clemente youth and families.

Events and Meetings
2014 the WPC focused on bringing two prevention education events to the community. The inaugural event, An Evening with David Sheff, author of Beautiful Boy and Clean, brought 350 people and was followed up with a Q&A with Substance Abuse Professionals. After these events the City Council supported the Wellness & Prevention Foundation with a grant that provided funding to help lead the Wellness & Prevention Coalition.

The Wellness & Prevention Coalition has been meeting monthly since February, 2012 at the San Clemente High School (SCHS) campus. Average attendance is 18 adults and 5 youth, with regular attendance by the high school principal, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and San Clemente youth, who have now started their separate youth coalition – SCShift.  Wellness & Prevention Coalition members participate in trainings to build capacity within the coalition and to assist in developing strategies to reduce illegal substance use and underage drinking in San Clemente.

Mission and Objective
The mission of the coalition is to, “Help San Clemente youth lead healthy and productive lives free from alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.”  The key objective of the Wellness & Prevention Coalition (WPC) is to collaborate to bring quality prevention education to the community of San Clemente. One of our biggest challenges in becoming a viable coalition was recruiting the stakeholders who were reluctant to agree that substance use among our youth was a local issue. City government expressed the viewpoint that participating in prevention efforts did not fall under the scope of city government. Our members focused on educating the public and presenting data to city council. Additionally, the WPC with our youth coalition SCShift, chose to look for opportunities to assist the city with issues that were the direct responsibility of the city government.

This opportunity occurred with the expectation of the passing of Proposition 64 – the legalization of recreational marijuana.  The governor of California allowed cities to pass zoning laws that govern marijuana businesses in municipalities. The WPC and SCShift (youth coalition) prepared information packets and presented to both the planning commission and the city council who voted to implement a zoning ban on any related marijuana businesses, including mobile delivery.

The city council members expressed appreciation for the information that our coalition provided as it helped member make an informed decision about the zoning amendment.

Providing Support without Judgement
Another strategic move made by the coalition was to focus on providing parents with support and non-judgmental education – meaning we provided the facts and assistance for building strong families rather than telling them “drugs are bad for your kids.” Our weekly eNews focuses on communication skills, teen development and current social trends.  We aim to provide at least one to two strategies that parents can take away from events that they can use in their home – emphatic listening skills, social media trends, opportunities for families and teens to volunteer, upcoming health activities (turkey trot, farmer’s markets, holiday events).

Meeting the Challenge
By garnering the support of the city and parents, historically the two most difficult sectors to engage here in San Clemente, the WPC became better prepared to meet the challenge of helping youth to be healthy and substance use free. By year three we regularly had two dozen community members at our monthly Coalition meetings with individuals like Teri Steel from Community Outreach Alliance (COA), planning more healthy youth activities and supportive parent education events. We could get up to 20 community members at city council meetings to advocate for change and we mobilized the support of the media to offer avenues to reach the public with messages that support the health and safety of our community.