A leadership-development program launched in 1998 by New Hampshire’s New Futures has created a network of grassroots advocates that is having a significant impact on alcohol and other drug policy issues in the state.
The Community Leadership Initiative (CLI) began with the mission of raising awareness of addiction issues at both the grassroots and policy-making levels. “New Hampshire had no clear leadership on the issues of alcohol and other drug dependence, and no formal or informal network of advocates,” recalls New Futures President John Bunker.
Since the project’s inception, more than 400 people have attended the one-day CLI leadership retreats. Retreat participants come from human services, law enforcement, education, medicine, and other professions. Some are concerned parents, or in recovery themselves. Attendees hear from experts on current prevention and treatment data, the legislative process, and common advocacy tactics.
Linda King, manager of the CLI project, often recruits participants herself. “We are looking for the formal, informal, or emerging leaders in a community,” she says.
The goal of CLI is twofold: empowering advocates and effecting policy change. Before attending the retreat, many participants don’t know how to focus their passions or energy regarding policy issues, says King. “The CLI retreat arms them with information and an understanding of policymaking,” she says. “Perhaps more importantly, they gain a sense of confidence about approaching their elected representatives — something that’s not always easy.”
New Hampshire may be a small state, but it has 421 elected state legislators. Running into politicians at the grocery store is commonplace, but that doesn’t mean everyone is comfortable with lobbying. “It’s hard to take on controversial topics where everybody knows your name,” notes King.
New Futures stages three CLI retreats each year in strategic locations throughout the state. Each retreat attracts 20 to 40 participants.
No formal followup is required of CLI participants, but they have had some notable accomplishments, nonetheless. One participant started writing letters to the editor about prevention and treatment. Another now describes herself as a “militant Mom” on the addiction issue. Others have become what King calls “super advocates,” with a high level of involvement and even changing their career paths as a result of their CLI experience.
CLI participant Alida Millham, the retired executive director of a home healthcare program based in Gilford, became a state legislator after taking part in the CLI program. Millham now chairs the Belknap County Council on Children and Families.
“New Futures has always been an outstanding resource for me. If not for New Futures, I probably wouldn’t be on that council,” Millham says, adding that the CLI “fit with my professional life. Alcohol abuse is so often the stumbling block to success for the young families served by our program.”
Another CLI participant confronted the state liquor commissioner and politely suggested he do something about a certain liquor store known for selling to minors. That was Lisa Mure, the coordinator and only paid staffer of Communities for Alcohol and Drug-Free Youth (CADY, Inc.), a coalition of advocacy organizations based in Plymouth. “My connection [to CLI] makes me more apt to write a letter, send an e-mail, or make a call,” says Mure. “I feel more empowered to speak and do much more of it locally.”
Mure has taken her CLI participation beyond the retreat, becoming a leadership coordinator and attending regular meetings with New Futures policy staff. She’s witnessed the blossoming of other CLI participants — teachers, parents, police, guidance counselors, two state representatives and members of her own organization’s board. “[After the retreat], they see the issues more clearly. They’ll now go and testify and lobby. Our board chair went up to Concord to testify when they started cutting budgets,” Mure says.
Loose Links, But Promising Outcomes
New Futures sends out e-mails and action alerts to the CLI network, which otherwise “is so loose that its successes are sometimes hard to keep track of,” King says. Nonetheless, New Futures has commissioned an outcomes study by Dr. Andrew Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire’s Survey Center, who has surveyed CLI participants from the past five years.
“Overwhelmingly they feel very empowered — they know how to approach people on the issues,” says Smith of the survey participants. Smith’s research finds that 91 percent of CLI participants think the initiative helped them effect policy change, and 85 percent report increased confidence in their skills as advocates. Among participants, 89 percent report feeling a sense of belonging to a statewide movement or organization. A full 97 percent of respondents said they had talked to a friend, legislator, or colleague about an issue in response to an action alert sent by New Futures.
“As an academic, I’m trained to be skeptical of results like these,” Smith says. “Did all these folks drink the same Kool-Aid or something? No. These are, by and large, hard-nosed people. They come to the table a bit skeptical. But the New Futures retreats are not just ‘rah-rah’ retreats. They’re about policy and process. These results indicate that, overwhelming, participants take that information and they really run with it.”
New Hampshire has not been historically welcoming to prevention and treatment: the state spends less than half the national average on alcohol and other drug treatment programs, for example. But the efforts of the CLI participants, New Futures, and other concerned nonprofits and advocates around the state are having noticeable effects:
- In 2000, amid a state budget crisis, the legislature overrode the governor’s veto and passed legislation that allocated a portion of the profits from alcohol sales to a dedicated fund for prevention and treatment of alcohol problems.
- In 2000, the state created a Governor’s Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention, Intervention, and Treatment.
- In 2000, liquor stores were required to retain registration labels for all kegs of beer sold to the public.
- In 2002, parity legislation was passed requiring health-insurance companies to offer insurance coverage for addiction treatment.
“It’s really amazing on the state policy level what they have accomplished,” Smith said. “Doing all this in a politically unfriendly environment, it’s just difficult not to be enthusiastic with something so successful. Other organizations that are far bigger can not point to successes like these.”
Bunker notes that the “time was right” for CLI to succeed in New Hampshire: the project had adequate resources to engage good people to serve as consultants and staff. “New Futures is a model that could be effective in other health-policy issues,” he says.
Focus on Teen Leaders
Back in Mure’s neighborhood, the hot topic is a bill that would impose penalties on parents who allow underage drinking at parties in their own homes. “We have a culture where the drunk-driving message has led parents to condone underage drinking at home, and we have to counteract that misguided message,” Mure says.
Millham has high hopes for similar advocacy efforts on a statewide level. “We want to get to the point where underage alcohol use is simply unacceptable,” she says.
King and New Futures have recently started to bring the CLI concept to teens, working in partnership with the New Hampshire Teen Institute. They hope to build a pool of youth advocates through the same techniques, with a similar retreat format that’s just a bit more “teen friendly.”
In January, the groups held a retreat where 15 teens signed on as leadership partners. King plans to “engage them, recruit them and maintain them. We’ve already shown, over and over again, the power of one individual to make a difference.”