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Coalition works to address substance abuse in Jasper County

Newton Police Chief Rob Burdess speaks during a Substance Abuse Coalition meeting about why he 
decided to pursue this cause for the community of Newton and Jasper County.
Newton Police Chief Rob Burdess speaks during a Substance Abuse Coalition meeting about why he decided to pursue this cause for the community of Newton and Jasper County.

Substance abuse is an issue that plagues many communities throughout the state of Iowa and the country. The City of Newton, led by Newton Police Chief Rob Burdess, is taking the first steps to address the issue through the formation of a substance abuse coalition.

Made up of community stakeholders county wide, the coalition was formed in partnership with AC4C, the Alliance of Coalitions For Change, a statewide network seeking to increase the synergy of substance abuse prevention efforts in Iowa.

“I contacted the office of drug control policy in Des Moines, and I was looking for a substance abuse education program that the police department could partner with the schools and the community to provide an educational element,” Burdess said. “What we fell into was this opportunity.”

AC4C was in the process of giving out grants to cities across the state and had one opening left when Burdess contacted them. Burdess found the opportunity very unique in that it is the first time it has been funneled through a law enforcement agency.

“Typically they are funneled through the Department of Health or some other organization, and they found that the public or community was not as responsive,” Burdess said. “What they have seen with other types of coalitions, is when law enforcement leads the charge the community is more responsive.”

The next step in making the coalition a reality was making contact with local government and nonprofit organizations to obtain statistics on what issues are found in the area. Burdess said they looked to organizations that have to report to the state or a board on an annual basis to development and identify the scope of the program.

Organizations sought out include the local school districts, medical institutions and government funded treatment centers. From there, local businesses, large and small, additional education and treatment centers and other community stakeholders were invited to meet to begin discussions on creating a coalition.

“What we were looking for is a very diverse group of stakeholders so that we have a strong breadth of the problem as well as a more diverse outlook on how to address the substance abuse issues in Newton,” Burdess said.

AC4C comes into the picture by providing training and guidance during the meetings.

“Through the talks with them, they described what their program was and the success coalitions have had around the country,” Burdess said. “They had taught this method throughout the country so they have success stories from beyond Iowa.”

The training includes a community assessment, capacity circles and an engagement scorecard, logic models, a recruiting/retention plan, a strategic/action plan, a sustainability/evaluation plan, an operational structure, along with one person from the collaborative will be given a scholarship to attend the ToP Facilitative Methods course where they will learn effective communication methods that lead to quick action while building community consensus.

Since forming, the group has met five times, each time adding members and gaining insight into community issues. With AC4C facilitator Angie Asa-Lovstad, the group started to identify issues that need to be addressed and have started to form a path to begin work in the community in the coming months.

Burdess said he is happy with how the group is progressing and is excited to see how it will progress in the weeks, months and years to come.

“When you look outside of law enforcement, you look at businesses, we know that anybody in the community can see that somebody in their family has or has had a substance abuse problem,” Burdess said. “It is more than just a law enforcement problem, we know we can’t arrest our way out of it. It has to be a community initiative and that is why we are going at it with this approach.”

Contact Jamee A. Pierson at 641-792-3121 ext. 6534 or

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