SAMHSA - Communities Talk About Prevention

Episode #2: Prevention Campaigns and Community Collaboration (Building a Safer Evansville)

November 21, 2022 Denise
Episode #2: Prevention Campaigns and Community Collaboration (Building a Safer Evansville)
SAMHSA - Communities Talk About Prevention
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SAMHSA - Communities Talk About Prevention
Episode #2: Prevention Campaigns and Community Collaboration (Building a Safer Evansville)
Nov 21, 2022


  • Mark Mellecker, Project Coordinator, Building a Safer Evansville (BASE)


  • Evansville, Wisconsin


  • In episode #2, Mark Mellecker, a project coordinator at Building a Safer Evansville (BASE), discusses substance use prevention efforts in a diverse and rural Wisconsin community. He shares how they amplified their Communities Talk activity through a statewide Wisconsin Department of Health prevention campaign called Small Talks and discusses valuable community partnerships that contribute to their success. 
    As a reminder, the views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of SAMHSA or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 
Show Notes Transcript


  • Mark Mellecker, Project Coordinator, Building a Safer Evansville (BASE)


  • Evansville, Wisconsin


  • In episode #2, Mark Mellecker, a project coordinator at Building a Safer Evansville (BASE), discusses substance use prevention efforts in a diverse and rural Wisconsin community. He shares how they amplified their Communities Talk activity through a statewide Wisconsin Department of Health prevention campaign called Small Talks and discusses valuable community partnerships that contribute to their success. 
    As a reminder, the views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of SAMHSA or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

TOM: Welcome to our new podcast series: Communities Talk About Prevention. We're glad you're here.

I'm your host, Tom Colthurst. I’ve served many roles in supporting the prevention of alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use, both within community public health and higher education settings. For several years, I’ve also supported SAMHSA’s Communities Talk initiative.

Today, you’ll hear how organizations have planned and hosted events or activities to support substance use prevention at a local level. Most importantly, they’ll share tips on what worked for them, which we hope will inspire you to get involved in prevention in your own community. 

This podcast is brought to you by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, also known as SAMHSA. Communities Talk is a national initiative sponsored by SAMHSA. 

As a reminder, the views expressed here are not necessarily those of SAMHSA or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Let’s begin.

TOM: Good morning, Mark. I’m Tom Colthurst, and I want to send some commendation to your organization for hosting one of the 2021 Communities Talk activities. Could you introduce yourself and also tell us a little bit about the organization that sponsored that Communities Talk activity, please?

MARK: Thank you, Tom. My name is Mark Mellecker. I’m the project coordinator for Building a Safer Evansville, or BASE. It's a community coalition based out of Evansville, Wisconsin. We’re 30 minutes south of Madison and 30 minutes to the west of Janesville. So, we’re considered a rural population that has a really unique intersection of identities and people.

We’ve got a growing Spanish-speaking population. We’ve got a very vibrant LGBTQ+ community. We also have farmers, people who work in the city. We kind of have a little bit of everything here in our little community.

And it’s really wonderful, but we have noticed, partially because of our rural setting and partially because in Wisconsin drinking culture is really prevalent, we’ve seen a huge amount of substance abuse concerns and mental health concerns in our youth. And so BASE was founded in 2009 to kind of approach that after some statistics came out in the 2008 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, or YRBS, which is an annual sur – or biannual survey that’s done, gathering data.

And we noticed that kind of across the board there were drinking and driving concerns, underage drinking concerns, meth, marijuana, smoking, e-cigarettes, and in response to that our coalition was formed. So, Communities Talk has been one of those amazing ways that we’ve done that work because it’s just a really easy avenue to kind of get out there and get people talking.

And we’ve augmented with some really wonderful tools that have been developed over the last couple of years, so BASE has done an amazing job with our substance abuse concerns. Across the board substance use is down. Every single drug category, every single age group. It has just been a complete transformation in 10 years. 

We dropped from about 45 percent use in high school students for alcohol in 2008 to almost 14 percent as of our most recent survey data from this last year.

TOM:  Mark, where do young people get access to alcohol in Evansville?

MARK: Same place they get alcohol in pretty much every community across the country. Especially in Wisconsin, I can’t go into a house without seeing some kind of bar setup. Either in the basement, easy access in fridges, you know, just hanging around in the garage. So, they either are given it by a family member or a near peer, or they take it from somebody who hasn’t done enough security for their alcohol, locking things up. 

And up until recently, social host ordinances meant that it could be given in bars, it could be given at the home. There was supervised drinking, which doesn’t really have the outcome that you’d hope — it just encourages more substance abuse — but yeah, just the availability of it was so prevalent.

TOM: Are young people able to purchase illegally from retailers?

MARK:  We’ve got a really great relationship with our police department. And we do a lot of work trying to educate all of the vendors, all of the salespeople. And while we’ve had some failures in the ID checking, for the most part it’s been really, really good. So that’s not where we’re really getting it from, because they understand the penalty is pretty severe here in Wisconsin for individuals who sell alcohol.

TOM: I noticed on your website a reference to compliance checks. Apparently, you get involved in compliance checks not only for the sale of alcohol but also the sale of tobacco.

MARK:  Correct.

TOM: There was one reference to zero infractions for tobacco sales. 

MARK: Yeah, tobacco sales have dropped off. Well, just tobacco use in general has dropped off. As we’ve seen the increase in availability of vapes and e-cigarettes, general tobacco sales have gone down. And I think people have understood that with cigarettes and tobacco use over the years, is that kids should not be having this stuff. And so, yeah, we’re really proud of that zero infractions on our compliance checks with tobacco.

TOM: So that’s an indication that you have pretty good relations with retailers.

MARK: Oh, absolutely. I, I am on a first-name basis with all of the liquor stores because of the work we do here in Evansville. They really appreciate the fact that we’re helping keep them safe because they don’t want to face a $500 fine for selling to minors. We’ve got a program through the county called the Alcohol Lock Top Display Boxes. They are liquor bottle lock tops that have a little combo on them that we’ve handed them out for free. And in Evansville alone, since May of 2021, we’ve given away over 540 of them, and that number is only going up. I can’t keep them in stock. And most of our amazing partners are the front desk of the grocery store that sells liquor, the gas stations that all sell liquor, the liquor store in town is really wonderful. 

The PD is giving them away. So yeah, our retailers are super supportive of everything we do.

We want people to understand the risks of underage drinking, and the work that goes along with it could not be done without our retail partners. 

And the boxes have statistics on them. They also have like a QR code you can scan and get Small Talks facts. Small Talks is a program that the Wisconsin Department of Health and Human Services implemented about two and a half years ago that focuses on getting conversations started. It’s breaking myths for youth. It’s getting parents more comfortable with the idea that they’re good role models, they’re the ones who are supposed to be leading the way.

TOM: Well, thank you for bringing up Small Talks because that’s a nice intro to the town hall, the Communities Talk activity that Building a Safer Evansville hosted last year. Tell us a bit about how you got involved in Communities Talk to begin with.

MARK: So, Communities Talk had been a program we worked with in 2019. This was before I began working for BASE, but in the fall of 2019, Communities Talk had the stipend that was available. We wanted to host a contest to kind of see what the youth of Evansville were thinking about substance abuse. We came up with a theme. We developed it. And we had this really amazing turnout that was really instrumental in seeing like what youth thought about alcohol and other drug use.

The theme was “Not Everyone Is Doing It.” And the art piece that won from that actually went up on a billboard here in town and was done by a student who is now going to school professionally for art. He used it in his college applications.

You could see what they were expressing, what their thoughts were. And so, we love Communities Talk. I use the success stories thing. I just kind of scroll through that for some ideas when we’re trying to figure out if there’s a program we can get going. And it’s been really good for us to develop programs going forward.

And so that was in 2019 before all this COVID stuff hit and kind of shut everything down, and we were really kind of unsure of what we were doing and where we were going. And in 2021, you know, we didn’t know what we were doing in 2020, so obviously we didn’t do a huge program with that. In 2021, however, we got involved because we were like, we want to do something, we want to share Small Talks materials by the Wisconsin Department of Health, and we moved forward with this really unique program that encouraged families to take the tips, take the Small Talks resources, and really go out and talk with their kids.

You know, we wanted them to know that there was no age that is too young. If your kid can have a conversation with you, you can start talking about alcohol with them. And the turnout was just incredible. 

It was in the comfort of their own home, at their own kitchen table. It was the parents, it was the kids, and we were able to get our business partners, like we’d mentioned, involved as well. And then we had people sign a pledge to talk. You know, I’m going to cover this, I’d love to talk to my kids, and I recognize that this talk doesn’t end here.

 That was our big thing is we don’t want Communities Talk to be a one-off. We want it to be something that people talk about. You know, I still hear people talk about how amazing that billboard was almost three years later. So, I think it speaks volumes to how we’ve been able to get in touch with our community, and go forward from there. It's a foundational program we will use as long as BASE is here.

TOM: Well, I know the $750 stipend isn’t a lot of money, but it sounds like you leveraged that into –

MARK: Absolutely.

TOM: - generating other resources.

MARK: That $750 ended up being, I think with our, our calculated volunteer value, it ended up being somewhere close to like three or four thousand dollars’ worth of time and materials and energy. So, I’d say that’s pretty good for what we did.

TOM: And you referenced Small Talks being a part of a statewide campaign out of your Wisconsin Department of Health. What kind of resources do they provide? 

MARK: They’ve got Talk Tips for talking about alcohol, answering the hard questions. What to do if you don’t know how to start talking. They’ve got resources in five different languages that are the most common throughout the state of Wisconsin; they can adapt it to any community.

They’ve got yard signs, billboards, pins, stickers, fridge magnets, freezer magnets so you can stick stuff inside of wine and beer fridges at local business like we’ve done. They’ve got all sorts of resources across the board. We were able to take the Small Talks resources that were provided for free, the Communities Talk resources of just everything Communities Talk does and bring them together really successfully for our community.

TOM:  In the success story that you filed with SAMHSA and that’s available on the Communities Talk website, one of the next steps you indicated was to support new prevention policies, legislation, or social ordinances. How has that been going?

MARK: So, our chief of police, who sits on our board and is very involved with what we do in BASE – He’s been involved with our Building a Safer Evansville since the beginning. He, every year, goes through and issues licensing recommendations and issuing for the city when they’re doing their annual review of policies, alcohol licenses, and businesses in the area. 

Chief Reese has done a really fantastic job of compiling data for the Place of Last Drink program that we’re a part of, that kind of understands what businesses have the most recent, like OWIs, drunk and disorderliness, if they’re overserving. And it kind of helps issue guidelines for the city to see if they should issue licenses or renewals or if there’s an application for a new business.

So those are the kind of policies and programs that we support. We have facts, we’ve got data, we’ve got recommendations from the state and the federal government on how to handle that kind of stuff. And then we’ve got Chief Reese, who is an advocate for our public safety here in Evansville, go and make his recommendations to the community. So, it’s been really incredible seeing that kind of follow-through on our end in our community.

TOM: I noticed that the emergency medical services in Evansville is also one of your partners.  

MARK: Yeah. So, the EMS program, we’re still working more on that, but what we’d like to start doing is carrying Narcan for opioid overdoses. We’re based as a Narcan direct provider, so we get free Narcan and provide Narcan trainings through the state of Wisconsin. And we’d love for our EMS to carry them.

We don’t have a ton of overdoses in the area, but Evansville does serve a lot of the outlying communities. Our small rural communities kind of stick together in that regard.

They attend trainings that we provide or send them to. Our police, our fire district, our EMS all show up to Evansville Night Out, which is our family free substance event we hold every August. 

And it really just puts a face on it that we’re a unified community. It’s made our community feel safer and protected and able to respond to anything by having the EMS kind of at our back with that.

TOM: Mark, could you comment on some of the networking that you do?

MARK: We have volunteers who attend conferences across the state. We do so much with everybody. And a lot of that is sharing what we do. So, we’re part of the Rock County Prevention Network, which is all of the coalitions and the Health and Human Services of Rock County all coming together kind of having a unified approach to substance abuse prevention in Rock County.

The Alliance for Wisconsin Youth, we attend a lot of their trainings. We go to their meetings on a regular basis. We have input and assistance from people all across the state. We are working with the Wisconsin LGBT Chamber of Commerce, since we do a lot of work with LGBTQ+ youth substance abuse prevention. We go to networking with the Epiphany Community Services, who are our community evaluators. They host a conference every year, and we hear from all their coalition partners across the United States.

We attend things regularly for SAMHSA, for CADCA, for the CDC. We just had our site evaluation with the CDC on our grant overview, and we had some really amazing networking communication with people from New Mexico; people from Washington, DC; even other organizations throughout Wisconsin. So, the coalition, as much as it’s a local effort, is very clearly a national — like, it is, it is a community, a national community effort that we were a part of, and we couldn’t do without, you know, that.

And then obviously we work with communities and organizations in Madison and Dane County. We’ve got partners in Brodhead and Greene County. While we’ve been really small, we’ve loved using successes from other coalitions and then also sharing our successes with them. I know that’s a very vague answer, but if we wanted to, I could sit here and talk for the next week about all of our amazing community partnerships.

TOM: Now as you look forward, there will probably be another round of the Communities Talk campaign coming out of SAMHSA. Any thoughts on how you’d pursue it the next time around?

MARK: We really liked the art installation from 2019. We really loved seeing that student perspective. This year we asked students at the beginning of the school year, and we got the art program at the high school involved. We wanted to know what the importance of an adult role model or just any role model is in youth.

And they could kind of – they went wild with it. They, they had – We had photography, we had drawings, we had paintings, and it blew me away. Some of them honestly made me cry because we were expecting like, oh, what does a parent role model mean to you, how do you learn from your parents? And some of the things were like: I don’t really have a parent role model, I do have, you know, my mom’s two friends who are just amazing.

Our winning contestant had a really amazing round of their friends get together and they just like, the joy, the radiance that came off of them, and then the message was just like, I look to my friends as role models because they understand what I’m going through, they care about me deeply, they said so. And this kid I think is 14 years old, a freshmen who wants to pursue photography professionally, and so we’re working with him right now to get this billboard put up.

And again, with our business partners and our community involvement, we had the art put up in windows right in the downtown area of our main street, and we had community members vote on them, and it was just – the involvement of the community was really wonderful. The feedback, the input was really amazing.

And so it’s going to be really awesome to put that billboard up in a really prime location and show people right at the beginning of the school year what a youth role model is in regards to substance abuse and prevention. Yeah, we may have started it last fall, but it’s something that’s going to have a whole year of impact and work, and I’m really, really proud of that.

So that’s how I think I want to go forward with Communities Talk programs is, is it doesn’t have to be a two-week thing that is a one-and-done. I want to have it be lasting. I want to have it be meaningful. And I want to have it be something that gives us a unique perspective that we haven’t gotten before. And I’m sure whatever we do next year, it’s going to break my heart in the exact same way as it did this year.

People have been really involved with the work we’re doing, and it set us up for a lot of success down the line.

TOM: Looking forward to a year from now, what would you consider success for BASE?

MARK: Well, I mean, it’s the success that we’re experiencing now. We’re expected to be at the table when things are happening, when planning happens. I want that to be the expectation for a year from now, five years now, for 10 years from now, is I want people to think of BASE and what we do, and make sure when the school district is planning something, or when the fire district is planning something, or if the city council is planning something. I want BASE to be an expectation, not just an after effect.

And so a year from now I, you know, I don’t necessarily want to be the one sitting at the table. I think the success is coming from having a board member, having volunteers, having dedicated advocates, people who are involved with BASE being the ones to go to speak. Because I could go to every function that we have in town and speak, but I think it’s better if the amazing volunteers that we have are the ones doing it. That’s my goal in a year.

TOM: If someone is listening to this podcast and they’re thinking, “That’s something I should get involved in.” What advice do you have for them?

MARK: Don’t do it alone. Find somebody such as your local police department, or the schools, or if you’ve got churches in town, ask them to provide a space, ask them to provide a voice.

You know, small stuff like that makes it so, that way you don’t feel like you’re doing everything alone and they don’t feel like you’re asking too much of them. We couldn’t do it without them. So if you’re interested, mention it to them, say, “Hey, here’s what we’re thinking. Let’s come to the planning table.” And then, you know, it’s never too early to start thinking about what you want to do next.

So, you know, even if you don’t have an idea of what you want to do for this year, think about next year and get started because it’ll come up way quicker than you were expecting. May came and went faster than we were expecting, and we started planning this about summer of last year. So yeah, just don’t do it alone, and start planning now. The best way to get people involved is to send them information, and then have them kind of figure out how to get involved. Provide them with a couple of opportunities for change or action, and see where they go from it, because then it’s a personal thing, it’s a “I made this choice to be involved.” 

Now we’re not expecting every family to sit down at every single meal and talk about alcohol, but the fact that they have those tips in hand, next time that they experience a moment that they can have a conversation, it’s a lot easier. We just want to make it easy for everybody to have these talks. We want to inspire people to take that next step, and it’s been really successful.

TOM: Engagement leads to choice, leads to commitment.

MARK: Exactly. Having those options makes a world of difference. I lost a lot of people to substance abuse and mental health, and one of my best friends actually passed away in May of 2020 from liver failure. He was 26 years old. His drinking problem started when he was in high school, and if somebody had said something I think something could have been done.

It’s a very personal thing. I miss him every day and it really does drive my work. I don’t think that I have met a single person who is involved in substance abuse prevention or action or change that hasn’t experienced something like that.

TOM: Mark, thank you very much for the work you do in Evansville. I appreciate getting to hear what you and colleagues are doing and what you’re looking at for the future. 

MARK: I really appreciate it, Tom. Thank you so much for having me here today. It was a pleasure talking with you.

TOM: Thanks for joining us. Before we end today’s episode, I’d like to welcome SAMHSA’s Marion Pierce to share a few final words.

MARION:  Hello. I’m Marion Pierce, a public health analyst with SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, also known as CSAP. This podcast series features participants from SAMHSA’s Communities Talk initiative. Communities Talk supports community-based organizations and institutions of higher education across the U.S. SAMHSA provides these groups with stipends to help them host activities designed to educate youth, families, and communities about the effects of substance use and misuse. For more information about Communities Talk, visit us on the web at Thank you for listening, and remember, no action is too small when you’re talking about prevention.