Maine is a place of extremes: extreme beauty, fierce independence and stoicism. It is also a place where only the people ‘from away’ lock their doors; a place where families have lived for generations, a place that still retains small town connections and community helping each other in times of trouble.
Choose To Be Healthy is a multi-sector community coalition serving nine towns in the southernmost part of Maine in York County. While our area is officially designated suburban because of its proximity to urban areas in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, it is most certainly rural. Approximately 65,000 people and five school districts of nearly 8,000 students, K-12, are served by Choose To Be Healthy. The region is 250 square miles bound on the east by the Atlantic Ocean and tourist beach communities and on the south and west by New Hampshire with poorer rural farm communities. While beautiful woods, rivers and ocean are all nearby, amenities like shopping malls and movie theaters are in the next state over. Social services and youth serving agencies are located in larger towns one or more hours away. In an area without public transportation, youth especially have few supports to access. The Choose To Be Healthy region is not as racially or ethnically diverse as other parts of Maine. Our diversity is more seen in socio-economic status, education and other cultural differences.
Our area’s economy is mostly driven by small businesses and tourism. The area is also proud home to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery. Children from the over 2000 civilian and military personnel come to our schools and benefit from our limited resources. York Hospital, the lead agency for the Choose To Be Healthy Coalition is one of the largest and most respected employers in the area with over just 1000 employees.
The Choose To Be Healthy (CTBH) Coalition was formed as a comprehensive community health coalition in 2000. Though most of this state funding was gradually cut over the years, CTBH has been able to sustain its work, its partnerships and minimal staff with federal and state substance use prevention funding, local support and small grants.
In 2010, CTBH became a Drug Free Communities Coalition. In 2011, CTBH received funding from Maine’s Drug Enforcement Agency to help prevent youth prescription drug abuse. Some of CTBH’s successes with this collaboration include creating a Regional Law Enforcement team (which still exists), implementing annual Drug Identification Trainings for schools and the purchase of Med Return boxes for all eighth local police and sheriff’s departments. In 2012 through 2014, CTBH focused on youth marijuana use prevention due to impending retail legalization and high youth use rates. CTBH educated and supported youth and adult coalition members who spoke at the state house and local town meetings resulting in the delay of retail marijuana legalization and all of our nine towns banning retail marijuana.
However, the opioid crisis hit our area dramatically. Our area did not develop a medication assisted treatment program until after a large community forum on the opioid crisis held by CTBH in January, 2016 inspired the Hospital CEO to prioritize funding one. That program remains the only provider within the area.
Choose To Be Healthy has a twenty year history of helping the southern most communities of Maine have more opportunities to change for the better, use evidence based approaches and share resources with each other. Despite these efforts, our region is challenged by young adults who leave the state, unemployment, increasing alcohol and drug use by our youth and young adults and unhealthy community norms that regard alcohol and marijuana sales as an important path to economic recovery.