In Jefferson County, youth issued a minor-in-possession citation now participate in a new program called Restorative Community Service, an evidence-based program that partners volunteer community mentors with youth who work side-by-side on a project the community finds meaningful. In the first nine months of the project, nearly 49 youth were referred to the program and collectively they engaged in almost 1,500 hours of community service. They have help with projects like constructing a new pavilion in the park, building a veteran’s memorial, planting flowers around town, and cleaning up at a historic building.

Similar stories have come from five other Montana communities in the last three years, thanks to the Montana Community Change Project.

In 2008, the Department of Public Health and Human Services awarded six Montana organizations funding to identify a specific alcohol abuse related issue plaguing their community. Each organization then spent the next three years addressing those issues.

DPHHS in September 2011 released a 200-page report that documents the work of the project.

The organizations involved tackled issues identified statewide including decreasing student binge drinking, drinking and driving, and alcohol-related vehicle crashes. They reached out to county commissioners, tribal leaders, law enforcement and school superintendents, and joint efforts were made to mitigate the problems associated with substance abuse in Montana.

By working together, several positive changes have occurred in the past three years, including:

– Adoption of social host ordinances in communities
– Increased use of ignition interlocks and SCRAM bracelets to deter repeat DUI offenses
– Increased alcohol sales compliance checks
– Successful implementation of voluntary Responsible Alcohol Sales and Service Training in many communities
– Increased community awareness through planned media

The project divided nearly $9 million among six Montana organizations including Havre HELP Committee, District II Alcohol and Drug Services, Blackfeet Housing, Butte-Silver Bow County Health Department, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department, the Flathead Reservation, and Lake County Coalition for Kids.

The project impacted the Blackfeet, Flathead and Fort Peck Reservations, and the counties of Glacier, Silver Bow, Madison, Beaverhead, Deer Lodge, Powell, Sheridan, Roosevelt, Richland, Dawson, Wibaux, Lake, Mineral, Sanders, Lincoln, Hill, Blaine, Phillips, Jefferson, Whitehall and Boulder.

The vast community involvement at all levels was the key to the project’s success, according to Vicki Turner of the DPHHS Prevention Resource Center. “Success in local communities across the state is changing the conversation and culture in developing and implementing local policies to address these issues,” she said.

The report notes general themes that occurred in involved communities:

– Rates of student binge drinking were reduced, including rates for American Indian students. Prior to 2010 their rates were significantly higher compared to the state and other rural counties.

– After two years, student drinking and driving rates declined significantly and were essentially equal to other rural counties and only slightly above state rates.

– Percentage decreases between 2009 and 2010 in alcohol crashes were significantly larger than the statewide rates of alcohol-related crashes.

– High school students reported a significant increase in their self-perception of drinking being wrong.

– These counties had significantly greater increases in DUI arrests in 2008 and 2009, something the report calls one of the underlying contributing factors to Montana’s downward trend in alcohol-related vehicle crashes.

Funding for the project was through the Strategic Prevention Framework State Incentive Grant distributed by the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, a federal agency that works with states and communities to develop comprehensive prevention systems that create healthy communities.

– Department of Health and Human Services