Changing the Way We See the Community

Recently, nine members from the Lake of the Woods County Prevention Coalition (LWPC) traveled to Big Sky, Montana for a training that would change the way they saw their community.  Those attending the training included community members Jodi Ferrier, Sandy Peterson, Brett Johnson, Jenny Moorman, Curt Storbeck and Mandy Herman as well as LWPC Coordinator Tammie Doebler, LWPC Support Specialist Joyce Washburn, LWPC Media Consultant Sara Jeanne Thompson.  The training, entitled “Montana Summer Institute”, was lead by a team of researchers and prevention specialists for the Center for Health and Safety Culture at Montana State University with a focus on Positive Community Norms (PCN).People from all around the United States and Canada gathered at this four-day training seeking further understanding and guidance on prevention efforts such as transportation safety, suicide prevention, child maltreatment and substance abuse, to name a few.  “Our focus, here in Lake of the Woods, is prevention of underage alcohol, tobacco and other drug use,” said Tammie Doebler.

Armed with the coalition’s vision of Creating a community culture that empowers youth to be alcohol, tobacco and drug free, the team of nine from Lake of the Woods gained insight on how to begin.  Jodi Ferrier explained, “The instructors are so knowledgeable, passionate and enthusiastic about the PCN process. They really have a way of making each person feel connected, even in a room of 185 people.”

The Positive Community Norms approach balances concern for the issue with hope for the future.  It focuses on what is good in the community and seeks to grow that goodness. “ I absolutely believe that PCN is an excellent strategy for reducing underage drinking in Lake of the Woods County,” said Jenny Moorman.  “Based on the data, most people in our county do not participate in encouraging underage drinking, most of us want our children to experience safe, alcohol-free adolescent years and empower people to make healthier, safer choices.”

Positive Community Norms is a complex initiative, but one that is adoptable by individuals, families and communities.  It begins with the spirit of why the community is working on the issue, then focuses on the science of the issue by gathering community data that measures misperceptions, after that, a plan of action is implemented that tells a story of what’s really happening in the community.   The difference is focusing on the positive data, rather than the negative.  For instance, 23% of Lake of the Woods 9-12 grade students report that they drink alcohol once a month or more often.   That means 77% of the students are NOT drinking monthly!  Brett Johnson said, “So many people focus on the negative aspect, when the positive is so powerful!  Also the perception of the community is skewed, so that makes it difficult for adults and students.”

The Lake of the Woods County Prevention Coalition members came away energized, renewed and hopeful, really believing in the goodness that already exists in the community.  Curt Storbeck summed it up well saying, “I think the information learned at Big Sky applies to all of life and therefore I will apply it to all aspects of my life.  The sincere depth of care for the youth by everyone involved with the training was impressive.  Everything is backed up with facts, yet they look at it from a very positive angle, which makes you believe that it can be done in our community too.”

The Lake of the Woods County Prevention Coalition is funded through a grant from the Minnesota Department of Human Services, Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division.  If you would like to find out more about the Coalition or perhaps become a member of the coalition, please contact Tammie Doebler or Joyce Washburn by calling the Lake of the Woods School, 1-218-634-2510 ext. 1100, or visit the website at

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