WILLMAR -- The Kandiyohi County Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs Coalition has received a major boost in the form of a five-year federal grant.
Over the next five years, the organization will receive $125,000 a year -- a total of $625,000 -- to carry out prevention activities and initiatives that target youths.
"It's great. We're excited," said Rick Loseth, coordinator for the coalition.
There were 417 applicants nationwide for the federal Drug-Free Communities funds.
Altogether, $21 million worth of grants were awarded to 161 of the applicants.
"In Minnesota there were only three and we were one of those," Loseth said.
The money will allow the coalition to hire a coordinator and step up its activities. Reducing the rate of underage drinking will be one of the priorities during the first year of the grant.
"The idea is prevention. That's really the focus of all these dollars," Loseth said.
There will be a particular emphasis on trying to change community norms about underage alcohol use and on creating a system that supports this, he said.
"It's policies. It's laws. It's enforcement," he said. "It's the shifting of the community mindset to create long-term, sustained change. Over time that's how you reduce substance abuse."
An evaluation component will help measure whether the coalition's activities have been successful.
The Drug-Free Communities program is directed by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
When the five years of the grant expire, there will be an opportunity for the Kandiyohi County coalition to reapply for continued funding.
The coalition already is working on its fall schedule of events, which will include a Nov. 5 presentation by an expert on the risks of energy drinks.
The group also has received a Zero Adult Providers grant, aimed at education and training to prevent adults from serving alcohol to minors.