It is an endless task, but not a thankless task.
In a world besieged with opiods, meth, beer, liquor and medical marijuana, youth in Hernando County, instead of being tossed into the struggles, have Tresa Watson, the executive director of the Hernando Community Coalition, to thank for offering an alternative path to temptation and to addiction. And, of course, in this season of Christmas, even though all have not been spared from the clutches of addiction, the families of youth who have been provided a road to somewhere by the HCC are also quite appreciative and thankful for Watson’s continued tenacity and success in a program wrought with daily, and nightly, challenges.
Prior to the forming of the HCC, shocking but uncommonly-discussed results from a 2002 Florida Youth Substance Abuse Survey revealed that compared to statewide averages, Hernando County youth had the dubious distinction of the highest prevalence of drug and alcohol abuse in almost every category compared throughout Florida. A Hernando social worker reviewed these results and informed the Hernando School District that Hernando — especially its young people — were in a state of crisis.
Three important factors have reversed this horrible portent of the 2002 “crisis” alarm. First, the Hernando County Community Anti-Drug Coalition, known as the Hernando Community Coalition (HCC) was forged into existence in 2003 as a Task Force, working for the health and wellness of community members with a focus on youth substance abuse.
Second, one of the early volunteers for that Task force was a former Chicago woman—Tresa Watson.
Third, the same Tresa Watson was hired as the executive director of the HCC in 2010.
Within those three sea-changing dates, numerous efforts and challenges have led to grants, recognitions and awards as the HCC continues its work and its mission under the business skills and people skills brought to the table by Watson and exemplified in the day-to-day labor of staff and key members of the Hernando community.
Watson, now in late 2017, explains that the original Task Force recognized and responded early-on to the fact that in order to be successful the Task Force or Coalition not only had to provide information dissemination and education throughout Hernando, but more important and more difficult, the Coalition had to focus on implementing and executing well-planned strategies in the community. A tireless, gifted “Pied Piper” was needed to get everyone on board. That “Pied Piper” has turned out to be none other that Watson.
The tough, tedious work, the collaboration of both the HCC staff and the Hernando community, across-the- board, brought about significant changes from 2008 to 2014, resulting in the non-profit agency headed by Watson receiving the 2016 National Anti-Drug Coalition of the Year award for its “success in addressing alcohol, tobacco, and prescription drug problems among middle and high school students in Hernando County.”
“The national award is the highest of honors for the work we do,” says Watson. “This award recognizes our partners who operate at all levels and truly care about Hernando County. Through their commitment, we have made great strides in preventing and reducing youth alcohol, tobacco, prescription drugs and synthetic drug use,” acknowledges Watson, adding, “we still have have work to do, but together we are making an impact of national significance.”
Drug use and its close cousins, drug abuse and illegal drug use, will not disappear soon from society. The challenge now is to prevent Hernando from slipping into another state of crisis.
“A lot of people do not like to talk about drugs and alcohol,” Watson commented in a recent news media interview. She realizes that substance abuse work is not glamorous.
But the lack of glamor has not prevented this transplant from Chicago, this woman educated in economics (BA from DePaul) and accounting/finance (MBA from Benedictine) to transfer her business skills and her people skills to her new environs in Hernando, thrust into action against more traditional societal problems as well as the escalating problems of methamphetamine use and bullying in schools.
To make the move years ago from Chicago and the corporate world has been “transformative” for Watson. She says she saw big problems in my small town in Hernando and “ I knew I had to help make it a better place.”
That effort to make Hernando a better place has come through Watson’s leadership in prompting a large number of disparate Hernando organizations, businesses, and individuals to cooperate in a community-wide momentum through varied strategies launched by the HCC with Watson leading the bugle charge. Contributing to the success of the HCC mission have been the Hernando County School District, the WestBridge treatment center, the Crescent Community Clinic, the Hernando County Health Department, the Brooksville Police Department, the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office, BayCare Behaviorial Health, the YMCA, the Teen Court and other church, and civic organizations. This is a formidable coalition including others from the private, public and not-for-profit sector brought together through the impetus of the HCC to form and to execute strategies of prevention as well as rehabilitation.
The HCC cannot operate on these synergy efforts alone. Funding comes from a variety of federal, state and local grants, the most important being the $125,000 annual Drug Free Communities federal grant now in its seventh year.
“We just want a safe and healthy community,” concludes Watson, not tooting her own horn but urging the public to learn more about the HCC, its mission and its strategies at the Hernando Community Coalition website and Facebook.