How the Casa Grande Alliance is Taking a Modern Approach to Battling Substance Use Disorder

This month, we’re joined by Bob Shogren and Sara Hamilton of the Casa Grande Alliance to discuss their goals, history, and how individuals get involved.

How the Casa Grande Alliance is Taking a Modern Approach to Battling Substance Use Disorder

For this month’s partner spotlight, we’re joined by Bob Shogren, Director of the Casa Grande Alliance, and Sara Hamilton, a Family Engagement Specialist at the Casa Grande Alliance. While Sara joined the team a few months ago, Bob has been the Director of the Casa Grande Alliance for more than two years. In that time, he’s worked to implement a modern approach to reducing substance misuse, addiction, and violence among youth and adults.

Bob and Sara recently sat down with us to dig into the Casa Grande Alliance’s goals, their history, and how individuals can get involved.

What does the Casa Grande Alliance do & how do you achieve these objectives?

Located in a major drug trafficking corridor in the US, The Casa Grande Alliance was started over 30 years ago as a grassroots event and incorporated as a nonprofit in 2009. The community coalition started in 1989 as a response to a high rate of substance use among youth and young adults.

With new research and data on Adverse Childhood Experiences, childhood trauma and trauma-informed leadership, there is a new understanding of what is behind substance use and addiction. We now know that substance dependence, addiction and abuse are not driven by individual choice, history or genetics. Childhood trauma is increasingly viewed as the root cause behind substance use, dependence, addiction and abuse. So, we are taking action to train community members on childhood trauma and the connection to substance use disorder.

In those efforts, we have learned that building safe, stable, caring relationships and environments is critical in helping all of us to overcome the trauma in our lives. Increasingly, we find that establishing strong mentoring relationships are important for all people, including those who have experienced significant trauma in their lives. Our focus is now being non judgemental and emphasizing protective factors, building resilience, and helping people learn more about self-regulation.

The Casa Grande Alliance has shifted its focus over the last few years, to ensure we’re aligned with what the new childhood trauma research has demonstrated. That shift has been away from, "Just say no to drugs!" and more towards, "Let's heal, and make positive choices for our lives." That includes staying away from drugs but also helping you move past addiction if you struggle. Now, our focus is less about emphasizing the adversity people experience in their lives and instead emphasizing positive experiences and building activities that provide those experiences for youth, their parents, and the community.

We also work a lot with homes that support recovery. We have initiated a reentry program for individuals exiting the prison system that need support entering the community successfully. Within that, we have a community coaching program.

Today, we’re working to engage and mobilize youth volunteers, identifying issues in the community, and working through whatever means we have to address those issues.

What is the most impactful thing the Casa Grande Alliance has done recently?

We're really on the front edge of change happening in the community. Unfortunately, progress has been slowed significantly due to COVID-19. That being said, in the past year, we organized a youth alliance. The youth that participated really responded to the space we provided for them to share their thoughts and feelings, as well as take on volunteer projects and sharpen their leadership skills. We've had a lot of positive results, which also included a new, positive prevention lesson that was taped and accompanied by a Kahoot game. Hundreds of middle school students were able to participate in the virtual experience.

We also conducted our first youth leadership conference. We hosted an amazing array of national and local speakers who provided workshops on topics important to youth. We are currently turning all the sessions into videos to be distributed via YouTube so more people can explore the resources. The experience was great and really powerful overall.

How have you adapted programming throughout the pandemic?

A student studying at a learning hub operated by CGA during the pandemic last year.

Rather than reducing programming and engagement, we really leaned into the problem. We partnered with middle schools to set up learning hubs for children who didn't have internet at home. Through that program, we served about 150 students each day. We provided a safe space for groups of kids to do their Zoom classes and get homework done. Students, parents, and schools were most appreciative.

We're located on a school campus next to a very large garden. A few years ago, a garden club got started. They did the hard work to get it planted after being left vacant for years. When the pandemic rolled around, our staff took on the maintenance of the garden and have made it super productive. We’ve grown buckets and buckets of fresh vegetables to share with families, schools, and our local women’s shelter.

If there's a way we can lean in and reduce some stress for families, the more they'll trust us and see us as a resource for them.

Last year, we did a school supply drive for students. We raised enough money & donations to provide over 1,000 school supply kits to students. We’re currently working on developing the resources for a goal of 2,000 school supply kits this year.

What has the funding process looked like for the Casa Grande Alliance? Do most of your donations come from small or large donors?

We primarily receive small donations from individuals. We also get a few larger contributions from businesses, but it's primarily individual givers who support the organization.

What fundraising challenges have you faced?

One of the greatest needs for non-profits is to raise funds to keep the doors open and the administrative costs of running a non-profit. Fundraising is hard work! It takes real dedication and a team. You have to be able to elevate the community in a way that captures their imagination.

What is the impact of a financial donation made to the Casa Grande Alliance?

We have been working to secure additional funds for three main projects.

  1. We’ve secured donations to make t-shirts for all of the new teachers at elementary schools within the district. The shirts were designed by a high school student.
  2. School supplies. We're still short there this year. We're working on building a campaign to bring more donations in with the hope of serving at least 2,000 students.
  3. We have been collecting contributions to add a kitchen classroom to our community room to provide a new facility so that middle school students can learn cooking skills.

100% of donations to the Casa Grande Alliance go toward supporting those projects and other initiatives designed to support youth in the community.

What does the future of the Casa Grande Alliance look like?

The biggest new initiative we've been working toward is establishing a cultural center for our community and establishing culturally-based programming for youth and parents that will be driven by the voices of parents and youth.

The potential for continued adverse impact of the ongoing pandemic on families and youth is significant. For schools and organizations to continue to do business as usual without taking into account the stress and trauma that families and youth have experienced over the last few years won't serve their needs. We're working toward figuring out programming that will engage youth and their parents, giving them a relevant, cultural outlet to be part of something bigger than themselves.

We are here to support the community. We're working on better communication and promotion of the Alliance to spread the word about what we're doing. The alliance is really intentional about its generosity in giving resources to the community.

What’s the best way for individuals to get involved with & support the Casa Grande Alliance?

VISTA Summer Associates helping with summer school.

Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and visit our website. If you’re able, come volunteer with us! That allows us to get to know you and your skills and provides an opportunity to get more involved in the future. We would love to have your help!

If there are people outside our area who are interested in the work we're doing, we can support virtual volunteers as well. Be sure to stay connected with us online — with your interest and support, we will work to launch virtual volunteer opportunities for people outside of the area to support the Alliance as well.

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