Thanks to Beth McLaughlin for this post!

SPF SIG grantees in Southeast Alaska hit a bump in the assessment process with the realization that none of the schools in their project area –Angoon, Kake and Klukwan – had participated in the Youth Behavioral Risk Factor Survey (YRBS) in recent years. Though each community, as part of agreeing to be part of the project, agreed to conduct the YRBS in future years, the lack of current data left a big gap. According to the local evaluator, Kerry MacLane, “The YRBS is an important element in cross-site evaluation. Collecting YRBS information from our communities allows us to compare our results to other grantees in the state as well as nationally…we had zero baseline data for youth…and we knew that administering something in the schools [to be able to gather baseline data] would be difficult, with the need to gather the [State of Alaska] required parental permission in the schools…we felt like we’d get a really low response rate.”

Faced with this challenge, MacLane and project director, Wilbur Brown of Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) came up with a Plan B. MacLane visited the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website, where sample YRBS surveys are posted along with a toolkit, which provides advice on how to field the survey. Since the YRBS asks a large number of questions, of which not all are related to youth consumption of alcohol and access to alcohol, the SEARHC team selected questions that pertained to alcohol use and put them into their own, shorter survey. They also added YRBS questions regarding suicide and one question related to youth awareness of the SEARHC Crisis Hotline. They also modified the language of some of the questions, to make it more applicable to the people in their project area. For example, the word “community” was replaced with “village.” State evaluator, Jesse Metzger also provided assistance by putting together a spreadsheet that the SEARHC team could use to easily tabulate survey results.

The next question was how to field the survey. MacLane and Brown decided not to field the survey in the local schools, so that getting parental permission would not be such an issue. Instead, the group focused on making the survey a community event. Having visited each site to introduce the project, community members were also asked for input on how to field surveys in ways that they would be comfortable with and ways that were likely to draw the most respondents – which is key to getting a good response rate.

Said MacLane, “When we asked what works best, community members told us: Food! In small communities where there is no movie theater, no restaurants, and even open gym hours at the local school are limited, there is not a lot of competition [for a social event]…and if you have one that involves food, people love it! If you make it a potluck, people love trying to out-do each other. For the events we put on, SEARHC provides a main item like fish and everybody else contributes side dishes.”

The SEARHC team is taking the community event approach to fielding their adult survey and their youth survey. For adults who complete the survey, the added incentive is being entered in a raffle for $50 gift certificates for heating oil. For the youth, they are combining the survey as part of an event that might include an art project or a movie, followed by dinner. After the kids eat, surveys are completed and there is a drawing for an iPod.

Having positive events benefits the community, raises awareness about the SPF process and, says MacLane, “the surveys get completed and parents are happy…parents like the idea of their kids having something constructive to do.”

Webinar for Alaska’s Coalitions: Whether your coalition is brand new or has been working together for many years, there will be plenty of great information available at an upcoming webinar to be offered just for Alaska’s grantees by SAMHSA’s Collaborative for the Application of Prevention Technologies (CAPT) on Thursday, May 10. Specific times and other details are expected to go out to grantees by the end of this week, so keep an eye out for this exciting opportunity!

Save the Date: We’re excited to announce the dates for the Year 2 grantee training: it will take place Tuesday, September 25 through Thursday, September 27, in Anchorage. More details will be forthcoming, but we can tell you there will be helpful information and tools for use in your capacity building and strategic planning steps, tailored grantee work sessions, and plenty of opportunities for grantees to share helpful information with one another. We look forward to seeing project staff and coalition members there.