Defining community drug prevention in Texas and beyond
interview with DrugFree Greenville's former Executive Director, Sharon
Learn how Greenville citizens defied the odds to establish a long-lasting
approach to drug prevention.
Greenville gets calls from as far away as Ireland. Callers
want to know how in the world we built and continue to sustain such
a successful prevention effort. The answers are often simple—and,
surprisingly, have much to do with a failed bid for federal money.
The questions come
from communities nationwide, most of them much like Greenville, that
are struggling with how to battle substance abuse. When they call,
their questions typically range from what made Greenville citizens
tackle something so difficult to how the citizens manage to keep the
The person who picks
up the phone to answer those calls is DrugFree Greenville’s longtime
executive director, Sharon Kroncke. Because even many Greenville natives
have never had a chance to know the genesis of DrugFree Greenville,
here’s a glimpse of what she tells those other communities:
Why did Greenville tackle something so difficult?
Back in the late ’80s, John Henson was the board president for Greenville’s
Chamber of Commerce, and one of his goals was to look into what the situation
was locally with illegal substances. He wanted to know: Did Greenville have
a problem? And if so, is there something the chamber could or should be doing?
He established a community task force to look into it. Probably because I was
volunteering with the chamber and at my kids’ schools, John asked me
to be on it.
The task force learned
two very important things: first that, just like every other community
in the U.S., Greenville did indeed have a problem; and second that,
unlike other cities, we had a wealth of resources that could focus
on solutions if only we could find better ways of working together.
How did Greenville decide on a strategy? And how
did you know it was the right one?
The timing to form a community coalition was enhanced by the fact that in the ‘80s
a lot of grants were available for drug prevention programs. We applied for
one, and through that process identified what our situation here was and how
we might address it. There were no community models, no studies about what
worked and what didn’t. That’s part of the reason so many grants
were available—the government was itself looking for strategies that
might prove successful.
The model I did
know was from my volunteer background with Keep America Beautiful.
Clean Greenville (now known as Keep Greenville Beautiful) was established
in 1986 and had named Sharon Leonard as its executive director. I’d
very much bought into their model about how you change attitudes and
then behavior. You have to repeat the message again and again in different
ways, include all sectors of the community, and you have to be willing
to wait for results. So, with Clean Greenville’s permission,
we simply adapted their whole program to drug prevention!
The kicker is, we
didn’t even get the grant. But the process of applying for it
was definitive for what would become DrugFree Greenville. And
19 years later, we now have corroboration that the model indeed works.
In fact, DrugFree Greenville is among the last living
community coalitions from that era.
seem to go in cycles, and now they’re hot again, which is probably
why Greenville is getting so many calls from other cities looking to
mobilize their communities. They’re now in the same position
we were all those years ago. They have few successful models to follow,
so when their research leads them to us, they always want to know how
we did it and how we continue to do it.
What were some of your first steps in getting started?
In that early grant process we had to prove that we had the community’s
support, so we did a great deal of community education and used the name DrugFree
Greenville. We apparently did such a good job that even when we didn’t
get the grant, community organizations and members told us they’d be
willing to support us anyway.
What we didn’t
understand so much then was how much better it was for DrugFree to
be locally funded. Other groups that won grants found that when that
funding dried up, they hadn’t cultivated enough community support
to survive. They’re gone, and DrugFree Greenville is
Where does the money come from?
About five years ago, DrugFree Greenville did receive a grant,
this one associated with the tobacco settlement. We pursued and accepted that
one because it is managed locally by the Hunt Memorial Hospital District and
because tobacco is a recognized “gateway” drug, making the grant
clearly in line with our mission. It’s a partnership that has served
us and the county well each of the last five years.
But the heart of
our fundraising comes in the form of the annual spring Walkathon. In
1989, DrugFree organized its first Walkathon.
These walkathons on behalf of all kinds of causes were popular at the
The Greenville version
was a bit different, however. It was not the usual 20-mile hike, but
a more doable 4 miles in order to appeal to multigenerational family
groups. And instead of the usual pledges, walkers collected donations
up front, which they brought with them the morning of the Walk.
Today walkers continue
that custom with a new twist. Prior to the Walkathon, more than 125
significant donations will be made in the form of Walkopoly sign sponsors.
The route, too, is different. That first Walkathon didn’t start
downtown but rather at Crossroads Mall. None of us knew how many people
would show up, and we certainly weren’t prepared for all the
money. Children brought us jars of change. There were literally dollar
bills blowing around the parking lot! It was incredible, the amount
of money the people of Greenville raised that first year—$29,000.
Our eyeballs were huge!
But what I remember
the most was just how much people wanted to show their support for
their hometown and their young people. One family came and carried
a baby on their back the entire 4 miles of the Walk. They were there
every year afterward with their kids, making a statement. At another
early Walkathon, I remember a young Greenville Intermediate School
student, Jayann Johnson, who asked her grandfather to join her at the
Walk. Every year since, 17 years later, her grandfather Charles Whisenant
travels to Greenville and still walks with her.
How does Greenville manage to keep it going?
One of the things we figured out early on is that if we’re going to remain
a grassroots effort directly working with and through local people, it’s
absolutely necessary to have some fun while we do the hard work that needs
to be done. Clean Greenville promoted that a lot. If you don’t have fun
while you’re working on issues that are so intensely serious, it’s
easy to burn out.
That first Walk
was indeed very fun. And afterward, we understood that Greenville was
so supportive of drug prevention that DrugFree could
have a life of its own apart from government funding. The chamber extended
to us the same courtesy it had to Clean Greenville and installed a
desk in the chamber office right next to Sharon Leonard’s. That’s
when she and I became known as "The Sharons".
Her support was
essential. She shared everything she knew about the community and mentored
me on a daily basis. Today DrugFree has our very own
office in Wesley Street near downtown, but I remember with real fondness
those early days almost literally rubbing elbows with her.
One of the greatest
gifts of my life is that I’ve been associated with DrugFree
Greenville long enough to see real change.
In January 1990, we formally launched DrugFree Greenville with a community-wide
rally called “Greenville Comes Together” at the high school. We
were amazed—2,500 people showed up to say that as a community we would
not tolerate substance abuse any longer.
In 1999 we had our
first Shattered Dreams event, when we role-play on a community scale
the trauma of losing someone to drinking and driving.We have even had
two extraordinary women coming onto DrugFree’s board
of directors who are Shattered Dreams graduates. We worked with them
when they were children, and I got to work with them as the exceptional
adults they are.
People ask why we
don’t write a book about how to build a community drug prevention
program, or why I don’t go around speaking to other cities about
it. But we’re too busy doing drug prevention to stop and explain
It only works when
you have people like ours, with hearts and minds like those of the
people of Greenville.
4207 Wesley Street
Greenville, Texas 75401
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