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By SAM ALLEN
Daily News Staff Writer
Last week, the Ketchikan Wellness Coalition found out it was awarded a $625,000 federal drug free communities grant that it hadn't planned on receiving.
While former KWC Drug Free Communities Program Director Reed Harding applied for the grant, it still came as a surprise and a welcome relief, as the agency was not included on the White House's original list of grant recipients in October.
While the agency knew that the White House might award a second, smaller round of grants, they were told by multiple people involved in the process that it was rare KWC would be among them, since the coalition had already received the award once.
"We actually had thought, 'well I guess we did not get it,'" said KWC Executive Director Romanda Simpson.
Because of this, the agency prepared for the future without the grant. Simpson said that KWC was still planning to support the substance abuse task force, but it wouldn't have had a full time staff member or additional funds.
The lapse in grant funding is partly what led to Harding, who's been with the coalition since 2016, to step away, as there were no funds to pay his salary. Simpson said prior to the end of the previous grant funding, there were discussions about moving on and finding other opportunities.
"(He was) ready to pass the torch to somebody else in the community," said Simpson.
The grant from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration will be awarded over the next five years, at about $125,000 a year. This amount makes up about 40% of the coalition's operating costs, according to Simpson.
Each year of the grant requires follow-up paperwork, showing the work that is being done with the money, for continued funding.
In the past the grant has been used to support Red Ribbon Week, a national alcohol, tobacco and other drug and violence prevention awareness campaign started after the death of a Drug Enforcement Administration agent in 1985.
Last October, during Red Ribbon Week, more than 300 Ketchikan students pledged to stay drug-free.
The coalition is also one of the main sponsors and coordinators when putting together the Stop the Stigma rally, which aims to reduce the stigma around mental illness and encourage people to reach out for help.
"So it was really great news for us that we could continue to do the activities that we want to do," said Simpson.
Since an organization can only receive the grant twice in the lifetime of the program, Simpson has focused on making the services KWC provides more sustainable.
KWC was awarded the same grant in 2014, and so Simpson is viewing this like year six of a 10-year grant.
She pointed to the Ketchikan Farmers Market and how that was originally a task force of KWC. Now it is operated by local volunteers independent of the coalition.
"The huge part moving forward will be engaging young people themselves in taking the leadership on campaigns," said Simpson.
Simpson said the coalition has multiple tasks forces without direct funding, but they're still able to make a huge impact on the community through individual contributions as volunteers.
So in the future, even if there's no financial amount for a coordinator, young people will have started something that will continue through future student groups, according to Simpson.
Last year the task force did a couple showings of the documentary “Hooked,” as well as set up lunch-hour tables at Kayhi on a regular basis to inform students about the effects of drugs and alcohol on health and wellness.
With Harding's departure and success in securing the grant, the coalition is looking for a Drug Free Communities program coordinator.
Simpson said they’re looking for someone who is organized, a good communicator, and a leader in social justice issues, with a passion for making the community healthy and vibrant.
The KWC substance abuse task force is meeting at noon on Jan. 27 at The Safety Specialists off Carlanna Lake Road to plan and strategize for the upcoming years.