Preventing unhealthy behavior by young people is like teaching someone how to ride a bike.
"There are steps you take in the process of riding a bike, like training wheels, that you have to do instead of just sending them off on their own," Sherrine Peyton said.
Peyton and Laura Larson-Gibbons are helping to create those steps as facilitators of the Schaumburg Township Community Coalition for Positive Youth Development, which held its first meeting Thursday at The Trickster Gallery in Schaumburg.
Composed of representatives from the township, school districts 54 and 211, the Schaumburg Police Department and other entities, the coalition defines itself as a diverse group of individuals and organizations who work together to reach a common goal of having a healthy community, Peyton said.
"We're interested in those who live, work, do business or have a part in the community of Schaumburg Township," Peyton said.
Larson-Gibbons said the coalition must understand that prevention is a proactive process.
"A positive thing about this coalition is we are not reacting to a tragedy or situation in our community," Larson-Gibbons said. "We are acting ahead of that and preventing such an incident from occurring."
During the meeting, members from the school districts shared procedures that the coalition can implement.
For instance, Cassie Williams, executive director of special education at District 54, said prevention programs that tackle bullying, sexual abuse, suicide and drug abuse already are advocating proactively.
Larson-Gibbons said the coalition's ideas are data-driven, and a large portion of that data comes directly from students at Schaumburg, Conant and Hoffman Estates high schools.
Among their methods are marketing campaigns that crush the myth that "everybody's doing it" when it comes to drug use.
"Once we get the data and look through it, that's not the case at all," said Erin Lakomski, a representative from the Kenneth Young Center. "We found that the vast majority of students are making healthy choices."
The survey results are distributed through fliers and posters around the schools. Some examples include "83 percent of Conant students prefer to date someone who does not smoke cigarettes," or "87.1 percent of Schaumburg students support others who choose not to drink alcohol."
Over the next four months, Larson-Gibbons said the coalition, funded by a grant from the Illinois Department of Human Services, will be gathering additional data ahead of its next meeting in the fall.
"The bottom line is we are a community that really supports our youth," Larson-Gibbons said. "Seeing so many different people at the table is an indication that our community really cares. We are excited because we know we can make a difference."