I am Andrea Kocher, and I relocated to Monticello with my husband in 2015. We are very proud to be a part of such an exceptional community. As our children begin to enter the school system, we are even more grateful for the opportunities and level of expectations within the Monticello education foundations. In November of 2019, I began a new journey with The Piatt County Mental Health Center, as a prevention specialist. The people in Monticello, I have learned, hold a high level of care for their young people and their neighbors.
I work in part, on the Drug Free Communities Grant. This is a five year, $125,000 per year federal grant, designed to allow for education and prevention efforts within Monticello. This effort is targeting both young people and the community. One of the most exciting pieces to the puzzle of this opportunity is that I am able to serve as a member of the IMPACT (Improving, Motivating, Prevention Affecting Change Tomorrow) Coalition. This group of people meets monthly to strategize on how to best use the resources provided in the grant to prevent substance use and misuse.
Representatives on the IMPACT Coalition are from twelve sectors within Monticello, all of whom dedicate their time and resources to meet the common goal. The individuals include faith based, educators, community leaders, parents, and our youth. We believe our most important members at the table are our youth. These students are experiencing the everyday demands of high school in 2021 and know what struggles their peers are facing. Their input is what leads the IMPACT Coalition’s decision making about how resources will best be utilized.
Currently the youth members have been writing and filming a creative demonstration video about what is actually in vape juice. The student members will be rolling out plenty of campaign products like Sticker Shock, a project where they place hanger tags on alcoholic products to remind adults the consequences of serving underage individuals. They are excited about events like the annual IMPACT Scavenger Hunt. Finally, they are planning and implementing a poster campaign for the middle and high school.
The IMPACT Coalition is currently planning our yearly event for the Lifesavers where the student members will be recognized and celebrated for all their hard work and dedication to the prevention cause. We also look forward to providing community trainings on prevention, including Hidden in Plain Sight. Check out the virtual HIPS at www.impactmonticello.org.
Q&A With Grace Burnsmier
Young people have a special way of inspiring change. When they use their voices and demand to be heard, they make huge gains. Young people bring fresh ideas and different perspectives than adults. Within the IMPACT Coalition, we are fortunate to work Grace Burnsmier, a young woman who has exceptional leadership skills, compassion, and confidence. This young woman is not only a valued member of our team, but she is also part of the Lifesavers, Youth Advisory Council, and works as a CNA. Her personal growth over the past few years has been an inspiration to see. Please take this opportunity to learn a bit more bout Grace Burnsmier.
Q: How would you describe your hometown, Monticello, Illinois…
A: I would describe Monticello as a small town with neighbors that are willing to help anyone who’s in need. Monticello is a safe place with kind people.
Q. What is the best part about living in Monticello?
One of the best parts about living in Monticello is that I feel safe living here. Another great part about living in Monticello is that we have Allerton Park, which is one of my favorite places to hike.
Q. What improvements would you like to see over the next 5-10 years (here in Monticello)?
In the next 5-10 years I would like to see a place like the YMCA built here that has an indoor pool and workout facility. I think this would give our community and teens the opportunity to improve their health.
Q. What is it like to be a teen right now?
I think it’s hard to be a teen right now. There’s a lot of expectations and pressure to conform. It’s hard as a teen to find yourself, and it’s also hard to form your own opinions without letting others influence them.
Q. What do your peers seem to be struggling with the most?
I think my peers are struggling with their mental health and substance abuse. It’s easy to be lead astray, and not follow what you know is right. In my opinion looking through social media can be toxic because you only ever see the best parts of someone’s life. You don’t see the pain and struggle that people go through and it’s easy to let yourself believe that they’re perfect, when in reality they are struggling just like you might be, which can affect your mental health.
Q. What has been your experience with your peers using substances like alcohol, marijuana, or tobacco?
I haven’t had a ton of experience with my peers using substances because I didn’t spend time with the people that use those substances. I did witness people vaping in school a couple years ago before the school started implementing serious punishments.
Q. Tell me about your decision to dedicate your time, talent and treasure to subject of substance use prevention…
I think it’s important for people to be informed about the dangers of using substances, the affects, and the resources that are available to them.
Q. In your opinion, what are the benefits of youth being included in groups such as the I.M.P.A.C.T. Coalition and the Youth Advisory Council?
I think the benefits of being included in groups like these are that youth can feel heard and understood. It makes you feel like you are making a difference in someone else’s lives. It also helps other youth when their peers share information that might be helpful to them.
Q. When it comes to educating and encouraging youth to understand the risks associated with underage drug and alcohol use, what do you think are the best tools for helping youth to know the facts?
The best tools for helping youth are websites that are fact based that explain what’s actually in the substances they’re using. I think some people are misinformed, but at the same time some people don’t care. Even if it helps one person stop using substances, I think it’s worthwhile.
Q. What or who has been an influence on you regarding the choices you have made?
My parents have been a positive influence in my life. Also, witnessing bad choices others have made and the affects from it has reinforced my decision to make better choices and avoid substance use. My health is really important to me and I know using substances will adversely affect it.
Q. What goals have you set for yourself?
One of my most important goals that I set for myself is getting into nursing school and maintaining my high GPA in college. I also want to continue to help people and be involved in groups that have positive effects on the community.
Q. How do you think you’ll leave a mark on this planet? (Think big and/or small)!
I will leave my mark on this planet by taking care of others and having compassion.