Mercer County, West Virginia

Mercer County is a rural community in the heart of Appalachia and a four time 100 Best winner. Despite hardships such as a high poverty rate, low income, and employment challenges, the community unites to secure a safe, healthy, productive and caring place for youth and families. In thirteen years, the Creating Opportunities For Youth coalition has challenged, supported and encouraged youth to make a difference in their lives and their community.

Through the national recognition from being named a 100 Best Community, Mercer County continues to reach out to new partners, develop key relationships, and make youth a priority. Through the help of the local United Way, Community Connections expanded the 211 online information referral system to develop a comprehensive directory of social service providers for children and families. Mercer has been working vigilantly on identifying problems that exist related to substance abuse. Six community action teams were formed to address youth problem behaviors, which contribute to drug use.

As a result of the original America’s Promise initiative in 1997, the Creating Opportunities For Youth   was formed in Mercer to prevent youth from using alcohol, tobacco, and drugs. Through collaborative efforts with partners, Mercer County has gathered resources, leveraged partnerships, and achieved equal representation amongst all sectors including youth, parents, schools, law enforcement, faith based organizations, businesses, social service agencies, and more. COFY has a proven track record of significant reductions in tobacco and alcohol use among the community’s youth. Additionally, Mercer has established a rapport with legislators to fill gaps in services and create sustainable community systems change.

Mercer is located in an economically depressed area where cultural norms do not promote chronic disease prevention. Access to general care and specialized treatment are significant challenges for families with children. One issue is a lack of health insurance. Community agencies have partnered to provide free and low-cost preventive screenings for youth. Concord University provides cholesterol screenings for fifth grade students, and an afterschool provider conducts BMI assessments. The local health department conducts community health assessments and outreach services, such as HIV and hepatitis testing in at-risk areas.

Students Against Destructive Decisions chapters at every school provide nearly 130 youth with the opportunity to work with their peers on the problems with alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. Hundreds of youth participate in prevention programs. These youth are leaders amongst their peers and regularly advocate for healthier lifestyles and choices.