MATForce celebrates 10 years of bettering Yavapai County
More than 200 volunteers and supporters of MATForce celebrated the coalition's 10th anniversary Wednesday morning and left a breakfast at Prescott Resort and Conference Center fired up to continue its work of not only reducing substance abuse but also addressing its root causes.
"We're going to keep working and it's all thanks to the wonderful people in this room," MATForce executive director Merilee Fowler said.
The group is co-chaired by Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk and Cottonwood City Manager Doug Bartosh, who was police chief of Cottonwood when it was formed in 2006.
It began with a case Polk tried as a prosecutor in 2003. A 30-year-old man raped and brutalized a 60-year-old widow after she let him in to use her phone. At the trial, he denied having done it despite evidence of his guilt, including DNA. He was convicted, and in November 2005, she received a letter from the defendant confessing and saying he never would have done the crime if he hadn't been high on meth at the time.
"I realized at that moment it was no longer enough to prosecute crimes," she told the crowd.
In her search for solutions to the county's growing methamphetamine problem, she joined forces with West Yavapai Guidance Clinic and Bartosh, who was doing the same thing in Cottonwood.
Polk said folks probably hadn't expected to hear a tale of rape over breakfast, but she brought it up for good reason.
"It's important to remind ourselves why MATForce exists and why we're all here," she said. "Today we have so much to celebrate."
A cavalcade of speakers shared stories of success in supporting the coalition's focus on prevention and support of treatment and recovery.
Debbie Moak, director of the Governor's Office of Youth, Faith and Families, was one of the speakers. She's the co-founder of Not My Kid, an organization that addresses problems facing kids, including substance abuse, bullying and eating disorders.
She said that the groups she comes in contact with often look to MATForce as an example, asking "what's MATForce doing?" to see if they can adopt the same actions.
"You guys have so much to be proud of," Moak said. "The strength of MATForce is in this room."
Substance abuse prevention is a subject close to Moak's heart. Her son is currently in recovery, and while meth was not his drug of choice, it was her sister's.
"I've never seen anything uglier," she said.
According to a survey of Arizona youths, substance abuse starts with cigarettes. Then it's their first use of alcohol, then prescription drugs. Next comes marijuana and then regular use of alcohol.
"Stopping those things before they get started matters," Moak said. "I got involved with other things and she didn't."
MATForce's focus on prevention takes many forms. Among them are age-appropriate curriculums developed for kindergarten through 12th grade and the "Marijuana harmless? Think Again!" campaign, materials for which are now in use in more than 20 states nationwide.
There's also the Yavapai County Youth Council (YC Squared). The group of students in grades 5-12 are actively creating video and audio spots, including a humorous one that asks parents to think about the example they're setting, MATForce Education Coordinator Kelly Lee said.
In it, a family passes time on a long car ride by playing a guessing game. Dad says he's thinking of something they have at every barbecue. The kids' response? An enthusiastic "Beer!"
Next question: Something mom likes to order at restaurants." Another enthusiastic reply from the back seat: "Margaritas!"
YC Squared also just completed a "Sticker Shock" project at Roberts Market in Prescott Valley. With the store's OK and help from several police officers, they put stickers warning of the dangers of supplying alcohol to minors on hundreds of cases of beer, Lee said.
MATForce's support of treatment and recovery was highlighted by Yavapai Re-Entry Project graduate Dennis Feist. Feist joined the coalition and its speaker's bureau in 2015.
He introduced himself as a father, son, grandfather, volunteer, health worker and YRP graduate who's in recovery with nine years clean - a "reformed junkie."
"Today I'm much more than that," he added.
Bad choices while in the grip of addiction led to 8 1/2 years in prison. A self-described "domestic terrorist," he sold meth and opiates and couldn't stand himself - high or sober. Feist credits law enforcement and the justice system with saving his life.
He said of drug addiction and abuse, "It's just a bad way to go. It destroys our society."
Follow Arlene Hittle on Twitter @ahittle_dc. Reach her at 928-445-3333, ext. 2036, or 928-830-2928.