Welcoming NW Ohio: Our New Rural Community Collaborative Site

The National Program Office (NPO) is very pleased to announce Reclaiming Futures' new rural community collaborative site in NW Ohio. The NW Ohio Reclaiming Futures (NORF) Initiative is a collaboration between Defiance, Henry, and Williams Counties, as well as their regionally shared service providers and community stakeholders. As a new example of a Reclaiming Futures rural community collaborative site (the site model also exists in Kentucky and North Carolina), NW Ohio provides an important example of a site tapping into an innovative state justice reinvestment fund in order to join the Reclaiming Futures initiative.

NW Ohio is Reclaiming Futures' fifth site in the state of Ohio. Evan Elkin, Executive Director of Reclaiming Futures, credits the growing presence of Reclaiming Futures in Ohio to the neighborly and supportive tendencies of Ohioans, which creates a grassroots sharing of information. “They share with their communities and around the state - and word of the positive outcomes the existing sites are seeing is getting around,” explains Elkin.

Defiance, Henry, and Williams Counties of NW Ohio provide an excellent example of Ohio's collaborative and supportive nature, and how this quality of working together and sharing resources particularly benefits rural communities. The three counties joined together to propose the NORF Initiative upon recognizing a need in their communities for more consistency and specifically:

  • Early identification of low-risk justice-involved youth in need of services
  • Standardized and consistent initial screening
  • Streamlined coordination of services that flow from service agencies
  • Prioritization of treatment service by local agencies for youth identified as appropriate for intervention and/or diversion

"Because we're all small counties, we work closely together - even our families [we work with] are connected throughout the region. We think using a regional approach will be important for us," says Williams County's Judge Steven Bird of the new NORF Initiative. Judge Bird regularly collaborates with Judge Denise McColley of Henry County and Judge Jeffrey Strausbaugh of Defiance County, who join him on the initiative.

Defiance, Henry, and Williams Counties have an extensive history of collaborating and regionally sharing resources. The counties find this to be the most efficient and effective way to serve their rural communities which, when combined, represent a population of approximately 100,000 people, with nearly 30% being under the age of 18.

"It's significant that three counties have come together and pooled their resources and their motivation, and have figured out the logistics of overcoming the rural challenge," says Executive Director Evan Elkin, who also notes, "This site was funded by accessing justice reinvestment funds," in reference to Reclaim Ohio, a unique fund consisting of surplus dollars generated when jurisdictions divert youth from juvenile placement into community alternatives.

“Ohio has momentum, and it’s impressive that the NW Ohio group took the initiative to procure these funds on their own,” says Elkin. “This is a funding method that should be used more often around the country to fund community-based public health and justice reform initiatives like Reclaiming Futures,” he adds.

The Defiance, Henry and Williams Counties say they look forward to exemplifying a model of a rural community collaborative, and they aim to utilize the Reclaiming Futures model and SBIRT approach to improve consistency of access to screening, intervention and treatment, as well as to better the outcomes for justice-involved youth in their counties.

"Small counties often see the value of best practices, but don't necessarily have the resources to implement them," explains Judge Bird. "Reclaiming Futures is important because of its holistic approach to treating kids. We need to do the best we can for every child who comes before us...to me, that's the real promise of Reclaiming Futures: If we can make it work regionally it's a good model for other small counties," he says.

Reclaiming Futures is committed to supporting rural communities, and very happy to have NW Ohio join our sites. We at the NPO look forward to their first formal inclusion in the Reclaiming Futures Fellowship Meetings this week in New Orleans.

Updated: September 23 2020