CNCounty News

NACo supports counties through the Reaching Rural Initiative

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Key Takeaways

Despite a lower overall incidence of substance abuse disorder in rural counties, the lack of access to lifesaving measures, treatment and support makes the problem more pronounced and persistent than in urban counties, where options are more plentiful. 

The Bureau of Justice Assistance’s Reaching Rural Initiative focuses on helping rural counties leverage assets they may already have and forming bolder regional opportunities for collaboration to meet these challenges. The project aims to work across agencies to align life-saving measures among law enforcement, child welfare, prosecutors and more. The program collaborates with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the State Justice Institute.

An inaugural class of 67, competitively selected fellows from county government, met recently in Loudoun County, Va.

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The Reaching Rural Initiative

Navajo County, Ariz. Supervisor Brad Carlyon saw a lot of potential in the initiative. 

“This is not just positive change for those we are helping, but positive change for the community,” he said. “We need to show that investment in these programs is paying off in the quality of life of the community.”

There are two tracks within the class: County teams and individuals. Fellows represent more than 80 rural communities across 14 states. Fellows attended sessions including a resource roundtable with federal representatives, resource roundtable with technical assistance providers and partners (featuring NACo), small group breakouts to discuss how substance use impacts their community. They also discussed strategic communication and how to frame issues to build collaboration, and took part in other small-group activities.

This project was designed for rural justice and public safety practitioners; public health and behavioral health practitioners; city, county, and tribal leaders and community groups. The initiative empowers rural practitioners to build deeper cross-sector networks; reimagine how diverse systems with different missions can engage with one another to more effectively serve justice-involved individuals with substance use or co-occurring disorders; and adopt bold solutions to the persistent challenge of substance use and misuse in rural communities.

This inaugural class of rural county fellows will continue to meet throughout the year, including two additional in-person network meetings. Additionally, this work will be featured in July at NACo’s 2023 Annual Conference in Travis County, Texas. 


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