It just takes someone to start.
That was the message and the driving force behind the first meeting of the Committees Mobilizing for Change in Alcohol Task Force Wednesday night.
The meeting was held at the Wood County Educational Service Center in Bowling Green, and brought together residents and officials from many different communities throughout the county to discuss ways to decrease teen use of alcohol.
Statistics presented by Dr. Bill Ivoska, vice president of student services at Owens Community College show that peer disapproval decreases as teens get older and use increases. The statistics also show that tobacco and alcohol use among youth has steadily declined since 2004.
Dr. Ivoska said there are three variables that contribute to student use of alcohol:
1. Peer disapproval: the greater the perception a student has that his or her friends disapprove of their use, the less likely and less often that student actually will use.
2. Fear of harm: Anti-smoking campaigns have been effective in showing the harmful effects of tobacco use. However, alcohol is so commonplace and accepted by society that it is difficult to convince teens that there are harmful effects. Showing the potential outcome of alcohol use may help decrease its use.
3. Accessibility: From businesses that furnish alcohol to underage youth to unlocked liquor cabinets and stocked refrigerators at home, the easier alcohol is to obtain, the increase the risk of use and frequency of use.
Larry Mershman the executive director of the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board in Wood County, said that work in school started 25 years ago with one on-site trying to reach 18,000 students in Wood County.
It has since grown in funding and in size, with 11 on-sites working in most school districts in Wood County.
“It’s not an answer to all of the problems in all of the schools. It’s an opportunity … we have to make a difference,” said Mershman. “It’s an opportunity to the districts to make a change.”
He added that for every $1 spent on prevention saves $25 in treatment.
“If you really want to work on prevention, it really takes everyone in the community,” said Debbie Marinik the community organizer for the Reducing Alcohol Abuse in Secondary Schools (RAASS) grant through the Wood County Educational Service Center.
Parents, students and community leaders then broke into groups to discuss ways in which to change community perception of alcohol use in a way that would decrease underage use.
After the small group brainstorming and discussion, the groups shared their ideas, which included:
• Ways to increase parental involvement
• Launching a media campaign
• Changing public policy
• Getting teachers and students more involved in prevention and intervention
• Creating more alternative activities for youth
• Create a “new cool” for teens that involves a socially-accepted non-alcoholic stand.
The discussions have only just begun. The community is invited to the next task force meeting, which will be held Jan. 26, from 7 to 8 p.m. During that meeting, task force members will decide what projects to tackle first, and how to go about accomplishing those tasks.
“This is a community issue,” said Marinik. “Everyone in Wood County is invited to attend these meetings. We need input from everyone.”