Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Alcohol prevention task force continues work

Hannah Jacobs (left) and Jessy Schulte (center) listen to Lorrie Lewandowski speak about the 2010 ADAMHS Youth Survey. Three of the New Cool campaign posters can be seen hanging on the wall.

The Communities Mobilizing for Change on Alcohol Task Force, part of the Wood County Educational Service Center’s Alcohol Tobacco and Other Drug (ATOD) program, heard good news about the fight against underage drinking in Wood County when they met Monday evening.

Lorrie Lewandowski, director of the Reducing Alcohol Abuse in Secondary Schools (RAASS) Grant, noted that according to the 2010 Wood County youth survey, not only has alcohol use declined, but it was the fastest rate decline between any two years since the survey began in 2004.

On Monday, task force members learned that during an Alternative Activities Subcommittee meeting, members discussed the idea that maybe one of the reasons youth resort to alcohol use is due to boredom. They also discussed the possibility that it may not by an issue of lack of alternative activities, but instead that teens don’t know what is available to them.

To address that, the committee invited Shelen Stevens, director of the Weston and Grand Rapids public libraries and the survivor of an automobile accident caused by a drunk driver that killed both of her parents, to discuss library calendars.

“Each one of our libraries have Web sites and newsletters,” she said. Each includes a calendar of events for community members of all ages. “I’m in the Otsego school district, so all of my events are forwarded to teachers.”

The library, she said, has proven to be a popular hangout for youth. The Weston library had 289 teens participate in the summer reading program. On a typical summer day this year, there were 48 students in the library.

“A lot of it is word of mouth,” she said. “And I fed them. I let them help out and help the little kids”

The task force will be working on ways to use the library to find alternative activities for students.

Task force members also learned that The New Cool media campaign it helped to create is now up and running in Wood County schools. “The new cool is changing the perception of what is cool in a youth’s life,” said RAASS grant community organizer Debbie Marinik. “It’s a very positive approach to alternative activities for youth.”

As part of that positive approach, inspirational posters are hanging in schools and are making their way into Wood County communities with the help of the task force members.

“The more we can get these posters in the communities, the more this will become a recognized message.”

Task force members also learned that the CMCA Street Team was active at area fairs and festivals during the summer months. Street team members include current and former high school students who talked with community members about their attitudes regarding underage drinking. To gather this information, Street Team members encouraged residents to gather surveys.

Street Team member Jessy Schulte said that a lot of people who filled out the survey talked openly about their answers. At the Wood County Fair, 91 percent of those who filled out the survey viewed underage drinking as a problem.

“We’d get a range from ‘it’s fine in our house’ and ‘if you can be in the military, you can drink,’ to ‘if you’re not 21, you aren’t allowed to drink,’” said Schulte.

‘There were a lot of people who said they allowed their kids to drink but only at their own house,” added Street Team member Hannah Jacobs.

The next task force meeting will be held Nov. 15, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Wood County Educational Service Center.

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