By Heidi Zemach for SCN
The Seward Prevention Coalition, a group of local organizations working in cooperation with SeaView Community Services, will host another Town Hall meeting Thursday evening to discuss ways for the community to deal with the issue of underage drinking and drug use.
This meeting is called “Community Solutions to Prevent Underage Drinking and Drug Use.” It will be held in the new Seward Community Library Museum building. All are welcome, and youngsters also are strongly encouraged to attend. In order to motivate attendance, organizers have arranged a free spaghetti dinner cooked by Native Youth Olympians, fine desserts by Judy Odhner’s high school cooking class, and childcare will be provided on site by Seahawk’s Voice High School choir students. In addition, door prizes donated by local businesses will be awarded.
The first Town Hall meeting on the subject was held last April 17 at Legends, and came on the heels of the emotional “Every 15 minutes” drinking and driving re-enactment program at Seward High School. The meeting was well attended by some 60 people of all ages. They heard personal stories from adults and young men and women in the community who have dealt with alcoholism. They heard from the local police, a physician and service provider, and then gathered in small groups to come up with various ideas for changing things for the better. Those suggestions were to be made into a report by a group of university students. That meeting also came on the heels of the coalition’s ongoing campaign to educate the community about parent’s personal and legal responsibility regarding hosting parties that encourage underage alcohol consumption.
Seward Prevention Coalition believes that Seward has a culture of acceptance of unhealthy drinking and drug use and modeling irresponsible behavior to our youth, and that there is a culture of acceptance of underage drinking and drug use. Over the years since it began in 2005, the coalition has selected and implemented a number of prevention programs, but while they were helpful for those they serviced, they now feel that none were big enough to encompass the entire community. Those programs included:
– Creating Opportunities for Youth, a project to provide skills training and paid jobs for 14-16 year olds. Each summer the Alaska Litter Patrol and Recycling team gives jobs to young people and provides an important service to our community.
-The Strengthening Families program helped families with youth 12-14 years old to develop communication, parenting and other skills.
-The Class Action program was implemented in the 9th grade health class for a number of years. This educational program focused on the consequences of underage drinking and drug use.
The projects were positive, effective, and very helpful to all those who participated. But the coalition does not believe they were effecting change throughout the entire community, which was their initial goal. So in 2010 the coalition returned to take a look at how to effect positive change community-wide.
They collected and studied new data, and looked at changes over time. They interviewed community members, sent out surveys, talked to different community and youth groups. The data confirmed that drug and alcohol abuse is indeed a problem, with the greatest impact on community health. Also, that drug and alcohol use is tolerated and accepted as a normal aspect of life for adults and youth. One fourth of community survey respondents said they had engaged in binge drinking in the last month. A fifth believed it is acceptable for adults to provide alcohol to underage individuals in their home. Almost half believed recreational marijuana is acceptable. Twelve percent believed the same about recreational prescription drug use. Also, a third of Seward’s 5th,6th or 7th graders said they had tried alcohol more than once in their lifetime.
The dinner begins at 5:30 p.m. and the discussion begins at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan 24 at the new community library museum.