The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Heidi Zemach
For The LOG 

Coalition seeks solutions to youth substance abuse

 

Heidi Zemach | For The LOG

More than 100 participants filled the Community Room at the Seward Community Library Museum on Jan 24. With facilitation by representatives of the Seward Prevention Coalition they spent the afternoon brainstorming projects for youth that they hope will redirect youth into constructive activities and offer alternatives to recreational and habitual drug use.

About 150 people turned out for a town hall meeting on Thursday organized by the Seward Prevention Coalition. They were there to propose community-wide solutions to discourage underage drinking and drug abuse. Creating a new teen center or coffee shop which would be run by, and for, teens took top billing when everyone voted at the end of the meeting. The second highest vote getter was laser tag/paint ball. Third was a day to unplug from technology.

The town hall was a follow up to a meeting held in Seward last April which focused on concerns over the general acceptance in the community of underage drug and alcohol use and its prevalence.

The community room at the new Seward Community Library Museum was packed with people of all ages and the 152 attendees were served a free spaghetti and salad dinner by Native Youth Olympians. A cheesecake dessert followed, prepared by Judy Odhner’s Seward high school cooking class. The high school choir provided childcare to 25 children. Local businesses provided door prizes including $100 off of a utility bill and $50 off of a gas purchase. The young participant’s prizes included a woodworking workshop, rock band workshop, a YouTube film-making workshop and an Octopus Encounter at the Alaska SeaLife Center.

However, the substance of the meeting was a guided community planning session to gather ideas, and winnow them down to the top three favored. A grant funded by the Alaska Department of Behavioral Health and Social Services will go toward prevention projects that show a high level of local support.

Participants scattered into small groups to list their ideas about what they would like to see done. There were 12 tables with six to 10 people at each including a facilitator from the prevention coalition. Each group’s top five ideas were consolidated, shared and pinned up on walls around the room.

Some of ideas that were duplicated by various different groups included making more hours available at AVTEC to youth for sports activities; creating a youth-run and operated teen center or coffee house, creating mentoring programs and expanding counseling in the schools; better educating the public and students about the consequences of drug abuse; a crisis line for teens; providing more clubs and more outdoor and affordable activities for families.

Finally, attendees were asked to vote for three of their top proposals by placing sticky tabs under the initiatives they liked best. They were also encouraged to sign up for those proposals that they were interested in volunteering for. The town hall will be followed up with by contact with the participants and they will meet with Seward Prevention facilitators to help flesh out their ideas and take the next steps to make them a reality. Adults and youth also were given a pledge promising not to drink and drive, and to not allow others to do so.

Other ideas were establishing non-judgmental listening posts, opening a mechanics shop to youth, offering businesses apprenticeship opportunities, initiating a youth gun club, an archery club, Future Farmers of America and 4-H Clubs as well as more arts programs.

Some of the ideas contradicted one another, such as the “unplug” campaign, where teens are encouraged to unplug themselves from technology such as their cell phones and video games for a while in order to engage in other wholesome activities. In contrast, one proposal was to create a video gaming center for young people.

Hector Luis Carattini, who recently moved here to work at Icicle Seafoods was impressed with how informative the town hall was, and how involved so many Seward community members appeared to be with this issue. He also praised the spaghetti dinner and thanked all the teens who helped prepare the food. “It was nice to meet the community, and I love the new library,” said Carattini.

Pastor Max Ingalls, also a newcomer to Seward, said he particularly favored the unplug campaign idea, and also appreciates that the community is focusing on efforts to prevent underage drinking.

“I really liked this. It was really cool,” said Jeanette Wardlow, who had never attended a town hall meeting, or goal-oriented process of this nature. “I liked the process, especially talking about drugs and alcohol to our children so they can learn and then teach their children,” she said.

The town hall meeting held last April was to further the group’s public education efforts on the issue, and to be assured that the town was ready to do something to change the culture of youth drug acceptance , said Joanie Merritt, the acting prevention coordinator at SeaView Community Services. Friday’s meeting marked the third stage of their effort — coming up with actual solutions. Merritt was impressed by the turnout, with the breadth and diversity of the ideas proposed, and with the fact that everybody stayed till the end. Attendees told coalition facilitators they appreciated that everything, from the prizes and food, to the baby-sitting all will filter back into the community and continue to circulate, she said.

Last year’s Prevention Coalition’s survey data was further evidence that drug and alcohol abuse is a community issue, and that marijuana and alcohol use is tolerated and accepted as a normal aspect of life for many adults and youth. One fourth of survey respondents said they had engaged in binge drinking in the past month. A fifth believed it was acceptable for adults to provide alcohol to underage individuals in their home. Almost half believed recreational marijuana was acceptable, and 12 percent believed the same about recreational prescription drug use. A third of Seward’s fifth to seventh graders said they had tried alcohol more than once in their lifetime.

 

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