Planning for 2013 Town Hall Meetings
Although funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) will not be available next year, Cinco de Mayo con Orgullo Coalition’s Mid-City Latino Youth Council will still hold a 2013 underage drinking prevention Town Hall Meeting. Claudia Baltazar explains that her San Diego, CA, organization has made this commitment “because our community really likes these Town Hall Meetings and expects us to host them every year; this has become an annual tradition for our community.”
The popularity of these events among her audience is demonstrated by a reported record attendance of more than 150 who turned out on April 18, 2012, for a Town Hall Meeting moderated by San Diego City Council member Marti Emerald. Like many community groups, Baltazar’s organization has found Town Hall Meetings to be an effective vehicle for teaching community members proven, evidence-based prevention of local underage drinking problems and organizing them to take appropriate action. In many places, Town Hall Meetings have become an integral element of a comprehensive plan to stop adolescent alcohol use and the costly, often tragic problems it causes.
But how do such groups cover expenses they incur in planning and organizing such public events? Ms. Baltazar does not see funding as a problem. “We raise the money we need from other sources, including business community partners we have educated and who want to do their part to support our work,” she says.
In 2006, SAMHSA began sponsoring underage drinking prevention Town Hall Meetings on an every-other-year basis, offering community-based organizations (CBOs) that registered via the Town Hall Meetings web pages—http://www.stopalcoholabuse.gov/TownHallMeetings—the option of requesting a planning stipend to help offset expenses. The stipend offer has attracted the participation of some CBOs that might not have considered an activity primarily focused on underage drinking. Others have reported that the monetary aid from SAMHSA is essential; without it, they lack sufficient resources to undertake a community gathering on such a scale.
Yet, ever since 2006 some CBOs invited by SAMHSA to host Town Hall Meetings have responded enthusiastically but did not request the stipend to which they were entitled. Even in 2012, when many CBOs report crippling budget shortfalls, dozens of organizations that registered to hold Town Hall Meetings declined SAMHSA’s financial aid. Some of them even made a Town Hall Meeting an an annual event for their community. Monitoring of the media in years when the SAMHSA funds were not offered revealed that Town Hall Meeting–type community gatherings, where local concern about underage alcohol problems was a major topic, were taking place across America. These events were often convened by the same CBOs that held Town Hall Meetings with SAMHSA support in other years. In some communities, these annual opportunities to disseminate information and promote calls to action have become vital to sustaining the progress made in local underage drinking prevention.
To acknowledge and encourage CBOs planning underage drinking prevention Town Hall Meetings throughout 2013, SAMHSA will continue to offer the following nonmonetary resources:
- An easy-to-use online registration will be available in January to allow CBOs to register and display their 2013 event details on an interactive map;
- 2012 Town Hall Meetings web pages will be refreshed and maintained, and additional information, materials, and training will be added, to help CBOs maintain momentum and increase the implementation of evidence-based prevention in their communities:
- New articles and materials referencing recent data will be developed and posted In the Town Hall Meeting subsite;
- Existing resources will be reviewed and updated;
- Resources to help CBOs increase their effective use of social media will be created; and
- SAMHSA’s Underage Drinking Prevention Education Initiatives contract team will continue responding to e-mail or telephone requests for help accessing and using these resources.
For now, it is not too early for CBOs to begin their plans to follow up on this year’s progress and follow through on this year’s promises with a 2013 Town Hall Meeting. The same free information, resources, and downloadable materials that drew praise from 2012 event planners are available, with more to come as noted above, at http://www.stopalcoholabuse.gov/TownHallMeetings. If your organization has yet to make underage drinking prevention Town Hall Meetings an annual tradition for your community, 2013 may be the right time for you to consider doing so.