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“Todo tiene su comienzo” (“Everything has a beginning”)—Georgia Latino Town Halls

“Todo tiene su comienzo” (“Everything has a beginning”) was selected as the theme for the 2012 series of Town Hall Meetings aimed at addressing underage drinking problems among Georgia’s growing Latino population. Held in Spanish, the events were organized by the Clinic for Education, Treatment and Prevention of Addition, Inc., (CETPA) and featured State Representative Pedro Marin. Since 2003, CETPA has been holding Town Hall Meetings that focus on using a culturally sensitive approach to educate Latino parents about the laws, risks, and consequences of underage drinking.

An important part of CETPA’s mission is to provide Latino parents with the necessary tools to support their children’s decisions not to drink until the age of 21. During 2012, CETPA expanded its underage drinking prevention program to five regions in Georgia, creating, for the first time, a statewide effort to combat alcohol use among Latino teens. According to local needs assessments performed by CETPA in the targeted regions, the following factors contribute to underage drinking:

  • Cultural acceptability—Recently arrived immigrant parents were unaware of the consequences of underage drinking, had come from places where drinking before age 21 was accepted, and did not know there was a minimum legal drinking age in the United States;
  • Lack of parental supervision—Both parents often work multiple jobs and are not at home when the children get home from school; and
  • Easy access to alcohol at home—Latino parents may not keep alcohol in the home locked up and, because of cultural norms related to how Latinos drink alcohol, often have larger quantities available.

With the help of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Town Hall Meeting planning stipend and additional funding from the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities—Office of Prevention Programs and Services’ Statewide Alcohol Initiative, CETPA held five Town Hall Meetings in Spanish across the five regions. The five events drew a total of 300 participants from Georgia’s Latino communities. Panel discussions focused on the need to increase awareness and prevention of underage drinking in the Latino community and the sustainability of changes related to environmental prevention.

CETPA’s youth prevention group played a major role in planning, advertising, and conducting the Town Hall Meeting in CETPA’s largest service region. The group assisted in developing flyers and conducted social media campaigns in support of the event, and it was instrumental in developing CETPA’s EMMY awarding-winning public service announcement in 2012, alerting Spanish-speaking young people to the age 21 minimum legal drinking age laws.

CETPA created partnerships with the Latino student organization at the University of West Georgia and with the Latino student association Hispanic Outreach & Leadership from Armstrong Atlantic State University for Town Hall Meetings held in Carrollton, Dalton, and Savannah. CETPA also developed partnerships with Latino-serving organizations and youth groups in each of the five regions. This effort allows CETPA to learn from each community from within, and it expedites the development and delivery of CETPA’s prevention messaging in each region.

When asked what changes in the Latino community have occurred since the implementation of Town Hall Meetings, CETPA’s executive director, Dr. Pierluigi Mancini, pointed to:

  • Decreased alcohol sales to persons under age 21 as a result of training Latino storeowners;
  • Increased parental awareness of alcohol advertising to which their children are exposed;
  • Greater parental involvement in community prevention efforts through Town Hall Meetings and community talks on substance abuse prevention and mental health promotion among Latinos;
  • Decreased access to alcohol in the home in that parents and other adult family members are encouraged to keep alcohol locked up when their children will be home alone;
  • Increased understanding and implementation of social host liability laws by collaboration with local police departments to provide Spanish-speaking volunteers to answer phone lines for Spanish-speaking parents reporting underage drinking parties and to educate parents about their liability; and
  • Heightened awareness of underage drinking through dissemination of culturally sensitive underage drinking prevention messages for social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, and wider distribution of CETPA’s public service announcements.

To reach these conclusions, the organization used several methods to measure the effectiveness of its Town Hall Meetings and other communications activities. Undercover purchase attempts, review of compliance investigations, and followup community needs assessments have shown that owners of Latino alcohol outlets are more likely to comply with the drinking age law since the Town Halls took place. Self-reporting by Latino residents has provided additional evidence of progress in parental attitudes and behaviors. Standard traditional media and social media tracking tools have estimated the impact of related communications that CETPA has conducted.


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