Lead & Seed Changes the Underage Drinking Environment in Erie County, Pennsylvania
The Lead & Seed program in Erie County, funded by the Erie County Office of Drug and Alcohol Programs, sees Town Hall Meetings as springboards to action against underage alcohol consumption. After each Town Hall Meeting, Lead & Seed’s youth leaders have created strategic planning logic models that they use as a tool to promote advocacy; action; and changes to their physical, legal, economic, and sociocultural environment. The compelling issues and suggestions that emerge from their Town Hall Meetings become key talking points driving their planning for followup activities.
Lead & Seed’s overall efforts to change the environment where Erie County residents live, work, and play have become a benchmark for tracking environmental changes in Pennsylvania and have led to local and state policy changes. Pennsylvania’s online data collection, Performance Based Prevention System (PBPS), and the Pennsylvania State Manual have recorded a large sampling of changes in practices, policies, and procedures initiated by Lead & Seed. PBPS documents the use of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Center for Substance Abuse Prevention’s best practice strategies and resulting environmental changes.
Nora L. Drexler, who serves both as Lead & Seed’s curriculum program developer and as Alutiiq, LLC’s national project manager, says, “It is a simple and easy process to start with the THM [Town Hall Meeting] and then extract the feedback from that into a viable plan to try to fix the problems of access and availability.” Drexler offers a long list of changes that have come about in Erie County and are rooted in the Lead & Seed Town Hall Meetings, such as:
- All law enforcement officers must self-assess their perceptions of area drug and alcohol use;
- The local pizza shop prints underage drinking prevention messages and the state’s toll-free number to confidentially report underage drinking on its pizza box tops;
- The baseball stadium no longer posts beer ads on family promotion event nights;
- The school prom/graduation committee pledged to ban mementos that promote alcohol use, such as wine glasses and beer mugs;
- Pregnant women watch a 20-minute video on the dangers of alcohol use and are counseled by a nurse practitioner about fetal alcohol spectrum disorders on their first visit to an obstetrician;
- Both parents and youth must pledge to support alcohol-free behavior when students sign up for summer camp; and
- Parents in one school district view a 20-second video about the consequences of providing alcohol to minors before they can access their children’s grades from the school website.
The 2012 Town Hall Meeting for Erie County, held at McDowell High School, was the latest success for Lead & Seed. In the group’s Town Hall tradition, the event unfolded with a gallery tour of 40 storyboards highlighting the previous year’s outcomes from elementary schools (“Wee Lead & Seed”), middle schools, high schools, and universities. Participants enjoyed snacks and wandered through the maze of colorful storyboards with Lead & Seed youth leaders standing by each storyboard with an informed presentation of their outcomes. Students from area high schools were joined by a trauma outreach and injury prevention coordinator, medical unit personnel, a school counselor, and a law enforcement officer in a panel discussion of alcohol use among Erie County teens and actions being taken to reduce and prevent it.
A 10-question postevent assessment of all participants gauged the degree of knowledge and awareness gained from the Town Hall Meeting. Among the 243 people who participated in Lead & Seed’s 2012 event:
- 94 percent felt that the questions and concerns of the participants were “well addressed”;
- 93 percent were “more likely” to get involved;
- 92 percent found youth involvement in the Town Hall Meeting to be “very effective”;
- 89 percent indicated that they learned “a lot of new facts”;
- 88 percent said that they felt “more empowered” to change their environment; and
- 84 percent indicated that they were “very likely” to visit https://www.stopalcoholabuse.gov, the web portal of the Interagency Coordinating Committee on the Prevention of Underage Drinking.
In addition to the positive changes that Lead & Seed has helped bring to Erie County, Drexler also takes pride in the awarding of a coveted World Health Organization’s (WHO) Safe Community designation to Erie County’s Safe Community program, directed by Patty Puline. Erie County is one of a select few U.S. communities so honored by the international body. WHO and Drexler give much credit to the Lead & Seed program and to its series of SAMHSA-sponsored underage drinking prevention Town Hall Meetings for helping the county demonstrate its commitment to the health and safety of its residents.