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OSAP Virtual Teen Room

Hosted by: Ottawa County Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition

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Please briefly describe your Communities Talk activity.

The Ottawa County Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition developed a virtual teen room that allows parents to interact and learn about the alcohol and substance misuse patterns in their community. This simulation highlights some warning signs of underage drinking and substance misuse for parents and caregivers. It also showcases additional resources and websites where parents and caregivers can find helpful talking points to start a prevention conversation with their teens. We were also very excited to share this experience, and the additional resources, in both English and Spanish!

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How does underage drinking and substance misuse affect your community?

There are several elements that affect underage drinking and substance misuse in our community: two major college systems are located in Ottawa County; we have decentralized population centers, and so often our communities are impacted by neighboring communities; and youth perception of alcohol and other drug misuse has been going in the wrong direction recently with more and more youth indicating they don’t see any potential harm in using. Parents are the most powerful prevention tool, but most youth get their alcohol from home or a friend’s home (with or without permission), and say their parents aren’t talking to them about these topics. Our goal is to provide parents with the tools they need to start prevention conversations with their teens, and highlight any potential warning signs of underage drinking, and/or substance misuse.

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What goal(s) did you hope to accomplish with your Communities Talk activity?

  • Reduce prevalence of underage drinking and other substances in community
  • Create new resources/materials (e.g., publications, handouts, factsheets, videos, graphics) to support prevention of underage drinking and misuse of other substances
  • Encourage parents to talk to their youth more about these topics.
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Who did you involve in your activity planning, and who did your activity impact?

Our Reducing Ottawa Area Drunk Driving Taskforce was a major partner. We received feedback from law enforcement, parents, other preventionists, foundations, marketing staff, etc. We also partnered with the Allegan Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition.

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Which Communities Talk resources (or other SAMHSA resources) were most helpful for your activity?

  • We did not use these tools because our project was unique.
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Did the COVID-19 pandemic affect the planning or execution of your activities?

Yes, we would not have thought to do this virtual room if it had not been for the pandemic. But this virtual room is really getting some good traction and people really appreciate it.

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What other challenge(s) did you face in planning your activity this year?

  • Needed additional resources to conduct activity
  • Unforeseen difficulties when planning our activity
  • Adapting to conducting a virtual activity
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How did you overcome these challenges?

Fortunately, we did overcome our challenges. This project did cost more than we anticipated, but we were able to partner with another organization to offset costs. The project also took longer than we thought—we had planned to launch the project in May but didn’t end up launching until September due to the amount of time it took to gather items, find the right technology, do the filming, write the copy, and then launch and promote the virtual room. But the end results were well worth it.

We were also able to release the virtual room in Spanish. We had no clue how to do this when we started. We found a few examples from other communities and adapted that information to best fit our event. We learned a lot about technology, about how to stage a room, and now how to promote this valuable resource.

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What are your next steps?

  • Create a public education campaign to raise awareness and/or change behaviors around underage drinking (i.e., create PSAs and other promotional materials)
  • We will soon be launching a parent education campaign that includes 10-–12 short tip videos to give parents more information on how to have specific, difficult conversations with their youth.

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