A 2014 survey of Florida’s Lee County found that 25 percent of high school students and more than 13 percent of middle school students reported using alcohol in the past 30 days. Founded in 1989 by a group of local leaders, the Lee County Coalition for a Drug-Free Southwest Florida is working to reduce the prevalence of underage drinking. The coalition holds lunch-and-learn meetings, Red Ribbon Week celebrations, and prevention events throughout each year.
In 2016, the group decided to think outside the box for its Communities Talk: Town Hall Meetings to Prevent Underage Drinking event.
Sky Zone is an indoor trampoline park popular among area youth, and it is frequently a top location for birthday parties and other celebrations. The Lee County Coalition for a Drug-Free Southwest Florida approached Sky Zone’s owner about hosting a Communities Talk event at the park. The event was a focus group of 20 to 25 teens from various organizations, shelters, and at-risk neighborhoods, led by an adult moderator. With the participants’ permission, the coalition filmed the event and shared the footage with the sheriff’s department and local school board, giving them on-the-ground insight from youth in the community to help inform their prevention efforts.
How They Did It
According to Deborah Comella, Executive Director of the Lee County Coalition for a Drug-Free Southwest Florida, their Communities Talk focus group event was engaging and meaningful. She credits the following strategies for the event’s success:
- Asking the right questions. The moderator planned to ask up to five open-ended, non-confrontational questions to facilitate a discussion among the youth. The questions included: Do kids in your school drink? Where do they drink? Where do you think the kids in your school who drink are getting the alcohol? The discussion portion of the event was scheduled to last no more than two hours, after which the participants had pizza and got to jump on the trampolines for two hours.
- Evolving the formula. Instead of holding a panel discussion or having a keynote speaker, the coalition decided to take a youth-centered approach to this event. They found that limiting the number of adults at the meeting to just one adult moderator resulted in increased youth participation. Youth felt comfortable answering questions and discussing access to alcohol in the relaxed, informal setting.
- Jumping into action. Sky Zone donated its facilities for the event and allowed participants to enjoy the trampolines after the discussion session. The venue was selected with youth in mind—the coalition wanted youth to feel comfortable and have fun instead of feeling like they were in a formal setting. This provided a safe, fun place for local youth to discuss their concerns, ask questions, and create excitement about prevention.
Comella noted, “These meetings help a lot of kids feel that somebody's listening to them, which is really important.” As a result of the event:
- The sheriff’s office, school board, and other community groups received youth testimonials to guide their decision-making and prevention efforts.
- The coalition organized another Communities Talk trampoline park event with college students to hear what they have to say about underage drinking and other substance issues.
A Community in Action
As it looks to the future, the Lee County Coalition for a Drug-Free Southwest Florida plans to:
- Participate in a National Prevention Week health fair event with a display table and informational materials.
- Partner with other organizations to find out what questions are being discussed at their Communities Talk events.
- Update their underage drinking logic model using data from key informant interviews. The logic model will then be used to develop a comprehensive community action plan and help inform the choice of prevention programs and evidence-based prevention in the communities.