Communities That Care (CTC) was founded in 2003 to reduce underage drinking in the rural farming community of Reno County, Kansas. Every year, local middle and high school students voluntarily take the Kansas Communities That Care Student Survey, which tracks teen use of harmful substances such as alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. The results of the survey are used to identify high-risk factors while guiding the best research-based interventions.
After studying the survey data, CTC Community Director Sondra Borth and her team looked for an opportunity to break down community silos that tend to occur around prevention and recovery efforts. That is, they wanted to promote a collaborative solution instead of an isolated approach. To jump-start the effort, CTC collaborated with several other community organizations to put on a Communities Talk: Town Hall Meetings to Prevent Underage Drinking event, “Ignite to Unite,” which featured a documentary screening and discussion session.
How They Did It
A documentary film, “The Anonymous People,” gives a look into the life of people committed to long-term recovery from addiction to alcohol. Following the screening at the Communities Talk event, a panel of local prevention experts conducted an audience question-and-answer session about topics raised in the film. The following elements helped make CTC’s event effective:
- Getting the word out. To promote the event, CTC used social media, distributed fliers and posters, recorded radio commercials, and partnered with Oxford House—an organization that provides housing and rehabilitative support for recovering alcoholics. This helped CTC expand its reach in the community.
- Making the human connection. Volunteer members of Alcoholics Anonymous also provided resources at the event. Attendees remarked that the volunteers helped put a face on why prevention is so important. Some volunteers shared personal stories of their struggles with underage drinking and described the resources they used to tackle their problems.
- Talking with a panel of experts. The panel included representatives from the Reno County Drug Court, Reno County Sheriff’s Department, Substance Abuse Center of Kansas, Department of Children and Families, and Oxford House. The panel answered questions from the audience about local programs and distributed resources from their organizations.
“Underage drinking has been viewed as a rite of passage here, and we need to break that cycle,” Borth said. “The ‘Ignite to Unite’ event helped with that effort.” The event also helped open a dialogue across several community organizations, leading to new partnerships within the prevention, treatment, and recovery communities. Other impacts included the following:
- Approximately 250 community members attended the event, including parents, youth, city officials, and local law enforcement officials.
- Youth participants signed a pledge stating that they would not take part in underage drinking.
- Additionally, parent participants pledged that they would not provide alcohol to youth.
A Community in Action
Partly due to the efforts of CTC, binge drinking has decreased by 4 percent since 2012, and past 30-day alcohol use has gone down 5 percent, according to Borth, who cited the 2016 CTC survey. CTC plans to continue using the following underage drinking prevention strategies:
- Working with other organizations, such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and other members of the local prevention community.
- Running a Those Who Host Lose The Most campaign to inform parents and older adults about the risks of providing alcohol to underage youth.
- Changing school codes of conduct to prevent underage drinking year-round.