Many residents, business owners, and law enforcement personnel in Chicago’s West Garfield Park have long been concerned about youth access to alcohol, because alcohol is one of the leading causes of death and violence in their community. And even though these community stakeholders report illegal alcohol sales, and the court system charges and fines the offenders, the activity continues.
To fight this pattern, Fathers Who Care, a parental involvement, social service initiative, collaborated with several longstanding partner organizations—including an active youth council—to host two Communities Talk: Town Hall Meetings to Prevent Underage Drinking events.
How They Did It
Youth played an integral role in the planning process. They supplemented data from the Illinois Youth Survey with local data, stories, and knowledge to paint a fuller picture of their neighborhood and explain how their peers really feel about underage drinking. Adult planners relied strongly on these insights to shape the events.
Organizers enlisted U.S. Congressman Danny K. Davis of the 7th District of Illinois to give a keynote address. After his speech, youth volunteers used data gathered from the local police department to describe how underage drinking can lead to increased violence in their neighborhood. During personal testimonies, participants shared their experiences and ideas for solutions.
Several state and local lawmakers, such as senators, commissioners, and aldermen, took part in panel discussions and answered audience questions. Their presence lent prestige and built credibility, but more importantly demonstrated that the events weren’t just about talk—each was focused on taking action. Before leaving, attendees signed pledge cards to work to reduce underage drinking, create a drug-free community, and reduce violence in their neighborhood.
According to Fathers Who Care, the following elements ensured the success of the Communities Talk events:
- Validating data by checking in with the local community.
When event planners got results from the Illinois Youth Survey, they felt that the data did not reflect what they were seeing and experiencing in their community—so they decided to dig deeper. After discovering that only a few of the local elementary schools had participated in the survey, they got permission to go into the schools and administer the surveys themselves. Youth volunteers also worked with peers to gather data about perceptions around underage drinking.
- Starting from the beginning.
The event planners were careful to avoid making assumptions about the community’s knowledge base about underage drinking. They used the data they gathered from local schools and youth volunteers to get insights about their target audience and plan a message that would hit the mark. Ultimately, this enabled youth and young parents to learn about the causes, hazards, and consequences of underage drinking without feeling judged.
- Empowering youth to be involved.
For the community groups collaborating on both events, listening to the youth voice throughout the planning process was essential. Youth were encouraged to speak up about what they considered to be problems in their communities, and to brainstorm ways to address those problems at the root. They showcased their ideas through a PowerPoint presentation during the panel event. Youth planners also helped advertise the events on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.
According to Fathers Who Care volunteer Rev. Walter Amir Jones Jr., the events were a great opportunity to strengthen bonds between parents and their children, and create connections between them and local business owners, elected officials, and law enforcement officers. The events, he said, helped “not only to empower and engage our neighbors, but also to educate them through three types of learning: visual, audio, and hands-on activities.”
- More than 300 community members signed pledge cards to take steps to help reduce underage drinking and create a safe and drug-free neighborhood.
- Since the meetings, local business owners have expressed an increased intention to partner with community stakeholders to reduce youth access to alcohol.
Area youth have created a youth-led community outreach team that works with local law enforcement officials to investigate youth access to alcohol through illegal sales.
A Community in Action
Moving forward, local volunteers plan to:
- Hold rallies in public sites to raise awareness about the consequences of underage drinking.
- Host additional Communities Talk events to plan further steps and nurture bonds between adults and youth committed to improving the community.
- Build stronger relationships with area schools and organize in-school assemblies to educate students about underage drinking and reduce its occurrence.