In Windsor, CO, youth perceive underage drinking to be more prevalent than it actually is. Another local misperception is that alcohol is less harmful than research shows. Weld County officials, community-based organizations, and the school district are trying to set the record straight in a way that positively engages youth and their families.
To that end, Windsor RE 4 School District partnered with North Range Behavioral Health to host an on-campus Communities Talk: Town Hall Meetings to Prevent Underage Drinking event. Called “Start the Conversation,” the event offered educators, administration, students, and their families a chance to attend a variety of prevention-related classes and learn about local initiatives at a resource fair.
How They Did It
The community views prevention as a team effort, and according to Nomie Ketterling, Grant Coordinator at North Range Behavioral Health, the following elements helped make the Start the Conversation event effective:
- Letting students take the lead. The event was primarily promoted and managed by student volunteers—from the early planning stages, to lining up resources and sponsors throughout the community, and handling logistics on the day of the event. Students were the face of the event, too, which helped get their peers and parents excited about participating.
- Opening up the classroom. Each participant was able to attend up to three 50-minute classes, which were structured as breakout sessions. These covered a wide range of topics, including youth substance misuse and how to talk to teens about underage drinking. These breakout sessions created a safe space to open the conversation, provided parenting tips, and provided youth with opportunities to discuss their concerns, feelings, and ask questions.
- Participating as a community. In addition to inviting parents, student planners invited key community leaders to take part in the event. These included representatives from the District Attorney’s office, police officers and firefighters, the school district superintendent, and clinicians from North Range Behavioral Health.
The Start the Conversation event helped communicate and promote prevention initiatives throughout the community:
- Local media coverage generated interest and spread the prevention message to those who were unable to attend.
- The most recent Healthy Kids Colorado Survey administered by the Department of Public Health and Environment showed reductions in underage drinking as the result of prevention activities like Start the Conversation.
A Community in Action
Weld County plans to pursue the following strategies to prevent underage drinking:
- Hold monthly community coalition meetings to connect and share experiences with a variety of local organizations.
- Organize focus groups to gather feedback, including what’s working, what’s not, and what to promote at future events.
- Expand social networks to promote upcoming events and spread prevention messages throughout the community.