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Inspired and Empowered Youth: Working to Prevent Underage Drinking and Change Social Norms

Hosted By: Placer County Youth Commission

"Besides the immediate risks such as drunk driving, we now know how substances impact the developing adolescent brain. By reducing teen use now and postponing drinking, society could see less adult alcohol-related problems in the future as well."

– Robin Boparai, Placer County Youth Commission member and high school student

Local Landscape

In September 2015, the Roseville City Council in California passed a Social Host Ordinance, which states that adults who allow drinking by underage guests in their home can face a fine—as much as $1,000 for a third offense. The Roseville Police Department and the Placer County Youth Commission (PCYC) both supported the ordinance, saying that it would help change social norms and provide needed education.

Both Christina Ivazes, director/coordinator of the Coalition for Placer Youth, and Kara Sutter, past adviser for the youth coalition partner PCYC, wanted to capitalize on the momentum generated by the ordinance’s passage. They felt it was a good time to work with law enforcement to encourage more community involvement and support the changes the ordinance required.

To celebrate Alcohol Awareness Month in April 2016, the PCYC held a Communities Talk: Town Hall Meetings to Prevent Underage Drinking event which was a youth-Led press conference about Underage Drinking Prevention and the Social Host Ordinance at Whitney High School. The goals were two-fold: (1) to educate the community about the effects of underage drinking, and (2) to highlight youth advocacy efforts, such as their partnerships with California Friday Night Live, the Office of Traffic Safety, and local Drug-Free Community (DFC) Coalitions. The PCYC also considered this a good opportunity to show law enforcement the support that exists among youth in the community for underage drinking prevention efforts.

How They Did It

Ivazes attributes the success of the press conference-style Communities Talk event to the following strategies:

  • Bringing the community together.

    The combination of presentations by both youth and law enforcement allowed multiple voices to be heard and enabled the groups to see the support they had from perhaps unexpected segments of the community. The audience for the event included law enforcement, coalition partners, parents, educators, county officials, and high school students. Community members could watch the press conference via a live stream on Periscope and read about the event in the Placer Herald, giving the cause exposure beyond the people in attendance.

  • Providing education on underage drinking laws.

    All attendees received materials with statistics and information about underage drinking. The most compelling data shared addressed the impacts of alcohol use on the brain and results from the 2015 school surveys in Rocklin and Roseville. Both cities organized significant education campaigns (funded through DFC grants and community partners) prior to and after the passage of their Social Host Ordinances. The data showed an 8 percent decrease between 2013 and 2015 in alcohol use by 11th graders over the past 30 days, compared to a 4 percent decrease in a similar Placer County high school without a Social Host Ordinance campaign.

    Speakers at the press conference included youth participants from the PCYC and the local Whitney High School broadcasting program, who discussed their views on underage drinking and Social Host Ordinances, as well as law enforcement. The Q&A portion of the event allowed people to share and get clarification on concerns regarding the ordinance, which Ivazes believes helped people understand the ordinance and recognize its purpose of protecting youth, not punishing parents or other hosts.

  • Empowering youth to speak out.

    “Youth presented the information in a compelling way,” Ivazes said. “That, in turn, inspired law enforcement to move forward as well to lay the groundwork to pass Social Host Ordinances in other Placer County communities.” The youth presented diagrams showing alcohol’s impact on the brain, an infographic on youth survey results, and—most important—stories from their peers about how alcohol use has affected them.

    Ivazes was surprised by how many people from law enforcement, local government, and the community attended. Because of this, she believes the youth who participated felt very supported by law enforcement and local government, which has proved encouraging in their continuing PCYC activities and has built an important community relationship for prevention.


One of the most promising impacts of the event was that more than 30 high school students attended and learned about the risks of alcohol use and the benefits of Social Host Ordinances from their peers. Changing social norms is always more effective when members of the community of change represent themselves.

Thanks to the campaigns involving the PCYC members, the survey results, and the confidence demonstrated by the youth presenters at the Communities Talk event, members of the community observed the critical role youth play in any successful change in a community’s youth substance use prevention efforts. Robin Boparai, a PCYC member and local high school student, noted, “I think students and parents are moving past the old belief that underage drinking needs to be a rite of passage.”

Beyond the numbers, Ivazes believes the event strengthened the community. The participation of law enforcement in particular has given the youths the support they need to continue pursuing their goals. “It has really inspired them to go further and not to be defeated by any roadblocks. Every time the youth present, they become more confident and articulate,” said Ivazes. 

The PCYC went on to apply for a related traffic safety grant and met with a local board of supervisors about working together.

A Community in Action

The PCYC plans to pursue the following underage drinking prevention strategies:

  • Using the grant they received from the Office of Traffic Safety to work with local school programs. For instance, they helped the Whitney High School broadcasting program create public service videos to highlight the dangers of underage alcohol abuse and inform the local community about the Social Host Ordinance.
  • Working with both the local county supervisor and police chief in Auburn, California, where they have "champions" to encourage more social ordinances.
  • Continuing to speak out about the dangers of underage drinking, sharing statistics and youth needs, and being active in the larger prevention community, such as attending the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) National Leadership Forum.

Event at a Glance

  • Date:
  • Location:
    Placer County, CA
  • Topics:
    Capacity Building/Recruitment, Youth Access to Alcohol, Costs to Society/Local Community of Underage Drinking, Alcohol-Related Injury, Death, or Health Care Concerns, Campus/Community Collaboration, School-based Strategies, Parental Involvement in Prevention, Environmental Prevention Strategies, Alcohol-Related Policy/Legislation
  • Audience:
    Parents, College Aged, Teens
  • Event Leadership:
    Adult-led, Youth-led
  • Event Format:

Host at a Glance


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