The District of Columbia is organized into eight Wards, each with approximately 75,000 residents, and each with its own history, neighborhoods, and diverse populations. In Wards 1, 5, 7, and 8, the average age of onset for underage drinking is about 12 years old. In collaboration with the DC Department of Behavioral Health, Bridging Resources in Communities, Inc. (BRIC) leads the Ward 5 Drug-Free Coalition and runs the Ward 7 & 8 DC Prevention Center, which supports residents and educates them about alcohol and substance use.
With its many community partners, BRIC frequently hosts community events that bring in youth and adults. In 2016, BRIC held two Communities Talk: Town Hall Meetings to Prevent Underage Drinking events—one for Wards 7 and 8 to address youth from ages 12 to 15, and one specifically designed for college students in Ward 5 and neighboring Ward 1.
How They Did It
The first event was geared toward middle and high school youth and also offered participants a meal to encourage participation. It was held at the prevention center and included a panel discussion with local doctors and law enforcement officials, who described the effects of underage drinking that they witness on the job every day in the neighborhood. But before the event began, organizers met with two groups of 10 local youth to understand their perspective.
According to BRIC’s Dr. Orlando Barker, “We use these conversations for fact-finding and to set the tone that we value their voices. We ask them what issues they’re seeing—we want to know what underage drinking looks like to them.”
The keynote address was delivered through pre-taped video made by the sole survivor of an underage drinking and driving accident. She recounted the accident and talked about her recovery process. After the presentations, participants shared a meal during an informal question-and-answer session designed to encourage them to talk about what they had just heard.
The second event took place on the campus of nearby Howard University and was a joint effort of four community-based organizations. Called “Your Health, Your Future: A Dialogue on Underage Drinking,” it was largely geared toward college freshmen and sophomores, but faculty, staff, and community representatives participated as well. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Center for Substance Abuse Prevention Director Frances M. Harding was on hand to explain what college drinking looks like nationally, and Howard students discussed what they see on their campus. Organizers also explained the university’s resources for students in recovery and those that need support. Students then had the opportunity to sign a sobriety pledge, after which all participants shared a meal during a networking reception.
According to BRIC, the following elements helped ensure the success of its Communities Talk events:
- Leveraging connections with community partners to help spread the word. To promote the events, BRIC designed and emailed flyers to community partners throughout the Washington area. Partners then printed and posted the flyers in and around their buildings for a wider reach.
- Being open to new approaches. The first event’s format was very similar to BRIC’s previous events, but organizers kept the event fresh by having a unique type of keynote address. Featuring a young adult’s personal experience with underage drinking was a powerful way to have an impact on the audience. The second event was the first of its kind at Howard University, and organizers across four community-based organizations worked together to plan the event. One new outreach method organizers used was visiting Howard University classrooms to personally invite hundreds of college students and to get them talking about underage drinking on campus. This resulted in standing-room-only attendance.
The events drew on the strengths of several community partners.
- At the first event, more than 80 participants came together to discuss how they can help reduce underage drinking in their neighborhood.
- 82 participants, including 63 Howard University students and 19 community representatives, engaged in lively discussion about underage drinking trends they see on campus.
- Both events created momentum for a follow-up event in Wards 1 and 5: “Rock That Mic for Prevention.” The event was a positive spoken word competition that featured performances by youth ages 10 to 21 years old on topics like bullying, underage drinking, substance abuse, and domestic and youth violence.
A Community in Action
Moving forward, BRIC plans to continue working with community partners to:
- Leverage local speakers to meet with youth in Wards 5, 7, and 8 about underage drinking, particularly each April—for Alcohol Awareness Month—and May—in preparation for area high school proms.
- Support Howard University’s underage drinking prevention efforts, such as its requirement that all incoming freshmen complete an online alcohol prevention course.
- Provide meals to encourage attendance and participation, while also addressing basic needs and prevention.