The small, rural community of Amado, Arizona, is susceptible to risk factors that can lead to underage drinking and substance abuse. Proximity to the Mexican border and the community’s vast areas of desert and mountain terrain make Amado vulnerable to drug trafficking. The town also sees high rates of poverty and unemployment due in part to low high school completion rates, a lack of job opportunities, and no public transportation.
Even though the town is divided across Pima and Santa Cruz counties, the Pima County Community Prevention Coalition (PCCPC) provides prevention services to all residents. In order to focus on underage drinking prevention, the PCCPC held an informal meeting with nearly 30 local youth to generate ideas for future prevention activities. One idea that came out of that meeting was to hold a youth-led/adult-advised event, and planning soon got underway for their first Communities Talk: Town Hall Meetings to Prevent Underage Drinking event. Planners hoped the initiative would become an annual activity, so they named the event “E>olution!: Year 1.”
How They Did It
The event was held on the local elementary school campus and included many activities run by the Amado Youth Alliance. Activities included game booths, youth sport stations, a roping event, a t-shirt give away station, and a prevention information booth. Amy Bass, Director of Prevention at Portable, Practical Education Preparation, or PPEP Inc., a local nonprofit organization who partnered in the event, described the E>olution! event as a success because it engaged 250 community members with a renewed focus on underage drinking prevention. Planners focused on three activities to boost community interest:
- Taking it outside. Using the school property created a feeling of engagement between community residents and the outdoor space allowed participants to move around and choose which stations to visit.
- Using unconventional messaging tactics. Youth leaders wanted to get their peers excited about prevention, so they brought in local youth musicians as entertainers and offered interactive activities. The youth band invited participants to get on stage and sing with them, which was a big hit with the local youth. These tactics kept the energy level high and provided a balanced approach with the keynote addresses.
- Speaking with experts. The event featured two keynote speakers: the Pima County Board of Supervisors’ chairman and a retired college professor. They discussed setting goals, described ways to keep youth drug-free, and highlighted local resources to help prevent underage drinking.
Youth leaders were involved in all aspects of planning and executing the event, which helped them gain valuable decision-making and team-building skills. A post-event debrief with youth and adult advisers from PCCPC helped strategize ways to improve the next event and underscore the value of strategic planning and creative thinking.
“This event helped us see that there are bright stars in Amado. We have lots of kids who are doing well in spite of the circumstances,” said Bass.
A Community in Action
Moving forward, PCCPC is working to:
- Collaborate with other local youth groups to share information and discuss best practices.
- Involve youth in community prevention events that incorporate ways for the youth to learn and grow personally.
- Understand and use ways to communicate with community members who do not have access to phone or e-mail.