Siouxland CARES has been hosting Communities Talk: Town Hall Meetings to Prevent Underage Drinking since 2006. The volunteer-driven community coalition works to reduce alcohol and other drug abuse and related violence by all age groups, but focusing primarily on youth. The Drug-Free Communities Support Program grant that Siouxland CARES administered from 2000 to 2010 refined their goals and objectives with a focus on specific alcohol-related outcomes for their community.
How They Did It
Linda Phillips, Executive Director of Siouxland CARES, attributed the Communities Talk meeting's success in preventing underage drinking and drug abuse in Sioux City to the following strategies:
- Strength in numbers.
To make sure they had a large turnout at their event, Siouxland CARES partnered with the Sioux City Mayor's Youth Commission (186 members), the Siouxland District Health Department, and Jackson Recovery Centers, which helped start Siouxland CARES nearly 30 years ago. Linnea Fletcher, vice president of Siouxland CARES and former Prevention Specialist at Jackson Recovery Centers, and Becky Carlson of the Siouxland District Health Department served as the primary substance use prevention speakers, educating attendees on the services and supports Jackson Recovery Centers provides. In addition, the coalition invited parents, social service agencies, several city council members, law enforcement personnel, and representatives from the health, treatment, and prevention field to present at the Communities Talk meeting.
- Engaging attendees.
Siouxland CARES used PowerPoint materials from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to get the conversation going. One of the most successful and popular activities at the meeting was exploring the survey questions. A survey about underage drinking was previously administered to the community, including questions such as "How wrong do you feel it would be for underage youth to drink alcohol?" In total, 137 youths and 52 adults provided answers to the survey. At the event, the youths and adults in attendance discussed the questions in a group setting.
"The kids felt like they didn't understand the consequences of underage drinking and drug use. They thought it would make a difference if youth truly knew the consequences they faced," Phillips said. "We use the Communities Talk meetings as an awareness campaign for our community to continue to focus on the issues at hand."
And it's working: According to Phillips, underage drinking and drug use numbers have been on a steady decline in recent years since they began holding Communities Talk meetings and distributing community surveys.
For the 2016 event, Phillips said the biggest impact is that their community discussions about underage drinking led to future presentations on behavioral health. "Siouxland CARES had a three-part series this past school year called Be in The Know, which were parent sessions that coincided with and supplemented our Be Somebody campaign promoting good character and positive change. We had great turnouts and offered different topics at each session," Phillips said.
A Community in Action
Looking toward the future, Siouxland CARES plans to continue using survey results to inform their coalition's goals and better understand the prevalence and perceptions of the rates and consequences of underage drinking and drug use in their community.
"We're planning to have Communities Talk meetings every other year. This year, we are going to do one with the Office of Drug Control Policy and the Department of Justice and the National Guard," Phillips said. "Planning them continues to drive us and gives us focus."
Phillips says the events are a good way to share their data with the community and raise awareness of the cause, giving their coalition an opportunity to show what they have already accomplished—as well as what they can still improve.