Arkansas Town Hall Meeting Empowers Youth to Curb Underage Drinking
Garland County C.A.R.E.S. (Coalition for Action, Recovery, Education, and Support)
Hot Springs, Arkansas
Hot Springs, Arkansas, is the county seat of Garland County, where a group of concerned citizens joined together in 2007 to create Garland County C.A.R.E.S. (Coalition for Action, Recovery, Education and Support). Garland County C.A.R.E.S. is an organization licensed by the Arkansas Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Behavioral Health Services, Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention to provide quality alcohol, tobacco, and other drug prevention services. Reducing underage drinking in Garland County is a top priority for Garland County C.A.R.E.S., which treats youth empowerment as an essential element in prevention. Since 2008 the organization has hosted Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration-supported Town Hall Meetings in its efforts to change community norms about underage drinking.
To promote its “Our Town. Our Health. Our Future.” Town Hall Meeting on April 24, 2014, Garland County C.A.R.E.S. publicized the meeting though a flyer, multiple social media posts, and also offered door prizes, refreshments, and free parking to attract participants. C.A.R.E.S. also engaged youth from local community schools (Hot Springs Community School, Lakeside High School, and Hot Springs High School) to assist with registration, take photos, post to social media live during the event, and conduct an interactive survey during the meeting. The panel discussion component brought together representatives from law enforcement, health care, and youth-serving organizations along with students to discuss local data, underage drinking, and underage drinking consequences in Garland County. After presenting data that showed alcohol use increasing for certain age groups over recent months, the panel stressed the need to focus prevention efforts on the lower grades, such as fifth through eighth, to reverse this trend.
MEASURES OF SUCCESS
The Town Hall Meeting drew 45 participants, including 12 teens. The meeting received positive evaluations for delivering important information to participants about local drinking trends. Based on this feedback, Garland County C.A.R.E.S. began conducting additional community forums and surveys to further assess effectiveness and community perceptions. Additionally, the Town Hall Meeting led to the county endorsement of two bills sent to the Arkansas House of Representatives: the first bill proposed to increase the fees for the Drug and Alcohol Safety Education Program, which those convicted of driving under the influence must attend; the second bill proposed to increase fines for boating under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.
Student survey results will be analyzed and added to Garland County C.A.R.E.S.’ community assessment profile. Based on audience recommendations during the Town Hall Meeting, Garland County C.A.R.E.S. is also inviting area organizations like Key Club, Students Against Destructive Decisions, Healthy Students, and the BACCHUS Network to attend coalition meetings to build partnerships and collect additional community assessment data.