Located in southwestern Montana, Anaconda is a rural community with fewer than 10,000 residents. Although the town is small, underage drinking rates in Anaconda are much higher than the state’s average. According to Heidi Nielsen, project director for Anaconda Community Intervention, Inc. (ACI), recent data showed that past 30-day alcohol use rates for 8th, 10th, and 12th graders in Anaconda were 110 percent, 55 percent, and 5 percent higher, respectively, than Montana’s state averages.
To help combat underage drinking, ACI hosted a Communities Talk: Town Hall Meetings to Prevent Underage Drinking event. But instead of planning a formal Communities Talk: Town Hall Meeting to Prevent Underage Drinking event, ACI organized a community-wide carnival to kick off summer and give useful information about underage drinking in a welcoming, hands-on setting.
How They Did It
ACI billed its event as a “no-hall” town hall, instead opting for a community carnival at Kennedy Commons, the town’s major downtown park that occupies a full city block. Event staff were posted at various booths to ensure that meaningful prevention discussions happened with participants instead of simply handing out literature.
ACI made headway with its event by:
- Changing the structure. To increase community interest, ACI took the no-hall carnival outdoors and created an informal environment. ACI partnered with Alive After 5, a local social organization that provided music, food, and entertainment. To promote the event, planners plastered bright posters throughout Anaconda, gave every student in the school district a take-home notice, and featured teasers about the upcoming event in the local newspaper and ACI’s newsletter.
- Involving the whole family. The carnival featured 15 booths providing underage drinking prevention information for the whole family. Children enjoyed games and interactive activities, and teens and parents engaged in mini-discussions with the prevention staff and volunteers posted at each booth.
- Helping participants feel the effects of alcohol use. One of the most popular booths at the carnival featured a prevention and education tool known as a hands-on goggles challenge. Participants put on the goggles, which simulate the effects of alcohol impairment on fine motor skills, balance, vision, reaction time, and judgment. Trying on the goggles helped jump-start a conversation about prevention.
According to Nielsen, the carnival won high praise from attendees. Short-term outcomes include the following:
- The community donated $730 toward future prevention initiatives and activities.
- The family-friendly, outdoor event attracted more than 300 attendees, which far exceeded the expectation of 100 attendees.
“Our goal was to find something that really engaged the community. We wanted to show that people could really be interested in prevention and that prevention could actually be fun, not arduous,” Nielsen said.
A Community in Action
Looking forward, Anaconda plans to:
- Build on the social capital and energy of the carnival by planning a second, more traditional town hall meeting to continue the conversation about prevention.
- Use the information that attendees gave ACI staff about what actually drives local youth under age 21 to drink to help ACI develop targeted prevention messages and design alcohol-free activities that help build positive social relationships among participants.