Since the inception of Communities Talk: Town Hall Meetings to Prevent Underage Drinking, Coalition Pathways has been an active participant in every cycle. Erie County has been working on underage drinking prevention for years, holding events for rural, urban, and suburban audiences and appealing to middle school, high school, and college students.
For their Communities Talk event in 2016, student organizers in local Lead & Seed drug and alcohol prevention program designed a half-day, interactive session for all students at McDowell Intermediate High School in Millcreek Township. The event featured an elected county official, who talked about the rise in area crime, and a representative from the attorney general’s office, who presented on the effects of drugs and alcohol. After these speakers, students discussed ways that family or friend scenarios can lead to substance use, learned how to deal with cyberbullying and peer pressure, and got tips for staying physically fit.
How They Did It
According to Coalition Pathways, the following elements led to the success of this Communities Talk event:
- Planning for the details.
The event essentially consisted of five mini-events in a half-day session, so it took a lot of logistics and planning to pull it off. Scheduling was the first major concern. The student organizers started by choosing community speakers and then planned the date and time around the speakers’ availability. Organizers also had to consider the school schedule and room selection because 9th–12th graders were in different buildings. In order to get everyone together, the event had to be planned months in advance.
- Involving key partners from the beginning.
Coalition Pathways has strong relationships with local schools and law enforcement because of its close involvement with Lead & Seed. The group reached out to partners to find speakers and to get help spreading the word through an e-mail listserv, websites, and flyers.
- Empowering youth to lead.
Letting youth organizers drive the event showcased responsible teen leadership. It also helped students engage with the content because they saw that peers had largely planned the event. Adults helped guide logistics and get approvals from several levels of administration.
Coalition Pathways credits the event with raising awareness and generating interest in issues that youth face each day. The event:
- Led to three heroin/opioid Communities Talk events, which ran concurrently with a prescription drug misuse initiative called “Project: It’s Time” that recently won a National Achievement Award from the National Association of Counties.
- Resulted in more than 500 drug- and alcohol-free pledges being signed.
The student-driven, student-focused approach was effective and purposeful. As Nora Drexler from Coalition Pathways puts it, “Students told us it was thought-provoking that we brought in cyberbullying as it relates to underage drinking. They also said they appreciated the segment about physical fitness so they can think about keeping their bodies and minds fit.”
A Community in Action
Coalition Pathways has been hard at work planning its next steps. Since the event, the organization has held three contests with a drug or alcohol awareness theme in the local school districts, and it plans to stay active. The strategic plan of Coalition Pathways involves:
- Raising awareness of alcohol and underage drinking; and
- Engaging the public about DUI and binge drinking throughout Erie County, Pennsylvania.