Our Town. Our Health. Our Youth. Our Future. Hilton Head Island and Bluffton, South Carolina
The LowCountry Alliance for Healthy Youth (LCAHY) was established in February 2012 in response to numerous alcohol-related tragedies and other substance abuse problems involving youth in the Hilton Head Island area of South Carolina. The fledgling organization, serving the communities of Hilton Head Island and Bluffton, South Carolina, is committed to coordinating efforts of multiple community sectors in order to “develop a comprehensive solution to preventing and reducing youth substance use/abuse and related risk behaviors by: (1) identifying the causes/conditions that put our youth at risk and (2) identifying and implementing protective factors/strategies that will prevent our youth from engaging in substance use/abuse and related risk behaviors.”
As the coalition’s first public event, the May 19, 2014, Town Hall Meeting was seen as a vehicle to advance several objectives. First was the opportunity to increase awareness among the audience of about 80 community members of the myths, risks, and consequences of teen alcohol and other drug use/abuse. A panel consisting of a pediatrician, an attorney, and a drug enforcement agent reviewed recent findings. The evening’s highlight, Messages from Youth, featured presentations by 14 area high school students and served as an important step toward ongoing youth involvement in the organization’s prevention efforts. “There’s peer pressure, but there’s also easy access to alcohol,” high school senior Christian Hamby told the gathering. Young people also described social media as an added form of peer pressure to engage in drinking and other dangerous behaviors. Another benefit of the Town Hall Meeting was increased visibility for LCAHY itself, thanks to coverage of the event by reporters from two of the area’s major media outlets. A May 21, 2014, article in Bluffton Today, for example, repeated Town Hall Meeting themes and called attention to the alliance as a community resource. To assess the impact of its first-ever community briefing, the coalition invited participants to complete a short survey about the Town Hall Meeting program. Adult survey responses echoed similar concerns reported by area students: Easy youth access and availability to alcohol, underage alcohol use and risky behaviors, and lax parental attitudes are the most important underage drinking issues facing the community.
MEASURES OF SUCCESS
Results gathered from the Town Hall Meeting survey showed that 93 percent of those on hand said they would share information and materials with others, including family members and coworkers; 92 percent gained new knowledge of underage drinking and its consequences; and 89 percent learned specific actions they could take to reduce and prevent adolescent alcohol use. Ninety-two percent of attendees also reported their intention to become actively involved in preventing underage drinking, including participation in LCAHY.
According to Dr. Loretta Novince, LCAHY consultant, one of the most significant outcomes of the May 19 event was giving youth a prevention voice. She said that LCAHY was also encouraged by the level of support from the mayors of the towns of Hilton Head Island and Bluffton, who issued proclamations naming May 19, 2014, as Underage Drinking Prevention Day and who expressed community interest in future LCAHY-hosted events addressing teen alcohol and other substance use/abuse and related risk behaviors.
Development of LCAHY’s youth coalition is a priority follow-up activity in the wake of the Town Hall Meeting’s success in attracting potential youth leaders. LCAHY also will be organizing local implementation of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s “Talk. They Hear You.” public education media campaign as an important way to build on new parent awareness of underage drinking and what can be done to prevent it. The organization also intends to continue its promotion of the Federal Trade Commission’s “We Don’t Serve Teens” campaign, aimed at enforcement of the minimum age 21 drinking laws.
The Town Hall Meeting audience’s concern for easy youth access to alcohol in this resort community indicates opportunities for strengthening community support for environmental prevention measures, including further implementation of retailer and server education through the existing Palmetto Retailers Education Program. Other evidence-based strategies for reducing access and availability will be explored once data from the Communities That Care Survey are released in the fall of 2014. Results will provide LCAHY its first opportunity to develop a data-driven strategic plan based on prevalence of use, where youth use, how they access alcohol, and perceptions of harm (self, peer, and parents). The Town Hall Meeting audience’s interest in future underage drinking prevention forums suggests that LCAHY’s focus in the coming year will be to plan additional community briefings.
For more information:
Loretta C. Novince, Ph.D.