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Success Stories

Town Hall Meetings Make a Difference

2014 survey respondents reported:

  • 48% of hosts planned to develop a prevention strategy
  • 83% of participants gained new knowledge
  • 91% of hosts collaborated with other organizations

For This Town Hall Meeting, Most of the Audience Stayed Home—Florida

What if you invited a quarter of a million people to attend your underage drinking prevention Town Hall Meeting and even a small percentage agreed to attend? Where would you seat them? The answer is: on their own sofas and easy chairs, in the comfort of their own homes.

A collaboration among the Florida-based LiveFree! Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition of Pinellas County (LiveFree!), the Coalition for a Drug-Free Southwest Florida, and Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) television stations WEDU-Tampa Bay and WGCU in Fort Myers provides an annual opportunity to invite a potential audience estimated at 250,000 in a 16-county area. Since 2005, WEDU has worked with LiveFree! and others to produce Florida Kids and Alcohol, a series of live, local Town Hall Meetings in April about underage drinking issues in Florida. WEDU has broadcast events from its Tampa Bay studio and from different high schools in Pinellas County. These televised events have built public support for environmental prevention and law enforcement efforts to stop underage drinking.

The 2012 Florida Kids and Alcohol Town Hall Meeting, which explored the connection between alcohol and drugs, made full use of local PBS resources as well as new social media and communications technology. On April 3, 2012, nearly 100 youth and adults gathered at Pinellas Park High School in Largo, FL. WEDU taped the production onsite and collaborated with WGCU to include 50 audience members from Fort Myers. There were two televised panels of experts: One from Pinellas County, including the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office and Operation PAR, Inc., and one linked in via Skype from Fort Myers, featuring representatives of the Lee County Coalition for a Drug-Free Southwest Florida Board, Drug Free Collier, Florida Gulf Coast University, the Florida National Guard, and the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco.

Students in Pinellas County and students in Fort Myers registered in advance to attend the taping in response to a Facebook invitation and a series of Tweets that began on April 2, 2012. Both audiences included parents and representatives from schools, law enforcement, Explorer Scouts, and health and human service agencies. Representatives who participated via Skype from the WGCU studio in Fort Myers included Lee County Sheriff’s Department deputies and Explorer Scouts, Fort Myers Police Department officers and Explorer Scouts, families from Collier and Lee Counties, Edison College students, and representatives from the Florida Gulf Coast University Institute for Youth and Justice Studies.

WEDU quickly edited the taped footage, with input from the two coalitions. The result was a prime- time, 1-hour high-definition special presentation that aired on April 19, 2012. WEDU rebroadcast the show on a Sunday morning and a Wednesday evening. It also aired the show on its digital channel on a Saturday and a Sunday evening. Multiple airing at different times made it possible for people to listen at their convenience.

The broadcast was only one of WEDU’s contributions to public outreach: the station also produced a 25-minute webcast of additional material from the program and posted it on its website, which also houses the archived 1-hour Town Hall Meeting. Sixty-two pro bono promotional spots were aired during many of the station’s most popular programs, ranging from Nova to the PBS News Hour to The Lawrence Welk Show and This Old House. WEDU had promised LiveFree! more than $7,000 of in-kind products and services: The station actually delivered nearly $44,000 worth.

The Florida Kids and Alcohol series is one of the longest running Town Hall Meetings in the country and is proving very successful in terms of continuing community interest in underage drinking prevention. Key to the success of the series is the efforts of the community partners that make up LiveFree!

Another positive outcome is the possibility of Town Hall Meeting broadcasts tailored to the Fort Myers audience. The Coalition for a Drug-Free Southwest Florida sees a clear need for information about underage drinking issues specific to that geographic area and already is working with WGCU to plan its own future Town Hall Meeting broadcast.

According to Steven Covey, the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “More people watch television and get their information that way than read books.” Exploring opportunities to reach community members where they are—even if it’s on their couches at home—may be effective in sharing information on why and how they should be involved in underage drinking prevention.