Underage drinking prevention: a multi-media approach

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012
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If you watched TV, read a local newspaper or listened to the radio this summer, chances are you heard about the “Kids Want Role Models, Not Bottles” campaign, created by Five Mountains Hawaii as part of a Hawaii County program for underage drinking prevention (UAP) through its Strategic Prevention Framework – State Incentive Grant.

“It was very important for the youth to have a voice in ‘Models Not Bottles,’” said Five Mountains executive director Robin Mullin. “The slogan was their idea, and they have been involved in every phase of the campaign — from the brainstorming sessions through the creative process, giving of their special talents and energy.”

Over the past eight weeks, the youth recorded TV and radio commercials, designed a theme T-shirt, disseminated UAP information to 11 libraries island-wide, and much more.

They also appeared in the original documentary film “Perils and Pearls in Paradise: Hawaii Island Alcohol Stories and Facts” directed and produced by Holly Algood of North Kohala, an organization effectiveness consultant and North Hawaii Drug Free Coalition member. Screened at four different town hall meetings island-wide, “Perils and Pearls” features interviews with and comments by 29 island residents.

“Making the film changed my life,” said Algood. “I was really touched by the people in it, and how they sincerely want to make a positive contribution to other people’s lives.”

The speakers included adults in recovery, some professionals who work in relevant fields in the community, and others whose lives have been dramatically impacted by alcohol. The young people spoke frankly, giving advice to other kids and to parents, and talking about ways they keep alcohol out of their lives—including playing rugby, going to the beach, playing tennis, studying photography, volunteering and surrounding themselves with positive people.

“Instead of drinking alcohol, I hang out with friends; I hang out in my youth group. We talk stuff over and find out ways to help others so that they’re seeing the truth and know that they don’t have to drink,” said Viviana Mehau, 13, of Waikoloa. “No matter how much you’re being pushed to drink, don’t do it because you’re going to regret it and feel really bad about it.”

“I think it just takes one person to say ‘no’ for a whole group to say ‘no,’” said Francis Sakai-Kawada of UH-Hilo. “If you go with a friend, then you build more confidence to say ‘no’ when it comes time. And, (you) just find something that you are passionate about that’s positive.”

“Don’t drink alcohol, because it makes you do really stupid things,” said the succinct Matthew Horne, 13, of Waimea. Horne happened to be walking by Keiki Fest in April when the youth asked him to help with their project, and he’s been part of the Mama’s House Lifeplan Youth Leadership Team ever since.

“Perils and Pearls” was screened at four locations around the island, most recently at Tutu’s House in Waimea on Aug. 3, where attendees who signed a pledge form received one of the bright green campaign T-shirts. Youth pledged not to drink before age 21; adults pledged to support them and not host underage drinking.

After the film, a panel discussion moderated by Algood included youth representatives Hoku Pagan and Matt Horne, Rhonda and Leighton Bell of Waimea, North Hawaii Community Hospital trauma coordinator Lynn Witte, Stacy DelaCruz, Lloyd Agcaoli and Deputy Prosecutor Mitch Roth.

“The State of Hawaii leads the nation in alcohol-related fatalities and our county is number one or number two every year,” said Roth. “I personally don’t like being there.”

Roth talked about two different programs which have made an impact in the last several years: ignition locks (11,000 “positive preventive starts”) and the “Shattered Dreams” alcohol awareness program.

“We reduced (alcohol-related fatalities) from 163 in 2006 to 100 this last year,” said Roth. “But that’s 100 too many.”

Underage drinking prevention is a complicated topic, and there are many approaches, but the “Models Not Bottles” slogan brings at least one into focus. “It’s interesting that—although everyone was filmed individually – we heard over and over again that adults have to stop modeling drinking,” said Algood.

“You might think you’re being cool giving alcohol to minors, but what you are doing is, you’re damaging them, and giving them less of a chance to have a successful life,” said Vivi.

Vivi and mom Beth Mehau, and Cielito Rooney of Waikoloa, accompanied three Hawaii Island students selected to attend the National Youth Leadership Institute at the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America’s (CADCA) Mid-Year Conference in Nashville, Tenn., July 23 to 26. Makanani Akau of Waimea (Honokaa High School), Hoku Pagan of Waimea (Waimea Middle School) and Kynan Kawai of Hawi resident (Kamehameha Schools Hawaii), had the chance to work and network with over 2,300 participants from around the country. The three youth who attended, represented the North Hawaii Drug Free Coalition’s (NHDFC) youth sector and were asked to learn skills they can apply in their communities.

“We met so many kids, and it was so cool hearing what they are doing in their state,” said Akau, who celebrated her 16th birthday in Nashville. “The training was amazing—not just one boring guy talking. Everyone was enthusiastic and there were lots of kids, lots of activities.”

Two years ago, Akau travelled to Washington, D.C. for CADCA training, where her group was mentored by “Youth to Youth,” a team from Dover, N.H. Inspired by the poster contest they presented, she decided to bring the concept to the Big Island. As a result, the youth are planning to roll out an underage drinking prevention poster contest in September.

“What I got most out of the media courses was the term ‘media advocacy,’” said Cielito Rooney, sponsored by NHDFC. “It’s changing policies rather than behavioral changes. What we see in our environment is a lot of alcohol marketing targeting youth which undermines what we as parents (or adult influencers) are trying to teach our children … By reducing alcohol advertising exposure to young people we can change attitudes towards underage drinking.”

A complex and multifaceted issue, underage drinking prevention is not a one-step or even one-direction process. And young people and adults island-wide are using multiple approaches to raise awareness of UAP in Hawaii: video, radio, advertising, social media and ‘media advocacy,’ travel, training, T- shirts and talking story. Let’s support those efforts.

A limited number of DVD copies of the “Perils and Pearls in Paradise” video are available by calling the Five Mountains Hawaii office at 887-1281. For more information, visit www.modelsnotbottles.org or www.fivemountains.org.

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