Coalition targets youth drug use

05/15/2014

Youth group coordinators, three principals and a superintendent, medical staff, pastors and parents joined together for a brainstorming meeting Tuesday about how they could fill a void in discussion forums, educational services and events for young people around the topic of drug, alcohol and tobacco use. Tentatively titled the West Marin Coalition for Healthy Kids, the group taking shape is customizing an action plan unique to the needs of its rural community with funding from a county grant. “This isn’t some big prohibitionist movement,” Heather Richardson, who focuses on developing youth programs with the San Geronimo Valley Community Center, said early in the meeting. “We’re looking at what our cultural thoughts are, what our mores are, and what we want to do around those things.” About 20 people arrived at the Tomales Bay Youth Center, sipping coffee with pastries and grapes at the morning meeting. After considering how to gather larger data sets from students and parents, much of the discussion focused on what the new coalition’s message should be, and the best way to deliver it. “What are their influences? Home? Community? Culture?” asked Steven Siegel, the executive director of the Coastal Health Alliance. As he discussed battling the ever-pervasive influences of YouTube and pop culture, he added, “We need to have one foot in the old world and one foot in the new world.” Some aspects of the teenage years—adventure, rebellion, awkwardness—don’t change, but the coping mechanisms young people turn to can shift. “And it can come all the way up,” Dave Cort, S.G.V.C.C.’s executive director, added. “What are the root causes? What is a fifth grader starting to grapple with when he thinks about his dad having a drink every evening and says, ‘What am I gonnna do?’” The consensus seemed to be that the coalition should approach young people with honest information and then empower them to make their own choices. One tactic is having youth explore how the tobacco industry “groomed the next generation of smokers” and then compare it to the beverage companies, particularly ones marketing fruity drinks with high alcohol content. “Once the idea is placed that they are a customer base, they get smart enough to figure out those corporations want us to drink,” said Deborah Schoenbaum, the Youth Leadersip Institute’s senior director of programs in Marin. “It’s a more empowering message: ‘You can stop this. You don’t have to fall into their trap.’ Kids like that. It makes them more of a rebel than a victim.” The coalition will host a final meeting to determine the scope of its work on June 3 at The Den in Stinson Beach before submitting another grant proposal and starting its work.