Youth drinking plan gets nation’s eye

By RAELYNN RICARTE

News staff writer

April 5, 2006

Hood River County’s commitment to stop underage drinking has started a ripple effect of positive change that is drawing national attention.

Maija Yasui, prevention coordinator, was surprised to recently fire up her work computer and find an e-mail from John Walters, the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Walters had written to congratulate Yasui and the Hood River County Commission on Children and Families for its outreach efforts.

“I can’t tell you how invigorating this is because sometimes you feel like you’re carrying the whole load,” said Yasui. “But when you see this movement spreading across so many age groups you start to see things happen and that is very gratifying.”

Catching Walters’ eye was the March 15 story in the Hood River News about the Alliance Church plans for a youth center. He was impressed that a roundtable discussion organized in early February by the HRCCCF had resulted in such immediate action.

“Oregon’s got it right and Hood River’s leading the way,” he wrote.

Yasui has also been congratulated by Bob Nikkels, head of the state Department of Human Services and Jeff Ruscoe from the office of Mental Health and Addiction Services. They, too, had seen the follow-up story on the February community roundtable that involved almost 200 people.

Because of the attention given to Hood River’s forum, one of 1,200 across the nation, Yasui is expecting full coverage in the next Community Anti-Drug Coalition of America’s newsletter.

“I think they have all just been impressed with the fact that we had half of the people who attended our roundtable sign up to keep this movement going,” said Yasui.

She said the following prevention projects are now either being planned or enacted:

* Both Hood River County and the City of Hood River officials have pledged to spend the month of April raising community awareness about the need to reduce underage drinking.

* Six area churches have stepped forward to help the Alliance Church raise $2 million in funding and build a 6,000 square foot youth center.

The building will be attached to the existing worship facility off Rand Road and be staffed to provide a secure environment for elementary-age children and teenagers. The plans call for a coffee shop, sports equipment — such as a climbing wall — and even computers for tutoring.

* St. Mary’s Catholic Church is encouraging family-oriented events — such as a quinceaneras — to be alcohol-free. The Belmont Avenue place of worship is also planning to provide parenting classes during times when children are receiving religious training.

* The Downtown Business Association is discouraging the serving of wine samples at retail outlets during First Fridays in 2006.

* Hood River Valley High School students are putting together a calendar of proactive activities in which families can get involved. A complete listing of school, church and community events will be published at the beginning of every month.

* Teenagers involved in one of the four prevention coalitions that work with HRCCCF are taking political action to reduce underage use of alcohol. They are expected to recommend an ordinance prohibiting open containers of alcohol on city streets and advocate in Salem for an increase in the state beer tax.

* The Oregon Liquor Control Commission has pledged to do more local checks on area stores and pubs to ensure they are not selling alcohol to underage patrons. The state agency will also hold educational sessions for bartenders and servers to update them on current laws.

* The HRCCCF has received a $25,000 federal grant to spread the message that alcohol abuse can lead to risky behavior and the spread of HIV/Aids and other diseases. Free oral testing for HIV will also be available at the health department during the month of June.

* Five thousand in federal dollars has been scored to provide a support group for children of alcoholics.

Yasui has been invited to share Hood River County’s prevention movement with her colleagues at a May conference in Salem. She is also scheduled to speak at a national prevention convention in Washington, D.C., next February.

In addition, HRCCCF has formatted three DVDs from the February roundtable that were recorded by John Hardham of Light Wave. The discs are available to school, church and service organization officials and provide parenting tips, victims’ statements, and methods of enlisting more support in the ongoing fight.

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