Combating underage substance abuse was the goal of a Jan. 14 meeting of the Williams Alliance, which is reforming after about three years of inactivity.
About 15 community members attended the meeting to brainstorm ideas for getting the program off the ground again.
The meeting came after the Guidance Center received a five-year $55,000 grant for drug and alcohol abuse prevention. The grant is from the state of Arizona through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in partnership with the Northern Arizona Regional Behavioral Health Authority.
The Guidance Center's grant program is called "Communities for Closing the Gap." Through the program, the Guidance Center will work with the Williams Alliance and the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association to prevent underage drug and alcohol use.
"One of our primary activities at the Guidance Center is dealing with substance abuse problems after they have occurred - we are reactionary," said Stephen Riggs, development director for the Guidance Center. "This grant opportunity to us is very exciting in that it gives us an opportunity to instead of being reactive we can now be proactive and try to get at some of these issues before they become debilitating problems for the youth in Williams and in Flagstaff."
According to Williams News archives, the Williams Alliance started as the Williams Alliance Against Drug Abuse in the early 1990s. Former Alliance staff member Patricia Helgeson said the organization received a five-year drug prevention grant in 2001, which was renewed in 2006. Since 10 years was the maximum amount of time that a community could receive the Drug Free Communities Grant, the funding ended in 2011. At that point, the organization fizzled out.
With the Alliance reforming, meeting attendees talked about things that worked and didn't work under the original Alliance.
Williams Recreation Center Director Rose Newbold said one of the group's biggest accomplishments was organizing a town hall meeting after five kids died in a drinking and driving accident in 2007.
"Reconvening this at this point is really important because unless you were personally involved you forget those things," Newbold said.
More than 100 people attended that town hall meeting to address the problem of underage drinking. Without the Alliance, Williams Magistrate Rob Krombeen said the city has lost momentum in solving that problem.
"It's unfortunate that it takes tragedies to create that shift and that wake up call to the community," Krombeen said.
One of the biggest problems the Alliance faced in the past that is still an issue today was parent tolerance toward underage drinking.
"You think that it's okay because you think that, well they're safe here in my home. Guess what? They're not safe in their brain. They're not safe in their behaviors eventually," said Sergeant Stefanie Jefferson. "And this is what leads to things like STDs and unwanted pregnancies and promiscuity. There's a lot of things that occur that parents don't think about."
The group determined that parent education must be a major component of the new Alliance's mission.
As for reaching kids about avoiding drug use, Williams Unified School District Superintendent Rachel Savage said the Alliance needed to do three things.
"I think they need to have the concrete education about what these substances do to their bodies - the hardcore ugliness of that," Savage said. "I think they need to have the tools about what to do and what to say when they're in that situation. But then lastly, I think it comes down to they need more things to do. They just get bored."
In the past the Rec Center offered open gym and teen time on Friday nights, when students are more at risk for drinking or using drugs. The programs were very popular and open gym still is, although it is now on a different night. Previously, a grant paid for a police officer to attend the event and play with the kids, which was a positive influence on them.
Newbold said that presence gave the kids the feeling that "the police care we're here. They're here to have fun. They're not the bad guy or the enemy here."
The Williams Recreation Center currently offers open gym for eighth grade students and younger on Thursday nights, which Newbold said averages about 45 kids each week. The Rec Center also organizes basketball for high school students and adults on Wednesday nights, which brings in about 20-35 people per week.
The group proposed organizing an activity to specifically target the middle school age group, which needs intervention the most.
Besides the activities, the former Alliance also organized Red Ribbon assemblies for drug prevention and guest speakers to educate students about substance abuse.
After the discussion, Krombeen said he was encouraged by the participation in the first meeting of the re-formed Alliance.
"It's going to take I believe all of us working together. It's not just an enforcement issue, it's not just an education issue, but we have to make sure that people are getting the tools and then held accountable to the standards that are being set in a community," he said. "We all have a vested interest in this community and the outcomes."
The Williams Alliance's next meeting will take place Feb. 11 at 11:30 a.m. at the Rec Center, 300 W. Railroad Ave.
More information is available from Prevention Grant Coordinator Jennifer O'Neill at (928) 714-6493 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted: Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Article comment by:
I believe this is a needed service to our youth! I also would like to be a part in offering a new venue to the youth by training them to become involved in different aspects of lapidary work and making things by hand. A craft center would be perfect for this purpose.