People are invited to an April 3 town hall on underage drinking
TIGARD - Tigard High School sophomore Erika Barbee clearly remembers the moment when she realized that alcohol use is common among her peers.
In her journalism class last fall, the students, who ranged from freshmen to seniors, were discussing newspaper story ideas, and the teacher asked how many of them could buy alcohol.
'She closed her eyes and asked us to hold up our hands,' Barbee said. 'I looked around, and more than half raised their hands. It was a major shock factor.
'They said that they bought it or got it from their parents. One girl got it from the liquor store. Many said they take it from their parents.'
Statistics show alcohol use among students is all too common, based on Oregon Healthy Teens Survey results from the spring of 2006.
Among local eighth- and 11th-graders who were surveyed, nearly 22 percent of the younger students had drunk alcohol in the previous 30 days, and the figure was 46.2 percent for the older students.
A non-profit organization called Tigard Turns the Tide is taking on the challenge of kicking off a communitywide effort to combat underage drinking, and its board members are inviting everyone in the city to attend a town hall on the issue next week.
The meeting is set for Thursday, April 3, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the THS cafeteria, where people will get an overview of the problem and discuss how they can participate in bringing about positive changes.
Tigard Turns the Tide has been active in the city for many years, working on projects to help youth in the community, and last year the federal Drug Free Communities program awarded the organization a $100,000 annual grant, which is renewable for four more years.
With the additional funds, the coalition is now able to combat underage drinking at many levels, and the town hall is one of the first projects to be presented this year.
'We are not doing this because there is a higher incidence of underage drinking in Tigard than other places - the problem is common everywhere,' said Connie Ramaekers, the coalition coordinator. 'We now have the funding to make a difference. This is a problem that the whole community needs to deal with, and we need the whole community involved.
'This is everyone's problem, and we need everyone to participate in coming up with solutions. If we're going to have success and make changes, we have to have the whole population involved.'
The mission of Tigard Turns the Tide is to promote a safe and healthy community by reducing alcohol, tobacco and other drug-related problems within the community, and the board chose to focus on alcohol abuse first.
Barbee has gotten involved in the Tigard Turns the Tide effort 'because this is a great opportunity to get the message out to my peers.'
She added, 'I hope a lot of parents come to the town hall so they will learn about the situation their kids are in. I think it will click in their minds that this really is happening in our community.
'I hope we get everyone in the community to realize the extent of the problem and to want to do something about it.'
Barbee said that she found the healthy teens survey results, which also include use of tobacco, marijuana and other drugs, 'really awful, especially with the eighth-graders.'
She added, 'It's a really important issue. If kids are not headed on the right path now, what will their future be?'
Jessica Love is a THS senior and the president of the school's OSSOM club, which started out as Oregon Students Safely on the Move.
'I like to be involved, and I joined OSSOM,' Love said. 'I noticed there was a problem, and the statistics they gave us at the first meeting were awful. My friends were talking about drinking, and they're not my friends anymore. Drinking is dangerous.'
Love said that through a relative's experience, she has seen firsthand the devastation caused by alcohol abuse.
She got involved with Tigard Turns the Tide last fall and is appreciative that adults care about youth and want to help them.
'It makes me feel better that adults are involved in this issue,' Love said. 'I think this town hall is going to make people realize the extent of the problem in the community, but I think some students don't think it's a serious issue.
'When I told my class about the town hall, they started laughing. Everyone thinks everyone else does it.'
Both Barbee and Love plan on attending the town hall, and they hope to see a lot of THS students there.
'All I know is that the OSSOM club will be there and students from the (Tigard) Youth Advisory Council,' Love said. 'And I think we will get other kids there who are not in a club.'
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of the Surgeon General are promoting their 'Call to Action' campaign to combat underage use of alcohol, which according to their statistics, is the drug of choice among American adolescents.
'Alcohol remains the most heavily abused substance by America's youth,' acting Surgeon General Kenneth P. Moritsugu stated recently. 'We can no longer ignore what alcohol is doing to our children. This 'Call to Action' is exactly that - a call to every American to join with the surgeon general in a national effort to address underage drinking early, continuously and in (the) context of human development.
'Underage drinking is everybody's problem, and its solution is everyone's responsibility.'
(Barbara Sherman is a member of the Tigard Turn the Tide board.)