Program to combat underage drinking

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 28, 2004

No matter where you go in the United States there is a common problem. Underage drinking is a growing problem everyone is trying to deal with.

The problem is how. The traditional methods are clearly not working. In Mobile and Baldwin County concerned citizens and leaders have taken it upon themselves to make a difference.

Thursday, some of these leaders made another trip to Greenville to pass along ideas and help Greenville start similar programs to those they have used.

Fort Dale Academy headmaster David Brantley said the need for a program was growing in Butler County.

&uot;I have been in the school business for many, many years and through that time my concern for underage drinking has grown,&uot; said Brantley.

&uot;It is becoming a real big issue and undermining the potential of our youth in the community and communities all over the state.&uot;

Brantley said people around the area had taken note of the growing problem and decided it was time to take action.

&uot;Several months ago a group of us began to get together and meet periodically to attempt to address this problem in out own community,&uot; said Brantley.

We have continued to meet. What we would love to happen tonight would be to generate some interest in what we are doing and really begin to address this issue in our community.&uot;

Dr. Pat Taylor, of St. Paul’s School in Mobile, was instrumental in starting this program. He said they had come to Greenville to trade ideas. Taylor said the solutions for Greenville may be different than those in Mobile.

&uot;We are not coming to tell you what you need to do to solve your problem,&uot; said Taylor. &uot;What we are here to do is tell you what we have done in our community.&uot;

Taylor said there have been many misconceptions on how to address the problem. He added people have been depending on others to help when they should take a hands on approach.

&uot;By and large we had been depending on two groups to solve the problem. The schools and police department,&uot; said Taylor. &uot;We chose to put together about 50 people and met with them for about an hour one afternoon. We told them we had a problem, gave them the statistics and tried to figure out what to do. From those meetings two years ago everything began to happen.&uot;

Taylor said inn order to get a new approach into practice they felt there were certain areas that needed to be considered.

&uot;There were three areas we were going to address,&uot; said Taylor.

&uot;The first was enforcement. We had to give the police department the ability to do their jobs.

The second was awareness. There was still a great amount of denial in the community. We had to figure out how we were going to make people aware of the problem. The third issue was we had to involve the youth in some way. The traditional way had obviously not worked. These were the three journeys that we took.&uot;

One of the problems the group discovered in association with underage drinking was a financial burden. Taylor said this affected people everywhere.

&uot;Underage drinking is a problem for everyone and everyone here is paying for it,&uot; said Taylor. &uot;Underage drinking costs roughly $633 per person for every man women and person in the country. That is roughly $53 billion a year we spend because of underage drinking. The government also spends another billion to stop it.&uot;

Taylor said changes associated with stopping underage drinking went far deeper than just talking to children. He said it would take hard work from everyone.

&uot;If you as a community adopt this I can tell you it is not an easy task and it is not a short task,&uot; said Taylor. &uot;You’ve got to change your culture you have to change the way people think about underage drinking. &uot;

Bill Layfield, who works with the drug education council, was also available to address concerned Butler County citizens. Layfield said he was very impressed with the turnout in Greenville.

&uot;I want to congratulate the city of Greenville for having so many people here tonight,&uot; said Layfield. &uot;These people have shown they have a passion and that is what it takes to fight the problem we are all facing. &uot;

Layfield assured those in attendance that if they put forth the effort it would pay off.

&uot;After two years the response it has been unbelievable,&uot; said Layfield. &uot;We have to keep up the hard work. This is a job for all of us. It is a job for everyone in the community.

We all have to do our part.&uot;

Major Phillip Garrett, who represents the Mobile Police Department in the program, said he was also pleased with Greenville’s turnout. He encouraged parents to stay on their toes in order to help reduce the problem.

&uot;The most important thing you can do as parents is pay attention,&uot; said Garrett. &uot;Kids need to know you are watching. I’m proud of this town. Greenville has shown they care. All of you have shown that by being here tonight.&uot;

Palmer Kennedy also stressed the idea that everyone needs to pay attention to their children. He said by showing an interest we can all let them know we care.

&uot;We should spend time with the kids to help them make good informed decisions when it comes to drinking,&uot; said Kennedy. &uot;Too many times we focus on don’t drink and drive. That gives kids the message that as long as you get a designated driver it is okay. The message should be they shouldn’t be drinking.

You cannot talk to teenagers enough about this. They need to know you care. By not talking about it it’s not important to you.&uot;

The Greenville group plans to continue to hold periodic meetings. All concerned citizens are encouraged to attend.