From June 16, 2010
Quite a few years ago, I was involved in a wonderful organization that addressed teenage drinking and destructive decisions in the northwest suburbs. This is the article I wrote back then. Today, there are other wonderful organizations in each suburb addressing gun violence, underage drinking, and substance use and abuse. Take some time and see how you can get involved in your community and take action!
People have approached me and asked what happened to PROUD. For those of you unfamiliar with this, I was the co-chair of a wonderful community coalition, Stevenson Community PROUD (People Rallying to Oppose Underage Drinking) for several years. It was born out of concern for our youth after several students in a neighboring community died as a result of underage drinking. We did not want our community suffer a similar fate. This coalition, made up of high school students, parents, educators, and community leaders worked together to educate the community on the dangers of underage drinking. Four short years after its introduction, PROUD was disbanded. To all those actively involved, it was a sad time. We had worked together for four years and truly made an impact in our community. With guidance from the Lake County Lake County Underage Drinking Prevention Task Force, we worked to redefine the social norm around underage drinking in our community. We organized a parent folder to hand out during Stevenson’s parent open house, containing wonderful materials on the statistics of underage drinking in the north suburbs as well as educational handouts on the effects of alcohol on the developing brain. We collaborated with several other communities, Deerfield and Lake Forest/Lake Bluff, to share information and resources. We held 18 parent coffees where we shared concerns, stories, and strategies. And we helped the students find their voices – that being alcohol-free was a good norm to strive for. Five Stevenson seniors, who worked side by side with us from the beginning of PROUD in their sophomore year, earned Prominent Patriot awards prior to their graduation. This recognition of honor and distinction from their high school confirmed that healthy choices lead to positive rewards. I’m sure all those reading this are asking themselves, “So why disband?” In the Stevenson High School district, which is fed by more than five junior high schools, we have roughly 4500 students. Considering each family has, on average, two children, those students represent about 2250 families. While many parents applauded the work of PROUD, very few attended meetings. The work of PROUD was carried out by a very small group of highly dedicated people, and the volunteers who began the coalition lost their energy over time. Some had children who graduated the halls of high school and had moved on. Some community leaders found the lack of attendance concerning, and shifted their energy to other causes. The students who had begun this mission moved on to college, and it was difficult to bring new ones on board when the adult leadership was dwindling simultaneously. But the message of the coalition still remains an important one today, as I hear more and more stories of students as young as 12 years old drinking and mass arrests by our local police force of underage drinking parties and their host parents. With the increased use of cell phones by students, parents are communicating with each other less and less, and teens are empowered to embark on risky behavior without consequence. So, to those parents who have been asking about PROUD, look to other community groups that you can get involved with to address the concerns you have collectively! With the summer upon us, it is my hope that parents will find support and guidance to help their children live substance-free lives. If PROUD couldn’t rally physical support at meetings, perhaps in the virtual world of blogging, facebook, or twitter, we can create such a buzz about prevention that the mission of PROUD can live on, and therefore, so will our children.