Local teens work to discourage others from drinking

Scott Swanson

Of The New Era

Brandon Lawson and Daniel Smith weren’t necessarily looking to get involved in a cause last year, but here they are.

The two Sweet Home High School seniors are members of the Linn County Underage Drinking Youth Council, a group of teens from around the county who are working to reduce underage drinking.

Their involvement in the cause began a couple of years ago when teacher Jennifer Davis got an e-mail seeking volunteers for the council. She asked Smith if he was interested in participating. He was.

So was Lawson.

“In our community I’ve seen a lot of bad stuff happen with alcohol,” Smith said. He said he has had one experience in underage drinking.

“That got me interested,” he said.

Lawson said his own family’s experience prompted him to get involved.

“I’ve had experience with people around me drinking,” he said. “My real dad died in a drunk driving accident and my step-dad died of cirrhosis of the liver.”

Joan Pappin, health services project director for School District No. 55, said that the local UDYC has been active for years, though it was discontinued for a number of years due to budget cuts. It was restarted last year.

The approximately 20 participants come from most of the public high schools in the county – Sweet Home, West Albany, South Albany, Scio, Central Linn and Harrisburg – and meetings are held monthly at different high schools in a rotation.

Danette Killinger, Prevention Coordinator for the Linn County Alchohol and Drug Program, said that the purpose of the council is to produce a peer-driven campaign against underage drinking.

“They are working on a media campaign to reduce underage drinking in our county,” she said. “The students are using their creativity to hopefully reach other kids, hopefully coming up with a message that’s appealing to other kids their age.”

“They figure students would listen to other kids better than adults,” Lawson said.

Students are recruited by school resource officers and other district officials, and teachers.

Killinger said this year’s participating students are divided into three groups, one of which is working on a video to be shown in high schools and another focusing on print media – posters, stickers, water bottles, pencils and other materials that can be distributed in high school with messages encouraging youths not to drink.

The third group is focusing on public speaking, “going to the community to talk about underage drinking,” Killiner said.

This year’s participants have chosen the motto “Who makes your decisions? Alcohol or you?,” which Killinger said is the theme that is guiding their projects.

Smith and Lawson are involved the public speaking group, which, they said, is developing a program for junior high students.

“We’re going to put on an interactive skit, where we act, then we’ll pause and ask the audience what they would do in this situation,” Lawson said.

Smith said there’s talk of taking their act to the state capitol, where they would perform for legislators.

Killinger said she would like the public speaking group to appear before local civic clubs and service organizations.

“We plan to visit wherever we’re invited,” she said, adding that she hopes the students will be ready to perform in February.

Both Lawson and Smith attended the national UDYC convention at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront hotel last August. They attended some workshops where they learned about working together and got ideas about things they could do in the community, the boys said.

They also went to a Baltimore Orioles game and the Hard Rock Cafe, and visited Washington D.C., where they saw some historical sites in the area, including a battlefield.

Pappin and Killinger said Smith and Lawson were selected because of their commitment to the program and the leadership they showed.

“We spoke with some of the adults involved in the group,” Killinger said. “Ultimately, (Lawson and Smith) were recommended as kids that could be responsible and be leaders, who would be able to bring information back from the national conference and share it with the rest of the youth council.”

Killinger said the local UDYC is expected to continue, particularly since it recently received a grant from the Drug Free Community Support Program.

“It’s an honor to be asked on council but it’s also work,” she said. “These students are taking their time to participate. The kids participating have an interest in it.

“We have a fairly diverse group of kids, from all aspects of life, and with a wide variety of interests,” Killinger said. “They come together monthly, and just do great job working, planning and developing some neat ideas.