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Getting the message across

Students from all three Whidbey Island school districts brought their dramatic skills and artistic insight to the Coupeville Recreation Hall to touch upon the dangers of underage drinking.

The students participated in the second-annual town hall forum concerning the substance abuse problems that plague youth.

Dramatics, video presentations and artwork were displayed during the mid-April event.

“It’s a big, powerful thing that we’re going to do,” Amber Gilkerson, an eighth-grader at Langley Middle School, said of the play she was about to perform with fellow students Brianna Cottrell, Codi Rozel and Andrew Wiener.

A group of students from Bayview performed the “Island of Purple Fruit,” which was a metaphorical play about the pitfalls of drug use.

“It’s funny and it gets the point across,” said Violet Weishaar, a senior at Bayview High School.

The media team from the Oak Harbor Boys and Girls Club showed a video presentation followed up by personal testimonies about how alcohol abuse has negatively affected their lives.

Several students from Oak Harbor Middle School displayed some of their art at the meeting. One eighth grader used a toilet to demonstrate the dangers of alcohol abuse.

The meeting was sponsored by the Island County Health Department, Island County Underage Drinking Action Committee, the Central Whidbey Youth Coalition and the Learning and Community Engagement Program.

Officials are concerned about the dangers that alcohol in particular presents to Whidbey Island youth.

According to information from the county, 74 percent of students are drinking alcohol by their senior year of high school. In addition, 24 percent of the youth surveyed reported binge drinking.

Students who start drinking by age 15 are five times more likely to develop alcohol dependence later in their lives.

“We are concerned that young people are drinking and no one is talking about it,” said Dan Bond, substance abuse prevention specialist for Island County, speaking to the three dozen youth who participated in the forum.

Bond said many kids are drinking simply for the effect of getting drunk and adults tend to underestimate the underage drinking rate. Many teenagers feel adults care less and less about their involvement in drinking as they age, he said.

Once the performances were complete, a discussion was held about the impacts of alcohol.

“It was certainly worthwhile for the young people to stand up,” Bond said.

Some people signed up to join the Underage Drinking Action Committee, which is comprised of community leaders. They work to come up with short-term and long-term goals to reduce underage drinking.

The group has an education aspect that highlights parents’ responsibilities and details the negative effects drinking has on youth. Bond pointed out that people’s brains aren’t fully developed until they are 26 years old, so adding alcohol at an early age can cause permanent damage.

Volunteers also work on developing alternative entertainment choices for youth along with finding suitable role models.

In addition to helping youth and educating parents, the group is tasked with trying to change people’s attitudes toward alcohol.

“We want to deal with the culture,” Bond said. As an example, he said people always look at alcohol-related car crashes as accidental. He said it’s not an accident if alcohol is involved.

He realizes trying to achieve the goal of reducing underage drinking is a difficult task, but he said the committee is in it for the long haul.

There are currently about a dozen people serving on the Underage Drinking Action Committee, and more people signed up after attending Thursday’s event.

The committee met recently to discuss its next step. There could be more town hall meetings in the future. Bond has tentatively penciled in three more to take place over the next six years.

For more information about the Underage Drinking Action Committee or to participate in the group, call Bond at 678-7884.

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