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Coastal Voices: Youths work hard to curb alcohol abuse

Editor’s note: The following was submitted by members of the Coastal Connections Youth Organizing Project and Redwood Voice.

On behalf of the Coastal Connections Youth Organizing Project (CCYOP) and Redwood Voice, we would like to thank the Triplicate for its Aug. 15 article “Youth talk about theft of alcohol by minors” on the meeting hosted Aug. 14. We’d like to share with those who weren’t able to attend some of the important details we felt were missing from the coverage.

CCYOP and Redwood Voice are programs with the objective of empowering youth and giving us voices in our community. We recognize the importance of ensuring that we are not only heard, but listened to.

Redwood Voice is a group of 10 young adults with the goal of amplifying the voices of youth in the community through media. Redwood Voice and CCYOP made the decision to collaborate on this article.

We believe it’s important for the community to know who hosted the meeting and who we represent. CCYOP is an organizing committee composed of local youth from diverse backgrounds who have come together to explore issues relevant to youth and organize for policy change. We represent the more than 200 local youth who are affiliated with Coastal Connections, a program of Del Norte Mental Health Services serving all transitional-aged youth in Crescent City.

Our work is part of a regional organizing network, where families, elders and youth, united by common values, are using a relationship-based method of organizing that supports community leaders in conducting research and creating policy solutions with decision-makers to achieve dignity and equity for all people. Our work is funded by Building Healthy Communities.

This summer we had conversations with over 60 youth and several adult allies. From these conversations, we prioritized teen alcohol abuse and the easy accessibility to alcohol in local commercial establishments, for the focus of our work. We chose this priority because we discovered that many youth in our community gain access to alcohol by stealing from stores or purchasing stolen alcohol from other youth.

We believe we are the experts on our own lives. We spoke with teens who are brazenly stealing alcohol, as many as 22 bottles at a time, knowing that they will not be chased or prosecuted. We learned all the ways that alcohol is accessed at stores — and were alarmed.

According to one parent, her 12-year-old son was caught stealing alcohol after he was already drunk and he has been hospitalized twice for alcohol poisoning. She is sure the alcohol involved was stolen from our local Safeway.

According to a local juvenile probation officer, the youngest juvenile prosecuted for alcohol theft is 11.

We have seen our family members impacted and our friends die because of this problem. We believe our community has an opportunity to do more to limit access to alcohol for underage residents.

We then undertook a structured research process utilized by People Improving Communities Through Organizing (PICO) to better understand why this problem exists and what can be done about it. In most communities where underage drinking has been reduced, different agencies have collaborated on a multi-pronged approach that includes reducing commercial access to alcohol. Del Norte partners have already addressed many factors by adopting a local social host ordinance, addressing access to alcohol from commercial vendors with “decoy,” “sting” and “tracking” programs, and educating about the effects of drinking through programs like “Every Fifteen Minutes.”

However, we learned that because accessing alcohol from stores is not identified by the adults in our community as a problem, nothing was being done to curb this access point. This is where we decided to take action!

After meeting with Safeway management, probation, members of the Sheriff’s Office our police chief and many others, and reviewing various peer-reviewed studies, we learned that effective loss prevention in stores usually involves making a few minor adjustments, including reorganizing so the liquor aisle is more visible and farther from the door, having locking gates or cabinets for after-hours, having effective surveillance, or putting caps on the alcohol as a deterrent.

Additionally, partnerships with local law enforcement to develop plans to reduce shoplifting are shown to be effective.

Thus, we invited four community allies to make public commitments of support. City Councilman Ron Gastineau, Bernadette Johnson of the Child Abuse Prevention Council, Melodee Mitchell of the Del Norte Child Care Council and Christine Slette, of CASA of Del Norte all affirmed publicly that our stories are valid.  They unanimously agreed that adults in our community have a responsibility to create policies that discourage underage drinking, including policies that limit access to alcohol to youth in commercial establishments, such as grocery stores.

Most importantly, we invited Safeway to respond to our proposed policy solution. Brian Ridgley attended! Speaking in the presence of nearly 100 community residents, he committed to meeting with us within the next 60 days, in the presence of law enforcement, so we can demonstrate all the ways that minors gain access to alcohol in our local Safeway.

He committed to working within his job description to reduce the ease with which alcohol is accessed by underage minors. He committed to serving as an example of a community partner committed to fighting alcohol abuse among youth and young adults by sharing with the public the steps he has taken. He said he is looking forward to meeting with representatives from CCYOP in November 2013, to discuss the progress on these public commitments. 

We thank Safeway, and Brian Ridgley in particular, for taking such a bold step in recognizing our investment in our community and acknowledging our voices by publicly committing to curb underage access to alcohol in his store.

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