Become part of the solution

Friday, February 2, 2007

I think everyone will agree that the children of our community are a precious resource. These children deserve access to a quality education, a safe environment in which to grow, recreational opportunities to expand their minds and bodies and parents or other trustworthy adults who truly care about them. In the Cassville area, there is a looming problem that threatens to destroy our children and steal their bright futures. This problem revolves around underage drinking and teenagers' access to alcohol.

Surveys conducted among Cassville High School students reveal that many of our young people are experimenting with alcohol and find it rather easy to get their hands on beer and liquor even though they are underage. Sadly enough, our teenagers are obtaining alcohol from older students, or even more frightening, from their parents.

Another disturbing fact is that many students, and their parents for that matter, view underage drinking as a rite of passage, rather than the gateway to alcohol abuse and drug use that it really is. In recent years, methamphetamine and prescription drug abuse have captured the limelight and taken our attention off the problem that lies at the very foundation of drug abuse. That problem is underage drinking. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has conducted studies that prove the earlier a young person begins drinking the more likely they are to eventually fall into drug use.

I have talked to some area residents who seem resigned to the fact that underage drinking will occur and there's nothing we, as a community, can really do about it. While sometimes the task of curbing teenage drinking seems insurmountable, I would like to remind our readers that a wonderful opportunity to begin tackling the problem lies on the horizon.

For a number of years, Community 2000 has been Cassville's most active organization when it comes to fighting issues of alcohol and drug use among our teenagers. This volunteer organization received a string of five annual grants that funded activities and educational programs aimed at our area youth. The energy and passion of this organization's volunteers and leaders was exciting to witness, and I believe the group made some inroads toward combatting these problems.

This past year, the group successfully landed a very large state grant that could eventually channel $500,000 into the community to fight the problem of underage and risky drinking among 12 to 25 year olds. Currently, Community 2000 is completing the first phase of the grant process, which includes a survey on community perceptions. For the second week in a row, the Cassville Democrat is publishing this survey at no cost to the organization in an effort to help publicize the group's cause.

We are asking our readers to take time to fill out this survey, which is printed on page 13 of this week's newspaper, and then mail it back. Your answers will become a valuable part of the overall community assessment process and will be used to help the coalition create effective programs to target underage drinking. We particularly appeal to parents and ask that you fill out the anonymous survey honestly.

One of the best deterrents proven to curb underage drinking is parental involvement. Consider filling out the survey as the first step of getting involved and helping to create a solution to a problem that threatens all of our children.