2008-01-10 / News

Substance abuse task force programs help local youths

By Michaela Kennedy

Rep. Bruce Long presented two checks to be used by the Jamestown Teen Center and the Jamestown Task Force to Melissa Minto and representatives from both organizations. Photo by Andrea von Hohenleiten Rep. Bruce Long presented two checks to be used by the Jamestown Teen Center and the Jamestown Task Force to Melissa Minto and representatives from both organizations. Photo by Andrea von Hohenleiten Laura Hosley is excited about the growing trend of cooperation she sees in Jamestown and neighboring communities. She witnesses firsthand the communication that helps children to stay safe and learn responsibility.

Hosley works as the Jamestown Substance Abuse Prevention Task Force Coordinator, and is paid as a consultant through the town. She also is a manager of community prevention for Rhode Island Student Assistance Services, where she manages several federal grant funds to RI towns, including North Kingstown, which was targeted as having a substance abuse problem.

In all, 14 communities received money to be used toward organizing programs that will educate the public about substance abuse and help troubleshoot problem areas, Hosley says. North Kingstown is marked as having the fifth largest problem in the state with alcohol abuse, based on drunk driving statistics. NK is slated to receive $150,000 yearly for the next three years, to be spent on organizing services for substance abuse. Jamestown did not receive grant money, but problems still are prevalent, according to police statistics.

Hosley meets regularly with key leadership groups in Jamestown such as the police department, Town Council, recreation department, library and schools. "We all work together," she says. "It isn't like this in all Rhode Island communities. It's small, but there's continuity here." One example she gives is the many years that school principal Kathy Almanzor has worked in the district. "She taught my daughter in first grade," she adds.

Hosley said that valuable programs have been set up in Jamestown, but worries that money available to keep the programs running may be cut. "I'm concentrating my time in the community to raise awareness," Hosley says. She collects information from adults and teen-aged students, and compares the information to comments made in the School Assessment of Learning and Teaching (SALT) survey sent out yearly to school staff, students and parents.

This past week, Hosley met with Priscilla Feir, the newlyappointed superintendent in the North Kingstown School District. Hosley notes Feir's enthusiasm about the grant money available to target youth programs, and adds that professional development workshops for teachers will be scheduled.

"There's a fantastic alcohol curriculum that shows great results for reducing smoking and marijuana use as well," Hosley says. She adds that talks teens have with the student assistance counselor are key, and groups like Students Against Drunk Driving have become more active. "Students have attended meetings in the past, but more have really opened up in the past year and shared what's going on with kids," Hosley notes. Early prevention plays a strong role in avoiding more serious problems as children grow into adulthood, she adds.

Different pieces that need to be in place include the Teen Center, a party patrol set up by the police, and a tip line, Hosley continues. A party patrol would provide police officers specifically assigned to patrols to look for teenage drinkers. A tip line would provide minors or adults with a way to offer information about abuse problems anonymously. A tip line is already active in North Kingstown. Hosley hopes that money from North Kingstown may be funneled through to support programs in Jamestown.

The Teen Center is a huge milestone in bringing youth together with adults in the community. "One of the things kids say is they're bored and don't have anything to do," she explains. "I think the connection with adults is a huge thing that will keep kids from getting involved with drinking and drugs."

Problems that are less obvious are energy drinks that contain high percentages of stimulants, and cigars that sit on convenience store counters just above the candy. Teenagers also take advantage of prescription drugs that are often found in the home. Hosley is working with state Rep. Bruce Long (R-Jamestown, Middletown) to pass legislation that would ban energy drinks from school grounds, and ban alcohol billboards. "Energy drinks are one step away, they drink them to get revved up," she explains, adding, "There's a beer billboard right on the road to the high school. My daughter pointed it out to me." She mentions that the Wellness Committee at the Jamestown Schools has been instrumental in helping with education and identifying products that have the potential of leading to more serious abuse.

Hosley expects to arrange some forums that would invite community members to participate and learn more about how everyone can work together. She is planning a media campaign that will send three messages out to students, parents and other adults.

The three messages for adults are, "It's unsafe, it's illegal, and it's irresponsible."

Hosley sees the task force as an agent for change, which sends a clear message to local youth. "In a perfect world, all of the parents would be aware, but in a real world we all need to be involved," Hosley reflects. "With prevention, you have to be in it for the long haul."

More information can be found on the Web site www.dontserveteens. gov and www.jamestownri. com/taskforce.

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