Have you heard: 81 percent of Gwinnett County, Ga., high school students have not used alcohol in the last 30 days, according to the 2014 Gwinnett Coalition for Health and Human Services Youth Health Survey. The percentage of teens who have not used alcohol has steadily increased during the last several years, up from 76.8 percent in 2008 — due in part to the efforts of a Youth Advisory Board (YAB) from Gwinnett United In Drug Education Inc. (GUIDE) and their work to prevent underage drinking.
After all, who better to equip with the knowledge and skills to combat teenage substance abuse than teenagers themselves?
The YAB is an important initiative of GUIDE that consists of a dedicated and informed group of high school students from across Gwinnett County. With the support of two full-time staff members, these teen leaders attend monthly meetings, participate in communitywide events and attend Georgia Teen Institute, a summer leadership program.
YAB members and other Youth Action Teams attend the summer program to learn valuable leadership skills and begin planning various prevention initiatives they put into action in their communities during the school year. We allocate 30 percent of GUIDE’s annual budget to training and year-round support for Youth Action Teams so they can be effective peer educators year-round.
After attending Georgia Teen Institute, YAB members continue peer-to-peer prevention campaigns throughout the school year by utilizing the Strategic Prevention Framework and Community Level Change Strategies. In the past, they have implemented campaigns such as Save Brains, Safe and Sober Prom, Parents Who Host Lose the Most and more.
This fall, the YAB is working on an event to raise awareness about the risks of underage drinking during Red Ribbon Week, Oct. 23 through 31. Their event, “Red Fest,” will engage youth and adults at a local festival in an obstacle course race, in which one person wears goggles that show the effects of alcohol and the other participates without goggles. They plan to make an impact on their peers and adults in the community by encouraging youth not to drink during Red Ribbon Week or any other time throughout the year.
To be successful community change agents, YAB members develop and practice leadership skills such as event planning, public speaking, networking, organization and time management during monthly meetings and at community events. “By raising my awareness about the most effective prevention strategies, I am now able to relay the message back to my community with solid facts and knowledge with more assurance and without doubt,” said Toju Pessu, 16.
These skills translate to supporting GUIDE’s work and community events, but also provide teens with skills and knowledge to use in their daily lives. “Before GUIDE, I knew drugs were bad. However, because of the knowledge gained, I am able to share it with my friends, help them rationalize and not excuse their behavior. I had to have a conversation with my friend this week about a particular Snapchat she posted and how it’s not okay,” conveyed Naja Nelson, 17.
YAB members are also encouraged to share their thoughts, input and opinions about the issues they face to influence our organization’s programming and projects. By doing so, they are able to see the impact of their work. “I have become a better role model for my peers and for my family members around my age. I feel that I’m more prepared to discuss the dangers of drugs,” said Brandon Brinson, 17.
Such peer-to-peer drug prevention work creates a strong community impact. “The GUIDE prevention work that I have participated in has allowed me to make a difference in the community by being able to inform and educate individuals on alcohol and drug abuse. Even just changing one person’s perspective is enough to make an impact,” communicated Patricia Granda-Malaver, 17, the current YAB president.
Lora Knudsen is a master of social work student intern with GUIDE, a substance abuse prevention agency in Gwinnett County, Ga. Sarah Stokes, CP, program specialist, and Molly Vance, LMSW, CP, alcohol prevention project coordinator, also supported this story.
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