Underage drinking topic of Town Hall meeting

WAIMEA — Teenagers and alcohol don’t mix, especially when it comes to future aspirations in education and life, more than 50 participants at a Town Hall meeting learned Tuesday night

The “Getting to Outcomes” meeting at the Waimea Theater featured the showing of two videos created by Kaua‘i students.

After presentations, theater staff members provided participants hot dogs, popcorn and soft drinks before the audience watched two films,  “Wasted: Time is Always Wasted if You’re Wasted all the Time” and “Shattered Dreams.” The “Shattered Dreams” film depicted a mock alcohol-related traffic crash, featuring parents, teachers, first-responders, attorneys and judges.

“We want to educate the public about the impact underage drinking has on our community,” said Theresa Koki, coordinator of Life’s Choices Kaua‘i. “I believe that it is our responsibility to protect our youth from the dangers associated with alcohol abuse as it is part of protecting their future.”

The event was sponsored by Life’s Choices Kaua‘i in partnership with the Federal Interagency Committee for the Prevention of Underage Drinking.

Koki’s agency participated in the making of the “Shattered Dreams” film.

“By the end of the second day, I was exhausted. It’s an emotionally charged experience to take part in a mock car crash, mock trial and mock memorial,” Koki said.

 “But it was definitely worth our time and energy to raise awareness about the real life risks associated with underage drinking and impaired driving. Hopefully this will change students’ and parents’ beliefs and behaviors, as well as the community.”

Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. congratulated the group for addressing alcohol use that he said starts on average at age 11 for boys and age 13 for girls on Kaua‘i.

“Underage drinking is a pressing public health concern that affects the health and well-being of our youth, their families and our community,” Carvalho said.

 “If we can succeed in getting more adults to talk to their children about alcohol, we would be one step closer toward preventing alcohol-related fatalities.”

Kaua‘i Assistant Police Chief Roy Asher told the group that alcoholism is tolerated less today than in past years because of the availability of more awareness and prevention programs.

Deputy County Attorney Justin Kollar said that waiting until young people are in the criminal justice system to help them with a drug and alcohol problem is too late.

“Young people are bombarded by so many messages and images in pop culture,” Kollar said. “Kids are smart, but they’re not necessarily equipped to process all of these pressures they are hit with, and it is up to us as a community to help kids make smart decisions when it comes to alcohol.”

Amber Fujimoto, 17, is a Waimea High senior who played the role of a screaming teenager who runs to the side of a friend who is thrown from the vehicle in the crash and dies.

She said she and her fellow actors learned a lot about teenage drinking in the process of making the film.

“Its kind of sad how easily accessible alcohol is,” she said.

Fujimoto said the project included school assemblies on the dangers of underage drinking.

A retreat offered students and parents a chance to express their feelings and pledge together to not drink and drive.

The program wants to end alcohol advertising at community and sports events. Group members want grocers to separate “alco-pops” from the grocery area of the store.

The high-energy drinks contain a higher alcohol content than standard products and are marketed to identify with young lifestyles.

In March, 15 establishments were caught selling liquor to minors, said Marty Amaro, Life’s Choices Kaua‘i program manager for the Strategic Prevention Framework State Incentive Grant initiative.

“Communicate a clear message to the community that underage drinking is inappropriate and unacceptable,” Amaro said.

“Our behavior and the choices we make as adults greatly affect our youth as they learn the social norms that will direct their lives,” he said.

Amaro said more than $87 million is spent on alcohol on Kaua‘i each year.

“That is not all at the resorts. That is us, too,” he said.

So far in April, Amaro said there were 19 people under age 21 who were cited, detained or arrested for alcohol-related incidents.

Leialoha Sanchez, director of youth services for YWCA Kaua‘i, said the films are a way to link young people.

 She said another successful forum is the KKCR “Youth in a Booth” radio program at 5 p.m. on the second Monday of the month on radio station KKCR.

• Tom LaVenture, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or tlaventure@thegardenisland.com.

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