Harvest to support student-led effort

May 20, 2008

By AMANDA BUCK - Bulletin Staff Writer

The Harvest Foundation announced Monday that it will provide $10,000 to fund a student-led effort to host activities for local teenagers that do not involve alcohol.

The effort is being spearheaded by students with CHILL (Communities Helping Improve Local Lives), a group sponsored by Piedmont Community Services (PCS) that is made up of students from area high schools. CHILL will work with HEY (Helping Empower Youth), a group of adults who strive to help teens make positive choices.

The local initiative is part of a national campaign called “Take It Back” that aims to raise awareness about the prevalence of teen alcohol abuse. It uses community briefings, statistical research, surveys, and generating news media coverage to combat television images that seem to condone underage drinking, according to a news release from the Harvest Foundation.

CHILL members took part in a Take It Back event in March and wanted to continue it this summer, said Katie Connelly, prevention community organizer at PCS.

The March event was a town hall meeting during which youth discussed surveys they did to determine issues that contribute to underage drinking.

“One of those issues was a lack of community events for them” that do not involve alcohol, Connelly said. “They felt like that would be a deterrent, if kids had other things to do, they would be less likely” to drink.

CHILL and HEY will use the grant to sponsor alcohol-free activities for youth, including a TGIF-like event, Connelly said. Students will plan that event, which will include entertainment and probably will take place in July.

The idea is to provide fun activities for youth while “getting the message out to the community about the dangers of underage drinking and what we can do on a positive side to give kids alternatives,” Connelly said.

CHILL also is working with Chick-fil-A to host three coffeehouse nights this summer at Liberty Fair Mall, Connelly said. The mall will stay open late so youth can gather there in a drug-free social environment.

Planning the events helps develop leadership skills in the students, “so they can be part of solving the problem instead of us thinking we can solve it for them,” Connelly said.

“Seeing these students organize themselves, conduct research about alcohol related issues in the community and openly discuss these issues has been remarkable” John Estes, program officer for the foundation, said in the release. “The Harvest Foundation is pleased to help support these young people and their efforts to raise the awareness of and understand the consequences of this problem.”

“An alcohol-free TGIF style event is a perfect example of Taking It Back, which aims to help youth think of traditional social events without the presence of alcohol” stated Bonnie Favero, prevention manager with Piedmont Community Services. “With the help of the Harvest Foundation, the community shows its investment in positive choices for youth.”

Receiving the grant and getting positive feedback from adults makes the students feel like they are being heard, Connelly said.

“They are very excited,” she said. “They feel so encouraged that their community is responding to their cries for ‘give us something fun yet safe to do.’”


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