Townsend hopes to be a leader to small communities across Montana in adopting a social host ordinance.
A group of 75 parents, school and city officials, and local business owners gathered for two hours Wednesday night in Townsend to discuss ways of preventing underage drinking.
The event, hosted by Broadwater County Social Services Committee and the DUI Task Force, offered statistics about alcohol use among young people, alcohol’s consequences to their developing minds and to society, and ways to mobilize to address the age-old problem.
Jill Flynn, a school counselor and part of the social services committee, said that according to a survey Townsend young people align with students around the state. A youth risk behavior survey given last year found that 40 percent of the high school students questioned used alcohol within the last 30 days and 25 percent reported binge drinking (having five or more drinks in one sitting).
Flynn said parents have a big impact.
“Teenagers do listen to their parents,” she said. “We are encouraging parents to take an active role in making this change occur.”
Felicia Wallace grew up in Townsend and said she remembers the pressure to drink from her peers in high school. Wallace, now a mother of two, says coming together as a community to show young people that underage drinking is not socially acceptable will help curb the illegal activity.
Wallace’s daughter, Kim Wallace, a 15-year-old freshman, hasn’t experienced the pressure to drink yet but she says she has witnessed her peers drinking and smoking pot.
“The peer pressure starts in middle school,” Kim said.
Elizabeth Wood owns the Wood Family Grill where beer and wine are served.
“There are a lot of kids in this town we need to watch out for,” Wood said.
One of those young people is her own 15-year-old daughter.
“I worry about who she’s with and what car she is getting into,” Wood said.
She said teenage drinking seems like a social pastime because there’s not a lot do.
One fix, Wood says, is to educate kids about the outcomes as well as provide more engaging activities that will give young people something to look forward to.
Broadwater County Sheriff Ben Knaff said there is nothing worse than dealing with the death of a young person.
He spoke about a wreck in 2008 involving four young people in which alcohol was involved. Kelly L. O’Loughlin was a passenger in the vehicle that crashed on Highway 284 in the early morning of April 27, 2008. O’Loughlin died at the scene. She was 15 years old and a sophomore at Helena High School.
“It’s something you never get over,” Knaff told the crowd.
One next possible step community members will take to help make an impact is a social host ordinance. The ordinance would fine those who host the parties where underage drinking transpires. Larger communities around the state, such as Helena, Missoula and Great Falls have passed such laws in recent years.
Flynn said this type of initiative will help promote a different environment and send young people the message that underage drinking is not only inappropriate, but has serious consequences.
Reporter Alana Listoe: 447-4081 or email@example.com