I'm a sucker for a good inspirational story. Take for instance, young Allen Fonseca. This handsome, young Mabton boy is not only a credit both to his parents, but to his community, as well.
I had the pleasure of meeting the well-spoken Mabton eighth grader Wednesday night after he was presented with nearly $175 in prizes as the overall winner of the 2005 Lower Valley RUAD "Heroes of Youth" essay contest.
For those of you who don't know what RUAD stands for, Fonseca will tell you it stands for Reducing Underage Drinking. Fonseca, along with more than 130 other Lower Valley seventh and eighth graders, recently voiced their ideas for reducing underage drinking and drug use, in a contest sponsored by the RUAD group.
Now, you may be saying if Fonseca is only in middle school, why is he already worried about underage drinking? That doesn't happen until a child is in high school, right?
Well, my friends, if you think that, then you are wrong.
Most children get on the road to alcohol and drug abuse while still in middle school. And you want to know how? They are given or exposed to alcohol by older friends, siblings or, in some cases, their own parents.
But the Mabton Middle School student has a plan helping to reduce underage drinking in his community.
Fonseca wrote in his essay the following: "...Every person in this community has a different job that they can do to help. If you are a parent, the best thing you can do is pay attention to your kids, know who they are hanging out with, talk to them about the consequences of doing drugs and alcohol. If you are a friend, give your friend advice, encourage him to stop drinking and doing drugs, and to do something better. I believe teachers can help too. Students spend a lot of time with a teacher, creating a bond of trust. Teachers can give advice to help students. If everybody did their part, I believe my community can change and become better."
It is apparent that more and more young people are getting the message that doing alcohol and drugs is not cool, according to Aaron Starks, the state RUAD coordinator. Starks, who attended Wednesday night's RUAD Heroes banquet, said now is the time for parents and other adults in the community to get that message.
Starks joined young Fonseca in encouraging adults in all Lower Valley communities to become proactive about reducing underage drinking, particularly as graduation night grows near.
"We don't want to lose any of our young people to drinking-related tragedies, " Starks said.
Realistically, we know there will be an increase of unchaperoned drinking parties in our community. What I can't believe is that some adults will actually provide alcohol to their teens in their homes at these parties. These parents mistakenly think this action will keep their children safe.
But that is far from true, said Starks. Most parents aren't aware that there is a $5,000 fine for providing alcohol to underage drinkers. Starks said there is also the possibility of serving up to a year in jail for providing minors with alcohol. Plus, he said, most insurance companies aren't likely to cover underage drinking party damages to home and property.
On the positive side, recent studies show that parents are still the best anti-drug tool available. Stark encourages parents to show their kids they can have fun without alcohol. "Don't condone underage drinking as some type of rite of passage," he urged.
"It's better to talk with your kids while they are still at home about the dangers of alcohol and drugs. Don't wait until the police arrest your drunken child and you have to talk to the police at the jail or the scene of an accident," Starks said.
"As difficult as giving that anti-alcohol and drug speech may be, making funeral arrangements for your child will be worse," he added.
Although some studies show that teen drinking is tapering off across the state thanks to programs like RUAD, there are still too many kids being killed in alcohol-related traffic accidents, too many kids risking alcohol poisoning and addiction.
Losing our children to alcohol before they have had a chance to finish school, get married or earn a real paycheck is a tragedy.
We have to strengthen our communication skills and tell our kids about the dangers.
And, according to Starks, that discussion can't come too early in a child's life.
If you are worried about how to bring up the topic, why not contact the Mabton Police Department RUAD officer for more information or log on to drugfree.org for age-appropriate educational materials.
But do it while your children are still listening to you.
. Julia Hart can be contacted at
(509) 837-4500, or you can e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org