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Under-age drinking

What are you going to do about it?

The Town Hall meeting held last night in Sunnyside to try to get a grip on the problem of under-age drinking played to a small audience.

Only 28 people, including the presenters, turned out to try to figure out why young people in this community are drinking and what options can be found to lure them into a better way of life.

Looking over the audience, that appeared even smaller in the high school's huge auditorium, Police Chief Ed Radder said he wasn't disappointed in the turnout.

"Ellensburg had 10 (at their Town Hall). I think Yakima had 18. Everybody here is equally important," said Radder as he welcomed them and praised them for taking an interest and attending.

Radder was the facilitator for a panel of seven, which included Gabe Ramos of the Washington State Liquor Board, John Hughes, Itza Reyes, Cathy Kelley, Rafael Lucatero, Lacey Yanez and Capri Miles.

The panel was a mix of intervention/prevention specialists and students from the Sunnyside School District.

Kelley gave those in attendance some hard-hitting facts about under-age drinking.

"Every day 7,000 kids under 16 take their first drink," Kelley informed the group.

She also told them that those who drink before they are 21 years old are four times more likely to become alcohol-dependent than those who wait to drink until they are of legal age.

She cited binge drinking as the biggest danger for this generation of under-age drinkers. And pointed a finger at alcohol "that tastes like lemonade" and prevalent reminders of alcohol in advertising as enablers.

Kelley also laid out some facts about the damage alcohol does to the brain, pointing out that it is alcohol that can kill brain cells, while drugs change them.

The challenge

to the community

The challenge that was thrown out to last night's group of parents, students and interested community members was "To take this place back," a theme of a 20-minute video that was shown.

The video outlined how individuals and groups working together in communities have lobbied against having beer and liquor companies sponsor community and sports events, have taken steps to eradicate public intoxication and have sent mothers door-to-door to spread the word about the dangers of under-age drinking.

Radder and Hughes suggested that, with community effort, under-age drinking could be reduced, if not stamped out entirely, by the type of vigorous campaign that has reduced tobacco use, not only by minors, but by adults.

There were no hard and fast solutions made at last night's meeting, but right across the street, in a church, 18 under-age drinkers and their parents were sitting down at a Community Accountability Board to determine why the young people had attended a recent house party at which 60 people were drinking.

The 18 were arrested, and the outcome was their appearance before the board, which is held to see if they will take responsibility for their actions. Radder said they would probably be asked to submit a letter of apology to their parents, attend a victim awareness class given by a mother of a young boy who was killed in an accident and serve eight hours of community service.

Radder said this disciplinary road is preferable to sending them to juvenile court because those who go before an accountability board tend not to re-offend. "A higher percentage come back to juvenile court," said Radder.

In closing, Radder said there is a majority of young people who do not drink before they are 21, but the problem of under-age drinkers is so serious that the message that was presented at last night's meeting has to be taken into the community, if the community won't turn out to hear it at a Town Hall type meeting.

"Why are so few people attending these meetings?" Radder asked hypothetically. "Apathy! A parent will say, 'I don't have to go to a meeting to learn how to raise my kids' or 'I don't have that problem in my house'.

"We need to be making appointments to go to the various civic clubs. We can take it (the video and message) to the public, to the churches," Radder concluded.

Any group that would like to have Radder organize a program for them is encouraged to call him at the Sunnyside police department at 836-6211.

Radder's most poignant message at last night's Town Hall meeting was delivered when he named two people he wanted to hear from. He called out their names in ringing tones, but there was no response.

After a long pause, Radder said those people couldn't answer because they were dead, school friends of his who had fallen victim to alcohol-related accidents when they were young.

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