BV Promise students begin fight against teen alcoholism
How do you know when teenage alcoholism has become a real problem? When the teenagers tell you so.
Such is the case with the new Buena Vista Promise Youth Group - a teenage team that presented an assembly to the Storm Lake High School student body Wednesday afternoon, complete with a skit on the potential consequences of alcohol abuse. It is the first of what they hope will be a long series of Safe and Sober events, to be held in all the county's high schools.
While the students' group is facilitated by Compass Pointe Behavioral Health Services' Lois Potthoff, the idea belongs to the students, she said.
"We sit down and talk about the issues that they see and what can be done about them, but doing an alcohol program in the schools was their idea," Potthoff said. "They saw the need for this and they want to be a voice."
According to surveys done in 2010, about 70 percent of high school juniors in Buena Vista County already used or had used alcohol. It is estimated that one in five teens engage in binge drinking. One of the BV Promise teen members from Sioux Central, asked to suggest names for other students to replace her in the group after she graduates, told the others, "I can't think of anyone other than me who doesn't drink."
It takes some guts for teenagers to get up in front of a full gymnasium of peers to represent a lifestyle free of drinking and drugging, Potthoff notes. The students showed a film featuring other teenagers talking about their experiences with alcohol, and enacted a skit about about teens involved in a drinking-and-driving accident.
One of the girls wound up on top of a table, covered with a white sheet representing a funeral after the crash. Storm Lake Officer John Bauer, who has offered to co-fascilitate the group next school year, played a role in the drama along with a school nurse, Jeannie Schwarzkopt.
Afterward, the young crowd was asked whether they had learned anything from the presentation. Only one hand immediately shot up. Others looked around, then slowly added their hands until perhaps a fifth of the audience had joined in.
"We felt like they were listening. Some of them chose to think about what they were hearing," Potthoff says.
The BV Promise group has its roots back in 2007. At that time, the community was realizing that there was a problem with teen alcohol abuse and other issues, and businesspeople led a steering committee to find a solution. A few alternative events such as teen dances were held, but the effort soon fizzled. A local alcohol and drug treatment counselor tried to keep at least the student involvement part of the program together, but when she got transferred to a new position, it died.
When Potthoff started with Compass Pointe last year, she began to find and read information from the original effort.
"I'm a teacher by degree - working with kids and early intervention is really my focus. It seemed like a positive idea, so in December, we started up again."
Potthoff went to guidance counselors at each school to find teens with potential to join the group. She found the counselors had some good ideas as well, that could be coordinated into BV Promise. A few of the students who had served earlier were still in school and volunteered again, and a few of the students who joined took it upon themselves to go out and recruit others.
The new members were quick to agree that alcohol abuse remains a major problem for local teens, and their mentor agrees.
She said she has counseled 13 and 14 year old girls who use drugs regularly and in some cases have become pregnant. "You wouldn't believe the things they talk about, the things they know at that age. Alcohol is nothing to them - it's become so common that it isn't enough for them."
Potthoff told the SLHS students that she has personal reasons for her involvement. Alcoholism has touched her own family and past relationships. "It's still pretty fresh to me. But I have three sons of my own, and it is something I think about every day."
She said she is proud of the enthusiasm the BV Promise teens put in this year. "They have put tons of effort into this," she said. "They were the ones who wanted to do something impactful right before graduation party time. They are the ones who raised this program from throwing dances into real innovation."
Students from Storm Lake, St. Mary's, Alta-Aurelia, Newell-Fonda and Sioux Central are currently involved.
The group plans to schedule more assemblies, to raise money to help with community needs such as possibly a Thanksgiving meal for the needy, and planning a Safe and Sober activity for area teens.
BV Promise Youth members are:
* Brianna Wells, Renee Maneman, Andreah Whitmore, Morgan Magnussen, Eden Imming, Jeff Reichter - Newell-Fonda
* Monica Figueroa, Nic Seaman - Storm Lake HS
* Taler Staton, Jayden VanBerkum, Dylan Harms - Alta-Aurelia
* Jasmine Demers, Madison Laven, Ryan Peters, Cole Feltner - St. Mary's
* Janae Smith Colton Miller - Sioux Central