JENNINGS — Concerned about alcohol use among Jeff Davis Parish youth, a coalition of officials, parents and elected officials are aiming to prevent underage drinking by targeting youths ages 9-20 years old.
Prevention and Coalition Coordinator Marilyn Pickles told the Jeff Davis Parish Police Jury on Wednesday that the Imperial Calcasieu Human Services Authority has received a federal grant to raise awareness about providing alcohol to minors while curbing the access to alcohol for those who are not of legal age.
Jeff Davis Parish was identified as a target area based on data obtained from the Caring Community Youth Survey. The survey is given every two years to students in grades 6, 8, 10 and 12.
She noted that youth who start drinking at a young age are at risk of developing a chemical dependency and other problems.
"We are trying to get youth involved who are passionate about the ideal of not providing alcohol to youth and the dangers it causes," Pickles said. "We feel we have the youth component who are out there saying ‘We don't want this. We want a safer environment and we want to have activities without alcohol being provided."
Although 92 percent of the seniors in Jeff Davis Parish report that they believe that their peers are drinking, Pickles believes that number is inflated due to bragging by the students in order to appear cool amongst their peers.
"Perception puts the youths at greater risk than actual facts," she said.
The data indicated that a lot of youth are receiving alcohol from friends, relatives and others who are over 21 years of, she said.
In addition, fatality rates for the parish show an increasing number of crashes involving alcohol and underage drinking, she said.
"Overall our goal is by 2023 to show a reduction of at least four percent in the youth identifying as actually receiving alcohol and consuming it," she said.
The group also hopes to increase community awareness by 2023 through town hall meetings and other programs.
"We want to increase public awareness on the issue and decrease the number of youth who report receiving alcohol from people over 21," she said. "As a coalition we have put together an action plan which will address these issues."
The group is working to implement a life skills program for students in grades 3-11. The program will teach students good decision making skills and ways to avoid alcohol by finding positive things to do, she said.
Meetings are also being planned throughout the parish to increase adult awareness of the problem. Other programs include "Project Sticker Shock" which seeks to reach those persons 21 years of age or older who illegally buy alcohol and provide it to minors.
Youths, adults and law enforcement officers will visit participating alcohol retailers to place "warning" stickers on package liquor.
Youth will place the stickers on multi-packs of alcohol to remind adults about the penalties and risk of buying and providing alcohol to minors. Youth will not handle the alcohol.
Youths will also design the stickers.
Youths who want to be involved with the coalition are asked to contact their school counselor.