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Teens ready to tackle underage drinking problem
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If Hall County students have an alcohol problem, two Gainesville High School students want to help.

Taylor Hall, a rising senior, and Stefanie Darby, a rising junior, attended the National Youth Leadership Initiative conference this week to learn how to address drug and alcohol problems in Hall County. The conference was led by the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America in Phoenix, Ariz.

During the conference, the students learned about how to assess local substance abuse problems and develop an intervention plan.

“Once you’ve assessed what the substance abuse is, you build up the capacity in the community to fight it, implement a plan and carry it out as much as you possibly can,” said Hall, a member of the Drug Free Coalition of Hall County. “In Gainesville, there are a few problems, but the one we’re focusing on exclusively is underage drinking and how to change the perception that it’s something all kids do.”

A keynote speaker told the students that 70 percent of all high school students don’t drink alcohol. The statistic was startling to both Hall and Darby, who want to use the number in their own presentations.

“If that’s the case, we need to let people know and change the perception,” Hall said. “A lot of parents in Gainesville do drink and think that their kids are going to drink regardless, so it’s safer if they give it to them. They think if they’re the ones providing it, they’re in control, but any alcohol is dangerous.”

Hall, upcoming senior class president, hopes he can spread the word to fellow students. During the conference, he and Darby began developing videos to warn high school students about the dangers of drinking.

“At the end of the process, we’ll do an evaluation to see if we can continue our projects for the long term,” he said. “It’s supposed to be cyclical, and you tackle each substance abuse problem piece by piece.”

Darby said she also wants to involve parents who can influence younger students and control access to alcohol.

“We want something like Facebook, a media for parents to talk and get information so they don’t feel like the only parent facing this problem,” she said. “We also want to be more forceful with the laws we have and talk to our authorities.”

The two are targeting high school students for now but said they want to develop projects for elementary and middle school children, too.

“I’d love to talk to the lower grades because that’s where the perception starts,” she said. “In high school, I try to hang around the right group. I know a few people I would love to talk to, but I also don’t want to be demanding.”

Hall and Darby attended the conference with David Smith, executive director of Center Point and a member of the Drug Free Coalition of Hall County steering committee.

“I’ve asked about the sessions every day, and they’ve learned a lot,” he said. “It’s great that they can see other young people across the U.S. and see what the different substance abuse issues are in different parts of the country. It’s different than what we deal with, but also some of the same, so it’s good to see and hear what other people are doing.”