Homer Alaska - Opinion

Story last updated at 5:08 PM on Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Grant will help change attitudes about alcohol use


A couple of recent incidents spotlight the timeliness and need of the $1 million state grant the Homer Prevention Project recently received which will be used, in part, to tackle the problem of underage drinking.

Both incidents — one out Basargin Road and another out East End Road — involved underage drinking parties. Both incidents should cause the community as a whole to consider why such parties happen, if there's something we can and should do to stop them, and how do we communicate the dangers of alcohol to young people when all around them they see the widespread acceptance of alcohol.

Do we as a community believe that kids will be kids and they're going to drink somewhere, so it might as well be in well-known party spots? Does a fatal accident involving young people and alcohol have to happen once every few years to remind us all of the tragedies born out of alcohol use? How do we make not drinking alcohol as cool as drinking it seems to be in some circles?

We need to be clear. We think very few teens are trouble-makers. School officials speak highly of students' willingness to 'fess up when they mess up. The statistics show that it's rare for students to be suspended from school activities for tobacco, alcohol or drug use. And every week in the pages of this paper, we have stories about the wonderful things the young people in this community do and accomplish.

Still, it's important that the community identify and acknowledge — and the recent grant will allow this to happen — issues that somehow encourage alcohol use among our young people or adult actions that inadvertently facilitate it. We don't want to tell our kids to "just say no." We don't want to bully them into not drinking.

We want to empower them to make wise choices — and one wise choice is abstaining from alcohol, drugs and tobacco. Those aren't the things that make life sweet.

But the dichotomy of our feelings toward alcohol use among the young are revealed in two letters received by a Homer News reporter about the Basargin Road incident.

Says one letter writer: "Thank you for writing the piece about those kids partying out on Basargin Road. People who don't live out there have no idea what these kids are like and I'm so glad it is getting a little bit of publicity. Homer should know about this. These kids constantly pose a threat to others with their drinking and driving, and make us normal citizens feel scared and intimidated when we have to drive through the middle of their huge parties."

Says the other: "I was at that party and some of the facts that you wrote about are completely false. ... (N)ot all of us were drinking. I was there, I'm underage but I wasn't drinking but I still ran because the cops like to abuse their power with us because we don't really know what they can and can't do. I probably would have gotten an MCA regardless just because I was there. Another thing is that they say they were concerned about all the kids that were out in the snow? Yea right! If they left, EVERYBODY would have come out right away. ...They wonder why we run? It's obvious because they discriminate. They hate us Russians. ... We can't even drive without fear of being pulled over even when we don't do anything wrong. ... In the article you made them seem like heroes and stuff. As if our welfare means anything to them. They just want to meet their 'quota' or whatever and they go straight to the villages when they don't have enough and give anybody and everybody tickets for the lamest reasons."

Same incident. Two vastly different reactions. We think both letters point to the value of finding alternate strategies when it comes to young people and alcohol, particularly when we look at Homer's diverse cultures. That's what the Strategic Prevention Framework State Incentive Grant will help us do.

Maybe as a start it's time to get rid of one of Homer's favorite bumper stickers: "A quaint little drinking village with a fishing problem."