Kids: Center could combat drinking |

Kids: Center could combat drinking

The presentation was packed with startling statistics – like the tidbit that teenagers drink about 25 percent of the alcohol consumed in the U.S.The consequences were portrayed as dire – like the increased tendency for people to engage in unprotected sex and experiment with drugs if they start drinking at a young age.But it wasn’t a typical meeting where adults lectured teens about the evils of alcohol. This time, at a gathering in Basalt on Tuesday night, the grim picture was described by a boy in a “Billabong” T-shirt and baggy, saggy blue jeans, and a girl with a small diamond stud in her nose.A dozen or so juniors from Basalt High School tossed out the grim statistics to the Basalt Town Council, then challenged midvalley residents to help them combat teen drinking in the town.”When I ask kids around school why are you drinking, they say there’s nothing to do,” J.T. Donovan told the council. He said he personally finds that hard to believe, but it shows that midvalley teens need something more than the bowling alley and movie theater to keep them occupied.The teens think a youth center will do the trick. They don’t want a big, fancy building with paid staff and organized programs, said Matt Hobbs. They simply want a place to “hang out,” hold an occasional dance and show movies, said Rob Jeffery.Their center would be for students ages 13 to 20, according to Travis Whitmire. A modest entry fee of $2 or $3 would be charged. Kids would be asked to sign a contract stating that they wouldn’t drink alcohol until they are at least 21 years old, Whitmire said.”We know this won’t stop teen drinking,” said Jamie Wirkler. But requiring the contract could prevent teens who haven’t started drinking from taking that first sip, he said.The teens were from three groups that independently identified teen drinking as a problem they wanted to address as part of teacher Ben Bohmfalk’s American democracy class. As part of that class, each junior participates in a program called Project Citizen, which is designed to get them to try to influence a state or local government policy.Bohmfalk said all groups of students selected topics on their own. In addition to teen drinking, other groups targeted topics like teen smoking and fuel efficiency standards for vehicles. Some of the groups will make their presentations today at 5 p.m. at the El Jebel Community Center. The public is invited to attend.After identifying the problem, the students analyzed alternative policies and selected one, then adopted an action plan.The groups that selected teen drinking as their problem agreed that a youth center was a big part of the solution. Youth centers are notorious for sounding great in concept, being popular at first then getting abandoned. But Hobbs said the key to keeping it a cool place to hang out is to keep it low-key and informal.The students also said it didn’t have to be an expensive effort. Families could contribute stuff like couches, televisions and DVD players from their homes. Parents and other community members could volunteer to supervise.Wirkler noted that kids in Fort Collins got Anheuser-Busch to contribute $50,000 to their $700,000 fund-raising effort (presumably without an ad in return).The Basalt kids weren’t thinking of that expensive an operation. Wirkler said it seemed like space in the Red Brick elementary school building could be converted to a youth center at low cost.The school district isn’t going to use the Red Brick building after a remodeling and expansion is completed. The work will start this year. Nonprofit groups and child care operations are teaming to come up with a proposal to rent the facility.Basalt Town Council members said they were impressed by the presentations and supported the idea of using the Red Brick building. But Mayor Leroy Duroux told them they would have to stay involved and keep promoting the idea and prodding the adults into action. Government, he warned, moves slowly.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is

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