Throughout this week Partners Acting as Change Agents will engage in youth, drug prevention and education programs designed to prevent underage drinking.

Activities will include a Victim’s Impact Panel for high school and middle school students, and appearances at this year’s Fall Festival and Rally Around the Children on Saturday. The program is part of Red Ribbon Week, a national campaign to battle underage drinking.

Stephanie U’Ren, project director of Partners Acting as Change Agents, said, “everyone working together can raise awareness, change public policy and encourage youth to participate in drug free activities” through the efforts of local and national education and prevention programs.

The campaign will kick off Monday with a Victim’s Impact Panel at the Northwest Center for Behavioral Health’s Fort Supply campus. U’Ren said over 500 students from 14 high schools are expected to attend. The panel will feature Stan Walker, a lieutenant with the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, Julie Marlatt, a Woodward resident who’s son was killed by a drunk driver in 1996 and Travis Sheets, an inmate at William S. Key Correctional Facility. Sheets was on a rodeo scholarship at Panhandle State University when he struck and killed a couple while driving back to college one evening under the influence of alcohol.

“Our speakers that we get, they’re the main part of our program. They tell their life stories and the tragedy that involved them,” said Terri Haynes, assistant director of the victim’s impact panel for Northwest Oklahoma.

The panel serves to educate youth and the public on the consequences of alcohol-related accidents and their impact on society.

“I don’t call what happened an accident, I call it an incident because it could have been avoided,” Marlatt said.

The panel will also be presented at Woodward Middle School on Wednesday.

In addition to the Victim’s Impact Panel, the Northwest Center for Behavioral Health Lighthouse Substance Abuse Unit will be present at the Woodward County Fairgrounds for Rally Around the Children where they will sponsor a Fatal Vision Obstacle Course. Children will wear goggles simulating vision impairment with a maximum legal alcohol limit of .08 percent. They will then attempt to walk through an obstacle course or drive a golf cart with an accompanying parent or guardian.

The organization will hand out information to parents on Oklahoma’s Zero Tolerance Law. Under the law, no amount of alcohol can be found on a person under the age of 21. According to U’Ren, violators of the law will lose their license for up to 180 days or until they turn 21.

The Students Taking on Prevention youth coalition will be at the Fall Festival on Main Street Saturday handing out trick-or-treat bags to children with anti-drug messages. The organization will also be making public service radio announcements throughout the week.

Some area schools are also commemorating Red Ribbon Week. At Buffalo, students are being urged to take part in special theme days each week such as Wear Red Day, Wear Shades: Shade Out Drugs and Wear Pledge Daystickers. Freedom has special messages each day of the week on its school lunch menu website.

U’ren said the continued success of such prevention programs is essential to youth because “the longer we can delay the onset of alcohol, tobacco or drug use, the less likely they are to engage in those activities.” “Research is showing youth that start drinking before the age of 15 are 50 percent more likely to become alcoholics,” she said.

According to Haynes, drunk driving is the number one killer in our society.

U’Ren said another mission of prevention programs is to stamp out negative media messages and their impact on kids.

“Kids today spend more time with media than they do with their families. These kids, this is what they’re living with. The pressure is great, and they’re bombarded with negative media messages,” she said.

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