On Tuesday, several communities throughout Oklahoma hosted town hall meetings concerning underage drinking prevention - Woodward was one of the 31 cities hosting a discussion.

The meeting was comprised of Woodward County citizens and officials who were concerned about underage drinking. Seventy-five citizens were in attendance for the meeting.

Featured speaker was Vesta Webb, the new director for the Lighthouse Substance Abuse Center. Webb gave several statistics about underage drinking and the effects it has on youth. She said that kids are four times more likely to become alcoholics if one or both of their parents had drinking problems. They are five times more likely to become alcoholics if they drink before they turn 21-years-old.

“But, statistics are the past and we need to talk about today and what we can do to help prevent underage drinking,” said Webb. “The last part of the brain to develop is the part that deals with logic and reasoning . . . if the youth drink while this part of their brain is developing it can cause addictive logic - an example of addictive logic is the man who says ‘I had to drive because I was too drunk to walk.’”

She gave attendees the top 10 reasons not to drink:

10 - Because it makes you sick;

9 - Because it makes you say stupid things;

8 - It impairs your judgment;

7 - It makes you do things you’ll later regret;

6 - You could lose your driver’s license;

5 - You could lose your freedom;

4 - It causes memory loss;

3 - It destroys homes and relationships;

2 - It contributes to crime and violence;

1 - Alcohol kills.

“It kills in a lot of ways besides the physical death,” said Webb. “I think it’s very important to teach our kids not to drink . . . it’s important for our kids to be able to enjoy life . . . I think it’s important that we as a community give our kids a reason not to use drugs or drink and it’s important for us to provide them a safe environment to grow up in.”

The audience then saw a video entitled “This Place,” which focused attention on what kind of environment children are growing up in today. It spoke on how times have drastically changed in the United States in reference to the use of alcohol and who is using alcohol nowadays. It ended with saying that there is one consistent message - alcohol is far too easy for kids to acquire.

Richard Burney, assistant superintendent for Woodward Public Schools, served as the mediator of a panel that consisted of seven local community leaders and officials. He asked them several different individual questions about the youth in the area and the underage drinking problem. The panelists included Hollis Thorp, assistant district attorney; Cpl. Curt Terry, Woodward Police Department; Pam Nelson, publisher of The Woodward News; Rev. Daniel U’Ren, Woodward Ministerial Alliance; Ben Smith, co-president of Students Taking On Prevention (STOP); Terri Haynes, Victims Impact Panel of Oklahoma; 2nd Lt. Stan Walker, Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

The questioning began with U’Ren. Burney asked him how the faith community could assist in preventing underage drinking.

“I really think that the ministerial alliance can help out in any way that you might suggest to us,” said U’Ren. “One thing I think we need to remember is that this is not a morality issue - there’s churches out there that will say don’t drink at all and there are churches out there that say drinking is okay, but we’re all going to agree that kids should not be drinking . . . hopefully we can come up with some ideas tonight that will help us with this issue.

“One of the main things is we need to change the overall mentality of the community - it’s not going to be one group that changes it, it has to be the entire community working together to change it.”

Burney then asked Haynes if underage drinking and its consequences were linked to a specific social class or gender.

“I don’t think that underage drinking is for any class - it does not distinguish between genders,” Haynes said.

He then asked Smith if he, as a high school student, felt pressures from his peers to drink and if so, what these pressure tactics were.

“I don’t think there’s a pressure, but in school, kids just want to drink to be cool and have fun,” said Smith. “There’s not really any pressure for them to do that, they just do it on their own.”

Burney asked Nelson in her opinion, as a media person, did she think that the alcohol industry targeted youth in our society.

“Do I think they target 12, 13 or 14-year-olds - no, I would hope they don’t, but do I think they target 20 and 21-year-olds - sure they do - advertisers do that,” she said. “But, who’s at fault? Is it the people that want to sponsor those ads or the people that accept their money for it? If I’m going to run an alcohol ad in my paper, is it my fault because I put it in my paper or is it their fault because they chose to do that . . . do I think they target younger people - sure they do.”

He then asked Lt. Walker in his position, out on the highways, what did he see as the affects of underage drinking.

“I would say that probably eight out of 10 high school students have tried alcohol - most of it is for acceptance, some of it for experimentation,” said Walker. “But, it seems to be okay in our society . . . I think the bottom line is most of the kids and parents don’t think it’s going to happen to them. They read about it, hear about it, but until it actually affects their immediate family, it doesn’t really hit home.”

Cpl. Terry was then asked by Burney, based on his experience in this community, where are the kids getting their alcohol.

“Based on what we’ve seen here in Woodward, most of the kids are getting their alcohol from their friends, their family and their homes. The stuff is just readily available to them . . . through my efforts with Project ID, we send kids into the stores and liquor stores and it is very easy in some of these stores for the kids to buy alcohol . . . the stores in this town are selling alcohol to these kids. It’s not hard for them to get it and it’s not a problem.”

Nelson also addressed the issue of where the kids were getting their alcohol.

“If you don’t think that we know - that I don’t get calls from parents or teachers and it’s usually after the parties - if you don’t think we know where they are getting the liquor - you’re crazy,” she said. “We know what parents buy it for them, which convenience stores they get it from - it’s interesting that you don’t have a convenience store represented here because I want to ask them if they are checking ID’s . . . I have had calls at the newspaper that tell me that certain parents that I have known through the years are actually supplying these kids with the alcohol.”

Many other questions were asked to the panel, but the general consensus was that the entire community needed to be involved in helping to prevent underage drinking.

Walker said that we need to hold some parents responsible for supplying the alcohol and have an aggressive pursuance on the suppliers and buyers of the alcohol.

“This generation is not the first generation to want to drink because of pressures from their peers - we’ve all went through that, but the tolerance some parents have is killing us,” he said.

“I think the bottom line is that it’s got to start in the house - parents have got to teach their children to say no,” said Terry. “They need to give them the support and the backbone to say no.”

“Ultimately, it does rest on the parents,” said Thorp. “It does take a village - parents, churches, communities, schools, organizations - and I want to point out some of the good things that these people do to help prevent underage drinking - like the after-prom parties and shut-ins after functions that some of the churches do . . . as a prosecutor, for a minor in possession of alcohol, we do only give them a slap on the wrist because that’s all the law will allow . . . any other delinquent action goes into the juvenile courts, except for a minor in possession of alcohol . . . they do need to change the law there.”

The panel then took questions from the audience.

Jimmie Fraley told the panel that she had just retired from the Northwest Center for Behavioral Health and she couldn’t tell them how many times she had heard from young children - between the ages of four and 10 - that they had actually been to a tavern with their parents. She asked Thorp if this was illegal.

“Under the law, if they’re with their parents then it’s not against the law,” he answered.

Nelson then asked what would happen if the parents left that tavern with their children in the car and then had a wreck - would that be child endangerment?

“Oklahoma does not have a child endangerment law,” said Thorp. “But we really need one.”

Roger Shaw then asked what the repercussions were to stores that did sell alcohol to minors.

“We first write them a citation and they get a $242 fine,” said Terry. He said that was to the clerk that actually sold to the minor, not the store itself. “If a store gets too many citations, we have a city licensing board that will determine if and for how long their liquor license will be suspended.”

Another citizen asked how many strikes does a retailer actually have before their license is yanked.

“That’s up to the board,” said Terry. “All of this is still in the works.”

One minister offered the suggestion that if everyone would boycott the store that sells the alcohol to the minors, they might stop them from breaking the law.

“If you boycott them and no one buys gas there anymore, they’ll stop selling beer to minors,” he said.

“I do want to sing praises to the Ninth Street Jiffy Trip,” said Terry. “Those ladies there are really on the ball - they have never sold to any of the minors that we have sent in there - those ladies will literally throw them out the door when they ask.”

“There’s basically two options,” said Walker. “One is that there are 11,925 people left in this community - you better all start with them now - one at a time. The second choice is to go with me, walk in my steps, be a volunteer and actually see it - once you see it, you’ll never forget it . . . we’ve got to get off our butts and start addressing this issue now.”

One aggravated mother then asked, at the end, if alcohol was actually allowed in the Pioneer Room and other community buildings, because she had caught her son drinking at a party that was actually held in the Pioneer Room.

“If it’s a school function, no,” answered a city official. “Adults put up a $500 deposit if alcohol will be present in the room.”

The mother said that she didn’t understand why anything wasn’t done, because when she picked up her son, other kids were drinking out on the street and the room is right next to the police department.

Nelson then asked the mother what she did when she saw the other children drinking.

“Nothing,” said the mother. “I was worried about my son who was drunk, a diabetic and sick in bed for two days after that.”

“Being aware is one thing, taking action is another,” the city official replied.

Stephanie U’Ren then invited everyone that is interested in the subject to attend the Partners Acting as Change Agents (PACA) meeting that will be held on Wednesday, April 5 in Room 117 at High Plains Technology Center at noon.

“Passing the passion on and doing something about it is what we all need to do,” said U’Ren.

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