Youth Summit spotlights local substance abuse issues

The teens who attended the 2013 Hamilton County Youth Summit at Trinity Lutheran Church in Webster City Feb. 1 shed some important light on the substance abuse problems our local youth see affecting themselves and their peers.

Power Up YOUth, which coordinated the Summit, heard from more than 30 Webster City and Northeast Hamilton high school students, and those students offered suggestions to our community leaders that just might put a dent in the problem of local, teen-level substance abuse.

They acted. Now it’s your turn.

This year’s youth summit participants made suggestions that can be acted upon. They include:

Provide more police patrols at hot spots such as Nokomis Park in Webster City and abandoned buildings.

Install better lighting at Nokomis Park.

Install security cameras at the Webster City Middle School parking lot.

The students believe harsher consequences would deter drug use. To that end, they suggest:

The low percentage of time athletes sit on the sidelines when self-reporting illegal drug use is too short to be a deterrent.

Here are some more of their insights:

Students sometimes bring vodka to school in water bottles, so they suggest the school kitchen provide water bottles to students that could be washed and stored at the school each night.

They believe prevention needs to be emphasized. They think classes similar to the fifth-grade DARE class should be offered at the high school due to the greater pressures and temptations to use drugs or alcohol at that age.

They suggest establishing an Awareness Day with speakers and assemblies to learn more about drug use prevention.

The students made suggestions for the community at large too:

They believe that if there were more drug-free fun activities for youth drugs would be less desirable. They recommend that these events be set on a regular schedule, require a short time commitment, and include youth during the planning process.

They want more training about the anonymous tip service available through Hamilton County Crimestoppers, because they don’t understand how information sent on cell phones can be kept anonymous. They also are uncertain about whether reporting a crime is being a good friend and citizen or snitching

They recommend neighborhood watches.

They want to hear adults speaking out against drug use so that they have role models.

During last year’s Summit, students told Northeast Hamilton staff that they wanted more drug education during their high school years; NEH responded by making health class mandatory.

Also last year, teens said they wanted more parental involvement in preventing substance abuse; in response, Power Up YOUth published booklets that were sent to the parents of all Hamilton County high school students, as well as some middle school parents. The booklets focused on marijuana.

Youth attending the 2012 Summit also wanted influential adults to speak up with anti-drug messages more often. To that end, Power Up YOUth began surveying youth organizations and clubs to see if they have policies that encourage kids to live drug-free. We also sought to learn how often those policies are shared.

Helping youth grow strong in a strong community is the responsibility of more than just a few select people. Every one of us can play a role, large or small. Some already have. The Webster City Rotary Club, Diamond K Kiwanis and Trinity Lutheran Church supported the 2013 Youth Summit in various ways, as did the Webster City Pizza Hut and the Webster Theater, and numerous other volunteers. Community leaders took the time to listen to youth recommendations.

Their contributions helped to create a climate in which local youth felt free to share their thoughts with the community. It is simply a beginning. Our next step should show local youth that we heard them. And that we will act.

Kathy Getting is director of Power Up YOUth, which is funded by a federal grant administrated through Upper Des Moines Opportunity Inc.